31 December 2015

Shunammite Woman: Hoping against Hope


2. Kings 4:8-37

I.
A hole in my womb,
desperate to be filled.
A gap in my heart,
longing to be complete.
A space in my arms,
waiting to hold
a child of my own.

A dream unfulfilled,
turning into a nightmare,
as month after month
my hopes are dashed,
as year after year
my womb remains empty
and my wish retreats
into resignation.

So don't give me false hopes now,
Man of God,
for my faith has been stretched
beyond belief
and I couldn't take
another disappointment.


II.
A quickening in my womb -
the answer to my prayers!
Love in my heart
ready to be shared.
Complete at last,
for lying in my arms:
a child of my own.


III.
An ache in my womb:
childless again.
A stab in my heart
as it tears apart,
as in my trembling arms
he breathes his last:
the child of my own.

Is this the price
for becoming a mother:
to receive this precious gift,
then watch it slip away?
to be granted a miracle,
but only for a while?
to hold my own son,
only to watch him die?

So don't give me false hopes now,
Man of God,
for my faith has been stretched
beyond belief,
and I couldn't take
another disappointment.

And yet
you are the only one
I would still turn to now,
hoping against hope
that the hope you give me
is not false.


IV.
You gave me no false hopes,
Man of God:
Now my faith has been stretched
beyond belief,
as I have seen
miracle after miracle,
received gift after gift,
and in my arms lies again
this child of my own,
returned to me once more.


___________________________________________________

[31. December 2015]

The Shunammite woman was a rich woman who supported Elisha's ministry. Wanting to reward her, Elisha offered to give her what she wished for - she did not tell him directly, rather Elisha's servant Gehazi told Elisha that she wished for a son. I find her answer quite intriguing: "No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant." (2. Kings 4:16) I based the "don't give me false hopes" bit on that. The first section (I.) is about her barrenness and longing for a child.

The second section (II.) is about how the Shunammite woman's wish was fulfilled, and she had a son. However, one day the boy fell sick or something (he went around crying "My head, my head!", so probably had some pain in his head) and died in her arms (v. 18-21) (III.). His mother went to Elisha - and insisted that he help her, and no one else (though interestingly enough she didn't directly ask for help, but just alluded to something being wrong with her child). I find it interesting how in this story and in the story of Naaman, Elisha does not show very much interest in getting personally involved (he sends his servant instead). But on the woman's insistence, he goes himself. The child comes back to life - actually the second miracle this mother has experienced (IV.).

First she received a child against all hope - then she lost him, and received him a second time against all hope! Quite an experience!
I wanted to combine here the themes of longing for a child, faith when it's hard to believe, the woman's doubts ("do not deceive your servant" / "don't give me false hopes"), loss of a child, and how the woman experienced two miracles - receiving, losing, and receiving again.

Picture by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout - the scene where the woman goes to Elisha and insists on him coming to help.

27 December 2015

Foreign Wives: Paying the Price

Ezra 9-10

So I pack my bags again,
a few bags more than when I came,
a child at each hand and on my back
the heavy load of your shame.

You say it was a sin,
marrying me -
yet I am the one who is punished.

The day I arrived
I was a girl,
lost and confused,
thrown into a world
I was not ready for.
Given to a foreign man
whose dialect I could not understand,
to warm his bed and bear him sons,
to get to know him,
learn to love him,
to overcome the fear
and my longing for home,
and become his wife.

You say it was a sin,
marrying me.
yet I had no say in the matter.

The day I arrived,
I was a girl,
frightened and lonely,
facing you - the man my parents chose.
Now I am a woman,
a wife rejected,
unwanted and scorned,
sent home in disgrace
back to the fools who sent me here.

We had our differences,
our disagreements,
barriers in language we never quite overcame.
We had our arguments,
our misunderstandings.
We had a life together,
though we never understood each other,
and today as I leave you,
I feel I never knew you.

You say it was a sin,
marrying me.
I say you don't undo it
by sending me away.
For either way
someone must pay -

and so it is I,
trudging home shamed,
a child at each hand,
weighed down with the burden of your sin,
paying the price
for your mistake.

____________________________________________________

[27. December 2015]

When the Israelites were allowed to return from exile under the Persians' reign, many (especially among the elite) intermarried with the Canaanites - thereby breaking God's law which forbade intermarriage with the people of the land (Dtn 7). When Ezra heard of this, he was deeply shocked - and together with the people came to the conlcusion that the mixed marriages should be separated, the women and their children sent home.

To understand the concern behind this, we need to remember that in those days, religion was closely connected to nationality and ethnicity, and note the "matrilinear" workings of Judaism. To this day, children are "born Jewish" only if their mother is Jewish (which is why in the OT intermarriage was so problematic). In OT times mothers were the ones responsible for bringing up children, and for their religious education. A mother from a different people would follow a different religion, and bring up her children in that religion. A few OT stories (notably the example of Solomon's wives and Jezebel) show foreign wives having a bad influence on their Israelite husbands. After the exile, the Israelites' identity was fragile - they couldn't use that kind of negative influence or confusion.

But what about the wives? In those days, being sent away by one's husband must have been a deep disgrace. Women would be sent back to their parents, vulnerable and dependent, probably having a hard time finding a new husband because they had been married before. In those days, people did not usually marry for love, so I doubt the "enforced" divorces caused much heartbreak of that kind. Still: the women were most likely not in those marriages by choice, and probably nobody asked for their opinion either when they were sent away.

My conclusion in reading this uncomfortable story is that this is a dilemma. Sin cannot be undone, even though the men repent of it. The damage is done and the damage will continue unfolding; sin has its consequences and it is a great grace of God if those are stopped, but He does not always stop them. (An example I keep thinking of is David's sin with Bathsheba: God forgave him, but still let the consequences happen - havoc in David's family, Absalom's rebellion.)
In the case of the mixed marriages, it would have been bad for the men to keep their wives - but it was also bad for them to send them away, because in doing so they hurt these women who were not really at fault. It was the men's sin, but the women bore the consequences. The best solution would have been not marrying the women in the first place (they knew it was forbidden) - as it was, in trying to amend the wrong they had done, the men ended up causing more pain. Sin can be forgiven, but it can't be undone.

I wove in a bit about intercultural miscommunications and difficulties that would have come with an intercultural marriage - intercultural marriages are challenge enough when you marry for love; I'm sure the situation is less than ideal if it's an intercultural arranged marriage!

Picture by Jakub Schikaneder

19 December 2015

Job's Daughters: Beauty from Ashes


Job 42:10-15

"He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers." (Job 42:14-15)

I grow from the dust of memories,
shadows that went before me,
the brothers and sisters I never knew.
I rise from the ashes of yesterday,
a new beginning after suffering and death,
a new morning that rises again.
I pour out sweet from the cup of bitterness,
a balm to comfort your tormented soul,
adorning your days of old age.

Sometimes I live
as though they did not,
forgetting that we
are not your only family.
Then I remember:
I am dancing on a grave
and there are still cracks
in your mended heart.

