Poems of the moment
Back in lockdown 12 January 2021
This lockdown seems heavier somehow,
less optimistic, more grey.
The numbers continue to rise,
both the quantity of infections
and the deaths. Temporary morgues
are being constructed
and Chris Whitty says
the next few weeks
will be the hardest yet.
However, there is hope
as the vaccines are administered
to the most vulnerable.
What we need is a new story to live by,
the story we have just celebrated
in the Incarnation, God-with-us,
and the story we have begun to tell
ourselves about the importance
of community, about helping and loving
each other, and mirroring the story
of the life, work, and death of Jesus.
So, even in the grey times,
even in the heavy times,
do not lose sight of him.
NEW YEAR 2021
Come, let us anew
Our journey pursue,
Roll round with the year,
And never stand still till the Master appear.
His adorable will
Let us gladly fulfill,
And our talents improve,
By the patience of hope, and the labour of love.
The arrow is flown,
The moment is gone;
The millennial year
Rushes on to our view, and eternity’s here.
O that each in the day
Of His coming may say,
“I have fought my way through;
I have finished the work Thou didst give me to do!
O that each from his Lord
May receive the glad word,
“Well and faithfully done!
“Enter into My joy, and sit down on My throne!”
A Shepherd’s Complaint
(A monologue for shepherds)
There are certain things you expect in my profession;
Weather, seasons, birth, death;
That’s the key to my job,
To my life.
And the occasional lost soul
Wandering around the hills
In the hands of nature.
In my job
God is in the sky!
Show a ewe a ram,
You expect it to be expecting
And ewe’s expect about three years of productivity.
That’s to be expected.
That’s what you’d expect.
In the town,
in the synagogue they have wider horizons,
(more ambitious if you like)
Started by the prophets,
Expecting some ‘Messiah’ they call it.
Well, you can expect something like that,
It’s useful isn’t it.
Keeps people in line,
on their toes.
Like the occasional lost lamb
wandering around the hills.
You’re expected to find it.
So you keep your eyes open.
You go looking, searching,
In hope rather than expectation.
And you do expect to find it
Sooner or later
Just not alive.
Like the holy men,
You expect them to have expectations.
Otherwise what would they have to offer?
But you don’t expect those expectations to come alive!
So there are certain things you expect in my profession.
The good will of companions
in the trees
On the hill.
God in the sky.
What you don’t expect…
What I never asked for…
What I never dreamed of
Advent, like Lent, is a time of waiting.
Waiting in darkness for times of illumination.
Rooted in ancient prophecies and hopes of new life.
Waiting in violence for times of peace.
As God enters creation and knows humanity’s beating heart.
Waiting in hunger for times of generosity.
In these days when Covid reigns and scars the year.
Waiting for healing in times of death.
Can we wait with new understanding?
Waiting in the cold for the warmth of being held by love.
Counting Advent Days with chocolate treats to help a smile.
Waiting in the sadness of separation for times of joy.
Candles and trees lit against the dark.
Waiting for the Light.
‘Normal’ questioned and found wanting.
Waiting is perhaps the hardest part.
We look to nature, for nature knows how to wait.
Waiting can be embraced as we watch the clouds part.
As in Advent, and in Lent, we wait for the new life
that changes all of life.
A single battle that lasted three months –
waves of men going over the top
or drowning in the mud below.
No sleep, next to no food
and always the relentless mud
sucking men down.
Of dust we were made
and to dust we shall return,
but to be buried in liquid mud
cannot be what was intended.
To tremble with fear
or to run bravely through the fire
until you reached that point
when you couldn’t take another step,
until the mud claimed you.
For all those who endured
this hell-hole of human folly,
those who came home
and those who fell or sank,
there was Passion in Passchendaele
as a whole generation was forfeit.
May they rest in peace.
Week of 25 October
A Meditation on John 10.9
And here is a gate,
leading to the fruit trees
and to vert-it-tude
if not yet, or ever,
then at least to veracity
This stretched moment,
lazy but not guiltily so,
long and leisurely
with grace and expectation,
resting in not-knowing
accompanied by birdsong,
cheered and chirruped by crickets,
a tiny spider voyaging
across the bright white paper
and then to tickle my arm,
and the clouds drifting slowly,
oh, so slowly
across the blue,
all calling up memories
but leading somewhere else,
by a wandering
and a wondering path
Week of 18 October
As the deer
Parched and tired, the muntjac
creeps toward the waterhole,
tempted to run, but shy
of other animals there.
