J is for Jerusalem

J is for Jerusalem

I will never see Jerusalem

Or walk its ancient streets

Thronged with crowds

Shouting “Hosanna, Hosanna”

Flinging down palm leaves

And following the donkey

Plodding unconcerned by

The weight of the world

And the coming of changes

Borne upon her back.

I will never see Jerusalem,

Or hear the maddened crowds

Whipped to a frenzy by hysteria

Shouting, “Crucify, crucify!”

Spitting and cursing

And following the man

Bowed down by the weight

Of the rough unpolished wood

Stumbling and falling

As he walks out to his death.

I will never see Jerusalem

Lit by flickering candles

Placed in windows along the way

To light our progress home.

Heads down, spirits broken

Hopes destroyed and gone,

Trudging through the city streets

It’s over,” we say,“What now?”

We run or hide. We weep.”

No. Now we wait.

Advertisements

Easter Day ~ He is Risen and walks among us

 Some years ago while attending an event in Leicester diocese, I saw Jesus walking in the crowds. The man was the actor who plays Jesus in the mystery plays (for more about him see the Being Jesus link) and had a really ineffable quality about him that got me thinking: what if Jesus really did walk among us and we simply didn’t know. If we made the assumption that he is indeed among us, would this change how we lived our lives?

I try to do just this.  

Jesus walks among us

 

I know he’s only an actor

Playing his appointed role,

But can I be the only one

Who felt my heart lift to see

Those sandaled feet among us,

The archaic robes shabby in sunlight

And the dark curls of beard

Twitch with a smile as he passed?

Am I the only one to ask

A terrified “What if?” and wonder

If it might truly be Him

Walking among the crowds,

Still alone and set apart

Even when thousands press round?

Of course, I know full well

He’s only an actor doing

What his role demands of him,

But still my heart sings

As my mind asks, “What if?”

 

What makes Good Friday, good?

 

What makes Good Friday, good?

 

Good Friday? What on earth makes such a day good?

Celebrating the hideous death of a good man, and the craven flight of his supposedly loyal followers?

Or the fact that we at the other side of the story know the ending?

Imagine how that day must have been for those involved. The disciples scattered, all their dreams and hopes in tatters, fearing for their own lives. Only a few, like Jesus’ mother, and John(according to some) daring to stay and watch, weeping as someone they loved died a slow and excruciating death; the rest hiding and quivering at every footfall that came near their door.

The veil in the temple was torn as Jesus died, torn in two against the weave of the cloth, and the sky became dark, if you believe the Gospels. It must have seemed that the world was ending, or was close to the end, to the friends and family who had seen the rise and the promise of Jesus’ ministry. Their own deaths would follow soon, hunted down by the authorities and exterminated as subversive vermin.

I’ve often thought about what Jesus himself felt, whether he knew the ending of the story, or whether, like his friends, he had no idea how things would pan out. I’m never sure how much accretion the Gospels contain, of things attributed after the event. But whatever the case, to go through death, and the cruel death by Roman-style crucifixion……the agony is beyond imagining. Few people will ever experience such pain, such anguish.

My own experience of pain and of internal anguish are tiny in comparison and yet, they give me a slight insight into the experience, which is the most anyone can hope for. My struggles with despair, depression and anxiety, are nothing and yet, they bring me the gifts of compassion and empathy. When I suffer my Good Fridays, as I do periodically, I never know for sure that there will be, this time, an Easter morning, that I will rise again. Experience and knowledge tell me there will be and yet, I doubt it. Each crisis is like the first, the only crisis, as I live through it. I try to record my passage through times like these in poetry and in prose in the hopes that I can remind myself of the promise of resurrection, and that others too might find hope in it.

Good Friday

(me to Jesus/Jesus to me)

Nail me to that cross again

Why don’t you?

You’ve done it before

And you’ll do it again.

Here, I’ll even hold

My hands out for you,

Pass the hammer,

Hold the nail steady.

Bang! It’s done,

All over, bar the shouting.

Long day, arms outstretched,

Breath ragged, pain white hot.

Sky darkens, night begins.

Death, a relief, a release,

The cool of the tomb

A simple comfort, unexpected

After the heat of the day.

Comfort too in acceptance

Of the inevitable, peace even.

Sleep now: the worst is over.

