28 June 2014

Noah's Daughter-in-Law: Tears of God

Genesis 6:5-22

God -
I don't understand
this salvation of yours
that leaves me here in the dry
while outside people drown.
The door is shut
and I can hear them scream
and scrabble at the wood,
panicking -
while here I sit
as my world is washed away
with people I knew
and people I loved -
I don't understand.

God -
they say you are love -
so why this cruelty?
Why wipe all away
and destroy what you made?
Why so violent an end
to a world that once was good?
I don't understand.

But this rain falling down -
are these not your tears?
Tears of love and tears of pain
for the many who suffered
under human cruelty
that became too great to bear
for this earth,
and for you.

How cruel must we have been
for these tears to be so many
that they fall without end,
forty nights and forty days,
covering the mountains,
an unfathomable sea?
Deep as this sea
was our evil on this earth -
deep as this sea
was the suffering and pain;
deep as this sea
was your sorrow and compassion -
deep as this sea
your love in sparing me.

This rain falling down
is not your cruelty
but your love that cannot bear
the cruelty it sees below.
This rain falling down
is an answer to the cries
of the innocent whose blood
screams to you from the ground.
This rain falling down,
these are your tears,
drowning a world
too evil to remain.

God -
I don't understand
this salvation of yours
that rescues us, even though
you know it will happen again.
Your tears will fall,
again and again,
for the innocent who suffer,
as evil lives on -
but a rainbow spans the skies
as again and again
you give a new chance
to this broken world.


[29. June 2014]

I have observed that certain people like quoting the many people drowning in Noah's day in order to make a point about God not being particularly loving in the Old Testament. So I decided to look into the question and here's the result...

What I think is very important for us to realise about God's judgement is that:
1. It is always fair,
2. It is about God standing up for those who suffer.

When God brings judgement over people, it is not out of cruelty or senseless anger, but out of love and compassion for the suffering, and bringing an end to human cruelty and evil. In the case of the great flood, the cruelty of mankind must have been pretty bad, for God to actually regret having created us at all! The main emotion of God that comes through in Genesis 6:5-22 in connection to the situation on earth seems to me to be not anger but sadness: "it grieved him to his heart." (v.7)

So at some point while thinking about this the connection between the rain and God's sadness popped up. We need to realise that God's judgement is not out of cruelty, but out of love for those who suffer under cruelty. God is not cruel - we are. One thing I heard someone say after one of the big natural disasters of the last few years was: in such situations, we should not be asking why God lets bad things happen to good people, but why God lets good things happen to bad people. Because even the people God saved in the Ark went on to sin more and do more cruel things. If we look at the world today, it is full of cruelty again! So shouldn't we be all the more grateful for all the times God spares us from the punishment we deserve?

Picture by Gustave Doré

More of the family: Mrs Noah

20 June 2014

Sapphira: Not A Mite Would I Withhold

Acts 5:1-11

Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold

- because all the others do it,
and it won't do to fall behind;
- because it's a good deed,
and gives us a good name;
- because no one will know
how much we withhold
as long as we say,

Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold

- but isn't the cost too high?
isn't His cross too heavy?
isn't this asking too much
from us who must live
in this dog-eat-dog world
that revolves around money
and tramples the weak
who give and love and forgive
like He tells us to?

Take my silver and my gold,
(some of it at least)
not a mite would I withhold

(we know they must mean spiritually,
for in real life how could this be?)

But do not tell;
let them admire
a cheerful giver;
let them see
good Christians,
so committed
(aren't we?)
What's so wrong
with sneaking in the back door
and paying half the price
if no one knows
and grace is free?

Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold,

not a mite,
not a mite,
no - more
but no one need know,
no one -

but you do.
And heaven takes no stowaways
who flee the cross
to come in cheap;
and it's too late now
to give everything,
because we withheld

[20. June 2014]

Like other early Christians, Sapphira and her husband Ananias sold their property and donated their money for the Apostles to distribute to the poor and needy. What they did differently was that they kept a little bit for themselves - but lied and told the Apostles they were giving everything.

I think what's significant in their story is that they could have just kept their property - or just kept their money (v.4) - or even done half-and-half and honestly declared it. Why did they lie? I think their reason was a false motivation for giving in the first place. Maybe they wanted everyone to think they were giving so much, to admire them. Maybe they just wanted to keep up with the rest, and weren't really giving out of their own heart. Why keep the money? Maybe they were worried, maybe they thought giving a whole lot of what they owned would be a rather risky thing and not very realistic in the "real world" (stanza 2+3).

Sometimes being a Christian with all it entails, all the giving-up, the service to others, might not seem "realistic" or even "safe". Being "too nice" can get you in trouble, they say. It brought Jesus in trouble! But He wants us to take up the Cross, to follow Him (which actually means: learn from His example, do as He did), and sometimes - or even often! - that can mean doing things the world wouldn't find very sensible, and that involve giving up comforts we'd rather hold on to, or that the world tells us we "need". But taking up the Cross, paying the full cost of discipleship (obedience to Jesus), does not lead to deprivation but rather to gaining a lot more than we would otherwise lose. There is false security in money and possessions (and those other things that are hard to give up) - in God there is true security.

