“The thick darkness where God was”

This is what must first be given to the painting, a harmonious warmth, an abyss into which the eye sinks, a voiceless germination…
(Paul Cézanne)

How often is he shown with those horns of light,
as though his head were itself full
of the brightest luminescence and
two cracks, two holes
had formed inside his skull to let
escape all that light, kept
invisibly, impossibly, inside.

Yet for Rembrandt see
how darkness grabs the eye much more
than all the plainness of that face,
how even those two tablets seem
as black as all the dark to which
we’re told that he drew near, while all
of Israel stood just far enough
away to not be safe.

And when El Greco takes
the striking forms of Sinai as
his text, the darkness is
in every shadow-line beneath
the redness of the clouds, around
those rocky pillars, rising from
the chalky, sketchy ground.

Not darkness, but light, shone forth
from those two tablets when
the light-horned Moses brought them down.
Yet light like that we must squint to see.
When fear declares that only man
is safe, that we can’t bear to hear
the voice that struck the tablets’ side:
O let us step, like Moses, to
that darkness without human horns
where only in that absence
of human sight can all Your light
be ever fully seen.

Catechism 11

What does God require in the sixth, seventh and eighth commandments?

Sixth, that we do not hurt, or hate, or be hostile to our neighbour, but be patient and peaceful, pursuing even our enemies with love. Seventh, that we abstain from sexual immorality and live purely and faithfully, whether in marriage or in single life, avoiding all impure actions, looks, words, thoughts, or desires, and whatever might lead to them. Eighth, that we do not take without permission that which belongs to someone else, nor withhold any good from someone we might benefit.


So, when order is perfect –

when what’s mine is not mine but

a loan, a trust,

when all’s laid out by hands that know,

each portion wisely portioned, each

gift a chance to give –


then we will not look, haughty,

across our neighbour’s fence, nor

desire, require

what has not been placed in our hands.

Outstretched arms must come with open palms,

open eyes to see


not boundary, not deprivation,

but the plenty which grows in

fields, in furrows

which, ordered, know the times, the ways,

upturned mouths expectant of

each daily gift of grace.

Catechism 10











What does God require in the fourth and fifth commandments?

Fourth, that on the Sabbath day we spend time in public and private worship of God, rest from routine employment, serve the Lord and others, and so anticipate the eternal Sabbath. Fifth, that we love and honour our father and our mother, submitting to their godly discipline and direction.

(New City Catechism)


Where, then, is striving?

Do we

carve our mark into the soil

as though

it were ours to claim,

to own, to train, subdue

for our own gain,

to lay up for ourselves a future

free from bended knees?


What good is our labour?

Do we

work up sweaty brows from toil

as though

the day were ours to win,

as though each crop bore our

pride, our triumph

in its temporary flourishing,

its momentary grace?


Look to the flowers,

the birds.

Do they toil and strive? And yet,

though they

cannot gain tomorrow, look

how fine each thread, each crown!

Trust the hand which

orders, which shapes the tides and knows all

secrets and all truth:


Look to the Father

and trust

the shades of earthly order.

See how

wise, how deep, His stores.

For though from birth your hand

was born clutching, trust

and bow: your heart, like soil, must be tilled

before the harvest’s plenty.

Catechism 9

What does God require in the first, second 
and third commandments?
First, that we know and trust God as the only 
true and living God. Second, that we avoid all 
idolatry and do not worship God improperly. 
Third, that we treat God’s name with fear and 
reverence, honoring also his Word and works.
(New City Catechism)

The Beginning of all things,
begin with Him:
know, trust, serve.
What breath have you
that did not pour forth from His mouth?
what life, what sight
that did not emanate from Him?

Is He contained within
the stars, the moon,
the patterns of the soil
that you may draw
a set of lines on a cave's wall and declare,
here He is! or carve
His likeness out of wood?

And what is His name
that you can barter,
beg, lie, steal
armed with it in your carry-bag,
a totem, a charm,
a licence to twist and turn His will
as though He were potters' clay.

You are the clay. Remember,
children of Adam,
the soil, the breath,
the hands that shaped and formed.
And bow; you are His likeness. Be
before Him as His image; bow
before Him and begin.

Catechism 8


(Detail from "Moses" by Rembrandt van Rijn)

What is the law of God stated in the Ten 
You shall have no other gods before me. You 
shall not make for yourself an idol in the form 
of anything in heaven above or on the earth 
beneath or in the waters below – you shall not 
bow down to them or worship them. You shall not 
misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember 
the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Honor your 
father and your mother. You shall not murder. 
You shall not commit adultery. You shall not 
steal. You shall not give false testimony. 
You shall not covet.
(New City Catechism)

So we begin
what clutching hands at apple trees do not know:
    accepting that there is Someone
        much higher than the heights of all
    our striving and our pride.

Bow down before
    no other god:
not what your hands have wrought or what you 
    not that which eyes find pleasing nor
         what beauty holds out towards you
    or serves your present aims.

The depths are yours
    to plumb, to swim,
yet all within is His. The water’s mirror
    shines back to you your face; do not
         mistake creature for Creator
    or love sea more than Son.

Heart humble and
    contrite, know the
joy of boundaries set out by love. The waters
    stay where He commands; so we too
        can rest within parameters
    carved deep with mercy’s law.