The Road to Emmaus

I was on my way, responsible,
duty bound, committed,
not knowing why;
lost.

They would be waiting, the room prepared,
Bitter herbs, wine, bread,
but I asked why;
lost.

I turned away,
rootless, bruised and scared.
I walked by, all I trusted, dead.
I knew not why;
lost.

Lost, the meaning of my life and hopes,
my faith,
and she I loved, behind me,
tearless, crying,
lost.

Six steps behind me, dutiful,
priced above rubies,
the wife of my youth,
weeping, hopeless,
she and I,
lost.

We should have gone in,
the final feast day called,
Torah, the living Law,
but I asked, ‘Why?’
Lost, lost, lost.

Ah! Wife of my youth!
Priced above rubies,
six paces behind me, dutiful,
how can I tell you your duty is nothing,
nothing.
Lost.

I walked behind him,
six paces behind, dutiful,
a dutiful wife.
It was all I had left.
He needed me more now
than all the years from our youth.

A woman learns to keep on.
Love may be lost,
trust may be false,
hope abandoned.
We keep on.
The harvest fails,
the men despair,
children die,
we do not know why.
Keep on.

My tears mingled with his on the road.
He slowed,
hand stretched behind
to me.
I took it.

At some deserted spot we stopped.
Home far ahead,
hope far behind,
hands clasped.
He asked,
‘Why? How? What now?’

‘Keep on,’ I said,
‘if hope is lost, home is still ahead.’
He let my hand fall, weeping.

I could not see him through my tears.
I felt for his hand and felt mine grasped,
Strongly, firmly, flowing with life.

A stranger stood there holding us both.

‘What are you saying to one another
as you walk along?
Why are you so sad?’

The Resurrection

Many years ago I heard of a man who found his faith from reading the Book of Numbers – you might think this unlikely. So did I, until one day I was given an insight into what might have caused his epiphany.

Numbers is a bureaucrat’s delight: census results, rules, instructions and lists of squabbles, infringements and penalties. Plus a few slipped in joke-over-a-pint-extras like Balaam and his talking ass. But in all this it conveys a sense of individuals, families and groups doing the best they can and often getting it wrong. It lists who went where and who did what. There is something very ordinary about it, and a sense that they were, like me, making their own personal journey. Not always getting it right – not even Moses, Aaron and Miriam.

In a similar way I came to understand the resurrection through an account in which the event itself is hardly mentioned. Mark, who among other things was Peter’s interpreter in Rome, wrote an action packed account of Jesus’ ministry and execution about thirty years after it happened, but with very little about the resurrection.

According to Paul, Jesus’ resurrection and later appearances were witnessed by over 500 people. Quite a few were named. Most were still living when Mark wrote his gospel, and still living when John’s writings were put together at the close of the century. Long before John’s account the number of children, grand-children, friends and acquaintances of first-hand witnesses would have been in the thousands, assuming only moderate family sizes and sharing the news. Where are the ones saying, ‘ My grandfather/boss/mother etc. was there and it didn’t happen?’

There were some. Matthew’s account of the ascension says some doubted, but nevertheless the consensus confirming it was overwhelming. In spite of that, knowledge of Jesus’ earlier life and ministry would have been limited outside Palestine. Mark’s account, written in the mid-first century, was addressed to Christians in Rome who, however convinced they were by the resurrection, would have known little of what lead up to it.

Its opening words read like a title: The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Some manuscripts, including two of the most respected, end at the eighth verse of chapter sixteen with the empty tomb. This is usually regarded as its last verse. Others have marginal comments pointing out that earlier Greek copies ended there, and some indicate the extra text as spurious. Verses from other manuscripts with extra endings are included in most bibles. They read differently to the rest of Mark and seem to be later additions. In any event these extra endings, even the so-called ‘longer ending’, are very short.

It is unlikely the Gospel was let unfinished, or that an ending was lost before it was copied (the end of a scroll is harder to come adrift than that of a book). The author appears to have stopped here deliberately, feeling no need to add something already well known to his readers. The extra endings are almost certainly later additions, not by the author and not in his style, and do not fit with his stated intention in his title of presenting an account of the beginning.