Maundy Thursday ~ calm before the storm and a sense of foreboding

 

Maundy Thursday ~ calm before the storm and a sense of foreboding

 

Some years ago now, I wrote a poem that still haunts my own memory, if that doesn’t sound too self-obsessed. I was walking home late at night after attending a Maundy Thursday vigil and as I walked through our quiet village, I smelled lamb cooking at the Indian takeaway and it set a train of thought running that resulted in me coming in and scribbling down the following prose poem.

Gethsemane Girl

It’s a still night, the warm air filled

With the hot greasy scent of a thousand meals.

Glad I didn’t have to cook tonight;

I know lamb is traditional but it seems so unfair:

That little life cut short just for us.

I shouldn’t be here; they said no.

He didn’t, of course; he never does.

But I’m here anyway.

Maybe he knows; they don’t.

Look at them, sleeping like babies!

He wasn’t himself tonight, seemed sad.

Someone said he’s paranoid,

Expecting betrayal at any moment.

Won’t be me”, that’s what Peter said.

He can’t help boasting but it’s sad.

He’s like a big hairy dog pretending to be brave-

One sniff of a wolf and he’d be off!

Anyway, I’m worried.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned,

It’s this: men can’t be trusted.

I shouldn’t be here: but someone should,

And since they’ve all dozed off

There’s only me, wide-awake in the bushes.

Nothing I can do but wait;

This mood of his will pass,

It always does.

But he does look so sad

And I wish-

But that’s not to be.

I’m so tired too.

I don’t know why I’m here;

I don’t understand half of what he says

But while he says it, it sounds so right.

Pity not everyone agrees.

If I close my eyes, just rest them, mind,

Just for a moment or two.

It’s been such a long day.

I won’t sleep, not like the others.

Not sleeping, just resting my eyes,

Just-

I’d been thinking about the other ‘actors’ in that drama so many centuries ago, wondering how they’d seen it all, living it moment by moment without knowing the eventual outcome. I identified with those shadowy figures that we hear mentioned and who played a pivotal role in the Easter story and yet whose own voices have never been heard. As I smelled the hot curry smell, I thought about the women who cooked and cared for Jesus and the disciples and started wondering what they had truly been thinking, that night before the Passover, so many centuries ago. We don’t know who they all were, Mary Magdalene is often suggested as one of the inner circle; she has always struck me as girl with resources and I began to wonder whether she would have sneaked after the disciples who were invited to pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

So into that darkened garden I crept, my hands still slightly greasy with lamb fat and olive oil from the shared meal and my eyes heavy with tiredness. I knew things were changing, sensing the storm coming like a weather sense, and yet, hoping and hoping that nothing bad was going to happen.

While I wrote the poem some years ago, at the time, I could also sense changes coming, unable to pinpoint them. It took longer for the storm to hit, and my life to be altered beyond anything I imagined, but like Mary in that garden, I knew something was coming.

Now, six or seven years later, I approach Maundy Thursday with the renewed sense of something coming. It’s still far off, I think, but I can feel it, like a summer storm you can feel even when the sun is brilliant and there’s not a cloud to be seen except that dim dark line at the far horizon. I’m not sure whether this is good or bad coming, but change in any way is unsettling and shakes you up.

I’m trying to remember my Gethsemane Girl, hiding in the bushes and not knowing the end of the story, and trying to tell her, Be strong, it changes everything beyond what you ever imagined possible.

 

Easter thoughts

The walk to church is enough to make me aware first that my new shoes are not as comfortable as I  thought and second that I am nervous about going. Church and me are not a comfortable combination these days.

This is probably my 30th Easter as a member of the Church of England(well since confirmation, that passing out parade for teenagers that saw my entry and not my exit) but the last three I elected not to go anywhere and we celebrated Communion at home.

It’s not the people that bother me about the established churches; it’s what the institutions do to those people and by default what those people do to me.

In this case, I am a total stranger. No one in the building we are fast approaching knows me from Adam(or Eve for that matter) and I take comfort in that anonymity. OK, so we are a little conspicuous in certain ways; maybe I ought not to have worn my rainbow coloured Nepalese jacket if I’d truly wanted to be inconspicuous.

