Thursday, 23 April 2015

Christus Victor

Today is St George's Day, and also the anniversary of both the birth and the death of William Shakespeare.

Because of this (actually, it's a coincidence, but it struck me how appropriate this is!) I give you a Shakespearean sonnet on medieval themes, containing a dragon.

Christus Victor

The dragon Winter made a treasure trove
and all the jewels of Earth were in his keep.
He shut it tight, and fast the bolts he drove,
and, sealed with ice, stored it in caverns deep.
But all unseen, a thief came in the cold
and stole inside, before he shut the lid.
Life stole inside among the hoarded gold
Curled up beneath the covert gems, and hid.
Then, while the ransacked earth, by theft undone,
covered her shame and sorrow under snow,
Life smashed the roof.  Now look!  Catching the sun,
gold cowslip, daffodil and primrose grow.
That knight who stole the stolen, stands most brave:
Life’s oriflamme flies from that plundered cave.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

On Reading Coleridge

I have just returned from a poetry retreat day at Otley Hall with three things I didn't have before: a much more intimate knowledge of Coleridge and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a reading list that ranges from St John Chrysostom to G K Chesterton, and a desire to mow a labyrinth into our back garden.

I have also returned with a poem, which I wrote as a response to Malcolm Guite's unpacking of Coleridge's poetry, and which I had the privilege of hearing Malcolm read aloud. Having heard recordings of him reading so many of his own poems, this was an unforgettable experience.

Here is the poem. I owe the Schroedinger image to Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, who wrote on Holy Saturday that Jesus was 'Schroedinger's saviour' in the tomb. The rest I owe to Coleridge and Malcolm Guite!

On Reading Coleridge

A sudden glimpse of everything connected
and I am outside, and invited in.
The circle of the God who loves the world
and loves me, broken through my sin
and ready for renewal, as the shoot
breaks through the bulb, and earth imagines spring.
Schroedinger's chrysalis hangs in the balance -
inside, a caterpillar dreams a wing,
imagining those painted sails unfurled.
How can you read the whole world like a poem
until you've read a poem like the world?

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Messages from a wax tablet

Some notes written on a wax tablet, which had to be erased regularly to make space for the next note.

- I can't speak.

- I've noticed that! Did you lose your voice on the walk back from Jerusalem?

- No, I lost it before I started the walk back.

- Have you tried honey?

- It's not that kind of lost voice. What are you saying? Write it down!

- Are you deaf too?

- Yes, it seems so. Liz, wait. Don't cry.

- I don't understand. What has happened? Are you sick? Did you catch cold at the temple? Or is it more serious?

- Sit down. I have some news.

- Are you going to write everything like this? This is taking a long time.

- I've thought of that. I have written a letter with the full description of what I saw.

- What you saw?

- I need to explain something first, before I give you the letter.

- All right.

- At the temple, I drew the lot for the ceremony of incense. I was in the holy place. Liz? Come back! Don't forget I can't hear you!

- Sorry - I was excited! Zach, that's wonderful news, congratulations! You have been waiting all your life to do that! I wish you could tell me what it was like!

- I will! It's all in the letter! Liz, sit down again, there is more. While I was at the altar of incense, I saw a vision. God's angel spoke to me.

- !!!!!!!

- I know what you must be thinking, but Liz, my love, BE CAREFUL. Don't react to what I am about to tell you. Don't say anything foolish, as I did. That's the reason I can't speak or hear.

- In what way foolish? What did you say?

- The angel gave me some news that I found very difficult to believe, and I asked him for proof.

- You answered him back? An angel? In the sanctuary?!

- I know, I know. Liz, it's very difficult to explain. It's all in the letter.

- You could have been killed! So after you asked for proof, the angel struck you with this disease?

- It isn't a disease. This is the proof. God is good. He gave me what I asked for.

- This is proof? Proof of what?

- The angel said that I will not be able to speak again until I see the thing he told me come to pass. So be very careful, Liz, when I tell you what God's message was. The proof has already been given. We don't want two people in this house to be unable to speak for that length of time.

- For what length of time?

- About 9 months.

- WHAT?!?! Why are you grinning like that? Zach, don't tease me. What have you done? I can see that you are waiting for something to dawn on me, but I'm coming to some very unpleasant conclusions. Are you saying that you are going to have a child? Who have you met up with in Jerusalem when you should have been at the temple?

- No, my darling wife! Wipe your eyes! I am not going to have a child.

