21 December 2013

Bethlehem's Lament

Matthew 2:16-18

Lully lulla
thou little tiny child,
bye bye lully lullay.
God, can you count
these tears I cry,
falling like bitter rain?
For this my child
so brutally died -
bye bye lully lullay.

Lord can you hear
these cries of pain?
Are all our tears in vain?
Where is your justice
in this night
where innocents are slain?
Your child goes free,
mine dies for thee -
my child in your child's place.

O Lord above,
you know my pain,
yours are the tears I cry;
for even you have lost a child
given for all our sakes.
Mankind goes free,
you die for me -
your child in my child's place.

____________________________________________________________

[21. December 2013 - at 2.30 because I couldn't fall asleep]

Written as the lament of a mother of one of the babies murdered on King Herod's command, when he was trying to kill Jesus. In case you haven't noticed, it is based around Coventry Carol, a 16th century carol about the murder of the innocents. In fact, it is (kind of) singable to that melody!

Main idea of this one was "my child for yours" (which is also the alternate title). I noticed this recently and find it rather interesting: the baby boys of Bethlehem died in Jesus' place; later, he would die in mankind's place.

A long time ago while writing something else I realised that God knows exactly what it means to lose a child. Because he went through just that, when Jesus died on the cross. Of course, the mothers of Bethlehem could not know that yet. But since I write from the perspective of the Cross and Easter, I wrote it like this.

Here's proof again that I can't write a Christmas poem without the cross in it. Though I think that's perfectly fine theologically, and given in the Bible already, which has this story as part of the story of Jesus' birth. We have watered down the Christmas story into an idyllic, sweet thing, which it definitely wasn't. There's political oppression, bloodshed, poverty and dirt in it, and I think people would find it way easier to identify and accept the truth of Jesus if we stopped cutting out the gruesome, dark - but realistic! - bits.

Let us not forget this part of the Christmas story, but use it as a reminder, even as we celebrate Christmas, of Jesus' suffering for our sake - and use it as a reminder to pray for the innocents being murdered all over the world even now, the children suffering in wars or being abused.

Picture by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

19 December 2013

Maria: Selig

Matthäus 5,1-12


In Kälte und Nacht,
Schimpferei und Gedränge -
alle Habe auf einem Esel
und das Kind kommt.
Wohin soll ich es legen?
Was soll ich ihm geben?
Ich habe nichts.
Selig ihr Armen.

Vor geschlossenen Türen,
unter starrenden Augen;
ich weiss, weshalb sie flüstern
und die Tür zufällt.
Wird auch mein Kind so verstossen,
behandelt wie ein Sünder,
der Welt nichts?
Selig seid ihr,
so euch die Menschen hassen
und ausstossen
um des Menschensohnes willen.


Unter dem Kreuz
in tiefster Finsternis -
dich in meinen Armen,
mein Kind, mein Gott!
Ein Schwert durchdringt
auch meine Seele.
Bleibt denn nichts?
Selig ihr Weinenden.

O selig bist du,
die du geglaubt hast!
Denn es wird vollendet werden,
was dir gesagt ist vom Herrn.


Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn
und mein Geist freut sich Gottes,
meines Heilandes.

________________________________________________________________

[November 2010]

Eines meiner extrem wenigen Gedichte auf Deutsch. ;-) Ihr müsst euch bei meiner Mamma bedanken, die mein Maria-Gedicht im Rundbrief mitschicken wollte, das ich zur Zeit nur auf Englisch hatte. Statt Übersetzung ist was anderes (m.E. Besseres) daraus geworden! :-)

Hier funktionierte nämlich die Idee, die ich schon für das Englische hatte aber mir dort nicht gelang: die Verbindung zwischen Marias Geschichte und den Seligpreisungen.

Anfänglich sollte es ein Weihnachtsgedicht sein, aber irgendwie habe ich eine Tendenz, schon an Weihnachten das Kreuz zu sehen (und warum nicht; mit der Menschwerdung fängt Jesu Opfer ja eigentlich an, könnte man sagen - Phil 2,6-11). Mich hat das Wort des Simeon an Maria beeindruckt: dass ein Schwert auch ihr Herz durchdringen wird (Lukas 2,35). Irgendwie denken wir nicht genug an das, was Maria am Kreuz durchgemacht hat. Kann uns das vielleicht nicht auch helfen, uns vorzustellen, wie es für sie war? Ich sehe Maria als ein starkes Vorbild für die Gläubigen. An ihr können wir den Preis der Nachfolge sehen - aber eben auch die Seligpreisungen, die an ihr wahr wurden. Sie tat frei und freudig, wozu Gott sie bat, stellte sich ihm zur Verfügung.

Für mich wäre eine "protestantische Mariologie" so etwas dieser Art: Maria als Vorbild sehen, als eine Art exemplarische Gläubige, der wir nachahmen können. Wie sie dürfen wir dann auch hoffen, dass, auch wenn der Weg mit Gott und im Gehorsam zu ihm nicht immer leicht ist, er seine Verheissungen erfüllt, und uns die Freude gibt, gerne zu tun, was er uns aufträgt. Mit ihr das Magnificat singen. :-)

16 December 2013

Mary: Blessed

Rejoice,
highly favoured one,
the Lord is with you;
blessèd
are you among women.


Shaken around
in the middle of the night
by an old donkey
and labour pains.
Blessèd.

Standing in the cold
before locked doors,
a shape unsightly
and forbidden.
Blessèd.

Crying in the rain
with you in my arms,
my child; my God -
a sword through my soul.
Blessèd.

Blessed
to bear on my body
the shame of you,
the foolishness of God.
Full of grace.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my Spirit has rejoiced
in God my Saviour.
__________________________________________________________

[October 2010] 
[Commentary December 2013]
Mary is sometimes called the "Blessed Virgin Mary" - but her life was not at all easy and probably not what many of us would, at first sight, find particularly "blessed" (depending on how you define blessing). Becoming pregnant out of wedlock must have caused some scandal, rejection and ostracism (would conservative Christians accept Mary if she came knocking at their door, or would they send her to the stable or even leave her outside in the cold??). Being the mother of the Messiah was not all roses. She had to flee to Egypt with a baby, live in a foreign country. Afterwards she had to put up with the strange things Jesus did and the Gospels show us she did not always understand. In the end, at the cross, she had to watch her child die a gruesome death.