This is the clear stream,
the crystal fountain
for which she has longed
and searched for days.
Like her, we seek out
sustenance and moisture
in a dry land, but our need
is to find the fount of grace.
And when we do, sometimes
in the unlikeliest of places,
we can only praise you,
our living God, source of all joy.
A sip of your water is enough
to turn our dry brown edges
back to green again, enough
to satisfy our thirst for ever.
Imagine the new day
as the first day of creation
when the chaos lifts
and the Spirit drifts across the deep.
Imagine the shower
as a sprinkling of God’s love
that finds the dark, dry places
and enlivens them.
Imagine the clean water
blessing the whole earth
as we learn to share and give
each other sustenance.
Imagine that today
a house of justice will be built
and all peoples will be welcome there
for all eternity.
Imagine – and realise your dreams.
27 September & 4 October
He found the burden light Philippians 2 and Matthew 11: 25–30
How can we find that humility
that doesn’t remind us of Uriah Heap,
but instead of being ever so ‘umble
in a fawning, cringing way,
leads us to the one whose yoke is easy
and his burden light?
I mean the one who came to live with us
and bid us take his yoke upon ourselves,
for he is humble and gentle of heart.
There was a man whose name was Francis
who seemed to understand
what it meant to do this;
a man who lived so long ago
and yet seems attuned to all our problems.
He cared for the natural world
and talked, so they say, to the birds;
he found in Jesus the compassion
to tend the sick and stand up for the poor.
We remember him as a man of peace
who left us a prayer, altered down the ages,
but essentially the core of Jesus’s teachings.
He knew how to achieve peace and rest for your soul.
It was not an easy way, no, not at all,
but in honouring the earth
in all its boundless variety
and meeting all people with love,
he caused a quiet revolution.
And he found Christ’s burden light.
Sword of truth
Light is not the absence of the dark
but the sight in shadowed places
of its complementary colour
by its own deep concentration
silvering the storm clouds
Love is not the opposite of hate
but the kindling of pure passion
out of which may follow
the silencing of all recrimination
as in the presence of the beloved
Peace is not the absence of a war
but the spreading of Shalom
that overflows the spirit
diluting all our differences
so that any conflict
Truth is not the opposite of lies
but a bold bright blade
raised as a beacon before us
cutting through all falsehood
so that hope, love, peace can blaze forth
Amnesty Genesis 50: 15-21 & Matthew 18: 21-35
Let’s have an amnesty on hate –
trade in all weapons for blessings
and learn to love as we have been loved.
Buses could be used to take children
out to the countryside or beaches,
knives to cut the bread and not the flesh;
guns, well guns could be re-forged into benches
on which different peoples could sit in the sun
and get to know one another.
Forgiveness would be the fruit of these exchanges –
true forgiveness that bears no grudges.
First the conversation would have to acknowledge
all the hurts and misunderstandings,
to hold them where both sides could feel them
and then to consign them gently to the past.
There they would remain, not forgotten,
but proof of that great transformation
that Jesus first achieved on the cross,
meeting hatred with forgiving love.
Let’s have an amnesty on hate
and tell the world how all can be forgiven,
freeing them to love in their turn
and to live the new life that he won.
8 September 2020
Coming back to Wesley Mem
after months of absence
would, I thought, feel very strange,
just as the first weeks
shut out of church had been.
There was plenty to make it so –
not least the prohibition on singing.
Whoever heard of a Methodist service
without any hymns?
Then, of course, there was the distancing,
whole rows of chairs with crosses on them,
and people dotted about the Sanctuary.
And the mask-wearing,
so that only half of each face showed.
But, even so, Wesley Mem itself
hadn’t changed at all.
I felt the same sense
of coming home
as when I first walked in there
forty-four years ago,
the same warmth and fellowship
as we gathered to worship God.
I wondered whether the church
had been lonely, too,
robbed of all its people,
and whether it enjoyed
gathering us in once more
so that building and worshippers
were once again united.
We were church for all those months anyway,
but it’s good to come back home.
6 September 2020
Bread of life
Soup as thick as stymied thought
in the dish of disconnected memory,
sticky and unswallowable
without a loaf to soak it up.