- Well, that's a relief.

- WE are going to have a child.



...Write something?

- What should I write? You told me to be careful.

- Don't you believe me? Think of Hannah. Think of Abraham and Sarah. Have we not always said to each other that God always has a good reason for preventing a couple from having children?

- I love you, and I trust you. I know you wouldn't say this to hurt me, and I know you know it's not funny. I'm waiting to hear your double meaning.

- I have no double meaning. The angel told me that we will have a son. I didn't believe it either, and I now can't talk as a result. I couldn't pronounce the blessing when I came out of the temple, and I couldn't tell anybody the news, until you. I'm telling you the truth - this is what God said.

- A son?

- Yes, a son, a boy, just as we've always dreamed. His name will be John.

- John? That's not even your name!

- I know, but that's what I was instructed to name him. It means 'God is gracious', and He is. He has been - He will be.

- Zach, I know the story of Abraham and Sarah, but we live in very different times now. Miracles don't happen any more. You and I both know that I am far, far, far too old for this to be true. It isn't physically possible. And even if it were, by some divine means, possible for me to conceive, can you imagine the strain of pregnancy on a body this age? Or the stress of giving birth? I thought that you and I had made our peace with being barren. I thought that all those years of tears and frustration and waiting and being disappointed over and over again, and all those years of praying and pleading and sacrificing, and all those years of explaining ourselves to neighbours and family and having to accept their stupid, uncomprehending sympathy while visiting houses packed to the brim with other people's children - I thought that those years ended when we discovered, at last, that there was no point in hoping any more. It was such a relief, wasn't it, when I reached that stage of life when my week of impurity was no longer something to be feared? You're not going to make me go through it all again, are you? Are you?

- There will be no wax left on this slate, Elizabeth, if you carry on like that.

- I'm sorry. I'm not trying to upset you, Zach. I suppose I'm just surprised, after all these years, that you've brought up this subject again. Don't you see what I mean?

- What do you mean? That God doesn't exist any more? That my family line, my priesthood, serves a fiction? Have you and I served a fictional God for our whole marriage?

- No!

- What, then? Presented with the evidence of a deaf and dumb husband, how can you write that miracles no longer happen? Or is it that you have come to believe that God's only actions are cruel ones?

- Look, Zach, which incense offering was it?

- The evening one, on the first day of the week.

- Well, all I'm saying is...isn't it possible that after a long day, the excitement and wonder of entering the holy place for the only time in your life, combined with nerves about performing the ceremony and the headiness of being so close to the incense - all experiences you have never had before - may have made you imagine a brightness in the haze of the smoke, perhaps a reflection of the gold on the altar, that you took to be an angel? And couldn't that experience of such a unique, holy and important moment of your life have caused you to remember other moments of high emotion in your life, and made those old hopes and dreams from our marriage come flooding back? If that happened, in a moment of heightened emotion and alone in such a holy place, I can understand perfectly how you could have felt that God was promising you a miracle. I have felt it so often myself - watching the sun come up over the hills, or washing in a clear mountain stream, or seeing a rainbow after a summer storm. So many times, over the years, I thought I heard God speak comfort and give promises, but nothing ever came of those moments except God's peace. Couldn't that be what happened to you?

- I don't know, Elizabeth. I don't think so, myself, but then I forget that I haven't yet been able to tell you about my vision. You will need to read my letter, and make up your mind for yourself after that.

- Very well, I will. Give me the letter to read.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


The following poem is called 'Incarnation'.  I wrote it last year, but it never appeared on a blog, perhaps because it appeared on all our Christmas cards instead, which was publication enough!  However, here it is in case anyone can use it this year.

How perfect for God to call us this way:
the irresistible invitation of being small 
the invitation of the infant, mute, wide-eyed 
the rooting mouth's silent innate call 
and the turning of his head to the side 
the clasping clench of the tiny fist 
which, given no more than a fingertip 
refuses to let go.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The parable of the dishonest manager

This morning's Gospel reading contains a fiendishly difficult parable - probably the strangest one that Jesus told!  Seriously, have a look at it in Luke 16.  What on earth was Jesus going on about?!

Here's my paraphrase to read to the Sunday Club children. I hope I've managed to explain it without changing it.

Jesus told this story:

Once there was an accountant who worked for a very rich man, managing all his money.  Over time he started to be dishonest, stealing some of the money and hiding it away for himself.