Mary chose obedience - obedience is not the easy way. But nonetheless, she can be called blessed. Because God's ways are higher than ours, and Mary recognised that. Obeying God and doing His will can be hard, but it is worth it, because HE is worth it, and knowing His love is better than anything. Are we willing to go as far as Mary did, to say YES to God even if it means pain, rejection, and loss? Can we, like Mary, still sing the Magnificat - see beyond our own pain to what God is doing for the world, and doing through us for the world?

Here's a story from Chiara Lubich that has been inspiring me lately: she was asking God why he had not left a way for Mary to remain present among us the way Jesus is. And then she felt his answer was: I did not leave her with you, so that you can be another Mary. (or something like that)
Protestants need more of a "Mariology", if only to recognise her as the important example for the Christian life she can be.


In case you're interested in the cogs and wheels stuff behind the poem:
stanza 1: Luke 1:28 / The Annunciation
stanza 2-3: Bethlehem
stanza 4: beneath the cross (had the Pietà in mind) (and Pergolesi's Stabat Mater keeps playing in my head every time I even glance at this poem). I honestly can't think of Christmas without thinking of the cross. Important here is also Simon's prophecy from Lk 3:23, "a sword will pierce through your own soul also."
"My child, my God" reflects how Jesus is at the same time fully man and fully God.
stanza 5: see 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 
stanza 6: the Magnificat / Lk 1:46-55
And the Beatitudes were at the back of my mind a bit too; though I did not succeed in weaving them in the way I wanted to - until I wrote the German version of this same poem, which is a little different mainly in that it's closer to the Beatitutes.

01 December 2013

Elisabeth: Barren as a Desert


Luke 1:5-25

I'd come to terms with it.
No longer cried about it,
though I still felt the pain.
Nor did we talk about it,
though we still felt a pang
every time we saw them:
pregnant women, babies, children.
I'd come to terms with it,
but it still hurt.

It hurt to wonder:
WHY?
It hurt to hear my friends
gossipping behind my back,
questioning why someone
who lives by faith
and walks with God
can go without blessing,
barren
as a desert.

I'd come to terms with it.
We no longer even tried.
We hardly even prayed -
it was too late anyway.
I'd come to terms with it -
I had no other choice.
I trusted you knew
what you were doing,
though I could not understand.

How much greater the wonder,
how much greater the joy,
to see you turn this barren desert
into blossoming spring!
You have answered the prayers
I forgot that I said,
and in such a way
as I'd never imagined.
In me grows
the fulfillment of promise,
the beginning
of more wonders to come.

A voice cries out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord!
He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.


_______________________________________________________________________

[December 2011]

Verses quoted at the end are Isaiah 40:3 and and Psalm 107:35. Isaiah 35:1 and 51:3 would also have done very nicely here. Actually the whole desert image comes pretty often in Isaiah, and it's what I suddenly had to think about while writing this. :)

Written while I was supposed to be listening to a lecture on Bultmann (well, I half listened...)

Note: the first two stanzas are hinting at the common belief back then that if someone lives a godly life, it shows itself in blessing; i.e. people expected God to answer a good person's prayers, and bless that person.

Picture by Louis Jean François Lagrenée

25 November 2013

Mrs Job: This Gaping Chasm in my Soul

Job 1-2


Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.' (Job 2:9)

Curse God
and die!
What's the point
in going on?
He's taken all away.
What's the point
in holding on
when this is what you get
for all your faith,
for all your righteousness -
if even godlessness fares better,
why hold on to faith?
Why live
when He's cursed us already,
turned life into hell,
no longer worth living?

God.
I cannot understand.
Is this what you call love?
Is this how you reward
faithfulness and righteousness?
Is this what we deserve?

What am I to do
with this gaping chasm in my soul,
hurling accusations
up to heaven,
rattling at your throne,
because I can't take it,
can't understand,
cannot believe
anymore.

Who listens to my story?
Who gently heals my wounds?
Who lets me cry, and comforts me?
Who lets me curse and swear
as much as I need to
to get the poison out?
Who,
if not you?

Oh God,
the God who's wounding me,
the God who heals my wounds -
I do not understand you,
sometimes can't even like you,
and yet
you are still God
and I still need you
even when I hate you.

I can't forgive
what you have done -
so teach me to forgive.
I cannot love
the one who let this happen -
so teach me how to love you.
I cannot trust
the hand that let me fall -
so teach me how to trust again.
I can't believe
in a God of love
who allows this pain -
so teach me,
God of love,
to believe in you again.

When I can't do it on my own,
drowning in my darkness
of fury and despair,
Lord, save me from myself,
and make me yours again.

________________________________________________________________

[22. November 2013]

Job's wife only shows up once, for one little sentence (that seems to be hard to translate because some translations have a footnote saying the Hebrew actually is "bless God" - which I think would change how people view Mrs Job, quite a bit). I suspect she's generally received rather negatively because of her drastic comment. Though maybe we need to remember that Mrs Job was suffering just as much as Job was, had lost everything too, all her children, and now had a sick man on her hands (at least Job could sit around and mourn and fight with his friends over the cause of his suffering; Mrs Job, being a woman, probably still had responsibilities in the house and towards her husband and less time to think and dwell on what had happened!).

I suspect what most of us know best is the first two chapters of the book of Job. Try reading all of it; Job doesn't sound any more pleasant than this poem a few chapters on and gets pretty negative about God too!! It's not an easy book to read. This poem reflects a bit of what comes in some of the later chapters (esp. 3-8).

I hope it's not too "negative". ^^; But if you think one can't speak about or to God like this, I suggest you read Job first - because now that I've read chapters 9-10, I think this poem is pretty tame.

One sentence I need to explain: "I still need you / even when I hate you."
Yes, I almost changed that, not only because I expect it will bother some people, but also because I had some theological doubts about it (Does God help people who hate Him? Isn't hating Him the worst thing we can do? Doesn't precisely that cut us off from salvation? I'm sure there's even Bible verses for that...). Maybe we need to think more about what "hate" means, though. In this case I see it as an emotion that is there and that Mrs Job wants to get rid of and actually needs God's help to take away.