I cannot replace them,
the faces and voices
that still haunt your dreams.
I cannot fill the empty spaces
in our home and in your heart,
cannot drive out the memories
or undo the past.

But, precious father, I will try
to relieve your pain by giving you joy.
I will pour my love on you
and be somebody you can love
and tell your story to.
I cannot replace what you have lost,
but I can help you find purpose again,
raising beauty from the ashes,
letting life begin anew.

_______________________________________________________

[18. December 2015]

I based the first stanza on the meaning of the names: Jemimah means "dove" ("I rise from the ashes" - more the image of a phoenix but it is a bird...), Keziah means "cassia" ("I grow from the dust" - growing plant), Keren-happuch means "horn of antimony", antimony being a cosmetic. So yes, I'm taking a short-cut again and writing one poem for three girls, but I think it worked well this way...

I wrote this thinking about how on the one hand Jemimah, Keziah and Keren-happuch (and their brothers) were a new beginning for Job, while on the other hand they could never be a replacement for the sons and daughters he had lost. I imagine it would be odd, knowing that before one was even born, one's father had a different life, another family, which no longer exists and one can never get to know. Hence "dancing on a grave"...

I find William Blake's picture of Job and his daughters (above) very interesting (and very well thought-out): in the background, it shows Job's losses. So I think it fits really well to this poem. Things go well for Job in the end, and he receives a lot of comfort, not least through his daughters. But the past can't be undone. Still, that doesn't mean things remain dark and hopeless. Job has a chance to enjoy what he has now, and though it does not take away completely the pain of his loss, I think his new family does relieve the pain, giving him something new to live for, encouraging him again.

Job's wife's poem is here.

07 December 2015

Athaliah: Turning Tables

2 Chronicles 21-23

Dear Father: You have used me,
turned me into a commodity.
My body is the bribe
with which you buy friendship,
selling me like a slave
into the arms of a stranger.
I am nothing but a pawn
in your game of politics -
now watch me turn the tables
and rise.

Dear Husband: I will use you,
turn you into my puppet.
I will bewitch you,
twist you round my little finger,
till you beg me for mercy
and do all that I wish.
I will make you a pawn
in my game of politics,
as I turn the tables
and rise.

Dear Father-in-Law: You have used me,
bought me as your commodity.
Now I rob you of your success,
and I rob you of your sons,
throw your glory down,
make you twist in your grave.
You are all pawns
in my game of politics -
now watch me turn the tables
and rise.

Dear Son: I will use you;
as you rise, so will I.
I will rule the land through you,
you will do as I advise.
You will stay in my pocket
and I will twist your mind.
You are my pawn
in my game of politics,
as I turn the tables
and rise.

See me now, all you men,
who thought you were strong,
and thought I was weak.
See me now, all you who used me,
who bought me and sold me:
see me and grovel,
see me and die:
I am your Queen
who spills your blood
and ends your line.

Dear God: They have used me,
so I had my revenge -
but I cannot fight for freedom
by binding others down.
Injustice can't buy justice;
evil can't end evil.
By becoming a queen
I made others my pawns -
now they turn the tables
and I fall.

___________________________________________________________

[5. December 2015]

Athaliah was the only queen of Judah; her reign was short (7 years) but had a violent beginning and end. While writing this I viewed her as a girl bundled off into an alliance marriage against her will, rising up and taking power for herself.
On the one hand I wanted to understand her situation as a woman used by men as an object and political tool to fulfill their purposes; on the other hand it's clear she chose the wrong solution, in which she (the formerly oppressed) became an oppressor. The way Athaliah was treated was not right - but her violent reaction was not right either. The solution to oppression is not retaliation, because retaliation and revenge only create more victims. Athaliah's reign, which began with the killing of her own sons and grandsons for the sake of securing the throne, ended just as violently in a coup where she was deposed. Nobody missed her; in fact they were happy about her death (2. Chron 23:21).


Stanza 1:
"Now Jehoshaphat had great riches and honor; and he made a marriage alliance with Ahab." (2. Chronicles 18:1)
Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, is given to Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram in marriage.

Stanza 2-3:

"When Jehoram had ascended the throne of his father and was established, he put all his brothers to the sword, and also some of the officials of Israel. [...] He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done; for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." (2. Chronicles 21:4+6)
Athaliah is an influence on her husband Jehoram. He kills all his brothers (thus making sure none of them will try to claim the throne) - hence "rob you of your sons". Athaliah also robs Jehoshaphat of his success by propagating idolatry which he fought against all his life.

Stanza 4:
"Ahaziah was forty-two years old when he began to reign; he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri. He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly." (2. Chronicles 22:2-3)

Stanza 5:
"Now when Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother, saw that her son was dead, she set about to destroy all the royal family of the house of Judah." (2. Chronicles 22:10)
After Ahaziah's death, Athaliah kills all her grandchildren - she "ends the line", removing all male heirs (hence: "I am your Queen / who spills your blood / and ends your line"). If not for Jehoshebah who saved one of the children, the line of David (upon which lay God's promise) would have ended! (Which is why I believe this story - like many stories in the books of Kings and Chronicles - shows how God keeps His promise and protects the family of David despite all the attacks, setbacks, unfaithfulness etc.)

Stanza 6:
The coup happens (2. Chronicles 23): Joash, the child saved by Jehoshebah, is crowned king, Athaliah is put to death.
This last stanza is probably not what she was thinking (since I doubt she came so far as to regret her actions and see the wrong in them), but my interpretation / conclusion. Athaliah suffered injustice, and she had her revenge by turning things around and controlling the men around her, her husband and her son, and (almost) destroying the line of David. She rose to power, but by doing so she only inflicted suffering and oppression on others, and in the end had to pay for it with a fall from power and a violent death. We can't vindicate ourselves by taking revenge. We can't heal our wounds by wounding others. That's the lesson I take from this story.

Picture by Gustave Doré

03 December 2015

I Want To Love You


I take thee
to be my wedded husband,
to have and to hold
from this day forward,
for better for worse,
for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health
to love and to cherish
till death do us part.

I want to love you
when my heart no longer races
every time I see your face,
when it is no longer mystery
that entices me,
when I have memorised you
and being with you is ordinary.
When the emotions fade away
into the dull everyday,
I want to love you still.

I want to love you
when I am distracted
by work and chores and worries,
when my attention
is drawn elsewhere;
when you are distanced
and cares weigh you down,
when troubles come
to cloud our horizons,
I want to love you still.

I want to love you
when my desires grow cold
and you no longer can satisfy me,
when strength fails
and I feel you slip away,
when I see you fall apart
before my very eyes,
gnawed by time.
When at last I have to let you go -
I want to love you still.

I want my desire to be for you,
and not for my fulfillment.
I want to love you for who you are,
not for the emotion
that grips me, then leaves
and cannot last.
I want to give myself,
sacrifice completely,
entrust myself to you
believing
you will love me this way too.
I want to love you,
spirit body soul,
till death do us part.

