“…in hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
One day when I was walking past I saw a little boy,
such innocence was in his step, and in his face was joy,
and as I passed I heard a little voice that asked, what is
that noise? I think it was the workman’s trucks. But Lord, forgive
us for the wars and strife and suffering we have caused to come
upon the lives of little boys. Like lambs in fields on summer
days simplicity disarms the strong, but Lord you too
are in the wrong, for many times the innocent you slew
with earthquakes, famines, floods and cruel disease. I cannot think
you did not know about these things, nor are you one to wink
at them and hold you hand. Why don’t you intervene? His little
face is like a sun, it’s shining, giving your acquittal.
One day my daughter Eve came home from school,
we have a photo of that afternoon,
a little girl is seated on the ground,
her face is covered with her hands, for she
is weeping for the tree we have cut down.
Recalling how she cried that afternoon
I think of friends who mourned the loss of pets,
and of a man who told me of his dog,
now gone, who had been seen around him in
the months after he died – a ghostly double
of the one that he had loved.
Just recently I heard a news report
about a pine, a feature at a war
memorial, planted as a seedling from
a cone a soldier had brought back. And now
it had a sickness none could cure, that day
it would be felled – I heard the chainsaw starting
up and listened to a bystander,
heart broken, holding back her tears.
Why are we moved by death, not only of
our kind, but even other living things?
Cezanne once painted a great tree, a pine
immersed in sky, a symbol of the force
of life, that thrusts all things beyond the earth
before they die. In later years again
he grasped the theme, this time he looked out on
a tree that grew beside him in his garden –
a grand Aleppo pine (that still lives there).
Now tree and earth and sky are in a complex
unity of fire and form and gentle
light. A lonely pine once grew upon
hill were battles raged. The hill they had
named after it, in memory of a song –
a lonesome pine where lovers carved their names
one night beneath the pale moonshine. When
warring ceased the tree was gone, five thousand
breathed no more, and from the branches that
remained, a soldier kept a cone, planning
its return. A hundred years have passed
since then, the witnesses have died, and now
the seedling, long a tree – today it falls.
The Turkish pines are noted for the honey
dew that forms upon their bark, the bees
that drink it make a precious honey, said
to heal. A legend says the infant Zeus,
while on the Isle of Crete, was nourished by
the honey dew found dripping from the trees.
An ancient god of war and peace, of life
and death, of love and strife, was nourished
by a tree – no wonder that we mourn
when one like it has ceased to be.
A lone pine in a field of blood, of human
life poured out as rain upon a barren
hill, your memory is now erased,
the swiftness of the chainsaw’s blades have left
a nation, like a child, bereft, returning
to their home to find a tree once loved
has gone. And we like pines upon a hill,
whose cones all open in the fire, releasing
airborne seeds, all know that we will die,
and though there will be those who mourn, the force
of life emerges still, and nectar falls
like dew upon the ground. And tiny shoots
will break the earth to reach again into
the air, and battlefields of wasted lives,
all covered now in summer green, a verdant
field become, all full of pines. The tree
Cezanne observed they say still lives, but even
if it dies (it surely will), its wild embrace
of blue sky and the earth beneath, remains
alive within the mind of God, whose garden
is the entire world, whose watching eyes
observe all things that live, in holy love.
The earth was young and all around were trees and fields
where life began to stir and new born man emerged
to see it all. He viewed the dawning of a world,
and God himself, the risen sun that shone on him
throughout the day, would walk with him as evening came.
The multitude of living things that God had made
where brought to greet him and be named according to
the wisdom God had given him. He saw the wild
abundance there, but felt within a sense that grew –
the whole majestic world still lacked a being whose name
he did not know. He slept, and as the deepest sleep
contains no dreams, the place he entered then was one
beyond the world he knew, a realm where hidden things
appear, of future times that now draw near, a world
to be arriving while the world that is was new.
From Adam’s heart the hand of God brought forth the nameless
one he sought, and so he found that love created
what had never been, desired, unknown, unseen.
A million years passed through his mind as God considered
human kind, the cries of bitter life beneath
the sun. And on a day unlike them all he looked
out on a darkened hill to see his light extinguished
like a flame. The perfect man hung on a tree
by restless men no longer free to walk as Adam
once had walked with God. And as he died, his eyes
now night, in deepest sleep another world began
to dawn. As Eve appeared from Adam’s side, his broken
heart released a tide of hope that grew to turn
mankind afresh into the love that God intends.
And far away a city forms of light and gold
and precious stones, the bride to be of Adam’s son
who sunk that day to lie entombed in dreamless sleep
When He Came Down
When He came down to walk upon the earth He made
and be among the living things He caused to be,
the universe He covered in the deepest shade
and all that lives He sheltered underneath a tree.
And when He came a golden sun began to shine,
and earth awoke to greet the coming spring of time.
To be with Him was more than any man could ask –
how joyful to be there, to hear His voice, to see
His face that was before the world began, but masked
forever now in human eyes, so clear and free.
