Sharing John’s Grief and Doubt


Sharing John’s Grief and Doubt
Advent 3; Matthew 11:2-11
I grieve when I read of John
imprisoned and in doubt.
John as Baptist prepared the way
for one more powerful than himself,
one who would take an axe to the fruitless,
thresh the grain and burn the chaff
with unquenchable fire.

Who is John, now unsure of his Messiah?
“Are you the one?” he asks,
robbed of his own fire and purpose.
The death he foresees
seems pointless and unseemly.
Would the evidence of healings
and good news to the poor,
or Jesus’ offering of muted praise
have consoled John’s last days?

No prisoner am I
but having just turned 70
I feel a closing in of walls,
and the confronting absurdity
of death in the wings.

I am subject to minor fates:
on Sunday my car broke down
in a country town, on the way 
to a church service,
leaving a gathered people without a priest,
and me as priest without an altar.
I had looked forward
to speaking of peace, sharing at table,
watching a dark child
lighting the Advent candles.

It’s not that I doubt
the healings and good news,
or that Jesus is the one to come.
My doubts are about
being retired, turning 70,
car and my peace breaking down,
losing the purposeful journey.
I want to be consoled by the gospel,
but what I feel is grief.
	Barbara Messner 7/12/2022

Answering the Doubt of John the Baptist

Answering the Doubt of John the Baptist
Advent 3; Matthew 11:2-11
Imprisoned, John sends Jesus word of doubt.
“Are you in truth the one who is to come?”
Must he with death in sight be left without
both call and vision that are his life’s sum?
Says Jesus: “Tell John what you see and hear:
the blind receive their sight, the lame can walk,
the dead are raised, and lepers’ skin made clear.
Good news is here. Take no offense, nor baulk,
for you are blessed, a prophet and much more,
God’s messenger who has prepared the way.
No-one on earth is greater, that is sure;
yet greater still are those among the least
who gather in God’s kingdom for the feast.
	Barbara Messner 13/11/2022

Who Can Hear

Who Can Hear
Advent 2; Matthew 3:1-12
Hear John the Baptist’s words shout from the page:
abuse of privilege stirs sacred rage.
Our wilderness of concrete is as bare
as desert dunes in desiccated air.
Brave voices still cry out: “Prepare the way!”
I see no crowds admitting that they stray
and plunging deep in their desire to change. 
Our prophets now are mocked, their words too strange.
Perhaps pandemic was a winnowing fork,
but kernels scatter under fruitless talk.
We need John’s vision now to recognize
one greater far than us, in humble guise.
“Repent!” he cries. “God’s kingdom has come near!”
Amidst the noise of commerce, who can hear?
	Barbara Messner 12/11/2022

That Unexpected Hour

That Unexpected Hour
Advent 1; Matthew 24:36-44
Eating, drinking, knowing nothing,
they were swept away by flood.
Noah’s ark they must have laughed at;
he saw futures beyond mud.

There are warnings! Are we listening?
Do we hear what prophets say?
“Keep awake!” is still the challenge,
lest time’s thief takes all away.

Who’ll be left and who’ll be taken
at that unexpected hour?
In this Advent, are we ready
for Christ’s resurrecting power?
	Barbara Messner 22/09/2022

The King Whose Crown is Thorns

The King Whose Crown is Thorns
Christ the King; Luke 23:33-43
“If you are a king, then save yourself!”
Self-centredness spits out its cruel taunts.
Demeaning victims flaunts the soldiers’ power
and helps disguise the wrong they dare not see.
Yet Jesus prayed for them, “Forgive them, Lord!
They do not know what deed it is they do!”
The criminal beside him shouts in rage:
“God’s chosen one would save himself and us!”
The other in his agony finds sight:
“Fear God, for our misdeeds have brought us here,
but I believe this man has done no wrong.
Your kingdom comes, Jesus! Remember me!”
The king whose crown is thorns replied, “In truth,
today you’ll be with me in Paradise!”

The king whose crown is thorns unsettles kings.
He says, “The first is last, the last is first.”
He eats with tax collectors, prostitutes:
a woman of the streets anoints his feet
with precious oil and dries them with her hair.
He dares to touch and heal those deemed unclean,
confronts the hypocrites’ abuse of power,
and in the temple turns the dealers out.
“The kings of nations lord it over them.
Not so with you,” he says. “I’m one who serves.
The greatest must be humble as the least.
The kingdom welcomes those most like a child.”
His crown is thorns, his throne a cross, his death
a gift for saving others, not himself.
	Barbara Messner 16/11/2022

Song for New Creating (lyrics)

Song for New Creating (lyrics)
Pentecost 23: Isaiah 65:17-25
“I am about to create
new heavens and new earth:
be glad and rejoice in that creating.
The holy city is joy,
its people a delight.
Rejoice! You can share in this remaking.

