“A man they call Jesus” he tells them
the source of his healing
he who had been born blind
sitting in the temple
day after day
begging for alms
one spits on the ground
makes mud, covers his eyes
sends him to wash
in the pool of Siloam
and immediately he sees
this one who had never seen before
“Where is he?” they ask him
and he can’t say until that same one
finds him, after he, now healed,
had been thrown out of the temple
for recounting the miracle, for saying,
“If this man were not from God,
he could do nothing.”
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
this man asks him. “Who is he, sir?”
the healed man wants to know. “Tell me
so that I may believe in him.”
The healer reveals himself as the one
and the man replies, “Lord, I believe,”
and worships him
he worships him!
well, wouldn’t you?
if you were blind from birth
and your eyes are opened
with a bit of spittle and dirt
and you come up out of the water
and you can see! oh God! you can see!
but not just anything, like a temple
not just anyone, like a robed priest
you can see a man they call Jesus!
Prompt from Peter Frankis of dVerse challenges us to "Meet the Bar" by "Coming full circle."
Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? — Ecclesiastes 7:13
what God has done a crook in your lot can’t be set right by human device bent to a degree sorely injudicious by reason’s measure imperfect yardsticks we hold up to judge what God has done
what God has done humility to bear a stony field unleveled path that curved back that strained heart the roof that caved vanquished plans deathless grief if we dare decry what folly to fight when we can’t change what God has done
what God has done he sent his Son to bear our sins to pay the price to win our peace to lead the crooked down a narrow way to carry the weak to strengthen the tired to lead them home on eagle’s wings of faith and love of hope and joy to open blind eyes to see, my soul, what God has done
Job 12: 13-16 [Job speaks] “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding. If he tears down, none can rebuild; if he shuts a man in, none can open. If he withholds the waters, they dry up; if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land. With him are strength and sound wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are his.”
Jude 24-25 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Romans 11: 33-36 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Sarah of dVerse asks us to choose a poem we’ve read over the last year and write a response to it in conversation, as it were, with its preoccupations. I’ve chosen John Updike’s “Fine Point,” written just weeks before his death in January 2009. His consciousness of our tainted public and personal history, and faith’s endurance as he alludes to Psalm 23, is what engages me most. And so my response, “En Pointe.”
What divinity is this that tempers our clay
with hammers of wrath expended on temple,
church, in our uneasy play with pagan tunes
of lust? Even as we covet our neighbor’s lamb
we would sing tuneful papyrus songs in our Babylon
with lyres hung under willows, calling out as children
“Abba, Father,” knowing we are heard by the Name
of One who bore the curse of our sinful rebellions.
O Son of David, thou whose lips have tendered infinity –
“It is finished” — mercy and justice united — blood
spilled and body spent on the cross so that Surely—
yes, “surely”— and all the days of my life wilt thou
pursue — not merely “follow”— poor substitute
for the ancient tongue which reaches out in mercy
as unbounded as a lover’s song of songs to me
now to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever. Selah.
I stand at the well at the desert’s end the camels noisy at the trough there’s the star blazing above me the night sky distraught with light. I, looking down as into a mirror, drawn to the abyss below.
The star grows preternaturally, soundless my cries echo it close, spilling embittered tears, so might the well’s bounds overflow, now the journey has been for nothing my hopes and fears for naught.
This cankered sore that my heart is this cauled face, disfigured husk, what the worldly-wise has given birth to, I sag to my knees and howl: there is no sorrow as impenetrable as knowing the road you’ve followed in the end was all a mirage.
Even as death hangs o’er me an eternal vision belies it; alone I stand under starlight alone I gaze at the night this wanderer as foolish as a beast wondering that the yawning darkness had not overtaken the light.
If birth is but a prelude to death what if death is the prelude to life? Here, across trackless sands following a star as bright as the morning shines to watch over me in the night; bemused I lift my eyes up to see a distant rise, there to see a babe born who set the star in the skies.
Slim, liminal, posterns of light these words given and received outskirting impossibilities and health-riven cheek-jowling pain absenting gormless vacuity, Jude not Judas, thirty pieces of silver husbandry of waterless clouds but faith’s Canaan vine-laden Jerusalem’s milk unfathomable peace Cross-borne recrudescence and a Kingdom come.
