Saturday, August 8, 2015

Darkness Comes to Cudgel My Brain

The leaves of the oak tree glisten with rain
As Darkness comes to cudgel my brain
Tonight with fingers, clenched fists—
Probing, pummelling, heaping on shame,
Thick as ghost-fog and obscuring mists.

Birch boles are black in the shade,
Their creamy skin can only fade
Away, shrink away, hide from eyes
Ever-watching since the day they were made,
Swaying into the snare of the lies...

...Lies that enter the heart, rotting the core
Of the trees-turned-dark; of me, a whore
Inside—my mind, my heart—broken,
Fallen in love with myself, wanting more,
Always insatiable for a counterfeit token

Of love—which is only lust thinly masked,
Glossy outside, alluring as red wine, long-casked
And flowing free—with no thought of tomorrow
When the head-shattering pain remains, unasked,
And Darkness leaves in its wake only false sorrow

Which we call guilt, that cannot cover up lust
Any more than gilt leaf can make a bust
Pure gold all the way through, or trying hard
Can make us new; we can only rust
Under sin's corrosion, once innocent, now marred.

Tomorrow arrives, is today; and the heart-shattering 
Pain of disfiguring corruption is scattering
All faculties of feeling, of sorrow, of true shame
And the eruption of sin, full-fledged, isn't flattering—
I am excoriated, a shell, with only myself to blame.

Night drones on within, filling the hollow
With nought but shadows. Here I wallow
In self-pity and despair, I cannot heal
Myself, save myself—this is hard to swallow,
And know with my life, as I no longer feel

Alive, feel at all, or know repentance-giving-grief.
Inside, the Darkness flutters, kicks, seeks relief
In a wail, a cry for life-breath, for the burning
Spirit of Holiness to come as the thief
Who steals my heart, plunders me back, returning

Me to the rightful King of the world wide—
Eyes wide, as feeling returns with the Spirit inside
Of my fragile heart-shards—redemption is here.
Apathy drains out, life surges in to veins long denied
Its crimson tide by the strangling fingers of fear...
Of being found out, found wanting—ludicrous pride

Kept me locked in the gnawing, growing dark
That threatened to keep me trapped like a lark,
Caged. Enraged at my own selfish choices,
But powerless to save myself—the truth, stark—
I begged for mercy, "Yours." A Voice says...

My face is in His hands, turned toward His eyes,
I see them glistening with tears at my cries
For help, desperate though they were,
I couldn't get out of the dirt, I surmise,
Because I was so focussed on me, so sure

That I could do something to save my soul,
Yet always giving up or in, a wobbly foal
Unable to even stand on the legs given me
Without the Spirit's breath standing me whole
And upright—from Darkness I am made free...

"The Light, the Light!" I cry, covering my face,
Feeling crushed by glory's weight in the space
Of my small frame. The holy, searing Light
Is what I need for healing, soundness—both grace—
To fix what I cannot, to cure me from sin's bite.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Liturgy of Home: Place and Practise

Fog diffuses light and shadow, shrouds the world around me in unfamiliar shapes, bringing with it the damp smells of earth and balsam. Raucous calls emanate from the rook perched amongst the pines. Watching, listening, I sit still—allowing the morning’s wild silence to feed my soul. I revel in weekends and mornings; their hours hold out strong fingers of life and help to me. A cheery kettle often whistles its tea-song as I poach an egg or wipe the table. Benedictine’s chant a Psalm whilst I wash the dishes, my own prayers rising with their strains and the water’s steam.

Morning rhythms thrum through my day, setting the tone for the day’s song. If I begin with a Psalm and moments for prayer, the first melody is strong. If I add to that the kitchen tidying and sweeping, a chord of harmony twines into the day. Weaving in reading or writing—if I have given myself enough time for leisure—the chorus grows more substantial by the time I greet my fellow workmates. This is home—this practise of cultivating habits and routines which chart the course of days and weeks.

I grew up in a home that was less focussed on punctuality and more concerned with ‘life together.’ My mother set routines both around the morning meal and reading Scripture aloud to me and my sisters. My father would engage us all in conversation over dinner, leaving time to read together after the table was cleared or just before bed. Sometimes we would shift our evening routine, having friends over for dinner or coffee. We would hold hands and pray together. There we were, gathered around the table, listening to stories and laughing over the trifling events of the day—glad for friends with whom we could share both words and meals.

Time swirls on as ever—I cannot believe how many years ago I grew up in my parents’ home. I have since moved to my own cottage, a tiny cabin peering out at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Here I have scrubbed, dusted, and decorated. I have laughed and cried, both with friends and alone. I have acquired and organised books and bookshelves. Here I have stocked cabinets with tea and food to serve at the whim of a knock. And here I have learned that being still is a practise—not an intrinsic right that comes with living solo.

It seems safe to say that home is a place of comfort and cheer, of peace and pleasure. If you do not believe me, think of the households where there is chaos, violence, stony silence, instability, or abuse. Out of these dens come hurting individuals, hungry for peace, yearning for safety and love. Acceptance and care, feeling like they belong, is the home-feeling they are looking for—whether it comes from a gang or a healthy family.

Indeed, home is a place, not a nebulous placeholder, like your internet browser’s so-called ‘homepage.’ Yet home is much more than a tactile frame of timber and glass. Home is a practise—the practical application of routines and daily liturgy. Home is private—a place to rest and a bulwark from the buffeting tempests of life-storms. Home is public—an open-door-hospitality sort of shelter for friends and family in times both of laughter and tears.

We live in a culture that is anything but home-like. It separates, drawing individuals off into solitary pursuits, or keeping families so busy that a meal together is an anomaly. Busy-ness and individualism are the antitheses to home life, community, and sanity. Keeping a frenetic schedule allows precious little time for reflection, an act of both soul and spirit that is needed to balance reality and dreams.

Knowing that reflection is an essential need, I make space for it in my mornings and weekends. Sometimes this means setting aside books and screens, simply looking out the window as I enjoy a meal, or sitting on my porch watching the rain drip from the pine needles. Other times, this means going for a solitary walk. As I was reflecting recently, I realised that the way my parents raised me and my sisters was not perfect, but it was good. The ‘life together’ aspect of the dinner table, of evening recreation, of opening our home or going to friends’ homes, of working together in the garden or to make dinner set a theme for my life. These things painted a robust and rich picture of home for me.

We need flourishing homes in our lonely, fragmented culture. Are our homes the sort that cast a beam of warm, golden light out into the dark of night? Do the weary, worn, busy travellers along the road of life find us—and our dwellings—places of solace? May the habits we practise—order, hospitality, togetherness, and reflection—shine out into the inky night as a beam of hope for all who see it and choose to come inside.