People in Rome, like those in the Book of Numbers, were much like you and me but something, perhaps the large number of astonished eye-witnesses, convinced them. For me Mark’s Gospel, filling that desire for more background and yet needing no further evidence of the resurrection is strong evidence in itself.

Forgiveness

We are drawing near to Easter, the time of the sacrificial love of our Father, God in Jesus, Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man.

God’s children often see the cross as punishment taken by Christ upon Himself, dwelling so much on punishment and guilt (which were inflicted and caused by mankind) that we miss the much greater love that He showed.

I wrote of this love in How we Love Children, The World God Loved and So Loved, and today begin a series of posts which you will find under the ‘Dame Julian‘ tab above. Dame Julian had a wonderful revelation of our Father’s love for us which I am trying to put into modern form interwoven with thoughts her writing inspired in me.

I will still continue my usual blog posts every two weeks or so. Today I want to pass on something that causes problems for many people – the difficulty of forgiving and our sense of failure when we cannot forgive.

How often have we heard someone say, ‘I can forgive but I can’t forget’? How many little incidents are there that memory, like an internal vicious gossip, brings to the fore? undeserved slights, retorts we should have made but were just not quick enough, ill treatment or slanders against those we love?

Forgiveness is not easy. It comes hard. For hard reasons. It is hard to do. So much so that when parents forgive the killer of their child, or the victim of an atrocity forgives the perpetrator, it makes headline news. We may find it hard to believe.

And Easter, when ‘Christ died for our sins’ (our sins, but why can’t I forget theirs?). Does that wipe it all away, or does it all return like chronic pain?

‘If you are bringing a gift to the altar and you have enmity with your brother, leave your gift at the altar. Go and make peace with your brother and then return and offer your gift.’

We cannot buy peace of mind with a gift to Christian Aid or the church building fund. It has been bought already, at great cost. We need to pass it on.

‘Yes Lord, but some things are too hard, or have been borne for too long, or it is too late, or I JUST CAN’T DO IT!’

What can the Cross possibly offer for that? Every Easter we bear a cross of our own, on which our lack of forgiveness is nailed. What does Christ on the Cross offer us for that?

One thing. A little, tiny thing, so small that no-one else seems to have noticed it. Come with me to the foot of the Cross and I will show you.

Listen. What did he say about those who crucified him? Don’t listen to what people tell you he said. They will tell you he forgave them. But listen. What did he say?

He said, ‘Father forgive them…’ not, ‘I forgive them, Father…’ He committed their forgiveness to his Father. You may take from that whatever it gives you but one thing it cannot give us is the power to do more than he did in that moment. There are times when forgiveness can be, and needs to be, placed into our Father’s hands. Whatever our weakness, He is strong. His  crucifixion was an act of sacrificial love. All forgiveness must be born of love.

We are not Christ but at Calvary elements combine: The crucifixion is the greatest thing a man has done for all humanity, the greatest thing a man has done for God, and the greatest thing our Father, in Christ, has done for us. He and the Father are one in love, and want, more than anything, that we share and return that love. If we are to be changed by the Cross it is not only from our sins, but from our failure to forgive the sins of others. If we surrender this to our Father, not with an angry, ‘God forgive you!’ but with an anguished desire and a regret for our own failing, we may find we are less troubled by our inability.

There is another element to this. Peter once asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who wrongs him and asks to be forgiven, quoting a figure more than double that mentioned in Amos and was effectively told the number was unlimited. The salient point, however, was that forgiveness had to be asked for. There are times, and the crucifixion was one, in which forgiveness was not asked. Then it had to be entirely committed to God.

When we are tempted to say, ‘I may forgive but I cannot forget.’ we usually mean we can neither forgive nor forget. Do not try to forget, forgetting may not be possible. Remember the most important thing and commit forgiveness and your inability to forget, humbly to God.

The Language of Religion

            The Language of Religion: Thought – Belief – Trust – Knowledge – Faith – Hope

I Hope …, I think…, I believe…, I trust…, I know…, have a definite order but the position of faith is less obvious. Faith is harder to place and often confused with the others.