____________________________________________

[12. October 2015]

I was inspired to write this while visiting my grandparents, who are in their late 80s and both in an old-age home. When you truly stay together until the end, there are a lot of challenges. I don't usually think of that when I think about marriage - but watching my grandparents I realised some of the consequences (if one can call it that..) of love, and the full meaning of the marriage vows quoted at the start of this poem. I feel that when/if I get married, I want to say those vows and seriously mean them: that I'll not only stick with my husband when things are fine and nice and happy, but also in all the challenges ahead - and not just stick around because I must, but out of love.

I believe the kind of love that lasts is something more than the "Hollywood love" most of us believe in nowadays. I believe true love is more than feelings, that it needs to be an act of the will (of sorts) sometimes, something I want and make an effort for. Which is why even if my emotions are right, I don't feel I can honestly say "I love you" to the man I care about until I am able to fully entrust myself to him and accept the hard times, the conflicts, the differences etc too. If I only love him when my emotions are running sky-high and when everything is all right, is that true love?

I guess these are very high expectations, to be able to love someone through all the difficulties of life. I don't want to be naive about this either. But this is the standard I want to aim for, and I believe God will help me in my striving.
Important to me is also this: "believing / you will love me this way too". Fully giving oneself to someone else needs to be reciprocal - otherwise you just get trampled on, which is not the idea either!

Picture by Rembrandt

28 November 2015

Crippled Woman: Worth Much

Luke 13:10-17

Who looks twice
at a crippled woman,
except to give her crooked looks,
crooked like her crooked back?
Crooked, not friendly -
for I am not normal,
I am a mistake,
a burden, not a blessing,
to all and to myself -
not worth much.

I am "just a woman".
I am "that cripple".
I am a failure
in this world bent on success.
Not worth much.

But now I see
your love, o Lord,
which values even me -
"Abraham's daughter"
is what you call me -
not an outcast anymore.
You look at me so differently,
you lift me up,
you make me new.

I don't need to be perfect
to be perfect for you;
you love me
just as I am,
the one the world had thrown away.
And now I know: to you
I am worth much.


_______________________________________________________

[August 2012]

I wrote this back when a new Trisomy 21 test was introduced in Switzerland (a test enabling pregnant mothers to check whether their baby has Down's Syndrome). In the meantime I learnt in an Ethics course that in America nowadays, most children with Down's Syndrome are aborted, and if parents opt to keep theirs, they are criticised for "burdening society".

How do we view disabled people? Are they "incomplete people"? Are they (as to the Pharisees in Lk 13) worth less than a donkey or an ox that falls into a ditch? Jesus questions why one is allowed to rescue a wounded animal on the Sabbath, but not a sick or disabled person. He calls the crippled woman a "daughter of Abraham", honours her as a complete person, as a person for whom the blessing of Abraham counts just as much as for the healthy people.

What I learnt in that Ethics class (from reading Wolfgang Huber) is that nowadays people tend to have an "olympian" idea of the "perfect human being" as someone athletic and healthy. The Bible, on the other hand, shows us the suffering Christ. According to the Bible, humanity reaches its perfection not in a healthy young athlete, but in a weak and dying wreck on a cross!

We need to change our way of looking at people. We need to value the broken, not only give it value once it's become whole. Jesus heals the crippled woman - but to him she is a "daughter of Abraham", a complete human being, before she is able to stand straight again. Even if she were to remain crippled, she would be equally valuable to him. And she should be equally valuable to us, because biblically, health and physical perfection are not what make out a complete human being.

11 November 2015

Zillah: Image

Genesis 4:17-22

Mother of culture -
mother of violence.
My womb brings forth beauty -
my womb brings forth death.

I look at you, my children,
and I see your Father,
the image of your Creator,
in the beauty you create.
I see Him in your intelligence,
your creativity,
your imagination,
the goodness of your hearts -
image of God.

And yet
I look at you, my children,
and I see your father
by whom I conceived you,
in the violence you perpetuate.
I see him in your conflicts,
your enmities,
your anger,
the hatred in your hearts -
image of man.

What strange creatures we are,
uniting in ourselves
goodness and creativity
with violence and cruelty -
children of God
fallen into sin.

I look at you, my children,
full of joy and pride at the good you create.
I look at you, my children,
full of pain at the violence you perpetuate.
Can a mother forsake her child?
Can I cling to disappointment,
instead of praising your achievements?
Should I hold on to my pain
or forgive you again and again?

I look at you and pray
that the image of God may grow in you
and blind out the darkness, the anger and pain;
I pray that your goodness
will overcome your hate -
but until then, as your mother,
I will love you
and wait.

_______________________________________________________

[7.-10. November 2015]

This one kind of speaks for both Adah and Zillah, mothers of Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-Cain from whom came animal-keeping (Jabal), musical instruments (Jubal) and metalwork (Tubal-Cain). Adah and Zillah were the wives of Lamech, a man who prided himself in his violence (see Adah's poem). Their children - in a sense the originators of culture - were descendants of Cain, the first murderer. That is where I see the connection between culture (actually a good thing) and violence. The creativity of Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-Cain mirrors the creativity of God - but they are also part of a violent family and a violent people that will be eradicated in the flood.

I considered this from Zillah's perspective as mother: she sees the good in her children, and yet she also sees the bad things that upset her. And yes, that small bit "Can a mother forsake her child?" is something God said (Isaiah 49:15) and it was my purpose to make the connection to God there. A mother loves her children and looks on their achievements with joy, even when what she sees is marred by their failings and shortcomings. I also believe that a good mother will want her children to change for the better, especially when she sees that they are harming themselves or each other with the way they live.

In that sense, a mother's love can help us understand God's grace: God loves us as we are (we are his children), he wants to accept and forgive us. But he also wants the best for us - and for all of us (siblings included). If we are harming our siblings (i.e. other people) he won't just shrug it away and accept it. I think God is very much like the mother who waits... like the father waiting for the prodigal son. He loves us and that includes that he wants us to change and stop harming each other and ourselves. But he does not force us to change.

Picture is of Tubal-Cain the metalworker, son of Zillah. His sister Naamah also has her own poem, here.

08 November 2015

The Choice of Arwen



Do not tell me not to do this -
for I know it is death if I do,
and I know it is death if I don't.
What choice is mine,
but death or death?
What could you save me from?

What choice is mine
but death or death?
Death if I choose you:
a mortal life
that passes like a breeze
and ends,
something fleeting
that must be grasped
before it's out of reach
forever.

What choice is mine,
but death or death?
Death to live without you,
death to watch you die,
slow, eternal death
to live forever apart from you,
throwing away the joy,
though fleeting,
I could have shared with you.

What choice is mine?
I'd rather share
a mortal life with you,
a fleeting blink in the depths of time,
than die forever
outside your embrace.

_____________________________________________________

[12. / 31. August 2014]

Inspired by watching The Lord of the Rings for the nth time - in particular the scene where Elrond warns Arwen about the consequences she will have to suffer if she decides to stay with Aragorn. Arwen never really had much of a choice, did she?

Picture by John William Waterhouse

07 November 2015

Jeroboam's Wife: Walk Just A Little Slower

1 Kings 14:1-18

Just a little longer,
just a little longer.
Walk just a little slower;
give him some more time.
Keep breathing - try
just a little longer,give him some more time.