I tend to try and bring out something "good" or at least something one can learn from, when I write these poems. Sometimes it can clash with what I imagine the woman I'm writing about would have thought and felt. I tend to edge towards the provocative (yes, it's on purpose) - when writing about these women's feelings I sometimes can't not write things that sound provocative. :P I try something between being honest to what I imagine these women's feelings to be, and being careful not to step on anyone's feet. But rather than cutting out "I hate you", I felt I'd leave it in, because I think it belongs there and I think there needs to be hope for people who really have trouble in their relationship with God when they don't understand Him anymore.

20 November 2013

Zilpah: Obedient

Genesis 30:9-13

Is this how far a maid must go?
Take off my clothes
and tremble
beneath the eyes of a man
I never chose
    - obedient.

I used to dream of love,
wonder what it's like.
I used to dream of a man
    - tall, kind, handsome
who would whisk me away.
I used to dream of more
than hasty stolen kisses
from shepherd boys.
I used to dream

but now
I'm in a nightmare,
embroiled in someone else's war,
a tool, a weapon in my lady's hand
    - no longer myself.

Is this how far a maid must go?
Give myself
at my lady's bidding
to a man too old, too ugly, not mine -
take off my clothes
and do what she says
    - obedient.

Is this how far a maid must go?

_____________________________________________________________

[May 2012]

Zilpah was Leah's maid, given to Jacob to have children in her stead once Leah stopped having children but continued competing with her sister Rachel over having children. We often forget about Bilhah and Zilpah. What was going through Zilpah's mind at this moment? How would you feel in her place?

By the way, a really interesting book based on the whole "handmaid" idea (letting someone else have your children for you - an emergency measure used by Leah, Rachel and Sarah) is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

13 November 2013

Leah: He Loves Her, He Loves Me Not

Genesis 29:14-35

He loves her,
he loves me not.
He loves her -
the pretty one.
I was always meant to be
the spinster aunt,
the old maid sister,
destined to remain
in her beautiful shadow.

He loves her,
he loves me not.
Who would notice me
when she is there?
And now she is
always here
always between
me and him
making him
love her, not me,
not plain old me.

He loves her,
he loves me not.
He loves me not -
the plain one.
Here I am,
forever overshadowed,
in a loveless marriage,
fighting for him,
for the least bit of attention,
and still always remaining
in her beautiful shadow.

And yet
you see my plight, o Lord.
You see me, the plain one,
and take pity.
The one less loved
becomes a mother of children -
children, the symbol of love.
He loves me not -
still it hurts,
but your love comforts me.
He loves her,
he loves me not -
but
you love me.

____________________________________________________________

[June 2013]

I thought of Leah, the plainer sister, always in her sister's shadow, less loved by Jacob.
Thankfully we don't have to share husbands nowadays, but still I think the feeling of being overlooked because of someone prettier, or not being loved by the one we want love from, or being left for another, is something pretty universal (sadly). What Leah's story shows is that even if you don't get the love and attention from a man, God loves you - and His love is, in the end, what counts more. Though I don't think the hurt completely goes away; it's natural after all to long for love. But I think there is something really comforting in realising that God loves you more than a man ever can, and I think it's important to realise that a man can never fulfill and satisfy you; only God can. It's something I've been learning.

08 November 2013

Peter and the Servant Girl: Denial


Mark 14:66-72

"You there.
You also were
with Jesus of Nazareth."
Please tell me you were.
I've heard
so much,
want to know
so much.
You were there,
saw it all -
blind who could see,
lame who could walk -
is it all true?
Tell me I'm right,
that you are one of his -
there's so much I'd like to know.

Why do you deny it?
Was I wrong?
Didn't I see you,
singing with them all,
waving palms
to prepare his way?
"This man -
I'm certain -
he's one of them."

Why do you deny it
so vehemently?
I only want to hear
of the things you've seen;
I only want to know
whether the stories are true,
whether he deserves to die,
and what he means to you.
Why run away
when all of us know:
"Certainly you're one of them;
a Galilean like the rest."

As you deny him
you deny me
the chance to find
the answers I seek.
Why are you afraid,
why do you lie,
when all I want
is the Truth?

_____________________________________________________________________

[8. November 2013 - improvements 15. April 2014]

Peter's denial is a story I keep returning to. This time, from the servant girl's point of view.

After Jesus' arrest, Peter followed the guards. During Jesus' hearing, he warmed himself in the courtyard - and then a servant girl went up to him and declared that he was one of Jesus' followers - which Peter denied, again and again.

Usually we focus on what Peter is going through. To write about the servant girl, I had to consider her point of view. Why did she (and the other servants) keep insisting Peter was one of Jesus' disciples? What was her motive? We often assume Peter was afraid of being arrested too (probably he was) - but the servants don't seem to have been interested in arresting him. They knew who he was (they don't actually ask him, they make a statement about who he is, and he tells them they're wrong). They could easily have gotten him arrested if they wanted to. So why the prodding?

I had to think of how we, as followers of Jesus, are meant to be witnesses. Not just in our words, but also by our lives, and through the way we explain to others how Jesus has changed us, and answer their questions. "Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you." (1 Pet 3:15) We should live in a way that people ask questions - and then answer honestly and point to Jesus, giving Him glory. Seems Peter realised that in his later years, after this experience...

I grew up in a non-Christian country, with non-Christian classmates, and often they asked me questions! It's silly really, how easily we can feel embarrassed about telling others about our faith, or afraid that we might seem intolerant, etc. But by denying or hiding what Jesus has done in our lives, we are actually denying the asking friend a chance to hear about Jesus, and maybe get the answers they've been waiting for or are curious about.

So I was thinking: maybe this servant girl just wanted to use this chance of having an eyewitness around, to question him about Jesus. Instead of giving her the answers she was waiting for, Peter immediately expected the worst and got defensive.

Let's not immediately think the worst of people who speak to us. Let's not straight-away think they want to bash our beliefs. Instead, let's be open and honest about what we believe, and give account of the hope that is in us. If our lives exude hope and joy, then people who are waiting and longing for hope and joy will come to us to find out how we found it. Let's not deny them the chance.

03 November 2013

Rachel: Hand-me-down

Genesis 29-30


My first doll
was a hand-me-down doll,
with marks from where Leah
once dropped it in the mud.
My clothes were hand-me-downs,
some a bit ripped
from when she climbed up the tree
or got caught in the fence.
Some were too big,
loose in places -
but that's the fate
of the little sister.