In the end his master found out, of course, and straight away he gave the accountant his notice.  The accountant knew that he was going to get the sack, and he was terrified.  He thought, “What will I do when I lose my job?  My master will take back all this money I’ve saved, and I will have nothing.”  

After a night of worrying, the accountant had an idea.  The next day he went in for his last day of work to tidy up the accounts, and he called up all the people who were in debt to his master.  While he still had control of the money, he generously halved their debts and sent them away happy, knowing that when he lost his job, he would find a friend among the people he had helped.

The rich man still sacked his accountant, of course, but he had to laugh and admit that the man had been very cunning with his money!

The disciples listened to the story, and I expect they were wondering, “Is Jesus telling us that it’s OK to be dishonest?  Or what?”  But Jesus looked at them with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Isn’t it funny that even a corrupt accountant knew that the best way to make money work for him in the end was to give it away!  You need to be cunning with your money, too.  If you can’t be careful with earthly money, how will you gain heavenly riches?  Money works best when you use it generously.  You can’t hang on to your money and still love God."

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Entertaining Angels

Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! - Hebrews 13:2

Monday was a good day.  I really felt all there.
The sort of day when I get time to wash and dry my hair.
I took out the recycling and I mopped the kitchen floor
I washed a load of laundry and I hung out a load more.
The children were all fed and washed, and clothed - before midday -
I thought, I’m ready now, if someone wants to come and stay.
I knew a guest would be impressed with my housekeeping flair,
I’ve heard I could be entertaining angels unaware.

I waited for an angel, but it really was a shame;
I wasted all that housework, ‘cause the angel never came.

This afternoon I’d had the kind of day I really hate.
I was still in my pyjamas and the kitchen was a state.
The children hadn’t slept, and they were acting really loopy,
and one of them had hit her brother with a plastic Snoopy;
The baby climbed the stairs unseen, and, though he never falls,
He did find all his sister’s pens - and used them on the walls.
I reached a pan from a high shelf, it fell down with a clang,
It landed on my foot, I swore - and THEN the doorbell rang!

I didn’t answer at the time, and later when I checked,
They’d given up and gone.  It was those angels, I expect.

Then later on, I thought about how Jesus was a guest,
He visited two sisters, his best friends, to have a rest.
While Mary sat and listened, Martha couldn’t find the time.
I wonder whether Martha had a day a bit like mine.
And I’m sure she wished that Mary would get up and do her bit,
But Mary knew that it was more important just to sit,
For Jesus loved to see them, and that’s why he came to stay,
and it was never very long before he had to go away.

Next time I’ll ask those angels to step over the debris,

I hope they will ignore the mess and spend some time with me.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

After Ball, Charming Depressed

Just for a bit of fun: I wrote this four years ago for a competition. I didn't win, but how quickly can you work out what the main rule of the competition was?!

After Ball, Charming Depressed

After the ball, the only people left awake were the servants, sweeping away the smashed glasses and sticky pools of spilt champagne. Ballrooms always look larger after everybody has gone home; sad, empty, vacuous spaces with a chill in the air. Charming perched on top of a stack of chairs, glumly holding the glass slipper in his hand.

"Didn't she find me attractive?" he wondered with a sigh. "Evidently my conversation was too boring. Frogs get girls quicker than me around here." Groaning, he reached out and drained an abandoned half-glass of champagne.

His introspection was interrupted at this point by his page, Iago, who entered sleepily, having been waiting for hours to put his master to bed. "I've been looking for you everywhere!" the disgruntled boy yawned.

"Just go to bed, Iago," replied the prince grumpily, "I can put on my own pyjamas tonight."

"Keep on like this, and you'll be alone every night" grumbled the page good-naturedly. "Look, Charmers, if you liked her so much, why give up hope? Maybe she had a good reason to run off like that. Nice girls don't disappear without at least saying "Ta for the dance" unless they have a good reason. Obviously she was just in too much of a hurry to tell you what it was."

Prince Charming sighed and stretched, clambering down from his stack of chairs. "Quite so, Iago, quite so" he conceded wearily. "Right as usual. Still, what can I do?"

"Tomorrow's another day," said Iago cheerfully.

"Undoubtedly it is, my dear Iago, but what can I hope that tomorrow will bring? Voicemail? Without even knowing her name, I am helpless."

"'xept that, unless I'm very much mistaken, sir, you're currently holding her very unusual shoe, which is probably magic and certainly unique."

"Zounds!" cried the prince, "So I am!"