Isaiah and the Seraph

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Marc Chagall, “The Prophet Isaiah”

I shame at mine unworthiness,
yet fain would be at one with Thee:
Thou art a joy in heaviness,
a succour in necessity.
(Sir William Leighton, 1614)

Shame and joy move in polyphonic sway:
the vision delights, augments, and yet
diminishes the confidence.
How can I, with unclean lips,
hymn praises without minor chords?

Must burning lips be always scorched
for worthiness to drive the heavy soul?
The quavering voice, the riddling Me?,
the scroll that makes the sinner frown.
Seraph brings the cleansing coal,
while heaviness lags and leaves.

The Consolations of Lent

Comfort sits, unexpected,
in our waiting with weakness.
No giant leaps needed, only
the baby steps of the heart
slowly learning contrition.

Begin with incapacity,
then the slow-dawning knowledge
that you are nothing but dust.
Dust transfigures at His breath.
Exhale in the sigh of your Lenten frailty.
Then inhale, inspire.

O brother in our humanity,
Elijah in the desert,
weeping Psalmist of the cross,
You comfort with the fast that says,
Take off your face. Take on mine.
Consolation begins where our pretence dies.

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Marc Chagall, “Jeremiah”

 

Epiphany: The Implications of Light

At first darkness you saw it,
Light looming large on the horizon,
transfiguring and sanctifying all that it struck.
Yet you were drawn, contrariwise,
to a glistening object that,
no light of its own, could only reflect
or, at worst, refract.
Distracted by prismatic brilliance,
you answered the wrong call,
saw charisma and grabbed at it.
Only, Light denied you. Fistful of air,
you returned to your bedroom and sat
where only Light equipped to pierce darkness could reach.
Okay, speak, you said reluctantly in the direction of the Light.
And so the Light began.
And so your life began.

20 Contemplations #14: Wonder

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Marc Chagall, “Falling Angel”

…the astonishment of the Angels: for it is not in them (pure spirits), but in the human race, that God unites himself, and the Son of God incarnate “is not ashamed to call us his brothers.”
(Olivier Messiaen)

Flames of fire, yet only servants. They long
to look into what we hold as child:
God-made-flesh. Not all the heavenly throng
are called “brothers”, but we are: reconciled,
dust transformed, while they only herald.
Do they marvel, or rival? One envied,
and fell beneath us. Unparalleled,
the Son chooses depths, yet uplifts, died
yet gives life. Let the angels adore Him;
let them fall before His throne ablaze in
the glory of Him and Father Elohim.
Yet how should something so glorious begin
so small, so timid? No fire, no thunder,
just angels and shepherds gazing in wonder.

 

20 Contemplations #9: Logos

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Marc Chagall, "Clock and Blue Wings"

“…before Abraham was, I am.”
(John 8:58)

Eternity enters the human timeframe.
Before movement had matter, He was:
No beginning or conclusion; the same
Yesterday, today, before all days.
Even the hands of clocks he moves, sustains;
And now He enters: the watchmaker within
The mechanism; the infinite contained.
Time baffles at the sight; where do we begin
To grasp what does not begin? Yet He brings
Himself to us, to see, be seen. In one
Instant, this entropic way of things
Is opened by the entrance of the Son.
And now, contained inside a human womb,
The endless one irradiates Time’s tomb…

20 Contemplations #8: The Heights

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Marc Chagall, Detail from "Starry Night", stained glass

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
(Psalm 148:3)

Though He is lowly, they recognise Him,
For He commanded and they were made.
As they burn, they can still hear the hymn
He sung to create them at the Father’s side.
One is elected to proclaim, yet choirs
Sing to herald Him, silently glistening.
The night is coming; if mankind enquires,
What child is this? the host will be listening,
Ready to answer with all heaven’s angels:
Gloria! Gloria! Yet where are they now?
The kings to bow down, the dancers and timbrels?
Herod searches, yet breathes a fuming vow.
But if people ignore Him, rocks will cry out;
Now heavenly fires sparkle and shout…

20 Contemplations #7: Crux

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Marc Chagall, "White Crucifixion"

…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:8)

Did He view the Cross from birth? Did crossbeams
In the stable tell Him where He’d go?
Did He see the Cross in treetops’ glow
As He flew to earth from Heaven’s beams?
Perhaps as Joseph carved at night, His dreams
Spoke to Him of timber, nails, a show
Of Roman triumph in their streets. He’d know
From birth, for He knows all. Yet did it seem
As though His life was bent to Cross? A sword
Would pierce His mother’s soul, so she was told
By Simeon, who declared that some would fall;
And as He learned to walk, to talk, to be
As humans are on earth, He knew from old
That cursed would be the man hung on a tree.