But then I met Jacob
and he was not hand-me-down,
he was my own,
had never gone through her hands.
His kisses were mine
and not second-hand,
his love was for me -
and for the first time
something was mine alone.

But it's the fate
of the little sister
to always come second
and take what is left.
Once again I am living
a hand-me-down life,
with a hand-me-down husband
always second in line.

It's not the same anymore
tasting hand-me-down kisses,
for they taste like her.
And when he's holding my hand
I can feel her fingerprints.
Just like my clothes
carry marks of her wearing,
so now my husband
feels second-hand.

Can nothing be mine,
my very own?
Must I always share
and take what she's owned?
You say that I'm jealous
but don't I have a right
for once in my life
to have something for me?

_______________________________________________________________________

I'll admit that when I read about Rachel and Leah's spats, Rachel always comes across to me as the jealous spoiled brat. I do like Leah more and I'm happy for her that even though Jacob didn't love her, she could find comfort in her children.

But when I decided to write about Rachel suddenly the word "hand-me-down" came into my mind and I noticed: being the little sister must have meant that she often got things which used to be her sister's. And when it came to Jacob's wedding, wasn't the reason Laban gave for the switch that it's the older one's turn first? I'm a big sister so I can't pretend to know what it's like being the little one in her sister's shadow. Rachel can't really have been in much of a shadow since she is said to be the prettier one, but still - it must have been annoying to always come second. And don't we hope that at least in marriage things will change a bit? Imagine having to live with your sister forever... and sharing a husband. Yeurgh.

I can understand why Rachel was jealous. But still, I don't think jealousy is the best option. Rachel was not satisfied with the way things were. Life sometimes is a lot less than satisfactory. But we can find all we need in God and he can be our satisfaction.

30 October 2013

Bilhah: Shackled

"While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine. And Israel heard of it." (Genesis 35:22)

I wear my body
like a shackle;
enchained,
enslaved,
bound
to what is not my own -
no escape.

They see me -
they see my body.
They use it
for pleasure,
for gain,
for themselves,
not asking me,
for my body is not my own
and I cannot be free.

How I wish that,
like clothes,
I could take it off,
let it drop to the floor,
slip out of it, free -
but would I still be me?

I wear my body
like a shackle -
how I wish I could love it
like a friend.
Instead
it is my trap,
locking me
in the arms
of man after man
who wants it,
who owns it -
no escape.

___________________________________________________

[30. October 2013]

Huge family drama: Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel (who were two sisters). Leah had children, Rachel had none, so Rachel became jealous. They ended up having a sort of "baby war", competing for Jacob's love and attention, so because Rachel could have no children she gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob to have children in her stead. When Leah couldn't have children anymore, she gave Jacob her maid Zilpah. Bilhah and Zilpah often "go under" and aren't remembered (maybe because they don't make it into children's Bibles) - but what could it have been like for them, stuck in their mistresses' fight?

And then Reuben slept with Bilhah too (incest, and it got him disinherited). With that story, I was wondering: what was Bilhah's part in it? Some people might like to paint it as a seduction (blame the woman, as always). Or one could see it as Bilhah rebelling in a sort of 'bid for freedom' and 'true love' (which is understandable but maybe a more 'modern' reaction). Or was it rape?

When I got to writing, I ended up focusing on Bilhah's position of no choice, and the problem of being treated as a sex object.
I was thinking in particular of the relationship one has to one's own body
(inspired actually by one half-sentence in Tess of the d'Urbervilles: "Tess had spiritually ceased to recognize the body before him as hers - allowing it to drift, like a corpse upon the current, in a direction dissociated from its living will." - good book btw).

I think we should have a good relationship to our body, not just see it as "the flesh" (contrasted to the soul) but as part of who we are (as was the original Hebrew notion, actually; the concept of "soul" as a separate entity is Greek). If someone destroys that, e.g. through abuse, then that is a terrible thing. Terrible because we might end up not caring what happens to our body, or might end up harming ourselves. Terrible also because you can hardly escape from your body - and I think our body is a major part of who we are, especially as a woman (our emotions being connected to what goes on in our bodies, and all that). It's not really "good" to reject your body. But it's terrible when people force you to, or when they turn your body into something that imprisons you - e.g. by viewing you only as a sex object.

Anyway, that's sort of what flowed into this poem...


Picture by Etienne Dinet

28 October 2013

The Adulteress: Stones


John 8:1-11


I see their feet.
I don't want to see more.
Soon, I won't.

I hear accusations.
I don't want to hear more.
Soon, I won't.

I feel naked,
bare, in the sight of all,
don't want to feel more,
don't want to feel their stones,
their stones.

My thoughts:
if only I hadn't...
if only he wouldn't...
if only, if only.
His lips that kissed me
no half hour ago -
my heart, stone-cold.
Why is he not here?
Why do I get the stones,
while he gets away?
Why was I so stupid?
WHY?

I see them shuffling.
I hear discussions.
I feel so numb.
Soon I won't
when their stones hit me
and end it all.

No turning back,
no chance to change,
no sorries,
no forgiveness,
no mercy,
just mockery,
God laughing at me
from the stones they throw
in His name.
Merciless,
cold as a stone,
is that what He is?

I see one drawing in the sand,
I hear: He without sin
shall throw the first stone.
I don't know what to feel.

I see the stones fall, one by one,
into the dust, and not on me.
I hear their footsteps slowly fade.
I don't know what to feel.

What is this now?
Does life start anew?
A chance to change?
Forgiveness and grace?

God is not mocking -
He never did.
Instead he stoops down,
and takes my hand,
lifts me up,
and says:
"Go now and sin no more."

 _____________________________________________________________

[December 2011]

It's so easy to condemn. But actually we have no right, because we're all sinful. Only God has the right to judge over others, and to take revenge, and to punish. And He will in time. But shouldn't we right now on this earth be giving people the chance to change before they can't anymore? I believe God wants us to give people that chance.

If you let a criminal be sentenced to death, isn't that the most terrible thing you can do? You are in fact cutting him off from salvation, preventing him from having another chance and changing his life, which maybe he wants to. God wants everyone to be saved, no matter how terrible the things they've done. That's one reason why I'm against the death penalty.