To hear Him speak was like the wind of paradise
that gently fell on man from Eden’s summer skies.
And in His words and in His hands they felt the power
of other worlds come near, and climbing high they reached
to touch the sun, but did not understand the hour
that it would set, as waves that crash upon a beach.
Then shadows fell around that tree privileged to be
the glory of the coming new humanity.
Men sometimes watch the moon alone in the blue sky,
so delicate among the clouds, a crystal sphere.
To those observing here on earth with human eyes,
how many see in this frail form what will appear?
When shadows fall and night descends the shining moon
is witness to a glory – like an ancient rune.
When Men Ventured
When men ventured across the sea in search of lands
they looked up to the stars to guide their way.
They leant the movement of the tides and watched the birds
and sensed the changing light across the sky.
When Abraham was told to journey far from home,
he had no way to know where he would go.
He only heard a voice speaking from far away
that journeyed to the center of his soul.
The moon has known the path to take across the sky
to shine through every window from its throne.
It knows the times of rising and of setting, when to
grow, and when to fade away again.
When Abraham was told to take his only son
he did not know the end before it came.
He followed the instruction he was given, where to
go, and what to do when he arrived.
And on a mountain when he lifted up his eyes
he saw a ram with horns caught in a thicket.
The birds all soar across the distant skies to home,
remembering the way their mother taught.
The generations follow as the ones before,
upon the course that destiny encodes.
But long ago man altered all the ancient ways,
forgetting what he once had clearly known.
And now he needs primeval light to rise again
to shine into the window of his heart
to lead him to the mountains of the countless stars,
the promised land from which he once began.
A bolt of lightning hit an old tree in the garden,
those watching saw a blinding flash of light.
The heat within its core was greater than the sun,
its power hurled a branch just like a javelin.
Although they felt no fear, they trembled in their bones –
that night they closed their eyes and saw it still.
Man once expressed his view of life in tragedy –
nobility was marred by human flaws.
The javelin thrown in majesty of flight was found
to miss its mark and lie on empty ground,
and broken man, confronted with his destiny,
wept in recognition of what is.
The word, expressing mankind’s soaring tragedy,
is that of arrows failing in their flight,
and later it described the essence of our sin,
by which we mar the face of God inside.
How often do the arrows of humanity
lie useless, spent upon the battlefield,
and weeping, men look up into a faceless sky,
then turn their eyes again to face the earth?
Damascus was in sight when lightning blinded him,
and then he saw as clear as a new day.
The tragedy of man was fixed upon a cross,
the javelin hit its mark in human flesh,
and love alone poured down upon humanity,
in thunder bursts that drenched the thirsty ground.
O death where is your sting, O grave your victory? –
for man in Him has found his majesty.
They watched the lightning strike the tree in wondrous awe,
they saw the old tree broken by a lion’s paw.
How man has fallen from the heights that God intended,
how terrible the place in which his dreams have ended.
We watch a tragedy that sweeps towards finality,
where mankind sees, then grasps anew its destiny –
upon the cross the fall of man, his mournful cry,
the depth of night, the glorious light that cannot die.
The transfiguration of the sky is one of life’s great wonders,
the birds in adoration know it best,
carefully they watch until it bursts asunder,
knowing that to see is to be blessed,
their hearts ablaze anticipate what soon will be,
and some are even coloured by their destiny.
The canvas of the day is primed with the deep night,
a radiance appears where none had been,
the colours of the rising sun, awash with light,
ascend the heights and fill the sky between,
and night becomes an archipelago in dawn,
soon lost beneath the rising sea, as day is born.
But who would know what will befall the brightest day?
As insects find that life has brought them wings,
and butterflies will fly in summer skies, the way
that night transfigures day, who can begin
to understand? The light defused, like scent of flowers,
the night ascends on wings, with feather tips of stars.
When night became the womb of dawn
who knew how many would be born?
When wind was wedded to the trees
who knew how happy they would be?
When sand became the sea’s bright moon
a yellow crescent near the blue
who knew the waves would pierce it through?
When I became the son of man
who knew I am was what I am?
The two of us became as one
and now our joy has just begun.
And when the music filled the air
he saw the angels on the stairs.
But no one knew and no one cared
about the pain he came to share.
When sea became the moon’s dark night
a blue expanse that eats the light
who knew the sand could be so bright?
When death is just a memory passed
who needs to look into its glass?
When I renew the face of man
who cannot see I am I am?
Another Day of Life
Another day of life here on this circling earth
that hurtles into darkness like a stone;
but always near its friend the sun, who watches it
with its one great and constant shining eye.
I hear the morning birdcalls and the passing traffic,
the clouds, lit by the early light above me,
slowly move across the wide expanse of sky,
and nearby gums are yellow in the sun,
their shadows though, a world within that is unseen,
remains like thoughts – an inner partner to the
world of sight, that always travel near – these dark
and holy friends of light begin their daily
journey too. A bush in flower beside me stands
rejoicing in the sun, swaying so gently
in a barely moving early breeze. My thoughts
begin their journey too – for we are also
hurled like stones into the endlessness of night.
