2020/The Future

Dear past:

We don’t have jetpacks.
We still walk, don’t hover,
there’s no button to press to pick your dreams,
and still only some dreams come true,
not all good.

Old men still have grey beards, if they have beards.
We can predict much and change little.
Some things we prolong.
Some days we are better, some days worse.
We have not finished the tower of Babel.
Cain still envies Esau, and Seth
tries to stay well out of it.
We haven’t stopped the fires burning,
though many are scorched and tired from the effort.
Heaven is still an apology away,
and most days that’s still a bridge too far.

Astroboy has not been born,
astroturf invades the street.
This is not quite how we imagined,
exactly how we’ve made it.

Yet

…my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.
(Christina Rossetti, “Old and New Year Ditties”)

Sometimes a harvest, sometimes fallow,
sometimes Job’s cut-down tree,
the year passes in a sighing nonetheless,
a barely whispered “Yet”:

yet this is not all,
this is not how all years shall go,
this is not the only movement that time possesses for us,
this is not the only sun our earth will orbit ’round,
this is not the end of years,
this is not the ground.

Tomorrow await ever-new mercies;
tomorrow see what tarries yet
will surely not delay.

Didn’t it rain?

As the decade breathed its last weary breaths, we sweltered,
haze blowing over from the north and west and east
and the fire station on Anderson Street set up
its red-painted TOTAL FIRE BAN sign.
We had it okay; not everyone did.
Our worst fears were heat and the once-in-a-decade chance
that fire might make it this close to the Bay.
While the kids went crazy, we blanketed
the house in blinds,
switched off all lights, pulled down the awnings, until
the 4 o’clock onslaught sent them gusting up in wild and rain
and I raced to the clothesline to secure pyjamas
while out front our overgrown branches teetered
perilous over the powerline.
By evening everything’s refreshed, nothing ruined.
I gather breeze at windowsills while
a rainbow reminds that flood will not destroy us.
Our pride might yet, or stupidity.
A new decade tumbles across the plains;
Grace will show what Grace alone knows.

Advent 2: Last Things

And what have we done?
The year will pass regardless, yet
opportunity arises now to ask
if our deeds have sown death or life,
if life
has sprouted from our dying deeds.

Dying, however my breath may deceive,
I must ask if my hands have turned to tend
my own grave, or a garden; if my steps have bent
towards the straight, or the bent,
roads towards our inevitable death.

With clenched fist or cross taken, all of us walk
towards a year that, one year, will not renew.
And so in these dying, flowering
let the last things be our first things
as we tend our new year.

For the New Year: Again

And so it starts over: our spinning way
Around the sun; our cycle of light, dark,
Hot, cold; plants losing, gaining leaves and bark.
If we hear what the seasons have to say,
It will be only their incessant bay,
Their insistant reminders – at the park
Or down the street – to heed the spark
Of summer light, and the dying winter day.
If dull the repetition, or senseless
The way we never move on or remain,
I will take a toddler’s view and address
The new day with the delight its maker
Feels when he sets the sun’s circuit to recur,
That this – all this – can happen again, again!

Christmas 8: Order my beginning

Cornelis_de_Vos_-_Mysteries_of_the_Rosary,_Presentation_of_Jesus_at_the_temple (1)
Cornelis de Vos, “Mysteries of the Rosary: Presentation of Jesus at the Temple”, 1620

Another year begins, and today we have a special piece of music to see in the new year: Bach’s Cantata for New Year’s Day, Part IV of his spectacular Christmas Oratorio. This cantata takes as its theme the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, but as often happens with Bach the story is explored through a number of voices who apply the story as aptly to our hearts today as for Bach’s hearers in his day. You can read the text and its translation here.


Order my beginning: For New Year’s Day

When they took him, on the eighth day,
as required by law,
with their offering of pigeons
(an allowance for the poor),

there was nothing about them
to startle the eye,
the custom being usual,
his name ordinary.

Yet the many other Yeshuas
in Bethlehem alone
were named looking backwards,
to a hero long gone.

This child looked forward.
His saving acts stood
in the imminent future,
with an immanent God.

No wonder the marvel,
the gathering throng,
the prophecies spoken,
the singing of songs,

and me on the sidelines,
praising and yet
reluctant to settle,
still hedging my bets.