Picture by Valentin de Boulogne

23 October 2013

Potiphar's Wife: Seduction

Genesis 39


It is a strange feeling,
this power over men
- and I'm drunk with it.

I love it
how a single look
    a single touch
    a single word
can set them crawling at my feet
like worms.

I love it
being irresistible
      dangerous
      seductive,
turning them into grovelling dogs,
puppets.

It is a strange feeling,
this power over men
- and I'm drunk with it.

But what happens
when one says NO,
won't take the bait,
and runs away?
When my power fails,
abandons me?

Then I'm just a girl,
desperate for attention,
yearning for true love,
weak behind my mighty mask,
hiding my fears
beneath the blankets.
Lost,
so lost,
and so alone.

NO.
I will hide it,
put my mask on again,
make myself drunk with power,
and
lie.

____________________________________________________________

[December 2011]

Some time ago I realised for the first time how powerful we women can be - and how good that can feel! It's pretty dangerous. And I can imagine it can be a way we try to hide from ourselves our problems and weaknesses.

I think what we need to see first is that it's not the right solution. If I have self-esteem issues, or really need attention, then hiding it by temporarily feeling a bit powerful is not going to help. Problems are overcome when we face them, when we admit them, when we bring them before Jesus who can heal them. Because His love is real and permanent.

Another thing I think we need to see is that women who "sleep around" and look for men's attention all the time are not "evil", but people with needs which maybe they're trying to fill the wrong way. We should remember this before judging, and instead of putting them down as "bad people" give them the love they're looking for in the wrong places.

Picture by Carlo Cignani.

17 October 2013

Mary Magdalene: Gone


John 20:1-18

Gone
are my hopes:
nailed to the cross.
Gone
are my dreams:
drowned in blood.
So much I gave -
for nothing?
Gone
is my Lord
and what I thought he was.

An empty grave.

Gone
my hope of a last goodbye.
Gone
the chance of one last look
at your so loving face.
Gone -
where have they taken you?
Gone -
what am I to do now?

"Woman,
why are you weeping?
Whom are you seeking?"


Gone
are my hopes:
nailed to the cross.
Gone
are my dreams:
drowned in blod.

"Mary."
At last
my eyes can see!
"Rabboni!"

Here
is no good-bye
but a new beginning.
Here
I see you for who you are.
Here -
for you are risen again.
Here -
and you make all things new!

Gone
are my sins:
nailed to the cross.
Gone
are my failings:
drowned in your blood.
So much you gave -
for you, may I live.
Here
are you Lord
and you always will be.

______________________________________________________

[Easter 2011]

Picture by Rembrandt

16 October 2013

Dorcas: The End

Acts 9:36-43

It was the end,
and all I could think was:
"No Lord! Please!
I'm too young to die,
and I haven't finished sewing
that widow's dress.
And who else will lead
my neighbour to Christ,
and answer her questions,
or continue to teach
these women your word?
I'm too young to die!
Don't take me yet!"

But it was the end,
and there I was, dead,
and all these things
torn from my hands -

How could I forget
that they are in yours,
that even without me
you still work on?
My time is held
in your capable hands -
can't I trust you to know
better than me where it ends?

It did not end there
after all
for you still have a plan for me.
You brought me back,
but now I think
I've finally come
to understand.

It was the end
of looking at me,
and the beginning
of looking at you,
at you to plan my life and work,
and take it someday from my hands,
a day that only you can choose,
at just the time that you know best.

It is not my work,
it is yours,
so lead me now
to do your will,
and give me strength to let it go
and trust that you are in control.

 ______________________________________________________________

[October 2011]

Dorcas is one of the less-known women of the Bible - she only appears in Acts 9:36-43 but there already one can get an idea of who she was. She was a Christian lady who helped widows by making clothes for them. I imagine her as the kind of missionary who teaches poor women how to self-support, and at the same time passes on the Gospel - through the life she leads, through the good things she does to them, and through telling them about Jesus.

And then she died! I tried to imagine what she'd be feeling - and so this poem actually reflects what went through my head in all the "oh no I think I'm going to die and I don't want to" moments (e.g. whenever I think the plane I'm in is going to crash... really stupid moments actually).

The conclusion I came to, after all those (unnecessary) worries, was: God will only let me die if it's really the right time. I won't be "missing" something He'd have wanted me to do, because He won't let me go before. And when I do die, it will be when I've done what God wanted me to do. Actually, some old people see comfort in the fact that God still keeps them alive not to torture them but because He still has a plan for them.

And that's why Dorcas was brought to life again - because God still had more plans. But also, through that miracle, many people believed! Sometimes God can use even death to show something.

13 October 2013

Levite's Concubine: Sacrifice

 Judges 19


My blood,
poured out upon your doorstep.
My dignity,
trampled underfoot.
My virtue,
offered up,
a sweet sacrifice
to their idol of lust.

Here I lie instead of you,
ravaged, ruined,
destroyed, defiled,
your human shield,
your sweet sacrifice
to selfish fear.

Because a woman
is never worth
a man's self-sacrifice.

You should be my protection,
but I'm protecting you,
taking the blows,
devoured by their lust,
thrown out to the dogs
by one I should trust,
my sweet sacrifice
- for what?

Because a woman
is just a body
to be used and abused
until it dies.

And so it dies,
this creature
that was never worth
more than a lamb of sacrifice
to pacify the wolves
and save your skin.
So it dies -
and all my pieces cry:
why?

Do you think God is pleased?
For God Himself would sacrifice
Himself for a woman like me.

__________________________________________________________________________

[10. October 2013]

Short summary: a Levite is travelling with his concubine; they stop at Gibeah where no one wants to offer them hospitality except for an old man. In the middle of the night, a group of men knocks on the door demanding the old man to hand out the Levite so they can rape him (it's basically like Sodom and Gomorrah, but this was happening in Israel). The old man offers up his daughter and the Levite's concubine instead. When they don't listen, the Levite throws his concubine out to them where she is raped all night. In the morning, she dies on the doorstep. The Levite takes her body home and cuts it into 12 pieces, which he sends around the country to bring attention to what happened (hence "all my pieces cry").