I am a circling sphere of consciousness,
drawn to the light that travels with me through the hidden
universe that is the mind. How did
it start to be? Those passing hours spent looking at
the world before me in my cot, or even
memories, long lost now, of times within the womb?
The whole external world had found an echo –
I am a resonance of it. Each human being
is like another ripple on the lake.
Perhaps existence is the stone, and consciousness
the sea which it has entered, breaking its surface.
The stone drops to the bottom, and the waves extend,
one after another, life after life, without
an end. We carry our experience of living
here within our minds, a complexity
of waves, extending out around the inner core
of things, and like the swells that cross the sea
are patterned by each other swell that passes them –
so our minds are full of thoughts, memories
and desires. But in a moment all can end.
Like the light of distant stars, that travel
here, and reach our world long after they are gone,
does consciousness continue? Our bodies fall,
but the great journey into night, once began,
how can it end, how can it cease to be?
And now the light is on the other side of me.
The sun has travelled to the western sky.
The trees have turned around to watch it disappear,
their shadow thoughts grow longer by the hour.
A bird swoops high into the branches of a gum,
alighting in a tangled nest of sticks,
the grey clouds are behind her, and she looks into
the sun – the world has landed in the nest
of me. It sees the distant day that slowly sets
behind the hills, and soon takes flight again
to other trees. And we, the nest, continue here –
within our womb of sticks and leaves there will
be other worlds that break their shells in search
Within a Cloud
Within a cloud above a mountain God revealed
his hidden plans. He used the structures of
the human world as symbols of eternity.
As water lies in pools when rain has passed,
and rivers rich with gold leave tiny fragments shining
in a pan, the mind of God in wisdom
chose these simple things to mark his will. There was
a table and a golden box, some curtains
made of linen and a lampstand like a budding
tree. As numbers often hold the secrets
of the universe, equations keys to stars,
these furnishings explain the etiquette
of holy banquets, full of love, unknown to man
on earth. The table set with twelve fresh loaves,
the lampstand lit with seven lights, a golden box,
now full of emptiness, with two poised angels
on its lid – how strange the master of all worlds
should speak like this, as symbols in a dream.
When Israel chose to make each thing, obedient to
the sights revealed, a glory came to live
with them – a table set for royal guests, the candles
lit, the curtains hung, the ruler and
his glorious ones sat down to eat. Above the mountain,
skywards, high, the throne of God is found.
Its splendour is beyond all human words, another
realm of all that is. No dimension used
to measure earth can measure there. The crystal
air is different to the sea – so this world high
above is unlike all that we can know of
here. And God intends we breath this air and freely
feel the breezes there, so he came down
in awesome fire, and lit the mountain with his flames,
and on its peak the trembling earth was shaken
by this holy birth – infinity expanding
in the depths of things. Within the cloud
that rested there, beside the table and the lamp
and perfumed oil and flowing cloth all woven
with the thread of sky and blood and royalty,
an altar made of bronze and wood was placed
among the finery. And those who understood
could see that life would soon be offered there,
among the gleaming soldier’s bronze, upon the wooden
beams, once sawn within the city gates,
Jerusalem would one day host the offering of
the Son. And nearby was a little pool
of bronze that caught the rays of sun, and all who would
could wash their face and look and see the One.
I watched the moon through latticed leaves as clouds
swept by beneath. And like a bride’s long flowing
train their graceful movement paled before
the beauty of her face that looked on all
who watched her, poised above the sky. Today
when I looked up again, another was
where she had been, and though the branches were
so green with early growth of spring, the last
brown leaves blown by the wind were all it seemed
was left to see, her wonder now a memory.
We only have a little time to live,
and far above us clouds are coming from
another corner of the sky. The wind
has lifted, and the clouds increase their pace,
the trees all sway, and even tiny blades
of grass are shaking, though they too are rooted
in the ground. The other world of air,
like that heaven, seems to have the upper
hand, and trees long rooted in the earth
shall fall, and even rocks turn into sand.
Tonight the moon will be again, I do
not know from where within the darkened
sky it will arise, or, whether as
before, the wind will blow the clouds across
its face. I know it will be different though,
for every night it changes form, as we
do too, so like the tides that rise and fall
and travel through the hours of day like waves
towards a beach, we have a destiny
to be a fuller being than we are now.
Light can penetrate water. Beneath the waves
it can be seen. Those diving, even deep
below, can look up and see it filtering through.
Sometimes they see the face of the sun, mellowed,
floating on the surface. Only in the
deepest sea is true darkness found. There
the fish have adapted to the endless night
and have learnt to create their own illumination,
or simply do without. Our hearts are like this
too. Another world can peer into ours,
and sometimes we look up and see it there, shining
in our consciousness, and we feel wonder,
or even relief, that such a place is there,
beyond, a light in the sky – to us who do not
even know what a sky is (as fish cannot
conceive the air above the surface). And we,
who sometimes see, can just as often sink
within to depths were light can never reach,
and like the strangest fish of all, adjust to
life in darkness. Unless like Jonah on the
sea floor we call out again to see.