Ah, here comes nourishment,
here is the promised bread –
great thick doorsteps of puckly brown
or soft smooth rolls of white.
Broken for you this staple food,
for you these crumbs let fall –
remember this whenever you partake of it,
whether with pea soup in the brain
or wine at the communion table,
a simple meal with friends
or high in the sky from an airline meal-tray.
Ubiquitous and basic, yet so varied,
ready to meet every hungry human need,
bread, like Christ, is with you always,
Christ, like bread, is the staple of your life.
And all for you, every crumb for you is given
so that even sticky soup
will not burn your tongue and throat
but slip down easily
to nourish and restore.
For Jesus said ‘I am the bread of life’
and God is always baking white and brown,
heaven’s ovens bursting with risen loaves
for every person brown or white in God’s creation –
for you, for you, for you,
and, yes, for you.
30 August 2020
I AM who I AM based on Exodus 3: 1–15
An impersonal phrase
more alluring when
it is made personal,
as Moses learned when
he turned aside at the
burning bush that did not
but lit up the scene.
Nowadays we say
of the things we
do not understand,
‘it is what it is’,
but Moses turned aside
and listened to God
as God promised
to lead his people
out of Egypt.
Believing God, he
a name to take back
to the people,
in case they asked
on whose authority
he took charge.
‘I AM who I AM’, said God,
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’
Jesus too used this name
‘I am’, being himself
the Word of God.
‘I am the light of the world,’
he said, and we read in John
that the light
shines in the darkness
and the darkness
could not put it out.
So when darkness
enters your life,
do not be afraid
but trust in the One
who IS; turn aside to God
and God will illuminate
your darkness somehow.
The light might at first
feel like a fire burning you up,
but you will not be
consumed: just BE.
Doors (to welcome our new Ministers)
There was a door – heavy, falling closed
and another open a tiny crack,
just far enough to see
a fascinating stripe of life within:
an arm, a leg, part of a wheelchair
and the edge of a table
scattered with random objects.
They are connected, yet unconnected,
only just finding their place in the story,
only just finding their story in this place.
The heavy door, pulled when it should be pushed,
appeared at first to be locked shut,
but even though that turned out not to be the case
let it be itself, falling to on its self-closer.
Let it close if that is what it was made to do.
Do not struggle with it, but instead
wait for the light to be revealed
in that other room, the one you can see but a part of.
Wait for the pattern to form from the randomness
and the faces connected to the leg and arm
to smile, to speak, to invite you in.
For this is the place of invitation,
of moving on from the familiar,
of risking a step in a new direction,
and of letting what seemed heavy
fall lightly in the past.
Sunday 16 August
Ps. 103 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits –
who forgives all your iniquity and heals all your diseases.
How should we pray?
It all depends whether God
will intervene to take this virus from us
or walk beside us as we bear it.
Personally I believe the latter
and so I pray for faith and strength.
Christ showed God’s love
as he proved that even the worst things
that could happen to him
could not overcome the good.
He showed that love is always,
always stronger than death
and good than evil.
So shall we know this love
in our hearts, carrying our burden,
and, as we hold out to the end,
Sunday 9 August
Matthew 14: 30 as in The Message
'But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, "Master, save me!" '
Don’t look down
Going out at the moment
is rather like Peter
walking on water –
you’re all right as long as
you don’t look down.
Like a tightrope walker
you negotiate the narrow rope
between getting too close
and feeling safe
because of your mask and distancing.
Public confidence is still
quite low among
the vulnerable –
why throw away all that
has been won by staying at home?
But for Peter it was a matter
of continuing to trust (or not)
in the miraculous powers
of Jesus. Maybe we too
could learn something from this.
Sunday 2 August
Taking the next step based on Psalm 17: 5
Go forward into the day, my soul
and do not fear,
though the night-time be tormenting
or the morning mournful.
with courage and conviction,
carrying your cross
and knowing that Christ has gone before you.
Go forward –
even a single step of faith
will take you further
than any amount of wandering
among worldly cares.
though the earth seem to melt away
for as you place your feet there
the bridge will be built and buttressed
No ifs, no buts, no chasing after shadows –
simply go forward
to where the Master waits to greet you.
To read more poems, including previously published ones, by Joanna, please fill in a request on the Contact form (at top of the page)