Sapphira's story is one of the spookier ones - since it all ends with her and her husband dropping dead. It's a pretty stark warning... and I think on the one hand it's a warning not to lie to God, not to attempt to hide things from God who truly sees everything. But on the other hand I think it's also a warning against hypocrisy: pretending on the outside, while not being willing to fully surrender and truly obey. Grace is free but it's costly. Costly because it cost God everything - He gave His Son, He gave Himself, to save us. We need to keep up our part of the deal by obeying - because faith and obedience are tightly interlinked. We aren't truly believing if we don't obey - and we can't truly obey if we don't believe (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship). We need to have the right motives for what we do - in Sapphira's case, it should have been to serve God and serve the poor, not give a good appearance and gain admiration for herself.

The guy-sneaking-in-the-backdoor sneaked in at the end; he's actually from Jesus' parable of the great feast (Mt 22:1-14). I realised he actually fits to this story...
And the line "Take my silver and my gold / not a mite would I withhold" is from the hymn "Take my life and let it be" by Frances Ridley Havergal. It just fit so I decided to fiddle with it a bit.

14 June 2014

Mrs Cain: God-forsaken World

Genesis 4

They say that, not so long ago,
the world was young and beautiful,
the earth brought fruit, and work was joy,
there was no pain, no hate, no fear,
no guilt, no shame, no hiding away,
but peace, true peace,
and You.

But now I lie on blood-stained ground,
staring out into a void
of distant stars so pale and cold
in this god-forsaken world.

I carry his burden of guilt and shame,
as we move from here to there,
fleeing - from whom? - from you? ourselves?
from the blood on his hands -
afraid, alone,
in this god-forsaken world.

What are we now but helpless exiles,
trying to survive in a god-forsaken world,
conscience eating away inside,
nowhere to run, nowhere to hide
in this world made cruel by ourselves.
Where is the peace,
where are You -
is there no end to this curse,
this curse of our own making?

And yet
we're not forsaken
in this god-forsaken world,
for You show mercy still:
You guard us from falling
(if only we'd hear!),
You give us protection
(a sign on his brow),
You bless us to be
a creative people,
creative like You -
our Creator.
It is not hopeless yet.

Distant You seem -
hidden behind a veil
that I can't draw away -
but still You are there,
watching me,
guiding me,
speaking, wanting us to hear
Your words of mercy
that we don't deserve,
Your promise of peace
(just like before!),
Your breath that still
gives life to this world,
this god-forsaken world
that You have not forsaken
after all.


[12. - 14. June 2014]

Cain (son of Adam and Eve) was the "first murderer": he killed his brother Abel, out of jealousy. Because when Abel sacrificed to God, God accepted the sacrifice - but when Cain did the same, God did not accept it. It doesn't say why, I also don't think it means Abel was the better guy and Cain had something "wrong" about him.

The interesting thing in the story is how God speaks to Cain. You see there is a relationship there, it's not like Cain isn't interested in God or God doesn't like Cain (in fact Cain cares enough about God's opinion that he gets frustrated when, to his eyes, God shows Abel preferential treatment). God in fact warns Cain not to give in to his anger and jealousy (v.6-7). Cain does not listen, however, and commits the first murder. God punishes him by sending him away from his family and his former livelihood (farming). There again we see the interesting relationship between God and Cain: Cain is afraid of being hunted down and killed for what he has done - and God, even while letting him feel the consequences of what he did, gives Cain protection by putting a mark on his brow that will keep people from hurting him.

If you look at the genealogy that comes after the story, you can see that Cain's descendants were a creative people: musicians and metalworkers.

So when writing about Cain's wife, I tried to imagine the "feeling" in a dark new world just newly fallen into sin, where there still was a living memory of Eden where there was peace and the nearness of God. Also I tried to capture the situation of Cain fleeing - partly also fleeing from his conscience - and his wife feeling with him and carrying his burden with him.

Of course the conclusion of all this is that, even though the poem is called "God-forsaken World" and Mrs Cain laments about the distance of God, God has not forsaken the world but still is here, still cares about the fate of humanity, and has a greater plan in store to bring everything right. Think about it: in Jesus, God Himself came down into this "god-forsaken world" and experienced all the pain of being forsaken when He died on the cross. God is not far away, but came right here among us, became one of us, and that way He has broken the curse that we brought on ourselves. So now what has been dividing us from God has been taken away; He is not distant but near, and if we believe in Jesus then He lives right with us and even in us, making us His temple - which if you read some of the Old Testament texts about the temple, is quite an amazing thing.

The hope that was there for sinners at the very beginning, in the time of Adam and Eve and Abel and Cain and his wife, has been fulfilled in Jesus. If the world was not yet forsaken then, then it definitely is not forsaken now - though we still wait for the completion of God's promise when He will make all things new, and the very last divide will be gone, and we will see God face to face. :)

Picture by Fernand-Anne Piestre Cormon. Picked it because it actually shows us Cain's wife!