How strong the wind blows here outside. The sky
is washed in blue, a fired glaze, the sun
a flower, ageless in the vase. I hear
its roar and see the trees all tossed by gusts
of its invisibility. It’s only
birds who know the way to navigate
in such wild seas. We find it blows our hair
and bites into our flesh with cold sharp teeth.
And teachers say the children now no longer
know how they should play, but wildly leap
across the fields like flocks of mountain goats.
A breeze is bearer too of seeds, and high
above, the yellow sun that seems to be
impassible, is churned by solar winds.
Every day the waves crash into shore
as they have done for aeons past and will
for aeons more. The power of the distant
moon and winds that blow across the sea
have turned the liquid part of earth into
a realm of restless instability.
There were few nation states that loved the waves,
but those who mastered them, became the rulers
of lands far from home, until they too
where sent again back to the sea from which
they came. The great migration paths of birds
are epic journeys, crossing seas to mate
and have their young; beneath the waves are other
beings – the whales and salmon, tuna, turtles
and eels – each find their way across the seas.
The restless heart of man needs navigators
of the sturdiest sort, with skillful hands
and keenest eyes to judge the way, by sea
and sky, to cross the five great oceans of the
earth – sin, sickness, curse, the devil and
eternal death – and find the place to berth.
The lovely view from mountaintops of valleys
deep below, and distant streams among
the green, and clouds in white processions, simply
there upon the air, is sometimes sung
about by those who stand beneath the clouds
and watch the daylight fill the broad expanse
that make the earth aglow. And though they shroud
the sun from time to time the slow cloud dance
is beautiful to see and we who watch
the scene unfolding like a wave across
the sea of time are witnesses of much
we do not understand and are at loss
to speak to other men about. The birds
that hover near or fly across the valleys
see more of what we seek to see, to learn
from them who spend their days in empty
skies is what we aim towards. Returning
to simplicity, a noble goal, but how
can we whose lives have taken other winding
paths? Complexity is all we now
can see. But even mathematics shows
that simple thoughts may have the key to unlock
mysteries. Perhaps we should have known
to wait and think and feel and be are rocks
from which eternity ascends, and we
are given wings to fly, through patient use
our faculties can learn to soar and see
the world below in panoramic view.
But still we must be careful not to lose
ourselves in sky, to never soar so high
that earth is left behind and soon our muse
is gone – for earth alone is where they fly.
The Marks of Grief
The marks of grief are like a valley carved
from the mountains. A river makes its path
through earth and rock, and over time the landscape
changes. To those who know the scenery well,
the valley comes as no surprise, but others,
travelling through the hills, would not expect
to see it there, and marvel at the sight.
And we may also seek to hide it from
our eyes, an inner valley formed behind
familiar peaks, that slowly forms far from
our daily view. And only those who know
us well may sense a river flowing in a valley
far away. It has been known that travellers
sometimes find a secret valley high
up in the ranges. Few had seen its river
flowing there, surrounded by such noble
trees, and even grasslands swaying in the
wind. To those who love the mountains, hiking
far to find this place, it is a special
thing to see, a little paradise.
How Blue the Sky
How blue the sky can be some days! I
look up and see it there and often search
to find a way to speak of it. How do
we speak of simple things, so beautiful
and some so ethereal, and yet so crucial
to our lives? The shadows of the day
outside are flickering on the curtain drawn
across the window, birds are twittering
beyond the door. Sometimes we go inside
to get a better glimpse of things. Through inner
doors we find the world outside. A painter
will set up his easel by a riverside
and slowly paint the river’s steady progress
past a group of trees. His eye will shift
from scene to canvas, time and time again.
He tries to match the beauty there, with beauty
that he sees within. The canvas is
the meeting place of these two worlds of sight,
and if his gaze is clear, perhaps it will
become itself, the centre of his seeing,
as when a crystal refracts the light. So words
can help us, somehow defining what we seek
to know, gathering the outside and the inside
to a place where both can be seen, and like
the painter’s canvas, where each brush stroke must
be judged against the river’s flow, words
themselves are to be tested in the light.
Beside a Field
I stopped the car beside a field and listened.
The wind had made the wire fence beside me
resonate with harmonics in a mournful,
ghostly sound, a major third descending,
each note, though clear, was intangible
like the wind itself, and sometimes floated
there and then disappeared. Nearby was a
field of long grasses, dry, each stem moved
by the wind in a slightly different way
to all the others. Every now and then
a gust blew with the whooshing sound
we normally identify with wind, but now
was somewhat unexpected because of the
harmonics. As I listened I kept feeling,
or strangely hearing another note – a minor
third lower – that would with the other note
sound a minor chord, although I knew it
wouldn’t because of the natural properties
of the harmonic series. As I drove towards
this place, and again when I left, I noticed
a ploughed field. Its freshly turned soil
faced the sky. I felt the bounty of the
earth, and the hand of man given to open
it up. To be ploughed like a field – who
would desire that, yet it is so life affirming.