Thought can be used as a noun from the past form of the verb think, meaning a conscious adjustment or association in the brain, or as a verb referring to something, as in I thought it was the best thing to do or I think it will rain today. In this way it is used as holding something to be possible rather than certain. There is a tendency to mistake it for ‘belief’ but I think God exists is weaker than I believe God exists.

Belief (be-lief = hold-dear) is often said to mean faith but one person may believe a thing and have faith in it, while another believes the same thing but has no faith in it. You can believe a man is a plumber but have no faith in him or trust him to do your plumbing.

Knowledge (gnosis, allied to constant – con – ken – can – canny) is often said to be the enemy of faith, as though having evidence for something leaves no room for faith. And yet it is possible to say, ‘I can prove that I am married but my faith in my marriage, or marriage in general, does not depend on that.’ One can even say, ‘I know (from whatever evidence one accepts) that there is a God but I have no faith in Him.’

Trust (allied to truth – troth) is the basis of most of our dealings in life: family, business, or pleasure. We may feel we need to be protected by rules, and take care to watch our backs, but we really live our lives on a basis of trust. We cannot do otherwise, yet in association with religion, trust is often replaced disparagingly by blind faith, but faith is then being used wrongly. There is no need to use trust for secular life and blind faith for religion. It would cause less misunderstanding if trust was used for both.

Trust is not the same as faith although they are allied. Trust is something we can both have and do. Faith is something we can have but not something we do. Trust is sometimes used instead of hope, ‘I trust the weather will be good enough for a picnic’ but there is an unspoken because – it implies hope with an underlying motive.

Hope has always been there (almost unchanged from Anglo-Saxon times hopa) – ask Pandora. Sadly the confusion with trust above can be misleading.

Faith (fideo | fidelity) Alone of these words faith cannot be made a verb. We can say I think, I believe, I know, I trust and I hope, but we can only have faith. It is a possession, something to be gained. It is often used to mean belief but you can believe something but have no faith in it. When you do or follow something faithfully, you do so to the letter. Faith is an absolute. Its absence is a real absence.

I may hope God exists, think God exists, believe, even know God exists, and still have no faith in him. I may have faith in God but not trust Him (because I cannot tame Him!) but if I have faith in God then the others become redundant. Faith has no place in the order of these words. It is absolute, over-riding them all.

See also The Language of religion (2)

The Self Creating Prayer

There is a moment
when egg and sperm become a fertilised cell.
Another before fission,
before one cell becomes two.

Another before the embryo becomes a foetus,
Before the first heartbeat,
the first formation of the brainstem,
the first input from developing eyes and nerves.

Until it ceases to be a foetus,
becomes an unborn child,
still entirely I
before the awareness that is we?

Flesh is translucent to light, carries sound.
The womb is warm, with room to move.
The inborn baby kicks,
sucks, feels, sees, hears.

It learns existence is co-existence long before birth.
Do we re-create this moment
in the fleeting moment of waking from sleep?

Cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am,
flees before I am therefore there is other.
The awareness of one’s body in the world,
when I becomes we.

Existence is a common possession,
without which there could be no we.
It gives us our sum – our I am
our summa – our totality.
It sustains and guards us.

Language can be traced back
across continents, across times.
Sustain can mean feed
or provide continuing support.
feed and guard have the same root PA
from which by different routes
we get paternal and father.

There is a paradox.
The first father of whom we become aware
is our mother.

We co-exist in a world interdependent with us;
in which we live and breathe and have our being,
our all in all.

From the heart of I
to the farthest bounds of all our sight and knowing,
all that provides intimacy,
the wonder of our existence;
the familial closeness of child and parent,
within which we are constrained
and free,
calls for humility,
honour, respect and reverence;
all steeped in holy awe.

We renew it in our waking moments each day.

The I that seemed to be at its heart
is an echo of a greater I who keeps it all,
in whom we place our trust
our hopes for the coming day,
the feeding and guarding that a father provides:

Our Father …

How we Love Children

How we Love Children

How we love children…
continue to love naughty children…
… love them more… weep over alienation from them…
… scold, but still love…
remember, with sadness not blame, tantrums and bad behaviour…
… forget much or most, or remember with amusement,
for childish disobedience is part of growing.
We devote ourselves to them… weep with them…
… teach them to pick themselves up…
… stand back when they are making their own way…
… give them space to grow…
… admire their attempts even when they fail…
… see their hurt when they let you down…
… give them credit, love them even more,
when they try to be good but fail…
… and know this is just their childhood.
All their adult life will grow from this.