This pain so deep inside,
as if it's I who's dying,
like giving birth to him all over again -
if only I could.
If only I could
give him life again,
start all over,
wake up with him alive in my arms.
But here I am,
a messenger of death,
and with each step
my child slips away.

Is not this the harshest blow:
striking a child
for his father's wrongs?
But is it God
who causes this pain -
or is it the consequence
we bring on ourselves?

This pain so deep inside,
for the suffering of generations
that come from my womb,
my children -
if only I could
walk just a little slower,
start all over,
die instead.

Just a little longer -
o Lord, have mercy!
Walk just a little slower -
I know your will is just.
Keep breathing - try -
Is there no other way?
Give him some more time.

One step over this threshold
and my son is dead.
Walk just a little slower.
Give him some more time.

____________________________________________________

[June 2013]

Jeroboam was King of Israel at the time when Israel and Judah split, around 926-907 B.C.
He did not please God (originally God chose him to start something new, but Jeroboam ended up introducing idols and such), which is why Jeroboam's family was punished - starting with the death of his son Abijah.
Mrs Jeroboam appears in that context: Jeroboam sent her to the prophet Ahijah to ask whether Abijah would get well, and Ahijah told her not only would Abijah die as soon as she returned home (hence the "walk just a little slower" - I imagined her really hesitating to go home because it would mean her son's death) but also the generations following would die violently.

Originally I wrote only the first two and last two stanzas, then decided I needed / wanted to add some "theological interpretation" with the middle stanza, thinking a bit about sin and punishment and consequences of sin. When I think of God punishing sin, I don't see it as Him being a strict / angry / "mean" kind of God striking without feeling. Because God is love. He loved us - ALL of us - so much that He gave Jesus, that He Himself suffered for us to restore our relationship with Him. When God punishes, I see it more as the consequence of sin - punishment being something we bring upon ourselves, and not something God wants to or likes to inflict.

The question of future generations suffering the consequences of their forefathers' mistakes comes up in some of my newer poetry too, so if you want to track my theological development you could compare this one with Jehoshebah's poem. ^^

Picture by Charles Horne.

06 November 2015

Jochebed: Mother

Exodus 2:1-10

Here by the riverside,
as I watch him float away,
as I lose my greatest treasure
and he drifts out of my reach -
here by the riverside
I know what motherhood is.

It means to lose
so he can gain,
means putting his good
over mine,
although it hurts.
It means to bear pain
so he can be safe,
covering him with my wings,
protecting him with my life,
sending him downstream
although it rends my soul.
It means sacrificing
my happiness for his
- for his happiness is mine.

These tears I cry
are so he can have joy.
This ache in my heart
is so he can have life.

Lord, I lay my treasure
into your loving hands -
and ask you one thing only,
please:
that you be a Mother,
Lord,
to him.

________________________________________________

[4. September 2012 - during class ;-)]

I had a looooong time on this lady. I first had the idea about a year ago: on reading Exodus 2, I thought I'd write something about how letting go is worth it with God, that sometimes we have to let go of things to receive them back. Jochebed let go of Moses - if she hadn't, he would not have survived. She let him go, and she got him back and was able to keep him for a while without danger.

The whole thing changed though, when I wrote it. It ended up being about being a mother. And I'm quite content with it this way. This is dedicated to my beloved Mamma who has had to let go of her "grown-up" children - she's in one continent and we're in the other. Not easy! So this is dedicated to her. <3

God is not only Father but also Mother - the image appears a few times in the Bible. While writing this I became aware of how God is very much like this definition of motherhood: giving and sacrificing a so we can have life. He gave Himself for us in Jesus, bore pain for our sakes. And we weren't really the sweetest little children - while we were sinners, Jesus died for us! God loves us like a mother.

The "wings" image refers to how a mother hen covers her chicks with her wings when there is a fire, and lets herself burn to death protecting her chicks. I don't know if that really happens but that's how my father explained the verse where Jesus said that God has been wanting to gather Israel under His wings like a hen gathers her chicks. I put that image in on purpose, also to make the link to God as Mother.

Picture by Pedro Américo

01 November 2015

Elinor

"I have suffered all the punishment of an attachment without enjoying any of the advantages."

Maybe if I loved you less
it would not hurt me so.
If I could blame you,
be angry with you,
forget about you,
maybe it would be easier.
But I cannot stop
loving you
although you're hurting me.

I have been bleeding
for months
but I never let it show.
I have been bottling up my tears,
locking my pain safely away;
I have been hurting in a hidden place,
so many nights, so many days.

I have had to hear others,
their stories of love,
their stories of pain,
never able to share my own.
I have had to hold others,
dry their tears,
comfort them -
with never a comfort for me.
I have been bleeding
and no one saw my wounds -
I never let it show.

Maybe if I loved you less
it would not hurt me so.
But I cannot stop
loving you
although you're hurting me.

________________________________________

[January 2013]

This is about Elinor from Sense and Sensibility - in particular about how Edward left her hanging for a very long time and, unable to speak about her feelings with others, she had to wait and endure other people's hints and speculations, all the time unsure what he really wanted. The worst was finding out that Edward was already secretly engaged to someone else - and not being able to talk about it to anyone.

Picture by Chris Hammond

31 October 2015

The Wise and Foolish Virgins: Soon!

Matthew 25:1-13

I.
Soon, soon!
The bridegroom comes soon!
Grab your lamps,
and leave the oil!
Late is the hour,
the night is short -
he will come any moment,
soon!

Small is your faith
for expecting delay;
a dim light beside
my passionate flame.
Why bring your oil
as though he were far away?
Why settle to wait
when he's at the door?

II.
Soon, soon!
The bridegroom comes soon!
Grab your lamps
and bring your oil!
For who knows the hour?
The night is long.
He will come any moment,
be patient!

Great is your faith,
until faced with delay;
time may soon quench
your fast-burning flame,
while I glow slow and steady
all through the night,
and have my light ready
when he's at the door.

III.
Soon, soon!
The bridegroom comes soon!
Any moment - now
or in a thousand years.
Are you prepared
to receive him this moment?
Are you prepared
for a long, weary wait?
Will your faith sustain you
even in the delay?
Are you ready this moment -
are you ready to wait?

_______________________________________________

[Summer 2015]

I understand the parable of the wise and foolish virgins to be about being prepared for the long haul. In the chapters about his return (Mt 24-25) Jesus emphasises that we have to be ready at all times because we do not know when exactly he will come. He may come any moment, and he wants to find us active, at work, prepared, doing what he commanded us to do (Mt 24:45-46).

Most early Christians firmly believed that Jesus would come again in their own generation - so much so that when Christians started dying before his second coming, Paul had to give some explanations (1 Thess 4:13-18). I believe it is completely correct for people to expect Jesus to come again in their lifetime, in every generation - because Jesus may come any moment! We should be prepared for him to come right now, this very minute.

And yet the danger with such thinking (which was also felt in the early church) is that we might lose hope and faith once we have to wait longer than we expected. The church has been waiting almost 2000 years for Jesus to return! Jesus spoke of his second coming as though it was right around the corner - and yet we have been waiting for quite a while! And maybe he'll come tomorrow, and maybe we'll have to wait quite a while longer!