Human hands – in God’s image – have
been working the land for millennia.
But the wind is older still, we cannot
bear its image, unless within our spirits,
where we resonate with its mournful cry.
We Have a Tree
We have a tree whose roots are visible,
some at least, they stretch out from its centre
like directions on a compass, while the others,
unseen, point towards the earth’s deep molten
core. The roots appear to me like fingers
of an outstretched hand that reaches far
to hold as much of being as it can,
and holding it, its fingers cling with great
intensity. And so it grasps the earth
and all of life that’s given there. I look
and come to realize the hands that these
remind me of – the hands of Christ outstretched
I’ve seen in paintings by old German masters,
full of passion, agony and lit
within. And now I look up from the roots
to see the tree’s full majesty, arising
from the ground, reaching out in praise
and joy and victory to the sky. And tiny new
leaves are on each branch, and here beneath
all viewing it are humbled by its power.
A Solemn Ceremony
Look, the master of our destiny
is carried there, his lifeless body lifted
by his friends who knew the majesty
with which he lived his life deserved the gifting
of the best of earth, and so before the sinking
sun was laid to rest, a dark procession
made its way past crowds of men, unthinking
that the passing of the ages mentioned
in the scriptures, now concluded, lay
within this body, spent as the old day.
And like the clouds pass by the sun that sets
in western skies, they’d taken linen sheets
to wrap his precious limbs. And no regrets
had any then, who bravely went to greet
the fallen King and escort him to sleep
among the stones. From mountain ranges far
from there, a perfume bearing tree, grown deep
within the Himalayan hills, was garnered
to obtain a precious nard – with this she once
anointed him, who watched the funeral pass.
When Jacob died they took his body far
from where he lay – a company of chariots,
sent from Egypt with the mourners, started
out towards his fathers’ home. They stopped
beside a river, and with cries of solemn
mourning all gave honour to this man.
And then the family went alone, his fallen
body to entomb within the land
that God had promised them, a plot of earth
they purchased once, awaiting the new birth.
The sun had disappeared behind the hills,
the Sabbath day begun where none could travel
far. Within the tomb the Son was still,
his passion passed, and every work of marvels
he performed recorded now until
the world shall end, inscribed within the book
of life, except for one, and that will fill
eternity. For see – the earth was shook
and with it every tomb enslaving man,
as he arose, alive, the great I AM.
I used to wait for when my father came home.
Apart from seeing him, there were times he had
a paper bag inside his briefcase with
a present. How exciting those days were!
I have another memory of him chasing
me across the lawn. I knew that if I
reached the tree I would be safe – I was
in trouble! See what funny memories come
to mind. I think about him now, his honesty,
the opportunities he gave to us,
the fairness of his thinking, his uprightness,
the many things he did to make my brother’s
life and mine a joyful one, a helpful
start to living in this world. And as
a child I used say, Our Father who art
in heaven, hallowed by thy name, every
night before I went to sleep, and dimly
knew there was a father they called God.
Today I am a father too, I wonder
how my children and their children
too will view their fathers, and I wonder
how my father and his fathers too
have dimly or more clearly seen their Father
who has always been and seen and cared.
Father’s day began when there was evening
and there was morning, the first day, and the second,
and the third. His day sends rain and sunshine on the just
and the unjust. He provides the daily bread. On his day
he loves to let his kingdom come and will be done.
On that day he always forgives. Abraham
saw his day and rejoiced. On that day he always
gives good gifts to his children. On father’s day
he gave his son his inheritance and watched him leave,
and watched each father’s day for him to return,
and when he did, he ran to his son and embraced him,
and gave him a robe and a ring and a lamb – and went
out to plead with the other son to come inside and join them.
On father’s day he sees what is done in secret and rewards,
and the angels of every little one look at his face.
On that day he led
his son with a donkey and wood and a fire to a
mountain to offer him as a burnt sacrifice,
and the angel called twice from heaven,
and the third time he didn’t,
and his will was done on earth as it is in heaven,
and from a cross new heaven and earth began.
On father’s day his son is in his house about his father’s business.
On father’s day he fashions all our lives from out of clay.
On father’s day he wipes all of our tears away.
I Sit Here in my Room
I sit here in my room beside a pane of glass,
the sun is a warm presence on my back,
its home is deep within the sky so far from here,
a distant arrow shot that brings light near
to join celestial worlds to us so we won’t lack
the life for which we crave, but seldom ask.
The room around my body now is full of light,
each feature on the floor and walls is clear,
but outside in the world behind my head the sky
is brighter still, its light is more than eyes
can bear if any look into the shining sphere
in its long transit from the day to night.
We never are alone here in this floating world,
revolving slowly eastwards from the sun,
the planets, moon, ten thousand stars accompany us,
companions in a journey until dust
again lays claim to all that life had just begun
to see, the mystery that is untold.