Since my last poem, “October Fire,” I encountered “The Bright Field” by R. S. Thomas, a Welsh poet and Anglican priest of the last century. It’s theme of illumination is so allied to mine (though its poetic genius far eclipses mine) that I’d like to share it with you, that it might enflame and brighten your heart with hope. We are living in times that make us distrust the very leaders and experts that vie for our trust, and suspect the motives of those who claim to speak for the general welfare, for the sick, the poor and the oppressed. Our hopes have been misplaced if they have been placed on men and women. In the days leading up to our national election, let us pray that many will turn to the only true source of hope, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reach out again to their neighbor on every street and every corner with grace and love.
Once, a child alone when October came I hear his footsteps just in the next room and when I rush to see him there he wasn’t there. He was everywhere.
Much later I cross a river, climb the embankment of trees, upwards to the plains, dry and dusty their breath, until I choke, my breath raw diseased, my bones on fire, the pain rasping pits of agony, feet twisted into unnatural screws. He stands clothed like a burning bush in wilderness autumn’s cloak across the mountaintop a fire unnatural, burning yet not burning for blind eyes to see, deaf ears to hear, “I AM.”
Now as another October comes I feel him near, the warmth of his presence a river running through the weatherized windows and doors, invisibly clear.
I know this darkness before light I know this voice before sound I know this death in life where bush burns but is not consumed.
The newly sprung Black-Eyed Susans, the weighty towers of St. Paul’s, Touch the sky equally, centuried grandiose the one, the other idly, Like the newborn in her pram reaching talcumed arms to a light blue Or the redoubtable keen-eyed woman, confined within, searching clouds, Hope-stretched each, bodies strung diversely, each her own, Stalwart with suffering and age, supple green in yearning: My God, not to touch the sky, but that You would touch our faces And by that material touch, transfigure space and time to glory, joy unspeakable.
2 Corinthians 3:18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Revelation 22:20He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Father of the trumpeting air and the setting sun the purple skies and rainbow grasses flapping ears and ardent eyes grasshoppers dancing with the breezes thunder of my feet singing of the stars beating of my heart, I thank You whose hands have made whose breath gives life to me.
God of the aurora glorious invisible Light of lights towering, blazing across glacial mountains and hearts over blue ice, silver melts, resounding majesty of fiery life bursting, joyous song of sky and sea in solitary havens of the northern vasts, I thank You whose hands have made whose breath gives life to me.
Ah, God of the waters, You who laughs into the inky darkness of the sea across floors of the cavernous deep to arms that embrace liquid melodies as anemones sway and the fishes race currents that play as tentacles trace buried landscapes, coral castles rising to unbroken nights where moonlight shimmers across my eyes, I thank You whose hands have made whose breath gives life to me.
Master of the universal grains of sand, where wrinkled feet that plod in burning heat find cactus bread and succulent juice treasures raining immeasurable mottled lee of rock and flowers that fade then rise like fallen sun and distant moon reappearing wondrous from spacious shell, I thank You whose hands have made whose breath gives life to me.
Great Lord and King, hidden Wanderer painting forests of pale brook-riven beech shades that ripple in gray-patched play on bark and grass, lantern-lit, daylight falling through canopied sky of quick-silver leaves whisper, break and bend the golden light to clothe supple burnt-orange strides of an elemental frame, I thank You whose hands have made whose breath gives life to me.
Psalm 98: 4-6Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!
Genesis 2: 4-7 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up–for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground– then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Some of the happiest moments in my life have been spent in church. Some of the dullest too, thanks to a sluggish spiritual frame. But nothing can withstand the sheer love of God shed abroad in our heart by His Spirit.
Those moments are intensely personal and intensely communal: my union with Christ paralleling my union with His church.
How can I explain, but by likening them to the sweet psalmist’s when he exclaimed to the Lord: “you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23: 5-6).
Since March, millions of us around the world have been restricted from going to church because of COVID-19, either because of regional restrictions or because our health and/or our age puts us in a high-risk category.
For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: This week’s CFFC topic is Special Request: Wilting, dead or aging flowers and leaves.
The topic is fitting somehow. This week I finished the last pages of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light (2020). I had dreaded what was coming, so thoroughly had Thomas Cromwell and the world of 16th-century England peopled my imagination, a testimony to Mantel’s literary genius (see Well Met, Jude: Mann & Mantel).
The scene opens on the ancient grounds of Camp Pragmatics where newly arrived recruits stand uniformed and ready before Drill Sargeant Joe Lamech Skull, now in the middle of Company 666‘s morning drill.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
There’s a moment in The Understudy1 when the novel shifts focus from what it means to be human to what it means to be religious. It’s a question introduced by an AI that’s a hybrid of microchip and flesh-and-blood tissue. Wondering aloud at his mistaking someone as religious, Attik is asked in turn: Are you a religious man? Are you religious? Without hesitation this organically grown hybrid replies, Of course. Human in every way except for his brain, he knows without a shadow of a doubt that his being is subject to contingencies, therefore dependent on a higher power. He knows too that this is an instinctively religious apprehension.