If love seems to fail… parent turning from child…
child from parent… the failure is in both.
Parents are also children, babes in eternity,
we have our failings and our fallings too,
and a good Parent who loves us
even more than we love our own children,
who weeps over us, with us,
gives everything, even life itself,
for us.

When we move on from this life we will not be turned away because of our childhood failings, because a good parent does not cease to be a parent when we grow up. However we tried and failed, the great Parent of us all will never fail.

All shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of thing shall be well.
–                      Dame Julian of Norwich.

(Language changes, meanings change. When Dame Julian wrote these words ‘all manner of thing’ meant every possible thing. Now it has been weakened, ‘all manner of things’ is used to mean ‘lots of things’. Dame Julian’s meaning was total)

So Loved

And God So Loved the World

I AM
the Other of you,
Your Father.

I made the first waking breath,
the infinite-finite moment,
the first pulse of love,
the flickering of desire;

Other than here and now,
Other than where and when,
the first breath, in the first waves
of growing light at dawn.

Other,
fission,
and the world was born:
waters and waves of light,

Other,
you, another,
others.
Loving eyes,
light, sound, colour, cries;
the infinite-finite moment.
Loving eyes, searching:
eyes lost in love.

Oh, how I loved you,
love you.

And God called the light day,
and the darkness he called night,
and the heavens and the earth
are darkness and light,
here and there,
day and night,
and it was good;
and God so loved the world.

For God so loved the world
that he gave,
he came,
he shared,
and died,
as his own son.

that whoever should believe in him,

who came, shared and died;
sent from whatever dimensions into these three,
into its tiny inner darkness,
no bigger than this universe,
this hazelnut universe,
this mere infinity of three dimensions,
than which there is so much more;

should have eternal life.

For the turning of the wheels of space and time
are no more than the smooth rolling shell of the hazel.

And can he love his lost ones,
lost within the hazel shell?
And if it roll so tinily in his hand,
did he yet enter it?
And are we held in time?
And was he here,
in the bright day
in the kernel’s heart?

‘Love those who hate, bless those who curse, do good to those who spite.’

We must love the lost
who cannot escape,
the captives in that outer darkness
no bigger than a hazel shell:
those who did not believe,
cannot believe,
will not believe
in Him.

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
fallen away in the darkness.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
fallen away from the one true Person.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
you we brand as demons, lost and unloving,
and grant you his peace

All the Time in the World

Linespace

Concerning time we tend to ask,
(though feeling slightly foolish)
‘If time began with the Big Bang,
what happened before then?’
before when there was no before,
when there was not a when,

a question in a circle,
a circle in a round
when never was was never found
nor ever was again.

We are growing old together,
we two, the world and I.
and we often talk together
as I lie in the heather
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

‘If time began with the Big Bang,
there must be something other.’

We both were born so very young,
we two, the world and I,
when time was nothing to be found,
except we heard a bugle sound
to live or die.

In these purple heather flowers
the minutes turn to hours
and the passing of the clouds
is passing time.

Concerning space we tend to ask
(though feeling slightly foolish)
‘If space began with the Big Bang,
with what beyond did it compare?
beyond where there is no beyond,
where there is not a where?

a question in a circle,
a circle in a round
where nothing there is ever found
nor ever will be there.

We are growing old together,
we two, the world and I.
and we often talk together
as I lie in the heather
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

‘If space began with the Big Bang,
there must be something other.’

We both were born so very small,
we two, the world and I,
when there was nothing else at all,
except we heard a bugle call
to live or die.

In these purple heather flowers
the sky and space are ours
and the passing of the clouds
is far away.

Spacetime began with the Big Bang,
with no before or any where.
There must be something other.
Other than the world and I,
Other than the clouds and sky,
Other than the words we choose,
Other than the facts we use,
Other in the most extreme,
Other than all other.

Could that Other that is other
than this universe be nothing?
No time? No space? No thing?
A song we cannot sing?

