It can be hard to capture emptiness with words, but often that is the primary emotion that I bring to my poems. This poem is a prayer that I wrote originally as the final part of a sequence of poems inspired by John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”. The final track of that album is so sparse it can hardly be heard at times. This is my attempt to set that emptiness to words. The recording was produced for the online launch of Les Feuilles Mortes, with Ashlea Ephraums, a talented young performer, reading.
Buy Les Feuilles Mortes at the Lulu store. All profits go to Tear Australia’s COVID-19 campaign
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)
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.
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.
“The LORD says to my Lord…” (Psalm 110:1). These are surely some of the more mysterious words to appear in the Bible. Who is the second Lord to whom the writer, King David, is referring? Who could even be understood to be David’s Lord apart from God, the LORD? David, after all, was king of all Israel; no-one beside God was higher than him. And yet he looks to another Lord who will be made king over everything and who, mysteriously, will also be a priest forever too. In Jesus, the mystery is, if not resolved, at least given flesh so we can behold it.
Today’s piece is Vivaldi’s powerful setting of Psalm 110, entitled “Dixit Dominus” (“The LORD says”) after the first two Latin words in the psalm. I’ve chosen Caravaggio’s strange Nativity scene, which anachronistically features Saints Francis and Lawrence, to help us to reflect on the wonder that this mighty king chose to come as a tiny baby. Caravaggio’s famous chiaroscuro lighting manages to hihglight Jesus’ face without resorting to the artistic cliches of his day. The presence of two saints known for their love of the poor seems fitting for this simple, peasant scene into which the king of all creation chose to come to earth.
Sit at my right hand
All earth is your footstool;
soon so will your enemies be too.
Yet You sit at our feet, minuscule, helpless,
Creator on the floor of creation,
infinite made finite,
the dew of your youth around you on the hay.
Judge of the nations: the nations come
to see your defenseless form, to catch
the future glory in your minute moment.
Where is your sceptre? You drink
from your mother’s breast; cannot
yet lift your head, nor fight.
Await the voice: “Sit at my right hand.”
But first you will cry, “I thirst”,
and, “It is finished,” and, “My God,
my God, why?” Heaven surrounds you,
but first the sword and the nails.
First the manger, this moment in eternity’s grasp.
I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
So William Blake begins his poem “A Poison Tree”. Where as Christians do we take our anger, or all the other messy emotions that seem not to belong comfortably in our faith? We can start by taking them to the Psalms.
Well, iTunes is not co-operating with me trying to get my podcasts available through the store, but here is the second one, a reflection on the power of the Psalms for dealing with anger, despair and depression. The recording is available for download here and at Soundcloud. If you like what you hear, please let others know so that these reflections can get to the people who need to hear them.
When morning bright awakens eyes:
awaken tongue; awaken mind.
When birdsong sounds the new of day:
sing, soul and heart; sing new pathways.
When yesterday creeps back to minds:
awaken, spirit; transform flesh.
When patterns threaten, dead songs groan:
listen, heart, to Spirit’s song.
Turn the sounds of self to silence;
lift up selfless praise.