Prayer in a Dark Garden

Prayer in a Dark Garden - Mark 14:32-42, Holy Week

There comes a desperate time
for those of us who pray
when, thrown upon the ground,
we share his gut-wrenched cry:
“Abba, Father, for you
all things are possible:
remove this cup from me!”

Perhaps it’s not our death
or fear of coming pain
(not yet at least) we taste
and long to tip away.
Yet something in our cup
has bitterness like his:
perhaps a cruel loss,
abandoned or betrayed,
a grief that strikes like nails,
or circling piercing thoughts
that bind like crown of thorns,
or blows that bruise our souls,
make mock of who we are,
a weight that bears us down,
too weak to stumble on
towards the dreaded hill.

At such a time of prayer,
it seems the garden grows
but we are frosted bare;
it seems our sacred space
is stripped, no comfort there;
it seems that friends will sleep
and on the day be gone;
it seems that in the crowd
we are the most alone;
it seems that any kiss
might threaten to betray.
Is spirit willing then,
though flesh may still be weak?

Can we find truth to say
the climax of his prayer?
“Not what I want, O God,
but what you want will be.”
Acceptance such as that
may not be in our scope.
We bargain and accuse.
“How can a loving God
expect us to face pain
and death in such a way?”:
our anger makes refrain.

But if we could accept,
and hope that what we face
brings something that transforms,
would we find grace to drink
the cup of suffering down
held hand in hand with him,
and find the blood we shed
becomes reviving wine,
and see our brokenness
becomes his body shared,
and both walk from the tomb
to greet the coming dawn?

The Woman Anointing Jesus’ Head

While I was studying toward ordination about 15 years ago, I wrote this poem, based on Mark 14:3-9. I was very moved by Mark’s account of the woman who anointed Jesus’ head, and Jesus’ support of her despite criticism. I came from an Anglican Diocese which still does not ordain women priests, so was seeking ordination in the Diocese of Adelaide, and I was inspired by the courage it would have taken this woman to take this priestly and prophetic action in a culture that did not empower women for religious leadership. Seeing in the lectionary that one of the Passion gospels for this Sunday started with the anointing, I remembered writing this poem and how much it meant to me at the time.

Fear and silence
suggest a gesture
to be traced
in the space
beyond. There
at the table where
I had no place,
I shall break open,
pour out and give,
share with him
all that I have;
there at the table
honour his body
as though at an altar;
there at the shared meal,
foretell his absence,
prepare him for the grave.

At the crack
of dawn and doom,
at the once sealed
mouth of the tomb,
priest and prophet,
I stand between
two worlds, crossing
the line, profligate
with what I bring,
turning upside down
the rites of honour,
anointing a king
in a leper’s house,
accepting a suffering
messiah, God’s son
in one about to die.

My silence would leave
him unacknowledged:
this fear offers me no choice
but to act on what I know.
Here I proclaim, for his sake,
my love without words,
my grief without song.
Fear and silence
will not stay my hand or
keep him from hearing me
into gospel memory.
Though I speak no name
and have no voice,
it is Jesus who calls me
beyond myself, beyond
my accustomed place.
Lift up the vessel
about to be broken;
arise! arise and walk!

The Child’s gift to Jesus

The Child’s Gift to Jesus (Palm Sunday, Mark 11:1-11)

“Look at the man on the donkey, Mum!
Why does he seem so sad?
People are shouting and waving palms,
trying to make him glad.”

“Darkness looms over the way ahead
though he’s the king foretold,
humble upon a donkey’s back:
crowds dream of power and gold.”

“See how the Roman centurion glares
angrily at the crowd.
What would he do to this humble king?
Is such a king allowed?”

“Lonely and hard is his path, I fear:
he dares to question power.
That’s why his eyes are so dark with pain:
he knows the crowds will sour.”

“Mum, can I run up and comfort him,
show him he’s not alone,
give him this bird that I made of wood,
offer this egg-shaped stone?”

“Go then, my son, with your kindly heart:
give what you have to give.
He tried to give the world all he is,
showed us the way to live.”

“Mum, when I gave him the bird he cried:
‘You bring the Spirit, son.’
Holding the egg-shaped stone he said:
‘Death and new life are one!’

Tears filled his eyes but his whole face smiled,
bright as the sun unveiled.
‘Child, you have given me back good news
when it might seem I failed.’” 

Jesus Lifted Up Draws Us to Himself

Jesus Lifted Up Draws Us to Himself Lent 5, John 12:20-33

The crowd had thought his glory would be power.
He chose to ride a donkey as foretold,
but though they shouted: “Blessings on the King!”
he knew their expectations soon would sour.
But when some Greeks were drawn to seek him out,
he saw it as a sign his hour had come,
and though he spoke of glory, he described
how buried seed would have to die to sprout.
Through Spirit-led disciples, word would flow
beyond the bounds of culture and of race,
but still his soul was troubled. Could he pray
to God to save him? He decided: “No!”.
He must be lifted up so we are drawn
through death to life and new creation’s dawn.

So as we face this Easter, do we fear
the many threats of death that plague our world,
while expectations of the ones who lead
are dashed, and tawdry glories disappear?
Where all are subject to pandemic’s blight,
and all must own the threat of climate change,
we might regard all living things as kin,
and so lift up fresh wisdom into sight.
Believing that through death new life can rise,
we might accept the troubling of our souls
and face the harsh necessities of loss,
encouraged by the hope of some surprise
that bursts beyond the bounds of what we know,
as seeds long lost in dust with floods can grow.