We cannot think of nothing,
but we think of nothing less,
a void, an emptiness.
An emptiness in what?
So we look for something else,
for something Other.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I.
and we talk again together
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

In the heather banks of spacetime,
in the flower bells of space,
tiny quanta flicker and tiny quanta chase,
ghosts of Might and Might Not,
ethereal as lace.

We two, the world and I, are lost in idle chatter.
Matter in our cosmos has mirrored anti-matter.
Is the Other anti-universe?
The Other in the Looking Glass,
converse of our own converse?
Has it mind? And does it matter?

Matter and anti-matter
annihilate each other,
What would become of spacetime?
No more us and no more Other?
No-thing, no where, no when,
questions in a circle, circles in a round,
where never was was never found,
nor ever was again.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I,
and we talk again together
and ponder altogether
just what it is to die.

We cannot think of nothing,
but we think of nothing less,
we look in an abyss, into an emptiness.
Asking emptiness in what?
always wanting something else,
something Other.

We two, the world and I,
have much to take and give.
We two were born a single kind
The world is home for humankind.
It is our home, we are its mind
we much search and we must find
just what it is to live.

We’re conscious here, why not the Other?
Years of searching, years of dreams,
for others here found nothing more.
Are we rarer than it seems?
Are we alone?

Mitochondrial DNA
has one root through all the Earth.
Cells of mosses and of trees,
spiders, antelopes and fleas,
the lion and the lamb, all these,
the fossil and the newborn babe
are each other’s families.

Only once was life’s seed sown,
in this dear Earth we call our own.
Once in this land and all its seas,
once in four-plus billion years,
with so slim chance are we alone?

We two, the world and I,
have much to give and take.
we lie and talk together
and still we wonder whether
If conscious mind is scarce to find,
what chance is there in Other?
Does it know? Is it awake?

Here the chance of consciousness
is cut by the click and chime,
of fourteen billion years or less,
but Other has all time.

Infinite is far without end.
Eternal, an ageless when.
If far is as far as the dice are cast,
and an age is as long as spacetime lasts,
and when all time and space is past,
the Other is beyond then.

More than ‘eternal’ and ‘infinite’,
Unbound by time and space
pervading here and now,
in every time and place,
distance, seconds, years, alike,
our world is a treasured seed
Other has all the room in the world,
Other has all the time it needs
to nurture and to weed.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I.
and we talk again together
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.
And the sheep go grazing yonder,
while the world and I still ponder
how the bush that flamed with wonder
could speak in tones of thunder,

‘I AM what I AM.’

The Owner of Time

Many years ago, struggling to finish some apparently urgent job before lunchtime, and with some other apparently equally urgent thing to do during the break, I found myself flustered and pressed for time, cursing every snag and delay.

Then a strange thing happened.

A small voice whispered, not in my ear but in my mind, ‘Calm down. I own time. I made it and I own it.’

The job entailed fixing something, I don’t know what, to a wall or a desk. The screws would not turn, their heads were burred, nothing aligned. I had tried all the usual cuss words, slamming things down, blaming other things for being out of reach or just not being where I had only just put them…

… ‘So,’ I said, whether out loud or in my head, I don’t remember, ‘then why is it taking so long? My wrists and fingers ache, and my chance of getting across town to the lab and back is getting close to nil.’

Suddenly the last screw – it’s always the last one –gave a little jump sideways. The screwdriver went one way, the screw several feet the other. I had already used up my supply of magic words, none of which will bear repeating here. I simply stared after it, paused and trudged to pick it up. At the next try it went in like a dream. Job done. I looked at my watch. Five minutes to lunchtime, not umpteen past as I had expected, just time enough to pack up and set off.

‘O.K.’ I said, ‘If you own time I’ll take you at your word.’

I took off my watch and set off for the lab, nearly half an hour’s walk away across Cambridge, where Ian Manick and David Beale produced rigid contact lenses in what would later become Contact Lens Precision Laboratories. My first afternoon patient was booked for two o’clock. I don’t remember now, but the most likely reason for the trip was for lenses for that appointment.