Does salvation start here?
No, it’s as ancient as Him,
but it reignites dulled hearts
and lights growing dim.

O order my days here,
my thoughts and my sight.
My years will be nothing
save He sets them right.

Christmas 7: Rejoice in your new clothes

Liber_choralis_S.Leonardi_(MCM),_XV_Gaudens_gaudebo2017 is almost over, and today we have two choral pieces to conclude our year with, one early, one modern, both settings of one of the readings for the first Sunday after Christmas, Isaiah 61:10-62:4. The first is the delightfully joyous “Gaudens Gaudebo in Domino” by the 16th century German composer Philip Dulchius. The text comes from the opening to the song, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord”, which Mary echoes in her Magnificat in Luke’s Gospel. A modern reimagining of this text is the late Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt’s beautiful “I will greatly rejoice”, similarly jubilant but with simpler harmony. Both settings, looking not only to our own salvation but the saving of all nations, are wonderful calls to praise and prayer at the end of 2017.

Rejoice in your new clothes,
for the old is done.
The saving one has clothed you with joy
and in the bright raiment of His saving day.

Look to the east, to the west, where the sun
is rising and setting and setting the way,
where the hope of the new is calling, and calling,
where the world is enwrapping in light.

Rejoice in your new clothes;
rejoice greatly now in renewing delight.
For the old is done, the new bright as son,
bright as bridegroom and bride,

bright as the new spring in their eyes,
bright as wedding dance of old foes,
bright as the diadem in your thinning hair,
bright though the year be dimming.

Welcome, God’s Year

For many, 2016 will be a year that few will miss or wish to repeat. It was the year of Brexit and Trump, of many beloved public figures dying, and seemingly also a year of much personal hardship for many people. It was certainly the case for my wife and I this year. Yet I’m determined not to go down the path of declaring it an annus horribilis – not because I enjoyed the year, not because I would like to live it again, but because God’s grace is never absent, in any year, and His mercies are found everywhere.

Less significantly, 2016 was the year that I began to learn Danish. And while this might seem like nothing more than a curious idea of what constitutes a fun hobby, it meant that I was introduced to the poetry and hymns of the 19th century Danish pastor and writer N.F.S. Grundtvig – first via the music of Danish “pastoral folk band” Kloster (listen to their album “Ni Salmer Og En Aftensang” for some beautiful versions of hymns by Grundtvig and others, including Hans Christian Anderson). And, as I have been learning the language, I have been attempting also to translate some of Grundtvig’s lyrics into English.

Here, as a somewhat shoddy offering for the new year, is my rendering of his hymn, “Vær velkommen, Herrens år” (literally “Be welcome, the Lord’s Year”, original Danish text available here). It’s technically an Advent hymn, but looks at Advent as the beginning of the liturgical year, and charts how God’s grace is seen at every key moment of the Church Year. May it be something of a reminder to us that God is never absent from a  year and that no year can be an annus horribilis when we trace the workings of His grace through each day.

Welcome, God’s year,
And be welcome here.
On Christmas night, when the Lord was born,
A light came forth at the darkest dawn,
So welcome, new year. Welcome here.

Welcome, God’s year,
And be welcome here.
On Easter Morning, when the Lord was raised,
The Tree of Life took root in the grave,
So welcome, new year. Welcome here.

Welcome, God’s year,
And be welcome here.
On Pentecost Day, when God’s Spirit came down to us,
Then down came His power, into our weaknesses,
So welcome, new year. Welcome here.

Welcome, God’s year,
And be welcome here.
This now is God’s year, filled up with God’s favour,
New gladness is waiting in each day of God here,
So welcome, new year. Welcome here.

Resolution 2: Slow Fruit

image

Nothing purposed is instant. Fruit grows
first by roots spreading deep,
nutrients drawn, sunlight synthesised,
chlorophyll taking glory from green.
Look to the fig tree. If you see its buds,
Summer’s promise dangles, yet is not realised.
Tantalising, like
a kitten’s ball of yarn, or a note
waiting to resolve, a game
of slow expectancy.
New year brings blossoms
but fruit is never instant. Trees
ask for patient expectation.
Come here daily; look to leaves
yet wait before you pick.