Let no distress nor the sound
of weeping there be heard,
for people shall live into fulfilling.
So gladly build, gladly plant,
find blessing in the fruit:
abundance is spilling for the willing.

The hungry wolf and the lamb
together safely feed,
and lions eat grasses like the oxen.
No-one shall hurt nor destroy,
for all is sacred here:
the earth shall become my holy mountain.

The new creation has space
where many feel at home,
and grace for diversity of telling.
The first-born Son welcomes you;
he comes to show the way
to live so new earth becomes indwelling.”
     Barbara Messner November 2019

Click to access song-for-new-creating-piano.pdf

What’s a Soul and Who’s a Saint?

“It is impossible to define what soul is. Definition is an intellectual enterprise anyway; the soul prefers to imagine.” Thomas More, Care of the Soul: A Guide to Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. (HarperPerennial: New York, 1992) xi

for All Saints/All Souls Day

I don’t think soul answers to “What?”
Sometimes I imagine soul is a set of images,
multi-layered, not on paper or in the cloud,
but hidden in the depths of me.
Often I forget it’s there,
or access it without knowing how,
and only briefly, before the calendars and emails
obscure it, the busy mind and body ignore it. 

In that glimpse of soul,
perhaps there’s an image of the Creator
in whose image I am made,
I take that as motivation to create,
and to seek a connection with creation.

Maybe, there’s an image of the unique me
as I was meant to be,
and I imagine that’s Saint Barbara,
the magnetic north to my spiritual journey.
Shall I approximate that image 
before or after death?

There’s also the here and now, warts and all me,
as I am now, when I drop the roles and masks.
When I allow soul’s nakedness,
wisdom sometimes surfaces,
insight is given. Sometimes I hear a call,
and stumble onto the path I vaguely see,
where I find love and awe, reverence and respect
deepening my awareness of soul.

I sense a longing that draws me
to connect with beauty and sacredness,
to emulate the Jesus I partly know,
but cannot possess, to open myself
to caring and to silence,
and to keep on seeking soul,
in words and paint and music,
and in the eyes of others.

Maybe the call and the longing
shape us into partial saints.
Immersing our incompleteness
in the whole body of Christ,
in communion and community,
we are linked to all saints,
participate and rejoice in their praise.
	Barbara Messner 2/11/2022

Comparing Zacchaeus and Me

Comparing Zacchaeus and Me
Pentecost 21; Luke 19:1-10
I, too, am a small person.
I have done my share of collaboration
with the invading powers,
but I avoid crowds, can’t climb trees,
don’t as a rule pursue
any visiting guru.

So how did I meet Jesus?
Seems he was always there,
though often I wasn’t.
Somehow he saw me,
invited himself to stay with me.
I served the bread and wine he shared.

Thank goodness, I didn’t have to cook –
I’m always more Mary than Martha.
Sitting at his feet, over the years,
I heard his words,
let myself be changed,
became more truly me.

Writing now, I try to share
the riches I have gained,
the wisdom I still hear from him.
Perhaps someone will recognize
who he is, or who they are,
or, even for a moment, say “Aha!”
	Barbara Messner 22/10/2022

Let the Little Children Come to Me

Let the Little Children Come to Me
Pentecost 20; Luke 18:15-30
The child in me is eager for your touch.
When I am digging earth, admiring flowers,
composing poems, lifting lips to showers,
or cuddling cats, it’s you as well I clutch.
The stern disciples order me away:
those inner voices urging me to work
to earn the kingdom. Stubbornly, I lurk
to greet you, hoping you will let me stay.
The wealthy rulers of the world approach
to seek the secret of eternal life,
although they live where transience is rife.
They claim their actions are beyond reproach,
but they dare not surrender power or wealth
to follow you, the cosmic source of health.
	Barbara Messner 18/10/2022

Faith on Earth

Faith on Earth
Pentecost 19; Luke 18:1-14
“And yet, when the Son of Man comes,
will he find faith on earth?”

If the faithful grow weary in prayer
while the powers continue unjust,
will he find faith on earth?

If we cry out in private for change,
but in public hide out in the crowd,
will he find faith on earth?

If the faithful emancipate slaves,
while others use faith as excuse,
will he find faith on earth?

If women of faith come to lead,
while for some their faith limits their role,
will he find faith on earth?

If some worship in righteous display,
but treat others as sinful or wrong,
will he find faith on earth?

If some think they’re exalted by faith,
and entitled by riches or class,
will he find faith on earth?

So I cry, “God have mercy on us,
when our faith keeps on missing the mark!”
And yet, when the Son of Man comes,
may he find faith on earth!
	Barbara Messner 9/10/2022