The Light of the World by Holman Hunt

I’ve always loved the pre-Raphaelite painters with their richness of colour, texture and mythic themes, not to mention that I would have made a perfect model for them.

Holman Hunt’s most famous painting, The Light of the World, is a feast of richness and mystery. The figure is assumed to be Jesus, a very English interpretation, standing at a door and knocking but look closer and notice some interesting things.

The door is already open and yet, it seems little used. Wild plants grow up around the doorway, untrampled and mostly undisturbed. The door is in fact wedged open. It’s also hard to tell whether the door is going out or coming into somewhere. Jesus looks sad. He looks like he is coming to remind someone of something they have forgotten, as if he is knocking to tell people, hey look the door is open, it’s been open for years, why don’t you come through?

He also looks uncertain, as if he doesn’t know how he is going to be welcomed and given that crown of thorns on his head, can you blame him. I imagine he is tapping lightly but without bravado on that door, persistently alerting us to the fact that the door is open, but he is simply standing there. Where does the doorway lead to and where does it lead from?

Who is waiting for who? Is he waiting for us to come to him or is he waiting to be told he can come in?

Is it later than we think?

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.

 

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.

 

Blast from the Past

Jesper mentioned last night he’d found another interesting website when he googled my name and I had a look and nearly fell of my chair.

http://beingjesus.co.uk/page9.htm

I wrote the poem getting on for four years ago, come June time and it feels like an absolute lifetime ago. In the weeks that followed writing it, and having it published in the diocesan magazine, our whole world imploded. All our certainties became doubts; our way of life collapsed and we realised we had to flow with the changes or go mad. So we flowed. We flowed all the way from the landlocked Midlands to the east coast, to new jobs, a new home and new friends. Everything changed. Almost all our external realities changed and I found it desperately hard to adjust. I had to adjust to a smaller house, in an area where I knew no one, and then to working for someone else when I’d worked for myself, and to a job that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I’d never find my way back.

A little over three years later, when this life feels like home again, this poem, this reminder of what we left behind pops up and last night I found it harder than usual to sleep. A week or two back my husband saw our bishop. It’s the first time he’s made any movement in regards to his ministry since we left the Midlands. The time had felt right and the meeting went extremely well.

But for me, this poem is a reminder of a life I left behind and one I mourned for, for far longer than I’d care to admit. I was glad to leave it, true, but there were things that had been good and right about it.

I’m unsettled, I admit. But then, actor or not, Jesus did tend to unsettle people and shake up lives.

How to read the Bible….and anything else!

I’ve recently been given a book called “A Rabbi reads the Bible” by Jonathan Magonet and it’s really excellent reading. I’m only a few chapters in right now but I’d like to quote some for you all to ponder on:

“In 1968, our progressive Jewish youth movement hosted a group of young Czech Jews for a conference in Edinburgh. They stayed on for an additional week- and the Russians marched on Prague, cutting them off from their country and their families. Many of them became refugees overnight. That would be enough to bring them to mind, especially in the light of the radical changes that have happened in Eastern Europe, but they taught us something very special about the Bible in the time were were together. We studied some Bible texts and they were incredibly good at understanding them, picking up all the nuances very quickly. I was surprised as they had never studied the Bible before.

“It’s easy,” they explained. “You see, in Czechoslovakia, when you read a newspaper, first you read what is written there. Then you say to yourself, ‘If that is what they have written, what really happened? And if that is what really happened, what are they trying to make us think? And if that is what they are trying to make us think, what should we be thinking instead?’ You learn to read between the lines and behind the lines. You learn to read a newspaper as if your life depended upon understanding it-because it does!” 

I found this a profoundly revealing and really rather powerful way of looking at things. You can apply it to how you read the newspapers( even in the UK, you need to take it all with a shovel full of salt) or to how your read your sacred texts, or how you read publicity statements or advertisments. And you can even use it for finding your way through what has become a very crowded and rather dangerous “spiritual” market place. I do recall a chappie with beard and sandals bearing down on a similar market place with a whip made of ropes and driving out those who sought to make the house of God into a den of thieves.  I do wonder what happened to him….

Good Friday

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.

 

I wrote this three years ago but it still holds true. A little late, but for me true frequently.