…as if He were a seed in our garden, or a small flash of light for our pupil, He shone forth and diffused and filled the earth.
(Saint Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns for the Nativity)
Days crack like soil.
In the parts of the world where summer parches
we wait like potholes for the rain.
December’s slow refrain is singing
songs that speak of joy. Repeat
the sound of joy, though it may cloy
against the tune of years. We see
the line of kings; the throne, the rings
disappoint. The crown is twisted;
what can grow between these thorns?
A king, smaller than a seed
and vaster than the spheres.
He rose up like a shoot before Him, a shoot from the parched earth; something spoken secretly occurred openly today.
(St Ephraim the Syrian, Nativity Hymns 1)
TV screens bear children’s prayers to a jolly man in red.
My wish list is as full as my cupboard; my spirit is silent today.
From department store dreams and desires filling reams,
O Son of Man, release us.
Shadows cast by desert palms long ago predicted
that only the thirsty will come to the well,
only the helpless will kneel.
Read history with alien desperation:
strangers in their homes know better than we
who never need long for Christmas.
Now it happens
in places with names we know:
near streets we have walked,
in stadiums and concert halls,
in coffee shops,
where violence never breathed before,
where we were safe.
Now we look for signs of links
to Syria, to al-Assad,
ISIL, and cells which fire.
Nothing has prepared us, yet
to others this has brewed for long.
The boundaries ever shifting say
that nothing was ever safe.
When French Charlie can’t say his name
without all heads turning at once,
the times are only waving a sign.
Once, when peasants were offered cake,
no-one ate to celebrate
Today, remember: Damascus’ streets bustled before,
and in the days of Noah men ate and drank
and no-one saw the rain.
For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us forgiveness.
(Pope John Paul II, May 2001)
I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
The year the towers fell, John Paul
set foot where he was not welcome.
A Polish pope stretched out his hand,
though age had made him weak in grasp,
and held the breach, deep into past,
and said that it was wrong.
How far are spirits breached? How long
must souls be searched to find the start?
A silent prayer in Umayyad
cuts back to Hagar, Ishmael.
The God-who-sees hears whispered prayers
and knows how nations fell.
If we don’t speak of Cyprus now,
if East and West still cannot meet,
if schism is a constant truth
and where Saint Paul walked stands a wall:
thank God for arms that span the breach
and bear our coffin nails.
We cannot see al-Assad now
beside the pope and hope that he
will bring the peace we long to see;
the breach stands still, is deeper now,
yet Spirit moans for unity,
for being Three-In-One.
Behold all that are asleep, awake and rise to sing praise…
(From Psalm 148, Midnight Prayer liturgy, Syriac Orthodox Church)
Could we have seen it coming?
Was our slumber too deep?
Midnight’s for sleeping, yet You do not sleep,
nor did You sleep
as boundaries changed and names were rearranged.
You did not sleep as serpents hatched their eggs.
As feet kicked against the goads, awake, You rose.
Do You sleep?
We lie now as wide-eyed at midnight as at midday,
yet every praise that You ordain spells death to faithful lips.
And waken us to see the grace
that lies here with us,