Outside my room the distant light soon ceased to shine,
the face of earth diverts its gaze and now
we all must wait for it to circle round and turn
again into the sun, and so I learn,
all those who live without the sky will never flower,
I need to make the gifts it grants me mine.
An inner light is with me by the window side,
I let its beams illuminate my mind,
I see the glow of galaxies of stars like grasses
growing, blowing in the wind, to master
the complexity of thought within, to find
the commonality – God must confide.
I Watch the Slowly Moving Sun
I watch the slowly moving sun
crossing desert lands.
It sees the earth and sky as one,
united as the prophets sung
of once on desert sands,
a vision of the end of time,
eternity to us inclined.
The sun that crosses desert skies
is brightest when it’s noon.
Its radiance can blind the eyes,
a passing crow lets out a cry
to see it in full bloom,
and everywhere it is the same,
eternity is its true name.
The sky can barely hold the light,
spilling to the earth
it rises as onset of night
quickly overwhelms our sight
and blinds us, as the birth
of all that we cannot conceive
is birthed from sky’s eternal seed.
And even when the sun has reached
the distant edge of plain,
it seems its fiery core has breached
the sphere in which came and leached
the light till none remains,
I watch it die, the sinking sun,
and grieve till earth the sky becomes.
Australia is ringed by sea,
white breakers and white sands.
But deep within, eternity
is what its people once could see
embedded in the land.
A pilgrim now, I quietly come
to bow before the Holy One.
The River Takes the Day
The river takes the day reflected on its surface
and carries it so slowly far way.
The trees that stand there silently beside its banks
reflect upon a life that is to be.
But what they see reflected there upon the water
is the life that is. Mysteriously,
their image remains settled on the river as
the current carries life from what will be
to what has passed. The sky above them also seems
to be in constant motion, though the floating
clouds keep drifting by a face that does not change,
but rather turns to look on other things.
Where are we within this scene, where do we go,
where have we been, what is this present at
our feet among the ripples in a stream that holds
our image there among the silent trees?
The river always looks towards the sky above,
an image of the sky is there among
the trees upon the gently moving mirror stream.
Although its face will sometimes turn away
the river is the host each day to day.
A Plume of Smoke
A plume of smoke rises in a slender column,
and charts its course to invisibility.
The fire beneath is master of this alchemy
and we the witness to events so solemn.
Its journey is a common destiny, the earth
becomes as sky, existence can’t remain
as it was once, but entering transfiguring flames
is changed within, as if a second birth.
The growth of consciousness is a great mystery.
How did the shell of matter burst asunder?
The mind is like the sky at night, all full of wonder,
existence open to eternity.
To see this great expanse is not all that we seek,
for thoughts both good and evil fill our hearts,
to know this world of which we are a tiny part
has brought to us more pain than we can speak.
Within this world of matter and of consciousness
eternity has entered like the sun,
igniting all the world with flames, the Holy One
who died in pain and anguish on a cross.
And on the day of Pentecost this fire burned
within. The centre of the universe
became the centre of our being. No longer cursed
to be a ship unable to return,
adrift upon the open sea, a being without
a destiny, our hearts are lit by love,
and rising like a plume into the sky above
we vanish, his invisibility.
O Sun, who crosses distant skies to be with us,
burn again within me as before,
light the inner world in which I truly live
and let your day keep breaking on that shore.
Liberate my soul to love eternity
and all that has been marked by heaven’s flames,
as dawn brings warmth and light to all the waiting earth
and only what is hidden stays the same.
May all I love receive what you have given me
as open hearted and as pure as you
who sends the rain and sunshine without fail to all,
indifferent, whether they are false or true.
May those who cannot see what has begun, or feel
as yet the warmth, and sleep as in a prison
of a heart untouched by morning’s light, and only
know the distant sight of stars within,
may you in me bring joy to them and liberate
their longing souls, and may the universe
be filled as I and them and all who come to taste
light’s living stream of which you are the source.
In Some Cities
In some cities you cannot see the stars,
these marks of our identity, each one
equivalent to a human life, the car’s
exhaust and smog and soot have all begun
to steal away. Perhaps they soon will only
be a memory and like a rootless
tree mankind will wither, fall and be
no more, for as the angels in the highest
look into the Father’s face, each one
a representative of children here,
we need their lights above as the summation
of our lives, significance kept near.
By a Line of Trees
By a line of trees they lowered him into the earth.
I watched the clouds, and soon I was travelling along
country roads with green curves of hills and great spaces
between land and sky. Years before I knew he had stood
in a churchyard near the graves and looked out at the
world before him and prayed – positioned between the dead
and the living. He had no fear of death, and now he is there,
and I am here, watching his body descend near the trees
and the clouds. And soon I am sitting in an airport and travelling
late in the night back to home. And his room, where I slept
the previous night, is empty, and his chair, and the sky.
