Belief (5)

Based on the Gospel of John, chapter 9

“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
when suddenly
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."

Rebirth

For the listener, who listens in the snow, And, nothing himself, beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
— Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man”

There ought not to be anything but that my mind has ordered it so —

So I had been taught — for the mind is designer

Reality but the by-blow, bastard child that diminishes as I diminish

But that the Emperor of Ice-Cream has clay feet

Which stand on eternity’s threshold eyeing a feast.

There the bread and wine of Thy design

Grain and grape sweetly lies upon the tongue

To “taste and see the goodness of the LORD”

Yet nothing tasting if not sanctified by Thy Word

Blood spilled and body broken

Spoken gospel of love heard by a few

Who once nothing being are born in You

Till nothing become sons and daughters

Alive to You.

Originally posted on This Jolly Beggar.

What God Has Done

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.

 

 

En Pointe

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.”

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.

Last Year’s Snow

When last year’s snow is slow to go
The chill hanging on, no mellow glow
Arrives, freeing wintry branches and briers
Beneath the ice like frozen desires.

So may our hearts harden, slow to thaw
When too long we don’t withdraw
Our gaze from yesterday’s wrong
Mistrusting forgiveness for which we long.

Then what loss we bear to gain instead
A bitter disbelief in what had once been shed
Where warm blood flowed from pierced side
Christ’s sacrifice unheeded and despised.

Look up, dear soul, see who’s risen above
Healing in his wings to bear your judgment in love
He enthroned in power, has power to melt
Your shame-hardened heart, set free from guilt.

Seeing Christmas Light

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.

Recrudescence

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.

dVerse's Quadrille #116: "possible," 44 words
Click on Mr. Linky for more quadrilles

Journey (2)

Image credit; Evan Clark@ Unsplash

Journey

water still
log submerged
balanced feet
journey of the mind

what do you see,
what do you understand?
“to reach the shore
keep your eyes on land”

feet submerged
the sky above
you whisper, what now
as your heart gives out

from misty shore
a Voice calls out
“to walk on water
you can’t look down”

can faith hold firm
Who do you trust?
what your eyes can’t see
is what bears you up


Leaves in Light

Eden’s light long since faded
we no longer look to know or see
as we once saw but question
the light we possess, frugal,
appalled at universal decay:
but now You have come.

Contained within the palms of Your hands,
not a leaf, not a flower, not a rock,
not the universe in a grain of sand,
but nails driven into You in whom
we have our being.

You did not suffer apart from me
as a celestial leaf in glory fallen
shorn from root, tree, limb,
but You in me, now dead, buried,
risen to new life.

In this crucible of exile do not deny me
now the fire of your Spirit along darkened veins,
a reckoning, their pride of life burnt dry
into joyous rivers of light.


Romans 6:22
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.


The Bright Field

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.

A field in the Shenandoah Valley

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

October Fire

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.

I wait.

Mish's Open Link Night #275
Click on Mr. Linky for more poems and join in.

Unspoken Stretches

Floral display in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, August 2020;
Copyright Debbie Smyth; Used by permission

Unspoken Stretches

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 3:18 And 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 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Let All the Earth Give Thanks!

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.

poem and audio reading of “Let All the Earth Give Thanks” ℗©2020 Dora A.K
music: Thomas Tallis, “Salvator mundi” sung by Theater of Voices, dir. Paul Hillier

Psalm 98: 4-6 Make 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.

Lyrics: Salvator mundi, salva nos, qui per crucem et sanguinem
redemisti nos. Auxiliare nobis, te deprecamur, Deus noster. (Translation: Saviour of the world, save us, thou who by thy cross and blood
hast redeemed us. Come to our rescue, we beseech thee, our God.)
Originally posted April 22, 2016 on JollyBeggar.com
Images from Google for Earth Day, 4/22/2016

O Spirit of the Living God

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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.

Continue reading “O Spirit of the Living God”

Reflections on an Un-Natural Decay

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).

Continue reading “Reflections on an Un-Natural Decay”

Who Will Deliver Me From This Body of Death?

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Romans 7:24

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.

Luke 22:19-20

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.

Love Me, Love Me Not

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)

audio reading ℗2020 dora a.k.

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.