Friday, August 31, 2007

Poetry Friday III - John 11:33-37

The poem of my friend mentioned above is the poem for today, but it won't make any sense in isolation, so I'll share this one, also based on John 11:33-37. Hugh Palmer from All Soul's in London preached at our church last Sunday night on John 11, in which he emphasised all that is contained in that little verse "Jesus wept", and it is just my theme for this week:

Could not the one who opened blind men's eyes
Have kept this man from dying? Did he care
So little he delayed until he dared
Not linger further? Were there futile tries
To heal, quite swallowed by the mourning cries?
The healer must have loved him: he can't bear
This death with stoic unconcern, nor tear
From this man's tomb his weeping eyes.
The one whose primal home is heaven's bliss
Makes dust of Palestine his friend, and weeps
With those who weep. No studied distance, this:
He dons our flesh and into anguish leaps.
Removed from savage death, he could have kept
Aloof; but scripture signals, "Jesus wept".
Don Carson, Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century

August 31st


This is one of those pictures that paints a thousand words, or suggests a thousand stories. It's blurry I know, but basically what it says is that my father died on the 31st August when I was four, my older sister was six, and my Mum was six months pregnant with my younger sister. It bothers me sometimes that I suspect I slept through it. That momentous event that charged the course of my life, and all our lives, and irrevocably altered the person I was to become.

Recently at the Faithful Writers Conference we had to do a writing task. One of the options was a reflective piece on human suffering. So I decided to write about the family visits to the cemetery that followed my father's death. What happened there and how the response of each individual has shaped how they still respond to anything that goes near there. That August 31st reverberates through all our lives.

A little while ago told the story of those graveside visits to a new but trusted friend. They found themselves 'singularly moved' and went away and wrote me a poem based on John 11:33-37, which records the weeping of Jesus over the death of Lazarus and the sorrow of his sisters. The poem ended looking up at this Saviour who shed his tears, and then his blood, for us - so we can now cast all our cares on him. And it wasn't in the poem but we can then hope for the time when "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" Rev 21:4.

(I'm not up to sharing the writing piece, or the poem, in entirety, with the anonymous world. The other day, however, I received a link from a friend, with bizarre timing, that gives a rather different insight into what can become of children who experience grief. So, excuse the explicit language and read this short piece instead.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Looking through a window

I stayed at home yesterday, obeying doctor's orders for this middle-ear infection I got from somewhere, and I was extra pleased as the weather turned miserable right about the time I would need to trek home over Pyrmont bridge and then line up for the bus (one of my least favourite parts of the day is the bus stop on Elizabeth Street around 6pm, with its swarms of people behaving in inhuman fashion). So, while I was home, having quite a lovely time really because I was hardly "sick", I read one of my birthday presents: a book called The Secret River by Kate Grenville. I don't read a lot of modern fiction, or Australian fiction either, so this book is an adventure. So far I have been impressed. She writes with a lot of perception, but does it with a striking simplicity.

Here's one example, written after the family had just built a hut on their piece of forest up the Hawkesbury:

The forest took on a different aspect, too. Outside the eye was confused by so many details, every leaf and grass-stalk different but each one the same. Framed by doorway or window-hole, the forest became something that could be looked at part by part and named. Branch. Leaves. Grass.
It struck me that she could be talking about ethics or worldview with that simple paragraph - how we need a framework to understand things by, to make sense of the world, boundaries so we know where "home" is. I've always been glad that I had a defined window to through at the world, and glad that there's a fence, if you will, a fence built by God - even if I discover I'm on the wrong side of it, at least I know where home is. Anyway, that perhaps is a long shot from Kate Grenville, and perhaps a product of what was going on between my ears, but somehow I got there.

Poetry Friday II - If I had wings

If I had wings as hath a dove,
If I had wings that I might fly,
I yet would seek the land of love
Where fountains run which run not dry ...

Christina Rossetti

Thankfully I've found it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Poetry Friday - The Darkling Thrush

I have unashamedly stolen the idea of a poetry day off Nicole’s blog, because, as she says, "the more people reading poetry the better" (IOHO) - and while I am there I found her post for today regarding "binary nature of deliberative moral judgements" very interesting.

The poem I am going to begin with is The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy. It’s been a favourite for years and is, to me, something of the picture of what Christian hope and joy in the midst of unlikely circumstances should look like - and is a little something for a foggy/frosty day.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.


Thomas Hardy

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ramparts for the soul

I've been tagged by Mandy to post "that verse or story of scripture which is important to you, which you find yourself re-visiting time after time".

As Mandy, and those before her, have also said, I have a number of passages that spring instantly to mind. My favourite books include Philippians, James and 1 John - these are the "rubber hits the road" passages of what loving God and living as a Christian looks like for me. However, I do also need to remind myself of the realities of passages like Ephesians 1, and my favourite stand alone chapter of the bible would have to be Romans 8, rising out of the theological marvels and truths of Romans something like an exaltant climax, that feeds the coming instructions in the later chapters. Verses 31-37 are a "rampart for the soul" (I've forever stolen that phrase from Sara Groves - see post below) if ever there was one.

But if I had to pull out one verse, that has been an enduring comfort to me, it would be Deuteronomy 33:27:
The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
I tag Guan, Karen, Andrew and Nicole.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why it matters

On Friday I received a new CD, the Sara Groves album Add to the Beauty – and as per usual there follows the period of obsession with it. Much as I don’t usually particularly like Christian music, for general listening, I am really taken with this album. My current song favourite is called "Why it Matters". For starters it contains a quite divine cello interlude, and for the rest it speaks to me about what the daily reality of the Christian life should be: of how we should get along side our brothers and sisters and remind them of the gospel, of the promises of God and of the power that will keep us to the end; of the importance of what we do with each day and our "efforts at narrating" that gospel story; of how we are to witness to those around us with something outstandingly different, something beautiful; of how we should reach out to all people with compassion and attention in the midst of life’s chaos and be a "rampart for soul" and of why it matters that we give to those in need. And it’s all said so poetically and sung so beautifully ...

Why It Matters
by Sara Groves

Sit with me and tell me once again
Of the story that's been told us
Of the power that will hold us
Of the beauty, of the beauty
Why it matters

Speak to me until I understand
Why our thinking and creating
Why our efforts of narrating
About the beauty, of the beauty
Why it matters

Like a statue in the park
Of this war torn town
And it's protest of the darkness
And this chaos all around
With its beauty, how it matters
How it matters

Show me a love that never fails
Some compassion and attention
Midst confusion and dissention
Like small ramparts for the soul
How it matters

Like a single cup of water
How it matters

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Gratitude and Adoration

I stole this lovely quote in pieces off two other blogs. It was my birthday on Monday, so I have lots of new pleasures to which I can apply it. And "coruscation" has just become my new favourite word.

Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility ... I have tried ... to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different ... Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun ... If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.
~C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, (1964)