In his room, all covered with empty cans and medicine packets,
his body lay bloated on the floor. I identified him and quickly
stepped outside. I knew he had feared the nights when his breathing
was bad. To find the air was a struggle, and he sometimes called out
to God. His son lived somewhere out in the bushland, almost
a madman. They hadn’t talked for years. His father in the time
before his death had said, I had a good son, but I didn’t know it.
I had two dreams afterwards. One of him asking me in to talk,
and one of his house empty, accept for his bags packed with clothes.
My Nanna was ninety-six when she died. I chose a hymn
about God’s promise to Simeon, that he would see the Messiah
before his death, and his acceptance, now he held the infant
Jesus in his arms. She had once told me that at night she prayed
from Psalm one hundred and nineteen, I have strayed like a lost
sheep, seek your servant. I played the B flat minor prelude
by Bach as the service concluded, and don’t remember tears.
It was a snow covered winter morning, and I was given the
key to a small chapel attached to the retirement village. It had
once been the residence of the Bishop of Christchurch, and
this was his private chapel. I unlocked the door and there, inside,
he lay in a casket in centre of the room. The ceiling was
curved like that of an old sailing ship. I sat nearby and
thought; and after a while went and looked at the names,
written in fountain pen, of those who had already died.
On the day before Father’s Day he went into bushland
not far from where he was brought up as a boy. And
there he ended his life. When I thought of him I saw
an image of a sandal lying upturned on the ground.
The lost son, returning to his home, and stumbling.
And the Father appearing, running to welcome him.
Well after midnight the phone rang, John, is there
life after death? In the rain, at dusk, that afternoon –
I saw it on the news – her partner had been killed.
How death comes so suddenly, and now he is not here
anymore. No face is spared of those who loved him,
and life continues, though the sun is marred.
She always said that we do not live long here.
Then in those days when she became sick, she
decided that now was the time, and gave up eating,
and some days even gave up talking to those who
would visit. The last day I saw her, the day before
she died, I asked her if I could read aloud from
the Bible. She nodded, so I read from Hebrews.
Abraham left his home and his country behind
and to search for another, a better one. He
went out, not knowing where he was going, and
lived by faith in the land of promise, in tents.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called
his God, and prepares him a city to live in.
I saw his face, lying asleep forever.
A group of friends drew near, each
took their turn, and we said farewell.
And the family that we hadn’t met
before chattered with us on the lawn.
Little bits of a life were filled in, then
we looked at the sun and the afternoon
light on the trees, and turned to go home.
And as we begin we all end.
And every beginning discovers
that every ending is the same.
And faces that looked out on
the day, look out on the day
no more. And afternoon light
follows the light of the morning.
And faces that greeted a new
baby boy, will farewell a man
when he’s old. And as the day
ends each will return to
their home to patiently wait
for their end. As night
follows day, and stars
follow light, and seas follow
rivers, and rain follows
clouds, and days follow hours,
and years follow days,
soon the wave breaks,
and here in the middle,
the wheat in the field,
the light in the air,
the sound in my ears,
the hours to spare,
are marvellous to me.
They anointed your body with spices and oils,
and lay it so tenderly far from the terror
that like a great wave had engulfed it, spoiling
the beauty of your gentle visage, a mirror
of heaven. And now in the darkness of stone
and earth you lie with your deep sunken eyes,
that seeing the worst of the world had shown
only love, and now await to arise
like two suns that secretly circle the depths.
All over the earth the rivers are pouring,
they flow by their thousands, stretching the length
of the land, yet the sea, willing, takes all.
The rivers of death that began at creation,
into whose darkness our tributaries flow,
carrying the joy and beauty of nations,
the life and potential of man, below
in your tomb, the sea of your body receives
without ceasing them all. And here even death
disappears, sunk to the roots of the trees.
For now I surrender myself to the flames,
knowing that I have a share in your name,
for he, who once had a share in our birth,
is the one who once had a share in our death,
and as the sun shines in the lands to the east,
and those who there will share in the feast,
soon the dawn breaks on these lands to the west,
and all will receive their portion of rest,
and here in the sun no shadows shall be,
and from every fear and sorrow set free,
we will see.
On the Surface
On the surface of the mountain lake
the passing day remains, the sky, the slowly
moving clouds, the sun whose journey takes
the light eventually away. And so
it is each day. But when the winter comes
and all the water turns to ice, the view
of sky is gone, and even if the sun
should shine no one can see the beauty
any more. And so we all must wait
until the orbit of the earth returns
the world to where it was before, too late
for winter days, they’re beauty comes from learning
how to see a light within. And now
as warmer days increase, and once again
the stillness of the lake accepts the showers
falling from the sky in light like rain,
I wish that my heart too would be so pure,
a mirror to the kindness of our God
that shines on all around, and shares the cure
for all the coldness of the world. Should
any wonder though about those icy days
that still will come, the light of which I speak
is different to this world, it comes and stays,
what shines above, shines within that lake.
When Heraclitus looked out on a river
he saw that its being never remained the same,
and still he declared that all things are one.
In these trackless and unexplored places there waits
to be found what we did not expect, and hidden
in nature are secrets it does not quickly reveal.