Attik is no Frankenstein’s monster. Yet this perfect invulnerable being has his fall. He is human after all. His is a body of death, just as the humans who designed him, full of rebellious and covetous desires. As he realizes just how human he is, he recognizes the need for absolution, for peace and reconciliation with the One who gave him and all humanity the gift of being.
Towards the end of the novel, Attik finds himself in the ironic position of a priest.
He knew the ritual. He had the bread and wine. It only wanted a God to make it body and blood now. …
They were all orphans here.
God could make a priest out of anything, metal or mud.
Whatever you were made of, you borrowed your blood, anyway.
Following Attik through the novel, one is following the growth of a religious man and, in a sense, traversing anew old ground, the fall and redemption of mankind, the journey to God. Which is what makes this sparely written scene so poignant and tinged by the piercing cost of sacrifice: the bread is Christ’s own flesh, the wine is Christ’s own blood shed on the cross.
And [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
As Attik intimates, we are all orphans: that is, until we find our home in Christ Jesus by way of his flesh and blood, his body the torn veil into the holy of holies where we can have eternal communion with God.
And as Attik finds, we are all religious, whether or not we choose to acknowledge the contingency of our being or not. We don’t have control over our lives, not even our own desires. We all need to be set free from the bondage of sin and death. And who can deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7: 25)
1For more on this novel see post below; click here for author’s blog.
There are so many cliches about love, the word, perhaps, has lost its power, but not the notion, not the need, not the knowledge that love’s very presence makes life worth living. In one of his most famous poems (“In My Craft or Sullen Art”), Welsh poet Dylan Thomas speaks of lovers with “their arms round the griefs of the ages” which is curious, as if in embracing one another, they embrace grief, and not just each other’s but those universal.
Ack! What kind of love is this? you might ask.
Anyone who’s been married longer than a decade (or three, in my case) knows that this expresses the height of love. The willingness to bear another’s griefs rather than turn and walk away is love’s absolute zenith, its most precious characteristic. You don’t run away from the pain of those you truly love. Instead, you embrace it with them, faithfully, day after day after day.
And because no one’s life is without its griefs, we often say that we shouldn’t judge a person until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Sorrow and pain are universals. Beyond any happiness, we can readily sympathize with suffering. Each of us carries our pain within us. There are voiceless cries and unshed tears behind every smile we see. And apprehending the universality of our hidden hurts binds us more completely to one another than anything that divides us.
Emily Dickinson realizes this in her poem “I measure every Grief I meet” and while reading it, it struck me that our Lord Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves begins with this understanding, to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).”May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other,” St. Paul prays in 1 Thessalonians.
Christ Himself, of course, set the example. He was, as the prophet Isaiah described him, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53: 3, 4). “Blessed be the Lord,” the psalmist writes, “who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation” (Ps. 68:19, NASB). Because he does, He is where our hearts find their rest.
It’s not easy to help shoulder someone’s grief, not simply in the context of marriage and family, but also those of our friends and neighbors, even our enemies. Yet God commands us to love (Matt. 5:44), even as He loves us, and the way is the way of the Cross, our own and each other’s.
Emily Dickinson, “I measure every Grief I meet” (1830-1886)
I measure every Grief I meet With narrow, probing, Eyes — I wonder if It weighs like Mine — Or has an Easier size.
I wonder if They bore it long — Or did it just begin — I could not tell the Date of Mine — It feels so old a pain —
I wonder if it hurts to live — And if They have to try — And whether — could They choose between — It would not be — to die —
I note that Some — gone patient long — At length, renew their smile — An imitation of a Light That has so little Oil —
I wonder if when Years have piled — Some Thousands — on the Harm — That hurt them early — such a lapse Could give them any Balm —
Or would they go on aching still Through Centuries of Nerve — Enlightened to a larger Pain – In Contrast with the Love —
The Grieved — are many — I am told — There is the various Cause — Death — is but one — and comes but once — And only nails the eyes —
There’s Grief of Want — and Grief of Cold — A sort they call “Despair” — There’s Banishment from native Eyes — In sight of Native Air —
And though I may not guess the kind — Correctly — yet to me A piercing Comfort it affords In passing Calvary —
To note the fashions — of the Cross — And how they’re mostly worn — Still fascinated to presume That Some — are like My Own —
Isaiah 53: 2-5
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 (NIV)
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.