It's a terrible story. When I read it I felt like the men were using the concubine like their protection, or a replacement sacrifice. I only noticed after writing this that the way I used the sacrifice imagery here is pretty ironic, considering the Levite's job was to sacrifice for the people - and here he's sacrificing his concubine to save himself. As I wrote, this poem turned into something about the worth of women - how a male-centred mindset led to this woman being treated as something dispendable, her life and well-being less important than a man's. When God created both men and women in His image, and no one is worth less or more than the other. The people in this story were in a terrible and difficult situation. But just throwing this woman out to suffer so the men could get away... I don't think that was right. They were treating her like something it was all right to lose. It makes you see why she got angry at the Levite and went home to her father in the first place...

Picture by Gustave Doré

05 October 2013

Eve: Helper



Genesis 2:18-25

I want to be your helper,
the arms that support you,
surrounding you with love.
I want to be there,
ready to catch you,
standing behind you,
someone to lean on.

I want to listen to your problems
before I tell you of my own.
I want to ask you how you feel,
pick up the broken pieces,
be ever on your side
- even when it's hard.
I want to be your helper,
surrounding you with love.

I want to be a comforter,
to put your needs before my own.
I want to strengthen you,
to heal your hurts.
I want to love you
more than feelings.
I want to be your helper,
surrounding you with love.

I want to be a part of you,
belonging to you
- your rib
close to your heart,
protection and support
and loved.
Bone of your bones,
flesh of your flesh,
I want to be your helper,
surrounding you with love.

_____________________________________________________

 [25. November 2012]

I think Genesis 2:18-15 shows a lot of important things about relationships and marriage. I find it very inspiring. I wrote this just after studying that text (in the midst of a relationship crisis) and v.18 really spoke to me, and even though it's less precise I really like Luther's translation, something like: "a helper surrounding him" (eine Gehilfin, die um ihn sei). It makes it sound like an embrace. I think a central thing about relationships is that we should care more for the other than for ourselves. Man and woman are created to support each other and help each other, and work together to reach God's goal and do His will. Not one dominating the other, but combining strengths in partnership.

Picture is "El primer beso" by Salvador Viniegra y Lasso de la Vega

03 October 2013

Sarah: He Who Laughs Last

Genesis 18:1-15

I laughed:
What a ridiculous notion!
Me: a mother?
At my age?
Yeah right.
We've been waiting for years,
and always: nothing.
You said and you promised,
but always: nothing.
Believe you now?
Not gonna happen.

We laughed:
What a wonderful moment!
Me: a mother!
At my age!
And yet -
after waiting for years,
and always: nothing,
I laughed at your promise,
and now, there's something!
Now this has wiped
the grin off my face...

I guess
you're laughing now
at this gobsmacked woman -
me - who laughed
at you.
You left us waiting for years,
and we saw nothing,
but you've done as you promised,
because nothing
is impossible for you.
And now, I am sure
you're laughing much louder
than I did before.

__________________________________________________________

[October 2011]

Here's one thing you find out if you learn Hebrew: Isaac is, in Hebrew, Yizchak, which means: "He laughed." But who was laughing here? It was Sarah, wasn't it? So my Hebrew prof likes to say that Isaak should have been called Tizchak ("she laughed").

But maybe not only Sarah laughed. Writing this poem I had to think of the saying, "He who laughs last laughs loudest."

Picture by James Tissot.

02 October 2013

Naaman's Slave Girl: My Healing Hurt

2 Kings 5

I'm uprooted, homeless, exiled,
hurt, in a place I don't want to be,
a slave, unloved, without a voice -
I cannot understand.

Why am I here?
Oh God, why did you allow it?
My life was before me, all of my plans -
why have you dashed them,
why banished me
to this place where I languish
and cannot shine?

Some say
when you are hurting
you have a right to hurt,
to hear only your pain,
be deaf to that of others,
especially your oppressors.
But when I see my master
how can I close my ears?

In some ways, we are so alike:
helpless, hurt, outsiders.
They fear to touch him,
hate to look at him;
their respect is a thin veil
over disgust and contempt.
They do not hear his pain
just like they don't hear mine.
I cannot turn away,
though he is an oppressor,
when I know how to help.

And now I realise why I'm here,
and why you have allowed my pain.
Without my exile
who else could have helped him?
Without my hurt
how would he have been healed?
I'm a link in the chain -
at the right place, the right time.

How strange it is
that my sorrow has healed his -
that you have put purpose
even into my pain.
My burden is lighter
now that I carry his.
For I am in the place
where you want me to be,
and you, God, have a plan with me
though I can't see
or can't see why.

So give me strength to bear my hurts
and bear the hurts of others.
Let me not be here in vain,
but give me joy and open eyes,
to be your light in this exile,
thinking of others and giving to them
what I'd want them to give to me.

And just because
this is the place you want me to be
makes it the right place for me.
And just because
you touch others through me
makes my pain worthwhile -
and takes it away.

________________________________________________________

[January 2012]

Naaman's maid was one of the first missionaries, in a sense.
And we should learn from her, really. She didn't think in terms of "my country" and "the enemies". She thought in terms of needy people, instead of thinking first of her rights. In the end, it was Elisha who healed Naaman - but it was the maid who mentioned the possibility, so that Naaman went and asked at all.

One thought that really influenced this poem, or that I was reminded of again while writing it, is something my mother told me when I was having problems and really upset. She said to forget my cares by caring for others. (Or something along those lines) And I think that's very true. The worst one can do is wallow in one's problems and try to spoil oneself and everything. It one is really busy caring for other people, one ends up forgetting what one was so upset about.
(I wrote something else about this too once: [link])

Another thought that was in my mind while writing this is that sometimes, we may not like the things that are happening, and end up asking, "WHY God?" Which is a valid question to ask, I suppose. But God has ways above our own and He leads everything to the best. Naaman's maid was parted from her family, she had to become a slave. Nothing pleasant. But she ended up being in the right place at the right time to help somebody. Everything happens for a purpose - often we only see afterwards, though.

29 September 2013

Philipp's Daughters: Emancipation

On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. (Acts 21:8-9)

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

I may be a woman,
but that does not decide my fate -
for the Spirit of God
has set me free.

No longer bound
to hearth and home,
no longer is marriage
the sole option for me,
no longer my purpose
child-bearing alone -
for the Spirit of God
has chosen me.