04 June 2014

Mrs Noah

"Hotel Mama"
just turned into a zoo.
A floating zoo.
I didn't really ask for it
just when my world has drowned away,
just when I'm hurting, tired, lost,
waiting for respite
and new solid ground -
didn't ask to mop up vomit
or keep the dogs and cats apart,
didn't ask to cook for armies
and have much more to clean.

And yet
I see this is a gift,
a blessing you've poured down on me,
the comfort I've been longing for,
for caring for others
comforts me.

This is my service,
this is my comfort:
Loving those who are displaced
- displaced like me.
Mothering the motherless,
comforting those in distress,
the homesick, seasick, miserable,
feeding tigers, frogs and men,
a shoulder to cry on,
a rock in this ocean,
solid ground
though I don't even feel
so solid myself.

But as I serve them
I begin to see
that you're the solid ground for me.
And so I go and pass it on,
sharing life
and sharing love.


[September 2012 - commentary 2014]

This poem went through MANY phases. Some lines remain from the original version, but the theme has completely changed, as has the tone. (But I can't remember anything of the old version anymore haha)

The thought of service bringing healing, of being comforted by caring for others instead of worrying about oneself, is a recurring theme in some of my older poems (e.g. this one). When I was going through a very dark valley my mother gave me wise words of advice: to focus on caring for others, to forget my own worries by being concerned for others instead. I think it makes a lot of sense - and can say from experience it works, with God's help. ;-)

Noah's wife was faced with quite a lot of things at once: losing everything (probably family as well), having a lot of extra work to do (and not necessarily pleasant work, either), and really having no chance to get away (imagine being cooped up in a smelly stable for 40 days and 40 nights, knowing there's a couple of snakes and other unpleasant characters next-door). I think when faced with this kind of flood of unpleasant things, one can either get mad and frustrated and upset (which would be dwelling on oneself in self-pity), or view the extra work as an opportunity to serve others, and do it freely and with joy (and I think that's an act of the will).

Whether we find healing or frustration in work depends on our attitude to what we have to do: do we do it because we have to and are forced to, or do we freely accept it and in that way turn it around into something that's not so bad anymore? "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down..." :-D

Of course it's not always so simple, but I believe with God's help we can do even unpleasant things with joy. It starts with attitude though: whether I focus on how unfair it is that I have to do such annoying things, or whether I focus on the good that comes out of it, or how it serves others.

More of the family: Noah's daughter-in-law

01 June 2014

Woman who blessed Mary: Ave Maria

Luke 11:27-28

Hail Mary,
full of grace -
blessed are you
among women.
Blessed is your womb
that bore our Messiah,
blessed your breasts
that nursed the Saviour of souls -
blessed are you
among women.

Hail Mary,
full of grace -
I want to be like you,
but I can't.
Only one womb
could bear our Messiah,
only you were chosen
to nurse the Saviour of souls -
from afar I can admire
and wish it had been me -
blessed are you -
not me.

blessed is the womb that bore you,
and the breasts that nursed you!
Blessed is the woman
who can call herself your mother.
among women.

- But you say: no.
Blessed are those
who hear the word of God
and obey it.

Hail Mary,
full of grace -
blessed are you
and blessed am I,
for what makes you great
is not your womb,
though it bore the Messiah,
nor that He suckled at your breast.
No, blessed
are your ears that heard
the uncomfortable call of God,
and your heart that submitted
in obedience to His will.
And blessed are all women
who do the same
and follow your footsteps
as you follow the Lord. 


[1. June 2014]

A woman came up to Jesus and called out a blessing on Mary - Jesus' reply was: "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it." As I understand it, this means: instead of just admiring Mary as someone "unreachable", who through God's grace became something none of us can ever be, we should follow her example and do as she did. Only Mary could be Jesus' mother, but we can all learn from her obedience to God and acceptance of a calling that can't have been easy, and that brought her not only joys but lots of pain. I find it very interesting how this little exchange in Lk 11 is so similar to what Jesus said in Mt 7 about how we should not just say "Lord, Lord" but do the will of God. Personally I find that if we admire Mary, it should not be as a wonderful saint with quasi-goddess status, but as an example that, with God's help, we can and should emulate.

P.S.: Dear protestant friends: I'm not turning catholic - the Ave Maria just fit the poem (besides, the Reformers still used the Ave Maria and most of it actually is biblical, based on Gabriel's greeting. The ending part which we protestants usually stumble over I left out). This is not meant to promote any "Mary-worship", on the contrary the focus I mean to make (and believe I have made; hopefully it's clear enough) is that Jesus wants us to hear and obey God's word, to do His will. Mary can be our example in that.

P.P.S.: In case anyone is bothered by the profusion of breasts in this poem: sorry, it's in the Bible. :P

Picture is "The Madonna of the Roses" by William-Adophe Bouguereau.