25 October 2014

Bride of the King: Reconciliation

Psalm 45

is reconciliation.
we forge the bond
between you and me,
between your land and mine.
we seal the covenant.
is the start of peace.

Can I forget my people
and my father's house,
and leave them forever
for you - a stranger?
Can I forsake
all I have known
and dare this alliance
with a stranger - with you?

You are different
from other kings -
you reign with peace and equity,
truth, justice and humility.
You look upon me,
your former enemy,
enthralled -
You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.

Can I forget my people
and my father's house,
for you?

Here is reconciliation,
here is peace.
Here is your hand, reaching out
to accept me as your queen.
Here is love
that brings an end to enmity.

So I will take your hand
and enter this alliance,
as joy and song envelop us
into the hopes
of all who long for peace.
And so today
we seal the covenant,
we forge the bond -
is reconciliation.


[25. October 2014]

Been wanting to write this ever since reading Psalm 45 some days ago... the Psalm is a wedding song about the wedding of a King with a girl from another country who is called upon to "forget your people and your father's house" (v.10). Some verses seem to point to Jesus (e.g. v.6-7).

Anyway, the Psalm got me thinking about royal "alliance marriages", i.e. where a king married a princess from a foreign country to secure peace and to seal a covenant between the two nations. This was still happening some 100 years ago, actually. On the one hand, I do think one can see it as a problematic practice: a girl being carted off to some foreign country (in a time when people hardly travelled and she probably wouldn't have seen her home and family ever again), to marry a stranger who probably already had a whole load of other "alliance wives" (Solomon had quite a few...). On the other hand, I think that the concept of "alliance marriage" can tell us something about God - since the church (and in the Old Testament Israel) is frequently described as the "bride of Christ" or of God.

Alliance marriages were (a) to seal a covenant between two nations, (b) to secure peace.
In 2. Cor 5:18-20, the message of Jesus is described as a message of reconciliation. God wants reconciliation with us. And the way I see it, it's not God who throughout history has kept a sulky distance - it's us. The Bible shows God approaching us again and again, seeking relationship with us. God does not deny us peace - we are the only ones fighting, by insisting on managing by ourselves and rejecting the love of God. But in Jesus God became one of us, and Jesus died to reconcile us to God. And He wants to accept us as His bride - a gesture of peace, and actually of raising us into honour.

So the "wedding" of God with His people can maybe be seen like an alliance marriage: God wants to seal His covenant with us, and He wants to secure peace. He wants reconciliation with us, wants us to stop fighting off His love. And maybe accepting this love of God and following Jesus means forgetting and forsaking other things - like the bride in the Psalm is called upon to forget her people and her family. It means starting a completely new life, being changed by Him.

The "bride" imagery comes up quite a few times in the Bible, especially in prophetic texts (e.g. Ezekiel 16, Hosea, Jeremiah 3) but also in Revelation. Song of Songs is also often read as an allegory about the love between Christ and the church (and btw, the italicised bit in the poem is SoS 4:7). I find it does good to meditate on such texts and reflect what it means to be the "bride of Christ", how to compare our relationship to Jesus with the relationship of husband and wife.

Picture by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

13 October 2014

Girl with Spirit of Divination: Set Free

Acts 16:16-22

They'd stare at me with eager eyes,
waiting and wanting and wishing to hear
their futures far which I could tell.
For I knew and I saw
what others could not.

A gift? No, a curse,
which I could not fight.
And though some envied me for it
I only felt captive,
and alone.

I never wanted to know -
but I was possessed,
owned by something else,
longing to be free.
It spoke what I did not want to speak,
It told me what I did not ask,
It haunted me both night and day
till I thought I'd go mad -
or was I already?

And then I saw them,
bearers of good news,
and felt Its fear,
for It knew (and so did I)
that my help was near.
nd day by day I followed them
and so did It
and It shouted out
the truth It could not bear,
and yet the truth that all should hear -

And I knew then:
they would use me
like all the others did
who saw not me
but the demon enslaving me,
who wanted Its knowledge
but cared nothing for me.
Why should they let
this precious gift go -
so precious to them, such torture to me?
I had nothing left
but despair
and Its foul cackling laughter.

But they were different.
With Your eyes, they saw me,
with Your ears, they heard me,
with Your heart, they cared
for more than my divinations.
They freed me with Your power,
and I am set free.

And now I walk unchained,
free to walk the path You did,
free to speak out of my heart
of all the love You showed to me.
The puppet master's lost Its power:
to You, my Father, I belong now,
a child, not a slave,
loved, not controlled,
so free,
and finally


[January 2012]

One thing I noticed when I read this passage again was: this girl was good advertisement for the Gospel, wasn't she? She was calling out that Paul and Silas were bringing good news, that they were sent by God. So, why not use that gift? It struck me how Paul and Silas cast out the evil spirit even though it could have been useful to them. I wondered why. So I wrote this poem.

Picture by Pieter de With.