I will not be silenced
or voiceless anymore:
I have a message from God.
I will not be second-class,
worthless or ignored:
for I am a daughter of God.
In Him there is no woman,
in Him there is no man,
no servant or free,
no Jew or Greek,
but all one in Christ
and Christ in us.

I may be a woman
but that makes me no less
in the eyes of the Lord.
I may be a woman
but that will not keep me
from preaching His Word
of salvation for all -
for the Spirit of God
is working in me.

_____________________________________________________

[January 2013]

Christianity did a lot for women's rights, actually. If you look at these girls, for instance: they were unmarried (not dependent on a husband), and they were prophetesses (they actually had something important to say and could say it). Something new in a culture where marriage was usually the only option for a woman, and where women had hardly anything to say (or they did, but no one listened)!

In the church, women actually had a chance to participate and a chance to be heard. Because God gives equally of His Spirit to men and to women, and calls both men and women to His service. Something that keeps getting lost a bit in the church (sadly) but that has kept reappearing, e.g. with nuns or women missionaries who were very involved. In fact, in the 19th Century women missionaries had a lot more freedom than the women who stayed at home - being allowed to preach, for instance, and take over leadership roles.

There are Christians who have trouble with "feminism". I think it depends how feminism is defined. I believe that what happened at Pentecost - the Spirit being given to women too and not just men - was a major step in emancipation. God empowers women for His service - not just men. We are equally important, and can be equally involved.

27 September 2013

Phoebe: Misbehaving

Romans 16:1-2

Well-behaved women
(society says)
live for their husband,
or father, or brother;
are there to make babies,
take care of the kids;
stay at home,
rule the household,
Queen of the domestic kingdom;
stick to their sphere
and not interfere
in men's business
(politics, religion)
but sit and knit
and gossip in private
and keep to womenly things.

Maybe
I am not well-behaved.

I am not known as a changer of nappies
or renowned for the meals that I cook.
They do not mention me
as the wife of so-and-so,
or praise my mothering skills.
Is it stepping out of line
to speak, to share, to have a voice,
to talk of that which moves my heart
even outside of the sewing group?
Is it going beyond my role
to lead a church,
to lead over men?
Is it strange
that I serve beyond the kitchen,
that I live for God and not for man,
that I have a say
beyond female spheres?

Maybe
I am not well-behaved.
Or maybe
your definition is wrong.

I may not be well-behaved
but I am a woman of God.
A woman of God
has a voice
and uses it
to shout truth from the rooftops
and speak up for the suffering.
A woman of God
is part of God's kingdom
as much as any man of God.
A woman of God
is free because
God sets her free
to do her chores in joy for Him
or do more, gratefully serving Him,
to turn her house into a church,
to mother the brothers and sisters in Christ,
to shine for God wherever she is,
to speak, to shout, to sing,
to give God everything -

The Spirit of God
makes us daughters and sons
of the Most High - a gift, not a right.
My freedom to serve
is not a right I demand
but a gift and a command
that I yearn to fulfill -
not for my sake
but for the Lord I love.

So this is all I ask:
that you don't prevent
me misbehaving
for my God.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[June 2013]

I was in a conference on women's contribution to religious movements and thinking about which lady to write about next, and then had this old well-known quote in my head: Well-behaved women never make history. So I checked my Bible ladies list for women who might qualify as "misbehaving" or, conversely, as "well-behaved". I can tell you now I found no woman on that list whom I would class among the well-behaved.

Maybe it depends on what you define as "well-behaved". I had to think of Phoebe, a deacon in the early church - mentioned in Romans 16:1-2 Greek society probably had a really strict idea of what women should be and do (stanza 1). But a lot of what the Christian message says goes beyond that. I'm not saying women should not do their home duties - I'm saying God defines "well-behaved" in a different way which goes beyond home duties, to serving Him. And that transforms the way we do our usual duties, while also bringing in new things like - for Phoebe - serving as a deacon in her church, actually taking on a special role.

The last bit was especially inspired by stuff I learnt from my research on women missionaries in China. What various advocators of women's participation in missions said was that women are just as bound by the Great Commission as men. Here's some wise words from Miss Fielde, a baptist missionary: "A true Christianity can never debar woman from showing her gratitude to her saviour by setting Him forth as the true and sufficient Helper of her sex, both for the life that now is and the life that is to come."

True, one can't just allow everything, and there are things the Bible clearly is against. But the Bible is also clearly not against serving God. Why block women from serving God? There are many examples of "misbehaving" women in the Bible whom the world would generally not deem "well-behaved" - but who are women of God, following God and serving Him. God's categories are different from the world's.

Though we should also not overdo it. The women of the NT did push limits to some extent I think, but they did not overdo - as texts like the "head covering" bit in 1 Corinthians 11 show. We don't need to shock our cultural surroundings. It does take sensitivity. But within the church, I don't think there should be a hierarchy of men or women anymore - we are one in Christ. We are to use our gifts to serve God - and gifts are not gender-based.

 Picture from catacomb of St Priscilla - some view this fresco as evidence that women could in fact take on "priestly" duties in the early church.

26 September 2013

Rahab: Red Rope

Joshua 2 | Joshua 6:15-23

Tonight
I'll hang a red rope
out my window -
red like the blood
of a passover lamb.
Death will pass me by.

Though walls will shatter
and all things fall,
I will be safe,
holding on to my rope -
for all my scarlet sins
you have overlooked,
and your name's written red
upon my heart.

Tonight
I'll hang a red rope
out my window
in the red sunset,
and hold on to your promise
tied tighter than blood:
Death will pass me by.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

[October 2010]

When God brought the last plague upon Egypt before the Israelites were finally allowed to leave, they celebrated Passover, sacrificed a lamb and put the blood on their doorposts. Wherever the blood was on the doorposts, the angel killing the firstborn passed by - hence the name "pass-over".

The passover imagery is often used in connection to salvation. Jesus is also called the "Passover Lamb". We speak of the "blood of the Lamb" covering our sins. Rahab was not a member of the people of Israel, but because of her faith she was saved. So here I made a connection between Rahab's story, Passover, and the salvation all of us can receive too.