So what I believe Jesus is saying in this parable is that we need to have the faith not just for the short term, but for the long haul - to not lose faith in his promises even if they are not fulfilled within the time we'd like them to or expect them to. This does not mean he's not at the door - because he is. He is right at the door and coming any moment. But we need the faith to endure the waiting time, however short or long it is, so that whether he comes right now or only in a long time, we'll be prepared - like the wise virgins who brought their oil.

Picture by William Blake

30 October 2015

Jehoshebah: Not My Fate


"...visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." (Numbers 14:18)

2. Chronicles 22:10-12

Violence courses through my blood;
a curse runs in this family:
doomed we are to cruelty
    - can't help it.

Once,
a good man made a bad mistake,
and now we are cursed,
now David is fated
to spill David's blood,
and history repeats itself
over and over again
   - can't help it.

Generation to generation
the curse flows on;
violence courses through our blood,
drowning the promise,
strangling the blessing
that God said was ours.
A curse runs in this family
and can't be stopped
   - can't help it.

Or can we?

What if I rise and stem this flood?
What if I counter this violence with peace?
What if I refuse to be controlled by this curse?
What if I say this is not my fate?

There is no curse
except of our own making.
Nothing holds us back
from being free.
So I will rise and save a life;
I will rise, and bring violence to an end.
I will rise and break free from this curse
which was never imprisoning me.

__________________________________________________

[26. October 2015]

I'm currently working in a church with some "charismatic" tendencies - so the concept of "generational curse" has come up in a few conversations. I think the "generational curse" idea can be interpreted in a very problematic and unbiblical way (e.g. the idea bases mostly on a misinterpretation of Num 14:18 which I quoted at the start) - though I don't think it's an idea only charismatics have, nor is it completely totally "wrong" if looked at the right way.

The way I see it (and from what I have read in the Bible), the sins or mistakes of one generation can influence future generations: what we do and how we live influences how our children grow up, the example they learn from and copy, and the patterns which they take over. However, if we talk about it as a "curse", it can very quickly turn into "I can't help it; I'm trapped". And I don't believe that. We are not trapped in the bad habits and patterns we grew up in and grew into. We don't have to repeat history.

Jehoshebah was born into a very violent family. It all began with her grandfather Jehoshaphat's mistake. Jehoshaphat was a very good king who made important reforms in Judah and led people back to God by sending out teachers among them and even travelling the country to teach them himself. His mistake was connecting his family to the family of Ahab. He himself did not have to suffer many consequences for this - his family did. I do not see this as "God's punishment on future generations" - I see this as the natural consequences. Our actions affect others, they can affect generations after us. (E.g. the damage we do to the environment now will affect future generations.) God's punishment is in the sense that he allows this to happen. The trouble is that we "pass on" our sins; children learn from their parents and repeat things. This is not about "inheritance" as much as about learning and copying.

The consequences of Jehoshaphat's wrong choice played out in the second generation: his son Jehoram (Jehoshebah's father) killed all his brothers to ensure power for himself (that's why "David is fated / to spill David's blood"). His son Ahaziah was also not a good king. After Ahaziah's death, his mother Athaliah started killing all her grandchildren. Her grandchildren! I can't imagine how she could do that! So as you can see: a violent family, killing each other off for power.

I think saying something is a "curse" is a bad excuse. Of course our parents, our pasts, our experiences mark us and influence us and can to an extent also bind us powerfully to unhealthy patterns of thinking and living. But I don't believe we are "imprisoned" in a "can't help it" situation. The mistakes of the past don't have to be repeated. The curse can be broken when we realise it's not there. No one is "cursed" in the sense that they are "fated" to be some way. David's family had a promise and a blessing upon it - and through all the killing (over 3 generations, only 1 child per generation survived!) God always made sure that promise lived on: the promise of the Messiah from the family of David. But those involved seem to have seen the curse more than the blessing - and that made them stay stuck in the curse.

I believe we can be free, if only we realise we already are. No one forces us to repeat the mistakes of previous generations. Someone just has to break the pattern - and Jehoshebah did, by standing up and saving the life of her nephew, Joash, instead of letting Athaliah kill him with all his brothers. We are not "cursed" or "fated" to anything; it's our choices that matter, and we can always choose to break with the mistakes of the past and start something new.

14 October 2015

Christine Daaé: Open-Eyed

They say
that Beauty once redeemed the Beast,
that love can heal
what was marred by hate
- why me?

Am I the lamb of sacrifice,
to quell your anger
and save those I love,
to give myself
to save your soul?
Must I be damned
whatever I do?

I can only redeem you
by damning myself
forever to look
upon this monstrous face,
forever to belong
to what I cannot love,
imprisoned
in living hell.

And yet -
is this face
who you truly are,
or are you what you are
because of your face?
Are you a monster
or is the monster what they made
by their fear
and by their hate?

As I recoil,
repulsed by what I see,
as I turn away in horror,
and disgust tells me to flee -
am I not becoming
one of the many
who made a monster
out of a man?

Not my imprisonment
will set you free,
not a forced 'yes'
twisted from me -
no.

Only love,
open-eyed
that looks upon the monster
but sees a man,
that looks upon evil
but sees good -
only love.


_______________________________________________

[January 2014]

Inspired by "The Phantom of the Opera". I recently watched the 1925 silent film version, and listened to the musical again, and that made me think.
If you don't know the story... whoops. (Because this is all spoilers.)

This poem is based in particular on the part where Erik, the phantom, places Christine before a choice: she can refuse Erik and Raoul, the man she loves, will die - or she can become Erik's wife and Raoul goes free. As Raoul says in the musical: "Either way you choose, he has to win."

I had to think of how "The Phantom of the Opera" is a kind of 'Beauty and the Beast' story - except when you think of Beauty and the Beast, the beast was someone turned into a monster so that his inner ugliness would be visible on the outside. Is it the same with Erik? Erik has been ostracised for most of his life because his face was so ugly even his mother wouldn't kiss it. His outer ugliness led to inner ugliness - he became a killer, but could it have all been different, if people had shown him love? I think this is a challenge for us: where do we treat people differently just because of how they look, where do we, by our actions and words, turn people into monsters?

I only thought of "open-eyed" when I got to the end. We often speak of love being "blind". But shouldn't true love be open-eyed? Isn't true love about seeing all the bad there is to a person, all the ugliness, not ignoring it, and loving that person all the same? Not meaning one excuses the evil that person has done - but loving him despite the evil, loving away the evil.

I feel that is the kind of love God has towards us - and so for me this is also a "spiritual" poem. Writing this I had to think of how God has loved us, selflessly, unconditionally and freely (He never had to), and despite all the evil and ugliness there is in us. It also made me think of the Christian responsibility to do to others as God has done to us - to love the unlovable, to kiss the Phantom.

Picture is from the 1925 silent film.

