Broken Epiphanies

Save me, O God: for the waters are entered even to my soul.
I stick fast in the deep mire, where no stay is: I am come into deep waters, and the streams run over me.
(Psalm 69:1-2, 1599 Geneva Bible)

Hieronymus_Bosch_-_Triptych_of_the_Adoration_of_the_Magi_-_WGA2606
Hieronymus Bosch, “Adoration of the Magi”, c.1480-1500 View larger image https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoration_of_the_Magi_(Bosch,_Madrid)#/media/File:Hieronymus_Bosch_-_Triptych_of_the_Adoration_of_the_Magi_-_WGA2606.jpg

Is it, as Bosch would have it, a sinking scene,
hut scarcely erect, while in the background
knights and crusaders fight, and crazed faces peek
through cracks in the broken structure?
If so, my crazed face peeks.
Show me the truth through the falling thatch.
Let me climb to the roof to see
the light greater than the dark in me.

albrecht-dürer-0052088671118..jpeg
Albrecht Dürer, “Adoration of the Magi”, c.1504

Or, as for Dürer, does the Light lie in castle ruins?
Do relic-arches arc around the one who put
the promise-bow into the arching sky?
Do dark clouds gather on the edges? If so,
those clouds are me. O light eternal,
lighten the load the makes me droop and bristle.
I drown in the dry of my day.
Unwise, I come. Do not send my tattered folly away.

Epiphany: Heartshine

“What can I give him,
Poor as I am?”
Christina Rossetti

Today is one of the most important days in the old church calendar, but also one of the most widely forgotten: the feast of Epiphany. Today we remember the wise men visiting Jesus, but we also remember what this represents, that the Gospel has been made known to the nations. Epiphany is an older celebration than Christmas, and in some early church documents it appears to have been the date when the Eastern church at least celebrated Jesus’ birthday. It’s a wonderful day, full of rich significance for believers to celebrate. Today we’re going to enlist one of my favourites, Bach, to see us through, with the help of his first Epiphany cantata. You can read the text and translation here.

Heartshine

I will arise with the stars.
In dappled light, the ground illuminates to show
the king made low,
the way made known.
I will arise with the stars to see
the glory that shines from east to west,
though wearing humble clothes.

I will arise with the night.
With nothing in my hand to give, I will receive
this treasure-trove
for years enclosed.
I will arise in the night to see
the light that day has not received
and now is bright to see.

I will travel with the kings
though I am no king, nor have ever been wise.
I will arise
with the stars in my eyes
and give a broken heart, for all
the better your treasure to store.

20 Contemplations #20: Enlighten

All_Saints_I_1911
Wassily Kandinsky, “All Saints”

Arise, shine, for your light has come…
(Isaiah 60:1a)

Then the Glory opens up, and the exposition begins…after the sheaves of night, the spirals of anxiety, here the triumph of love and the tears of joy – all the passion of our arms around the Invisible!…
(Olivier Messiaen)

Do you see a star unlike the others?
Have you watched through the ages, longing to see
this revelation, this epiphany?
To some without eyes, the night smothers;
and now, true, it lurks behind covers
of dark. But others, it beckons vividly:
those who press on through the dark, finally
to see the Morning resting yet nonethe-
less glorious, soon to shine all its Day
on mankind, those once far and those once near…
The silence is over; the patience yawns
for the fruits of dawn in sparkling array.
Be still before Him, newborn sons of dawn,
transfigured together, history made clear.

 

20 Contemplations #19: Sleep, Wake

tumblr_lx7cqlXZ821qe31lco1_r1_500
Anselm Kiefer, “Falling Stars”

I slept, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My beloved is knocking…
(Song of Solomon 5:2a)

The world sleeps, but still some wise men gaze out
unto the beckoning sky, and some
still wake to hear the door pounding, night humm-
ing in active grace of years. No doubt,
the gentleness of the stars will not shout,
yet the song of the angels ever thrums,
always beauty, until mortals must come
to the end of ourselves, our hearts, our mouths…
Lie awake, lie empty. You long because
that which you long for cannot be grasped:
not now, not while this perishable stuff
can only defer your hopes, caught in chaff.
Lie awake, lie longing. Dwell in the pause
between the now and not yet. Never lapse.

20 Contemplations #18: Anointing

albrecht-durer-christ-entering-jerusalem1
Albrecht Dürer, “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem”

In your majesty ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness…
God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.
(Psalm 45:4a, 7b)

Do not be deceived. He comes in meekness
now to expose the proud. He sleeps among
the donkeys and cattle now; soon the throng
of pilgrims will see Him ride, not in weakness,
but in true majesty. Do you seek this
or to be told that you are never wrong?
He will ride again; it will not be long,
and you will not dismiss His forgiveness.
Who you reject tonight will call to account
when He rides in all the glory of day.
His light beckons us in the eastern sky,
yet many despise its slow, meek way.
Look to the wise. Bow before the child;
there is room for your mess and your doubt.

Epiphany: To an unknown painter

Unknown 16th century German painter, Wikimedia Commons
Unknown 16th century German painter, Wikimedia Commons

Too regal:
There were no drapes to hail Him king,
no cherubim in the background, aloft,
casually decking the scene, mid-song.

Yet this is right: if there were crowns,
they would be laid at His feet; and knees,
if wise, would know to bend.

We foresee the pious, in the corners, turned
toward their future king; and a long journey figured
in streets and hills, and horses mounting them.

The light’s far off, yet faces seem illumined.
Only the darker ones lack light: an error, this.
Epiphany brightens most the faces least expected here.

Not contained: the cost, the snorts of Herod,
the proud reflex to kill. All this smarts, demands
pensive faces show contrition to be brought here.

Is there room for us? We have no robes, King.
And yet, if cattle may rest above the frankincense,

we may also bow and drink Your light.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

image
Xavier Romero Frias, Wikimedia Commons

For most people, Christmas is now over. The supermarkets are already stocking hot cross buns. But in the traditional church calendar, today is the last day of the season of Christmas – a season lasting twelve days, as we remember in the old song. Why remember Christmas for twelve days instead of one? If nothing else, it gives us a chance to think about what it really means, once the distractions have died down, and to look more closely at what comes next in the story.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Tradition says to put away the tree,
Though yours perhaps has already come down,
The children sullen, home a new-year frown,
And resolutions stowed in the pantry.

“Back to work,” you say. And in the streets
The same straight-fixéd gazes all around,
Ear-buds containing every inward sound.
My-true-love-sent-to-me, pit-pat your feet.

Perhaps you’ve still some toys to play with, or
There’s thank-you letters now for kids to start.
Yet on the twelfth day, Jesus still grew strong
And Mary treasured all things in her heart;
And stars still blazed for those who journeyed on,
Not numbed like us who know the yearly score.