Poetry Monday: Path

I’m off to Scargill House in Yorkshire this week, for an annual writers’ retreat led by Adrian and Bridget Plass. This poem was written for them, and the metaphor in it is one they often use: a narrow path of grace between the mountains of law and the swamp of licence.

You can find this poem beautifully illustrated by Sharon Kulesa in Drawn From Words. Along with Mandy Baker Johnson, we put this little book together after a creative Lent challenge in 2016. You can see and buy the book here.

Path

On one side, the path of law, a trail
through thirsty rocks, where all who try shall fail
and lose their lives beneath the glowering eye
of desert sun. That way I surely die.

The other side’s inviting: not so harsh,
but leads to sinking sand and muddy marsh
and haunted castles, entered willingly,
then locked. Who takes that path is never free.

The night comes closer. I must make my choice.
But then, what blessed relief – the shepherd’s voice!
His torch is all that shows me to my place:
this narrow beam, the flickering path of grace.

Poetry Mondays: Partying Angels

Since I was performing this one again on Saturday as part of my Celebration Stories programme (newly rewritten for 2017!) I thought I’d pop it up here.

It has appeared in various forms at various occasions, including as a rhyming skit shared with a puppet, but I prefer performing it exactly as I first wrote it; and while it does make little references to the stories that have gone before, it works by itself too.  Whatever else has happened first, I always introduce it by reading Luke 15 verses 7 and 10: ‘Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

When the angels have a party, there’s excitement in the air
as they gather in a great big heavenly hall;
and I bet they decorate it with balloons on every chair,
and feathered bunting strung along the wall.
There must be swinging music from a cherubic big band,
while seraphim sing anthems in the heights,
and angels jitterbug and jive, all hand in hand,
with the sun and moon as giant disco lights.
I’m sure that there are platters made of silver, full of treats,
with a pristine tablecloth spread underneath:
crisps and tiny sandwiches and cherry buns and sweets
(and in heaven, sugar doesn’t rot your teeth).
And of course there is a cake – it’s not a party without cake –
and on the cake, in icing, is a name:
it’s the name of an extremely special person, for whose sake
the party started and the angels came.
So who is it, this famous one who’s making Gabriel play,
for whom archangels threw this jamboree?
When I accepted God my father and his love, that day –
the party held in heaven was for me.

Poetry Mondays: John 1

Last week I wrote this blog post for the Association of Christian Writers’ blog, More Than Writers.  It finishes with a poem called Katalambano (click above and have a look at the blog post to find out more about what that means!)

The poem is one of a pair, but I wrote them years apart.  The first one is called Source, and was written at Spring Harvest 2013 as a creative meditation on the first few verses of John 1, that Bible passage often heard at Christmas and also known as the Prologue.  When I wrote Katalambano in October 2015, I wasn’t setting out to write a companion piece, but it was immediately obvious that the finished poem belonged with Source: in the same rhythm, based on the same passage, and both written from a simple list of words in my journal.

Here they are together.

Source

He is the Source, the Beginning, the Maker,
The Origin, Big Bang, Primeval Earthquaker,
The Author, Composer, the Dreamer, the Dream,
Foundation, the Cornerstone, Load-Bearing Beam,
Creator, Inspiring, he sang the first song,
Alpha, Word, Logos, the There-All-Along
The initial brush stroke on the page waiting white,
The Crux and the Reason Why, Let There Be Light
Firstborn from the dead, he’s the one up before us
The Number One, Rising Sun, leads the dawn chorus
The breath before speaking, the thought before breath,
The spark before thinking, the Life without death.

Katalambano

When light shines in darkness, the darkness is gone.
In darkness, light cannot be swallowed or won,
Contained or attained, or explained, grasped or gained,
Seized or perceived, acquired or obtained.
The dark doesn’t get it.
The dark hasn’t found it.
The dark cannot wrap understanding around it,
For darkness cannot comprehend light, or know it,
Cannot overwhelm, overcome, overthrow it;
The dark has not conquered or crushed or controlled it
The dark doesn’t get it.
The dark cannot hold it.
In Jesus was life, and the life was the light, because
He held life – lightly –
So that we’d hold it tight.

 

LightCraft

Every year round about now, I start to see posts all over social media discussing and debating the issue of Halloween: what to do about it, whether to embrace it, what its roots really are and whether it’s a bit of fun or a terrible problem for society in general (or for teenagers, children, the elderly, people with special needs, people with allergies and so on, specifically.)

This year, we’ll be celebrating All Hallow’s Eve with a LightCraft party.  Children from our four churches will gather to play games, make light-related crafts, carve hearts and pictures into pumpkins, and hear that Jesus is the light of the world who has defeated darkness.

That’s on Sunday, so we might also go meet-and-treating on the night itself.  Meet-and-treating is a fun way to turn around the traditional tricks and scares while still being generous: we go out to find trick-or-treaters and hand over a treat.  This year we’ll probably give away glow-stick bracelets along with this explanation printed onto cards: it’s one that I wrote several years ago, and you are welcome to print copies yourself if it’s useful.

Nobody really knows where the festival of Halloween originated. The name comes from All Hallow’s Eve, marking a time in the Christian church when we remember saints and loved ones who have died, but the traditions that take place come from much earlier pre-Christian times. In fact if you look at almost any culture in any time, you’ll find that as the nights get longer, a festival takes place which involves light, intended to ward off darkness and evil. That’s where Jack-O-Lanterns come from, for example. It’s humanity’s way of dealing with darkness, death and the things that frighten us as we go into the long winter.
In our family, we remember at Halloween that Jesus said “I am the light of the world”. He has already conquered darkness and death by dying and rising again. This year, we’re giving out Glo-sticks to light your way and to remind you that Jesus has beaten the darkness!
We hope you enjoy your treats, and have a safe and fun Halloween!