13 October 2015

David's Concubine: False Victory

2 Samuel 16:20-22

Ahithophel said to Absalom, "Go in to your father’s concubines, the ones he has left to look after the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened." (2. Samuel 16:21)

You stand before me.
I know what you want.
I know what you will do to me.
Conquer me, and you conquer your father.
Take me, and you bring him shame.
Take me, and you prove your power,
seal your victory.

You stand before me.
I know what you want.
But pity fills me, not fear.
Can you overcome your father
by repeating his mistakes?
Do you think you'll avenge your sister
by inflicting on me her shame?
Will you truly reach your goals
or fall lower than before?

You stand before me.
You think this will make you a man.
You think this will make you a king.
You think this will prove
your power and authority.
You stand before me
but all I see
is a scarred little boy
afraid and insecure.

You stand before me.
I know what you will do to me.
You will shame me and hurt me
but greater will be
the harm and the shame
that you bring upon yourself.

____________________________________________________

[13. October 2015]


When Absalom came to power - managing to put his father David to flight and take over Jerusalem - one of the things he did was sleep with David's concubines. From a modern Western perspective that might seem odd behaviour - back then it was a demonstration of power. By stealing David's concubines, Absalom showed publicly that he was more powerful. Also, remember ancient Israel was a shame culture: what Absalom did put David quite deeply to shame. It was a quite personal attack.

When I think of this story, I always think of how God told David it would happen. It was all part of the consequences of David's fling with Bathsheba:
Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before you reyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. (2 Samuel 12:11-12)
I don't view these things as "punishment" in the sense of some external thing that God causes; I see it more as consequences that flow from sinful actions. Often the way God punishes, I believe, is that He does not protect us from the consequences of our own actions. David took Bathsheba - after that, things started going crazy in his family with David's son Amnon raping his half-sister Thamar (2 Sam 13) and then Absalom's uprising (starting with his revenge against Amnon) .

David's family started falling apart as a consequence of what he did with Bathsheba (adultery and rape - no good example). All these happenings would have had effects on Absalom as he grew up. First the story with Bathsheba, then Absalom's sister being tricked and raped by her own half-brother, then David's failure to react properly to the situation.

But is what Absalom does really the solution? Isn't he just continuing the cycle? Sure, this was part of David's punishment from God (i.e. he deserved it), but what does this do for Absalom? Does such a display of power reallly give him what he needs, does it give him satisfaction? I imagine Absalom as being lost and disappointed after all the things that went wrong in David's family. But his disappointment won't be remedied by his continuing the cycle of sexual violence.

My colleagues must think I'm crazy... today I burst into the office for the second time during my holidays... all I needed was to quickly grab a pen because my head was so full of ideas for this poem and another one, and the office was the nearest place with a pen at that moment! Wrote most of this on the road... while walking...


Picture by Mario Borgoni

07 October 2015

Dinah: Daisy Petals

Genesis 34

imagine
you're fifteen
sitting by the roadside
plucking daisies
waiting for love to come along

& there he comes
a man
(the man of your dreams?)
& talks to you nice
nicer
than the brothers back home
he talks like you're a woman
not just the baby sister
he talks like you're worth something
not just there to be teased

can you blame me?

i went with him
i thought, why not?
he looked good enough
he seemed kind enough
i wanted to believe him
even when he hurt me
i wanted him to love me
i wanted to be loved

can you blame me?

my brothers didn't
they blamed him
i wish they'd blamed me
i wish they'd listened
to my story
but now
the daisies on the roadside are red
& all my dreams are dead

imagine
you're fifteen
sitting by a graveside
plucking daisies
knowing love won't come along
because you're
second-hand goods
because no one listened to you
though they said they were
"only protecting you"
because they killed the only one
who would still take you now

________________________________________________

[May 2012]

I left out all capitals and most punctuation to make it really look like a teenager is speaking. I'm even considering removing all apostrophes but maybe that will make it look a bit too atrociously spelled.

Tried to put myself into Dinah's head. Teenage girls waiting for love and curious about it can easily fall into the wrong kind of romance.

Another Dinah poem: "Stop Me"

Picture by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

03 October 2015

Miriam: Let My Words Paint A Picture

Exodus 15:1-21

"Poetry seduces you and entices you into being a searcher for the Mystery yourself. It creates the heart leap, the gasp of breath, inspiring you to go further and deeper; you want to fill in the blanks for yourself." (Richard Rohr)

How can I speak, o Lord,
of the wonders You have done to me?
How can I describe
this feeling welling up in me?
How can I put into words
the depth of Your marvellous Mystery?
No words can contain
GOD.

How can I define You,
the Undefinable?
How can I explain You,
the One who surpasses
all I can think or imagine?
No teaching can encompass You,
no doctrine enclose Your Fullness.
No words can contain
GOD.

So I will reach for my timbrel,
I will sing, I will dance,
I will pour out my heart,
proclaiming
what I have seen
                          heard
                                  looked at
                                                 touched,
what You have done in my life.
My little words will only
touch the hem of your mantle -
but that is enough.

Unbounded God,
let my little words,
my little song,
point the peoples beyond,
to hunger for you -
let them lift high the gates
and throw wide the doors,
welcoming You in.

You peoples,
ask me about my God,
and I will tell you a story
and I will sing you a song,
I will take my words
and paint you a picture,
drawing you in
to look more closely,
to seek and to find,
to ask and to knock
to taste and to see
the One Who Is.


____________________________________________

[2.-3. October 2015]

Here's what I do when I should be preparing a sermon...

This meditation from Richard Rohr (about poetry and religion) pretty much stands in the background of this... (I highly recommend you read it!) I was reading the meditation and somehow had to think of Miriam, who proclaimed God's actions at the crossing of the Red Sea through song and poetry!

There's quite a bunch of references that slipped in while I wrote this one (there were more, but some slipped back out in later drafts):
  • Touching the hem of God's mantle - from the story of the woman with issue of blood who touched the hem of Jesus' mantle and was healed (Mk 5:25-34). That's why "it is enough" to just touch the hem with our words: even just knowing a little bit about God (which is all we know now! 1 Cor 13:12) is all right. We don't have to be able to explain God or fit Him into some rational system. We just have to believe.
  • "What I have seen / heard / looked at / touched" (1 John 1:1) - We pass on what we have ourselves experienced with Jesus. I believe the most effective way to tell people about God is not through rational debates or discussions or attempts to explain. Part of what makes God God is that He goes beyond what we can explain and imagine. We can't define God, but we can describe Him, which is why the Bible is full of imagery (God as Shepherd, God as Mother, God as Husband, God as Mother-Hen, God as Fortress...) which I think gives us a far clearer explanation than all our attempts at dogmatic formulations. Even all our dogmatic formulations in the end rely on imagery, poetry and metaphor (Jesus as the Word, God as the Father, ...). We can't make a scientific "rule" or "law" about God or about how salvation works. When we have experienced God, though, and experienced His salvation, we can describe it, and our experience can't be destroyed by any rational answer because no one can deny you your experience.
  • "Lift high the gates" - Psalm 24
  • "I will tell you a story / and I will sing you a song" - this was not really inspired by the Fanny Crosby hymn "Blessèd Assurance", but after I had written those lines I was reminded of it. ^^ I do believe that stories, poetry and art are a more powerful and effective way to bring truth across than rational/logical argumentation. God goes beyond the rational; we can't stick Him in a box! I agree with Richard Rohr (as quoted at the start of the poem) that story/art/poetry is stronger than discourses and treatises in that it points beyond. It does not claim or attempt to give the full answer.
    This other meditation by Fr. Rohr is really good too, about how "myth"/story shows us truth beyond just "facts". I believe nowadays we often wrongly equate "facts" with "truth". Facts are not always true, and truth does not always show itself in "facts" or in things that can be scientifically or rationally proven. Story however opens us up to deeper truths that can't be expressed in any rational system.
  • Ask / seek / knock from Mt 7:7
  • Taste and see (Ps 34:9) - I believe something precious in festivals like Passover or celebrating Communion is that we re-live and experience what God has done in previous generations. God lets Himself be tasted and experienced. I believe all the (rationalistic) debates about Communion and attempts to explain what happens in Communion have distracted from what it actually means and what it does to us. We don't have to explain it - any explanation will not do the moment justice. We need to experience it, because it's all about experience, about being able to taste God, feel God, actually even "chew" God (John 6:54)!
  • "The One Who Is" - Ex 3:14 "I am the I am"