06 October 2014

Parable of the Yeast: God is a Baker Woman

And again he said, "To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." (Luke 13:20-21)

is a baker-woman
elbow-deep in dough,
kneading, kneading,
making bread
preparing for a feast.
Taking flour,
adding yeast,
until the dough is leavened through,
working, working
till all is ready for her feast.

you became bread
for us to feast upon,
for us to be fed,
strengthened, restored,
filled by you.
You became bread 
for us to devour,
consumed for our sakes,
fulfilling our needs,
our hunger for you.

we are your bread
to be shared with this world.
You knead us, prepare us,
to feed hungry mouths
in need of you.
You spread your yeast
into each corner
that we may rise
and glorify you
at your feast
where all will be fed.

So let us feed on you
in thanksgiving
as you knead us
into your image.
Give us grace
to feed the world
as you fed us,
with these gifts
you gave to us -
Bread of Life.


[5. - 6. October 2014]

One could say this is the first time I have ever used feminine pronouns on God - I'm  not usually that kind of feminist, but since it suits the parable I hope no one's going to complain, since the image of the baker-woman was made up by Jesus, not me...

The topic of "bread" kind of stalked me all day yesterday, so I ended up writing this, bringing together different thoughts that had been impressed on me during the day...
  1. In the morning, I read this month's "Word of Life" from the Focolare movement. The verse of the month happens to be all about bread! "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35) You can read Chiara Lubich's interpretation here, it really inspired me and flowed into this poem. God is bread - Jesus became bread for us, in multiple senses. He fulfills our deepest needs - and we remember Him through bread in Communion / Eucharist.
  2. On the way to church in the evening, the words "God is a baker woman" sort of whacked into my brain and I started meditating on Lk 13:20-21 because I remembered that parable. It's one of a set of parables about what the "Kingdom of God" is like. The "feast" image slid into the poem because that is another image from another parable - sort of what the bread is being prepared for (the feast at the end of time).
  3. The sermon in my church also ended up involving bread and communion imagery! One thing that stayed with me was sharing: that we are not meant to hoard what God gives us, but share it. And I really loved this image: when we break the bread for communion, one half represents what we receive - the other half what we share. We are meant to share. In a sense, we can become bread to share with others what Jesus shared with us. And that can mean suffering too: being "consumed" like Jesus was.
  4. The "parable of the yeast" is basically about the influence of Jesus spreading through the world. In that sense, it's very much about sharing. What is the influence of Jesus, though? I believe it's becoming like Him, following Him, living like He did. But that means giving ourselves like He did, denying ourselves, being willing to be "consumed" by hungry people. Helping people in all their needs, be it literal hunger, or a hunger for love and acceptance, or another need. Bringing people the "Bread of Life", which is Jesus - but in a sense becoming bread too, by becoming like Him.

"Loving means 'making ourselves one' with everyone, making ourselves one in all the others want, in the least and most insignificant things and in those that perhaps might be of little interest to us but are important to them. [...] This is love, to make ourselves one in a way that makes others feel nourished by our love, comforted, uplifted, understood." (Chiara Lubich)

Picture by Jean-Fran├žois Millet.

03 October 2014

Naamah: A Name

"Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah." (Genesis 4:22)

I am a name
without a story.

Because one day someone decided
a girl's story is not worth telling.
Because one day someone decided
a girl has no story
except that written by a man,
What is a girl alone,
but a burden,
reminder of what
a woman once lost -
a woman with a story.
How can they risk
a woman having a story again?

They forget
that men's stories
bring hurt and damage too,
that we are all
equally responsible,
spiralling down together,

Someone is reaching
into our stories,
reaching to catch us as we fall -
Someone who wants to be a part
of this sad, doomed, sordid tale,
who wants to risk
a story of His own.

I am a name
without a story -
but I have a name.
And He knows me,
and He calls me by name:
They may deny me
the chance to share my tale -
but He won't let them hide
my name.


[30. / 31. August 2014]

I tend to not write poems about the "story-less names" (otherwise I'd have to sift all the genealogies and make up hundreds of stories!). But my mother pointed out Naamah to me once and wanted me to write a poem for her too, so now I did...

I hope what I meant to say is visible between the lines... it's basically about inequality, more focus being put on men's stories, and women not really being mentioned much except in connection to "their men". The "woman with a story" is Eve: she lived free and equal and could make her own choices, but they led to destruction. Often when people think of "the Fall", they push blame on Eve, forgetting that Adam was there too and took the fruit as well, forgetting that all of us are responsible for our own sins. I can imagine men shortly after the Fall trying to deny responsibility, and pushing down women because if given freedom, wouldn't they just do damage again? But denying responsibility and blaming others, to the point of treating them as lesser beings, is not the way to go.

What's interesting about Naamah is that, unlike most other women who only appear by name in the Bible, she really appears only by name, and not in connection to any man (except for her brother). And now anyone who reads the Bible and does not skip the genealogies will read her name. (Probably not remember it, but still...) So even if people want to hem us in and make us small, we are still all equal before God: He knows us by name, He cares for each of us, no matter what society says.