  Inside the flint built church a familar range of odours meet me; the unmistakeable fragrance of old hymn books, candle wax, flowers and something else I can’t initially place. The place is bright with spring flowers and the scent of lilies and narcissi is so evocative of Easters long gone I feel tears spring to my eyes. I feel both at home and a complete stranger.

I usually choose my seat in any public building with a view to rapid escape, and in a church, near to the back as possible. I choose a pew(yes, those excrucating inventions of Victorians) near enough to the back so I know I can run for it if I feel the need but not at the immediate back. That’s just too obviously a newcomer’s move. 

A moment of quiet follows ; head bowed, I shut out the chatter of people around me and check for the divine prescence. Gotcha God! That’s OK then. The service starts and as the organ plays and people sing, I let my attention wander, like a dog exploring. Just as long as it doesn’t mark its territory, we’re all right…

  In the sanctuary tall candles burn, their golden flames creating a sweet heat haze that makes the stained glass images in the east window ripple and shimmer as if animated. A newer, stronger fragrance wafts down to me: incense. I assess it: Prinknash for sure, Basillica or maybe Abbey.   I sigh with some pleasure; sensualist that I am, I count it a plus that this place caters for my own personal little quirks and tastes.

The sermon doesn’t send me to sleep but it does make me want to put my hand up and ask questions: “Please sir, I don’t quite understand…” and the music, the singing irritates me. I question the why of it all; why the hymn sandwich? Why an organ, that most thunderous of instruments? Why?

The central part, the consecration rushes upon me and finds me unprepared; I rush to examine my soul and find it much as it usually is, in a sort of permanent state of first-thing-in-the-morning unreadiness, sleep in its eyes and its collar turned in on one side and out on the other. I tenderly straighten the collar, rub a damp metaphorical hanky round my soul’s sleepy face and declare it won’t get any readier and follow, head bowed to the altar where I kneel and take a fragment of hard bread(it tastes like no real true bread and reminds me of a mental image of sailor’s hardtack, a good image in this seafaring town this church with its walls covered in memorials to men lost at sea for many centuries and still not home) and a gulp of good red fortified wine.

  Back in my seat, I allow my soul to ponder on the Host and my tongue to revisit the taste of port(for surely port it was, and again here in this small port town, what better drink(other than grog) for communion?) I think the non-comformists have a poorer experience of communion for their replacing the wine with fruit juice. Somehow Ribena just doesn’t have bloody enough a colour, with its bland sweet taste without the kick of alcohol to bring the soul back to the understanding that this is blood, His blood and my blood and the Earth’s blood too.

Hallelujah, He is Risen. Like night follows day and day follows night, life follows death and death follows life; Easter follows Lent and the year moves on into Spring and year in and year out the cycle continues.

This year I jumped into the cycle again, running fast to keep up and make that leap and now I feel dizzy with too much experience and too many thoughts, and with  the feeling that one day, I may take that bread and wine and my soul will be standing there, scrubbed and ready and in her best, and not, as this day, like a grubby street urchin made passably clean and presentable to casual inspection, and ready to run at the slightest hint of danger.

One day.

Snow on Easter Day

I wrote this poem a year or two back but apart from the fact that this Easter day there is sunshine, the sentiments hold true….

Snow on Easter Day

 

Snow on Easter Day:

Wet white feathers

Falling ceaselessly,

Vanishing into sodden earth;

Silent whispers of air

As each flake passes.

Fragrance surrounds me,

Orange blossom and musk.

The taste of bread and wine

Linger on my lips,

An odour of sanctity

A feeling of peace

Pervades the house

As we prepare lunch.

Ghosts of Easters past

Haunt but do not hurt us.

Today, we begin anew.

Good Friday

I hope this poem speaks for itself but in case it doesn’t…please ask!

Good Friday

 

(me to Jesus/Jesus to me)

 

Nail me to that cross again

Why don’t you?

You’ve done it before

And you’ll do it again.

Here, I’ll even hold

My hands out for you,

Pass the hammer,

Hold the nail steady.

Bang! It’s done,

All over, bar the shouting.

Long day, arms outstretched,

Breath ragged, pain white hot.

Sky darkens, night begins.

Death, a relief, a release,

The cool of the tomb

A simple comfort, unexpected

After the heat of the day.

Comfort too in acceptance

Of the inevitable, peace even.

Sleep now: the worst is over.