Picture by Anselm Feuerbach

02 October 2015

Salome: Dear Head

Matthew 14:1-12

Other girls
would ask for clothes,
the latest fashion,
pretty little things.
I am not other girls.

Other girls
would ask for riches,
to spend their hearts out
and live comfortably.
I am not other girls.

Other girls
would ask for freedom
to choose the one they love,
a fine, handsome fellow.
I am not other girls.

I ask not for fashion
or glittery glamorous things.
I ask for a head on a plate.
I ask not for money
and limitless spending.
I ask for a head on a plate.
I ask not for love
and a fine, handsome fellow.
I ask for a head on a plate.

And now
as I look into your wide dead eyes
and your blood stains my fingers
and I hear your warning voice no more
I wonder:
why
was I not like other girls?

___________________________________________

[2. June 2013]

This was a five-minute write... though the idea (with the "not other girls") was formed in my head before falling asleep at around 3 a.m. last night... (staying up late can be really inspiring. My parents won't believe me though haha)

Salome is the girl who asked for John the Baptist's head. There are all sorts of legends surrounding that (I heard of one where apparently she "liked" him but he didn't like her and her revenge was getting his head.. or something..) but what actually happened is that she followed her mother's orders and got the head for her mother. So it was actually her mother asking for revenge.

At first I was going for a sort of defiant "I am not like that, I'm better and less superficial" thing, but in the end twisted it around to her becoming more self-critical, thinking twice about her choices. Sometimes doing something that seems brave / unusual / "badass" doesn't really bring you anything. Salome could have asked for anything - but she asked for a head. What do you want to do with a head?? Not to mention it's sort of disgusting.
Right now I'm picturing her bringing said head into a nice pink frilly lacy princess room. Uargh what a contrast!

The "sister poem" to this one is Herodias.

Picture by Gustave Moreau

01 October 2015

Herodias: Who Are You?


Matthew 14:1-12

Who are you
to tell me what to do?
Who are you
to interfere?
Who are you
to think you know better,
to think you can save me,
to think I'd ever change my ways?

You say repent -
I won't.
You say God cares -
I don't.
You say it's a warning -
I'm warning you.
You have a big mouth -
I'll silence it.
See what your God does now.

Who are you
to think you can stop God
by silencing voices you do not like?
Who are you
to think you know better
than the One who made you
for better things than this?
Who are you
to think your choices right,
blind to the fact
that they're destroying you,
defacing what God meant you to be?
Who are you
to turn your back
and reject the One who loves you?

Don't you see
what you view as attack
is Love reaching out
and calling you back?


_________________________________________________

[2. June 2013]

Herodias was Herod's wife - actually his brother's. John the Baptist criticised that fact - and in revenge she asked (via her daughter Salome) to have him executed.

Another 5-min thing (yes I write my poems quick... if they suck, you know why now)
The thing with writing in one go is that I go through a thought-process while writing.

So, the thought-process went something like this:
  • I put myself into Herodias' head. What's her reaction to John's criticism? "Who do you think you are?!" So I wrote a little rant for her.
  • Then thought that is quite the type of rant many people might feel like making when someone criticises their lifestyle. And they'll probably think they are completely in the right for thinking that way.
  • I didn't want to leave the rant standing just like that, so I added a change of p.o.v. (sort of God's view), picking up the "Who are you" from the first part to sort of "mirror" it.
     
  • I was thinking too: doesn't it make sense to respond with anger and frustration if someone attacks your lifestyle? But then I realised: God knows better. Who are we to whine about what God says is right? He knows better. And since I have been reading a lot of stuff about Creation and God's purpose for man (being in God's image and all), and how that was ruined by the Fall, I put a bit of that in.
     
  • We might feel upset or attacked when someone criticises us. People easily get wounded about such things. And I think that's understandable. But we need to differenciate between attack and compassion. Some people really do simply attack and hurt for the sake of being nasty. But others genuinely want to help because they care for "your soul", as one can put it. God cares for us, all of us, that is what I know. So if there is something the Bible says we must change, then we shouldn't try to twist that away, or get frustrated against God or against Christians, but realise that God knows best what is good for us, and His will is love and not oppression.
See, I also learn while writing a poem. :-D

Picture by Mattia Preti.

28 September 2015

Eve: Naked

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:25)

I'm all dressed up,
wearing my finest -
I've made myself pretty for you.
I've put my best dress on
and done myself up,
want to look perfect
and beautiful,
attractive,
impeccable -
to make you fall for me
all over again.

But what is beneath
all the nice, fancy clothes?
Is it not my fear
that you wouldn't care
the way that you do
if you really knew
what I'm hiding beneath?
I hide my imperfections,
cover them up,
veiled and robed,
masked from view.
I want to be perfect
but I hide myself -
my thoughts, my feelings,
opinions you might not like,
things I'm afraid will put you off -
I hide myself
beneath a fine façade,
afraid, ashamed,
not trusting you enough.

But I don't want this anymore.

I want
to take off all these clothes,
to strip naked
and stand before you
just as I am,
stitchless,
with every blemish,
every mistake,
every feeling and thought
laid bare before you.
I'll pull off this dishonesty
and show you every part of me.
I want to be naked,
no longer ashamed.


__________________________________________________________

[20. December 2012]

(I did not really write this from Eve's perspective, but am still adding it to the "Eve" set because it's based on stuff I learnt from Gen 2)

Original commentary from 2012:
I've been trying to write this for WEEKS; maybe God wanted me to be personally confronted with the issue a bit more before writing this.

The way I understand Genesis 2:25 is that Adam and Eve had nothing to hide from each other. Not just physically but also when it comes to being honest, talking to each other about things, not hiding things from each other. Honesty and communication are really important in a relationship. (Look who's talking. = = This is something I desperately need to work on, which is the reason why I wrote this...)