A logos orders all things, but humans are prone
to misunderstand it – as we forget our dreams,
we fail to notice what we do when awake. The
universe ignites like a fire, and is extinguished,
endlessly blazing in flames none can hold.
All is one, and nothing endures but change,
and everything flows like a river which
cannot be stepped into twice. Those sleeping
each have a world of their own, the waking
have this one in common. And time is a game,
beautifully played by children. He saw with
original wonder, the wonder that awaits us.
I looked into the face of a young child,
barely a year old, and thought about
the world they would look out on when their smile
had passed through time to reach my age. Outside
the earth itself is changing, cycles by which
living things charted times and seasons
are no longer as they were, and things that stitched
one life to other lives, the great allegiances
of earth are failing. Unfamiliar
eyes look out towards our own – the eyes
of animals, in some ways similar
to ours, possess a majesty. The sky
above, that witnessed their existence here,
is emptier, as when we loose someone
we love, as one by one they disappear.
Humanity has spent a perfect summer,
all our cultures grew and flourished in these
halcyon years, millenniums that could
continue but for modern man’s disease.
In hubris rhythms were not understood.
In ignorance and greed old boundaries set,
like those dividing sand from sea, were breached
and principles that govern earth were let
thereby to take another course, and so each
natural system is transformed. The change
begun, what kind of world have we bequeathed
to those who follow us? It is so strange
that we, who live here now, who’ve learnt to feast
upon the riches of the earth, should bear
responsibilities like these. I look
at him and wonder, close my eyes, and fear.
Paul wrote so long ago within a book
about creation’s longing to be free.
Lord, give us wisdom, order destiny
that man should live more quietly and be
a neighbour to creation, its true king,
for wicked kings do not endure, your book
describes their fate, and now while there is time
may we all learn from past mistakes, and sing
with you the new song of the lamb, who lies
down with the wolf, and lion with the calf,
and on your holy mountainside none harms
and none destroys, for all the earth is filled
with knowledge of the Lord, so we, until
that day appears, cry out, Lord Jesus, come!
Tragedy and Hope
Every day we live on earth is marked by tragedy and hope.
Towards the end of every day the sun is placed upon a pyre.
In great solemnity the birds and watchful human beings are witness
to its immolation, few can view it without awe, existence,
in its daily death, can see it too will end, consumed by fire,
the flames that holy love decreed should turn the universe to smoke.
And every dawn, far to the east, the sky begins to shed its skin.
The night is like an ancient hall, with sparkling shields upon its walls,
and through its windows blow cold winds of desolation and despair.
And there, within this fearful place, the King of Glory has his chair
on which he sits, and through the air his voice is heard, commanding all
destruction cease, and life emerge again, renewed and without sin.
O God who made the world like this, that tragedy and hope exist
together in the passing days that tumble as a waterfall
from heaven to the earth, each drop an evidence of love, for like
the crystal sphere of earth, lit by the sun and then by stars at night,
this life is full of you, who, in both joy and pain, gave us your all,
that we might learn to love, forsake our fears, and grasp what truly is.
This morning as I drove my son to catch an early morning train,
we saw a long white cloud above the river. He remarked how good
to be near where the water and the air were one. Upon the surface
of all things a glory rests, and like a bird upon its nest,
you cherish life that you have brought to be, and so have understood
each tiny detail of this world, each childlike joy, each man’s dark pain.
The cloud is resting on a long stretch of the river, with a mountain
range behind it, parallel. As day grows warm the cloud is sure
to lift, but in the night may form again. Is all our life lived in
the shadow of a cloud, that hovers over us, unseen? Within
we sometimes sense that we are not alone, and maybe at the core
of things there is someone who understands, who we perhaps could count on.
Today I went to see a friend who’s sick in hospital. She told
me how God took her fears, and like a crystal sea, he carried them
all far away. But while I spoke with her the doctor came and told
her that her life was in the balance. Seeing her eyes, as yet not old,
were clouding up with tears, I wondered what to say, she mentioned then
she did not fear to die, for God was near, and love our life enfolds.
And so the Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding for
creation with deep groans until again all things are very good,
and all the world enriched like rivers brimming up with flecks of gold,
and never more will cries of pain be heard, the sufferings of old,
for everything is lifted, like a cloud, and all become as it should
be, and in his beauty we can see what we were longing for.
When his face set, our faces dawned. See, the shadow of a cross
has covered all. Three hours before the night would come and claim the day,
the light passed from his eyes, and with it all the lights of human eyes
that have looked out upon the world since man emerged, only to die
in earth’s long cycles of renewal and decay. But you now say
to broken man, behold your face is fresh again, nothing is lost.
As travellers sometimes in the night look out towards a distant city,
we who come to know you here already glimpse what is to come,
and with our hearts learn how to pass through blackness and despair to dream.
Greater than what could be hoped for, grander than all that has been –
so he is, the one amongst us. As the sky contains the sun –
all our living is to be the canvass of immensity.