I wrote this in a time when I really needed to hang on to the rope: trust that Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient to cover all my sins, and believe that no matter what happens or what I do, nothing can ever separate me from God again.

22 September 2013

Mary: Beautiful Feet


Luke 10:38-42 | John 12:1-7

Sitting at your feet
- hiding mine,
my feet full of scars
from all the troubles I have faced,
from all the thorns on which I trod,
as I ran so far away,
away where I should not have gone.

Here they are now, bleeding,
muddy and dirty from all the way,
from where I walked in dark despair
away from you.

Sitting at your feet
- your beautiful feet,
your feet full of scars
                               - my scars.
Bleeding, from thorns on which you trod,
to find me, and to bring me home;
muddy and dirty from all the way
that you walked into darkness, calling my name.

No oil is precious enough for this,
no gift I give could do;
but now I'll pour out all I have,
because, for me, you did it too,
and kiss these feet that bore it all
to bring me back,
to take me home.

___________________________________________________________

[November 2010]

In the story of Mary and Martha, Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet. Later, she annoints Jesus' feet. So I thought I'd focus on feet! :-)
2010 for me really was a year of learning that whatever I'd tracked along in my life, whatever dirt I'd picked up on my feet, Jesus had come looking for me. The dirt did not keep Him away - rather, He walked right into it too, to find me. Jesus knows what you have gone through, and He suffered for the sake of rescuing you. The "lost sheep" was a bit on my mind here, too.

Btw, here's a good song with a similar theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA_bo8DSOwg

Picture by Adolf Zimmermann.

21 September 2013

Martha: One Thing Is Needful


Luke 10:38-42

I want to make it right for you,
to give you, Lord, what you deserve.
I want to burn and die, instead
of rusting, Lord, and sitting still;
to make you happy, Christ, with me;
let mine a life of service be.

And yet I fear I'm not enough,
and worry, Lord, of failing you.
I spend myself, all just for you,
but in my heart still there's no joy.
Accusingly it's haunting me:
"let mine a life of service be".

Martha, Martha, you are careful
and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful.
Mary has chosen that good part.


Oh Lord - What do you want of me?
Is serving you not what you wished?
Should I not your commandments keep
instead of lazing at your feet?
Is not your first desire of me
that mine a life of service be?

But no - just one thing do I need:
the faith that sits down at your feet,
to be with you, so quietly,
accept the grace you give to me;
for not my works bring joy to you
but that you've found me - the lost sheep;
and I'm not saved by what I do,
but all because you first loved me.

So let my service for you be
like flowers blossoming in spring:
not toil or worry, but the fruit
that fellowship with you does bring.

__________________________________________________

[October 2010]

I get the impression that we often get into the story already seeing Martha negatively. While actually I think she's a good and eager woman who straight away wants to invite Jesus to her house, and serve Him in the way she can do it best! Isn't that what many of us want to do? I mean, "let mine a life of service be" is something one hears and reads all over, something I'd expect to find in an old hymn. Burning and rusting - that bit I took from a quote by G.L. Mackay (missionary to Taiwan): "It is better to burn out than rust out." Many good Christians have been like Martha: wanting to serve the Lord. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

On the last day before my father left me in Switzerland, he told me something really valuabe. And that is, that before Jesus sent out His disciples, He called them to be with Him. Mary is doing just that: being close to the Lord. If we jump straight-out into serving and sweating and burning (like Martha), that is just going to turn into works-righteousness or stress. While if we just sit at Jesus' feet like Mary did, that will grow into service too - service not out of fear or out of trying to be good enough for God, but out of love for Him and accepting His grace. YES, we should serve the Lord eagerly. But not out of fear - for He has given us a spirit of love.

I just love that picture, don't you??

20 September 2013

Mrs Solomon

Mrs Solomon.
Which one?
Number one, number two, number ten?
I think it was forty-something,
At some point,
before he lost count
And said, Who cares?

Some nights
All alone in my room
Among all his gifts
I throw them at the wall,
One by one. Crash.
What am I to you?
Just another number?
A trophy? A prize
To add to your collection?

But those nights
When he calls me to him
And remembers my name
I forgive him;
And when he says
That I'm the only one
I swallow all his lies
Sweeter than honey
Wishing they were true.

_______________________________________________________________________

[2008 or 2009]

This actually is my very very first "women of the Bible poem", although back then I didn't know I'd ever challenge myself to write poetry for all of them. This was a piece of English homework back in IB days, where we were asked to write a poem in the style of Carol Ann Duffy. From the start, it was "Mrs Solomon" in my head, but because I didn't want to give my non-Christian classmates any more reason for rejecting the Bible (Solomon being generally respected by most Christians - except my mother haha - despite his "women problem") I changed the title. I have changed it back though (to be honest partly because at some point I felt "I've written one about one of Solomon's wives already, let's be lazy").

I do suspect Carol Ann Duffy's poetry has influenced my poetry a bit, especially the idea of writing about the women behind famous men, even though I only ever read her poetry in school.

Hagar: The God Who Sees Me

Genesis 16:1-16 

You
are the God who sees me -
a maid, used to being ignored,
invisible
till I get in trouble
like now.

I wanted to be seen
and now they have to look,
look at my pregnant belly
and notice me at last.
But they pushed me from their eyes
to a place far out of sight,
so I can just disappear
and be nothing.

But you
are the God who sees me -
my pride, my faults,
the trouble I've caused,
the trouble I deserve.

You
have come to look for me -
to you, I'm not invisible.
And though you see each part of me,
even those I've tried to hide,
you shower me with promises,
dry my eyes,
help me up,
and gently show me to the path
I was too proud to take.

You
are the God who sees me
but loves me nonetheless.

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[September 2010]

I don't suppose Abraham was mean to his servants or anything, and who knows, maybe Hagar wasn't so invisible. But it's easy to feel that way and often people do, and then do something silly to become visible. Hagar didn't do anything silly; she just unexpectedly got more attention and started unnecessarily lavishing in it. Which got her to lose it all. In the end, it's God who gives the appreciation we need, and it's in God we can find it, and not in attention-seeking.

I find it interesting that God hardly reproaches her - He just tells her to go back and basically "sin no more" (what Jesus said to various people He helped!!), plus He gives her promises! God's grace, once again. His love endures forever~

Picture by James Tissot.