On Hearing the Word of the Lord

God seemed more vocal in my younger days –
more tangible, embodied and defined.
A sense of presence came in clearer ways –
it seemed that words were given, underlined.
The vision in my mind I knew as gift,
the words so wryly apt I felt God formed,
or gave the book that readied me to shift
my sights, my soul, to claim a world transformed.
Now though I still await the given word,
I trace it lightly on the page, not clear
what meaning quirks in what I thought I heard.
It swirls like steam drawn up to disappear;
yet insubstantial clouds can catch the light,
and draw the eyes that find the sun too bright.

Not to Condemn the World

Lent 4; Numbers 21:4-9; John 3: 14-21

Does God send snakes to kill complaints,
or do creation’s laws enact
symbolic harm on corporate spite?
To foul our nest will make us ill,
polluted air will steal our breath,
and poison tongue lets venom bite.

Yet with that fate comes remedy,
for one man prays and then obeys.
Perhaps he questions what he heard:
A snake of bronze on which to gaze?
Is that an idol? God forbid!
Yet Moses does what seems absurd.

Perhaps God’s boundless thought delights 
in paradoxes that confound
the limits of our human sight.
Then someone tries a curious cure:
vaccines are made from viruses –
transforming illness sets us right.

Though our addictions try to turn
awareness from great loss or death,
the cross of Christ confronts our eyes.
Can Son of the Immortal One
share mortal fate? Yet through the tomb,
Love gives the world new life’s surprise.

The Cleansing

Lent 3, John 2:13-22, Luke 12:32

 If he came to our churches on Sunday
 to be awkwardly greeted as stranger
 would he fashion a whip for our cleansing,
 would we cringe from his anger as danger?

 Would he drive out conservative? liberal?
 or upend those who balance on fences?
 What offence might he take, at what practice?
 Would he shake up our pews or our senses?

 Would he tear up my poems and sermons,
 say, “You fiddle while so much is burning!”?
 Would he throw out projectors or prayer books,
 call for change or a zealous returning?

 No, I hope he would gather us round him,
 knowing how we are raw and confounded,
 how we’re shaken and cast down by failure,
 how we fear that our death knell is sounded.

 He will say, “Little flock, don’t be fearful,
 for the kingdom will keep coming nearer,
 and your efforts and gifts won’t be wasted:
 what you lose is renewed and made clearer.

 For the pattern of Easter is central:
 out of death comes abundance of living;
 that’s the secret of all new creating.
 Nothing’s lost from our loving and giving.

 See my body in people not buildings!
 Know I’m with you in doubts and believing!
 Stir up zeal for compassion and justice!
 Learn to listen and wait for receiving!

 So my brothers and sisters, keep hoping!
 Seek the way and the truth, open-hearted,
 and be ready for future unfolding!
 I am in you: we cannot be parted!”

Transfiguration (song lyrics)

(Mark 9:2-9)

1. Climbing up there's no time to complain
we are sore but too breathless to speak.
Surely God can be near on the plain!
Tell us, why then seek God on a peak!
As for Jesus, he smiles and moves past,
and we scramble to keep him in range.
Then the view spreads before us at last:
all the world far beyond us and strange.
Refrain: Let us stay, Lord, in the brightness!
     Keep us here, Lord, on the height!
     We would build, Lord, on this rightness!
     Love and prophecy name this sight.

 2. Now see, something has changed in the light;
 in our weariness, vision has stirred:
 there’s a brightness too strange for our sight,
 and half-heard, there’s a resonant word.
 As for Jesus, he smiles and he glows,
 speaking wisdom with those of the past,
 and half-waking, we sense what he knows:
 that God’s glory is here, first and last.

 3. There’s the vision of Moses in cloud
 on the mountain receiving the law,
 and Elijah where silence was loud –
 prophet’s burden to name what he saw.
 As for Jesus, he smiles through his tears
 as the voice says: “My Son, I’m well pleased!”
 though we fall to the ground with our fears,
 now our doubts and confusion are eased.

 4. Then we want to stay there, where it’s clear
 that tradition and vision give hope.
 God says: “Listen to him!” and we hear
 – but it’s gone beyond us and we mope.
 As for Jesus, he turns and descends
 to the clamour of people in need;
 and he faces the cross where it ends –
 and begins again. Now we must lead.

Get behind me Satan!

(for Lent 2, Mark 8:31-38 written 27 August 2020)

“Get behind me Satan!”
 he said to one he valued
 as rock to build a church on:
 worth noting just how quickly
 key insights get distorted
 by our survival instinct
 and lustful need for power
 to do away with suffering
 and concentrate on winning.

 “Oh! Get behind me Satan!”
 he said to something in him:
 a desperate human longing
 to say pain must not happen,
 to ask that God forbid it.
 He fears that he might stumble
 upon the block of safety:
 be tempted to act godlike
 instead of truly godly,
 escape the mortal price tag
 of death outside the city.

 Cry: “Get behind me Satan!”
 Alone upon the mountains 
 and in the midnight garden
 he prayed for dispensation:
 “Please let this cup pass from me!
 Let’s do without communion
 with blood and broken body.
 Impervious and immortal,
 I’ll lead a better empire
 without the need for dying.”

 “No, get behind me Satan!”
 To be secure and powerful
 are common human failings,
 a self-defeating cycle
 with endless streams of victims.
 It’s human to be praying:
 “Dear God, don’t let this happen
 to us or those we treasure.
 We can’t succumb to covid,
 or mental loss in ageing,
 or be displaced and homeless,
 and as for facing dying,
 we hope we barely notice
 between a sleep and waking.”

 But get behind me Satan,
 for loving and creating
 are forged through death and rising,
 and God would rather suffer,
 and share in being mortal,
 than be untouched and distant,
 unmoved, beyond our crying.
 Take up your cross and follow
 from tomb to resurrection.
 Accepting loss means finding
 what seems to be a failure
 can bring God’s kingdom nearer.

 Barbara Messner 27 August 2020