And isn't it interesting: we tend to make ourselves especially pretty when meeting someone, make sure we're well dressed for a date, put more effort into personal appearance than usual, and show our best side. (I know I get really uptight about not saying / doing anything that might bother him...) But shouldn't we actually be showing our true selves? Be honest?

Another poem based on Genesis 2:18-25 is Helper.
Recently I discovered how interesting and inspiring and awesome that text is. :D I think it says a LOT about relationships and marriage.

Picture: detail from "Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch.

23 September 2015

Martha: Aber auch jetzt noch

Johannes 11

Herr, warum
warst du nicht hier?
Wärst du hier gewesen,
mein Bruder wäre nicht gestorben.
Hast du ihn nicht geliebt
als deinen guten Freund?

Herr, warum
warst du nicht hier?
Wärst du hier gewesen,
hättest du ihn heilen können.
Hast du nicht Blinde geheilt,
Lahme aufgerichtet?
Hast du nicht
durch eine Berührung,
durch ein einziges Wort,
sogar aus Distanz
Menschen geheilt?

Herr, warum
hast du uns diesmal
nicht geholfen –
deinen eng geliebten Freunden,
die dich innig lieben?
Bedeuten wir dir nichts?

Herr, warum?

Aber auch jetzt noch
glaube ich.

Ich glaube,
auch wenn ich jetzt nicht schaue.
Ich glaube,
auch wenn ich nicht bekomme
was ich erwartet hab.
Ich glaube,
denn was wirklich zählt,
ist nicht was du für mich leistest,
oder der Nutzen, den ich von dir zieh –
ich brauch alleine DICH.

Du bist
die Auferstehung und das Leben.
Du bist
mehr als Mittel zu meinen Zielen.
Du bist
mehr als Erfüller meiner Wünsche.
Du bist
der Messias,
der Sohn Gottes.

Ja, auch jetzt noch
glaube ich.

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[17. September 2015]

Habe am letzten Sonntag (20.9.) über Joh 11 gepredigt und das Gedicht in die Predigt integriert (deshalb existiert überhaupt eine deutsche Fassung, weil ich sonst nicht so motiviert bin, zu übersetzen!).

Hauptaussage der Predigt: Jesus "gibt" uns nicht einfach, was wir brauchen, sondern er ist was wir brauchen. Gott erhört unsere Gebete, nicht weil er verpflichtet ist, uns zu geben was wir wollen, sondern weil er uns liebt und gerne erhört. Was wichtig ist, ist nicht was wir bekommen (denn das erfüllt nicht), sondern ist die Beziehung zu Gott!

Gott muss nicht "liefern"; er ist nicht unser Dienstleister, sondern unser Herr und König. Sein Wille geschehe! Und möge unser Glaube so stark sein wie der Glaube der Martha, die auch mitten in der Enttäuschung nicht von Jesus lässt und ihn als Messias bekennt.

18 September 2015

Martha: But Even Now

John 11

Lord, why
were you not here?
Had you been here,
my brother would not be dead.
Did you not love him
as your dear friend?

Lord, why
were you not here?
Had you been here,
you could have healed him.
Did you not heal the blind
and help the lame?
Did you not heal
through one touch,
through one word,
from a distance?

Lord, why
did you not help us
this time?
The close friends you love
and who deeply love you -
did it mean nothing to you?

Lord, why?

But even now
I believe.

I believe
although I do not see.
I believe
although I don't receive
what I expected to.
I believe
because what counts
is not what you can give to me,
or what I can get out of you -
all I need is YOU.

You are
the resurrection and the life.
You are
more than the means to my own ends.
You are
more than the provider of all I desire.
You are
the Messiah,
the Son of God.

Yes, even now
I believe.

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[18. September 2015]

To be honest: this came into existence within something like 2-5 minutes, as part of my sermon preparation for this coming Sunday. ^^; I will be preaching about John 11 (in particular Martha's meeting with Jesus), and it really helps me structure my thoughts to put them in poem form first. So here's the general gist of my (as yet not-quite-existent-yet) sermon.

Jesus, known far and wide as a miracle healer, could have healed Lazarus. He could even have done so from a distance (as he had done in two other cases - the Centurion's slave and the Kanaanite woman's possessed daughter). But he did not. When the news of Lazarus' sickness reached him, Jesus even hung around longer where he was (v.6)!! How might Mary and Martha have felt about that?! Was he forsaking them? I tried to reflect that a bit here.

I find the conversation between Martha and Jesus really powerful. Martha comes straight out with the reproach: "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." (v.21) But then she adds this bit: "But even now..." She still believes that God hears prayer. I don't necessarily read an expectation of Lazarus' resurrection into that. What she's saying is: even though she did not get what she hoped for, she has not stopped believing in God, she has not stopped trusting and loving Jesus. And even if Lazarus only comes back to life at the end of time (v.24), she still holds on to Jesus, and it is enough for her.

Then Jesus says: "I am the resurrection and the life." The phrase I AM is very important in the Gospel of John. Again and again, Jesus makes "I am" statements. I am the door; I am the bread of life; I am the way, the truth and the life. "I AM" - what this shows me is that more important than what Jesus does for us, more important than the things we get from Jesus, is who He is, Himself, His person. In the Gospel of John, the person of Jesus is very important. Jesus is the one who shows us God the Father. As the Word who was with God before anything else was, He knows the Father perfectly. By knowing Jesus, we know the Father.

Jesus does not just "give" us what we need. He Himself IS what we need. As the one who hears and answers prayer, He is more than a power that can fulfill our wishes and demands. I learnt this especially the last time I was back home in Taiwan and saw the way the idols are worshipped there. The natural human way to go about prayer is to bring demands to a god and expect the god to "deliver". In Taiwan, if a god does not deliver, he/she gets "starved" (no sacrifices) or sometimes even beaten or thrown away. Because the god is not "doing his job" if he does not do what you asked him to (especially since the sacrifice is already something like an "advance payment" and the god owes you). With Jesus, it is not like that. Jesus does not have to "deliver". He is our Lord and King, not our "service provider"; it's not my will and my wishes that count, but His. And sometimes His plan may be completely different. But because we know God's character and know that He is good and faithful, we can trust Him with whatever He gives us - even if it's not what we really wanted or expected (as in Martha's case).

Martha makes a great big confession at the end of her conversation with Jesus (v.27). She actually says exactly what Peter said where he confessed that Jesus is the Son of God (literally the same thing)! Martha has understood. She has recognised who Jesus is - and that in the midst of mourning her brother, in the midst of not really understanding why Jesus was not around when she wanted Him to be, and before she even knows that Jesus is going to raise Lazarus back to life. She believes in who Jesus IS, before He has done anything for her.

- Do we want Jesus for the benefits He brings us, or do we want Him for who He is?
- Do we love a significant other for the benefts he/she brings us, or do we love him/her for who he/she is?
- Do we want to be loved for the benefits we bring others, or for who we are?

There's another poem about Martha right here.

[Es gibt eine deutsche Übersetzung dieses Gedichts, coming soon...]

Picture by Duccio di Buoninsegna