When I first took the position at Haldyn Clamp’s contact lens practice in Bridge Street near St John’s College, Ian and David were restricted in one small kitchen at the back. They soon outgrew this and were now a mile or so away in much better premises in Fitzroy Street. Hence my trip. Cambridge does not have easy, cross-city car or bus routes so I had to walk.

The weather was fine, the distance was the problem. Nevertheless, having discarded my watch I avoided looking at any clocks on the way. Time was passing but I told myself it was not mine; I was trusting the owner.

I enjoyed the walk, determinedly at first but gradually easier and easier. The weather was certainly good and the sun pleasantly warm. I found I was no longer saying, ‘If you own time I will take your word.’ The if had gone. It was going to be alright.

I went by Midsummer Common, a longer route but pleasant. It was not as late as I had feared and I felt increasingly, though still a tad wilfully, that time was not in my hands. I strolled in the sun.

Eventually I arrived at the lab.

‘Hi!’

‘Ah…’

The lenses were not ready. Heads shook ruefully, reasons were given, promises – no – hopes were expressed.

‘Later this afternoon?’ No, too late.

‘Why not go into the Grafton Centre and have some lunch? Perhaps…’

Suddenly, greatly missing my watch but determined not to ask the time, I felt very hungry. The Grafton Centre was just minutes away and soon I was going up in a lift to an unusual restaurant that only sold starters. Nowadays we might call it tapas. Because of the time involved I told myself to only order one, but there were several voices competing now: one telling me what a fool I was being; another, my stomach, telling me I was far too hungry for just one starter, and anyway I would arrive back at the lab too soon; another saying, ‘Just go back to the practice and make your excuses.’ And a quiet one persisting, ‘Time is mine, leave it to me.’

Fortunately none of them made any difference to the direction the lift was going and shortly I found myself at a white-cloth table with three assorted starters and a small glass of wine, with nothing to be gained from hurrying.

In case you think there was an obvious thing I should have done, this was in the nineteen-sixties, long before the invention of mobile phones.

Meal over, wine finished, lift down and a short walk to the lab where there was a phone. The lenses were still being edged.

I asked to use the phone and as I dialled the whisper cautioned, ‘No need, no hurry, time is mine.’

I hung up. The lenses were having a final polish and in a few minutes I was on my way. I did not take the walk back across Midsummer Common, that seemed too much of a liberty, but I still did not hurry. I gave in to the whisper and walked steadily back along Maid’s Causeway and Jesus Lane, passing Jesus College and the back of Sydney Sussex. Eventually I passed the Round Church and back to the practice in Bridge Street. As I approached there was a large clock over the jewellers before it which I refused to look at, went in the practice door, into my consulting room, picked up my watch and put it on my wrist. A minute or so later I heard the patient arrive.

I looked at my watch, checking it for the first time. Two o’clock. He was spot on.

I do not remember if the lenses were for him or a later patient but the sense that there was something other than time, something personal that owns time, has grown with me over the years.

Eternity is far more than endless time.

The Eternal possesses time.

Saving the Earth

Many denominations celebrate creation in September, calling the month Creation-tide, thinking particularly of mankind’s care, or lack of care, for it. I wrote these lines to remind myself not to forget, in my love and hope for God’s world, that there is a greater work to be done.

If lightly we forsake the upward way
and Earth’s green pastures seem a worthy goal,
and if we save the forests and the seas,
the elephant, the tiger and the bees,
shall we then ask, ‘What profit is in these?’
if light along the way we lose our soul?

We who hold creation’s Word in trust,
were chosen by our Father as trustees.
Lilies fade in just a day to die,
and yet God sees.
Birds drop to dust beneath a soaring sky
as surely as one day will you and I,
and yet God sees.

We are worth more to him than these.

Guardians of this globe and all its gain,
its mountains and the mosses and the rain,
the slime moulds and the seas,
the wasps, the flies, the bees,
the sparrows, and the lilies, and the trees.

Are we worth more than these?

What is man?
When I consider the heavens,
what is man?

We hold this world in trust,
raised, like it, from dust,
with souls as fertile seed within us sown.
Though we dig and we preserve
we must risk the Living word,
or say, abashed , absurd,

‘Thou hast thine own.’

And will he say, ‘Well done!’?