Alabaster Jar

“Do you see this woman?

When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet,

but she has bathed them with her tears

and wiped them with her hair.

You did not give me a kiss,

but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.

You did not anoint my head with oil,

but she anointed my feet with ointment.

So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven;

hence, she has shown great love.”

Luke 7:36-50
How much have you forgiven me?
What debts I cannot pay
are lost in all you've given me,
new tallies every day?

How can I search the depths of it,
or scale the dizzy height,
or know that I have met with it?
Lord, only by your light.

Then shed that light upon me now
and teach my heart to know
your ocean where my sins are drowned,
your streams that overflow.

Teach me to know how I am loved,
and then to love in turn:
My heart within your furnace proved,
oh, teach me how to burn!

For you, O God, have given me
an alabaster jar
to hold you've forgiven me,
distilled to sweet attar.

And so I break it open here
and pour it on you, Lord.
Anointed so with oil and tears,
you perfume all the world.
The Ointment of the Magdalene (Le parfum de Madeleine). By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2007, 00.159.214_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10957535

O God of Ache and Emptying

Brothers and sisters:

    Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,

        did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

    Rather, he emptied himself,

    taking the form of a slave,

    coming in human likeness;

    and found human in appearance,

    he humbled himself,

    becoming obedient to death,

        even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

    and bestowed on him the name

    that is above every name,

    that at the name of Jesus

    every knee should bend,

    of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

    and every tongue confess that

    Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11
O God of ache and emptying,
O Christ of hope and loss,
you poured yourself into all things
from high upon the cross.

You could have stayed, the form of God,
in heaven's fullness grown,
but you came down to touch the sod
and emptied heaven's throne.

O humbled king, O God drained out,
humiliated Lord,
the echoes of your name resound
across the aching world:

Each breath that empties, heart that drains,
each desert burning dry,
each seed that falls in hopes of grain,
each tear that leaves our eye

is worship of the Christ who wept
for cold in Bethlehem,
for Lazarus who only slept,
for doomed Jerusalem.

Then bless our tears, O emptied Christ,
that follow you, poured down,
and fill us with you, sacrificed,
a flood where all tears drown.
Montefalco ( Umbria ). San Francesco – Crucifix by the master of the crucifix of Montefalco ( detail ): Saint Francis kissing the feet of crucified Christ. Photo By Wolfgang Sauber – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65795293

You Are the Long-Awaited Christ

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,

take up his cross, and follow me. 

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his life for my sake

and that of the gospel will save it.”

Mark 8:27-35
You are the long-awaited Christ,
and we would hail your name
not as the victim sacrificed,
but as the cleansing flame.

And yet you bid us speak no word
until your work is done,
lest all the joys of Christ the Lord
o'ershadow Christ the Son.

You will not shelter in our shouts
acclaiming you as Lord
until you are yourself cast out
and crowned with bloody thorns.

'Tis not the throne of David's reign
that marks you as our king,
but 'tis the bearing of your pain
that our salvation brings.

And you have bid us bear it, too,
the cross that is your throne,
until you come to make all new
and bring us safely home.

Then when we fall beneath its weight
and lose what made us proud,
and garner no reward but hate
or scorn before a crowd,

let us remember you as man,
not victor and not king,
who came to take the sinner's hand
and rules in everything.
Domine quo vadis? (1602) By Annibale Carracci – http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/annibale-carracci-christ-appearing-to-saint-peter-on-the-appian-way National Gallery, London, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=326162

When I consider that my light is bent

Jesus told his disciples a parable:

“Can a blind person guide a blind person?

Will not both fall into a pit?

No disciple is superior to the teacher;

but when fully trained,

every disciple will be like his teacher.

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,

but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?

How can you say to your brother,

‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’

when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?

You hypocrite!  Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;

then you will see clearly

to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”

Luke 6: 39-42
I cannot see the beam that dims my eye;
I think the light I see is all there is.
I do not sense my savior standing by
who waits to make my vision more like his.

But then he reaches out, and something shifts,
and I am stunned by what I start to see
as what I did not know was darkness lifts.
A light I had not known yet pierces me.

O healer of my life and of my soul,
come place your hands upon mine as they grope
to catch the beam and make my vision whole,
and see at last the beacon of your hope.

When in that light I see yet other beams—
enough to hang your body by the nails—
still guide me, though my hope but dimply gleams.
Still be the healing hand that never fails.

And one by one help me to draw them out,
until my vision clears yet more and more.
Help me to seek the light through all my doubt,
and make my sight at last, my Lord, like yours.
Mote and Beam By Minus Megerdich Zorab / Minus (Minas) M. Zorab (1833–1896) – http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/image/V0017118.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24156987

Beloved, Holy Chosen One

Colossians 3:12-17, but make it metrical!

Beloved, holy, chosen one,
you bear the face of God's own Son:
Then clothe yourself in kindness, too,
as Christ himself is kind to you.

Put on compassion as a cloak
to shelter others in its folds.
With gentleness upon your hands,
reach out to those who cannot stand.

To bear with each and to forgive,
no matter how your heart may grieve:
The Lord has so forgiven you,
and as he does, so you must do.

And over all these, put on love,
perfection as he told us of,
that binds us each into the Son
and each to each, as flesh and bone.

All this put on, and then within,
as love's own cloak becomes your skin,
let grow within your heart his peace
and love for all the last and least.

So clothed and sheltered, and so led,
do we become the living bread,
one body treasuring its parts
with love outside and in our hearts.
Single page of the Codex Claromontanus containing the greek text of Colossians 1:28-2:3 By Edward H Hansell – “Novum Testamentum graece antiquissimorum codicum textus in ordine parallelo dispositi collatio codicis Volume III” published by Oxonii e typographaeo Clarendonio, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8716630

Growing

I hide the withered parts of me,
like limbs that never grew.
I will not let the wide world see,
but I am known to you.

And you have never turned away
from anything I hide.
Within your deep, unflinching gaze,
I cannot but abide.

I flinch, my God.  I turn from you
and curl around my heart.
How can you love what never grew
in my unfinished parts?

No, but you love the gawky seed
still awkward on its stem,
still reaching, in its sunlit need,
for what it lacks within.

The first leaves grow and drop the shell
upon the unseen roots,
and you alone, O God, can tell
the calling of the shoots.

If they are choked by thorns and weeds
or stricken among stones,
yet do you love the failing seeds
who by your grace have grown.

Then love me growing, if you will;
though may blossom not
before the frosts of winter kill,
yet love me still, my God.
Christ healing the man with a withered hand, Byzantine mosaic. Photo By Sibeaster – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4515630

Opened

He put his finger into the man’s ears

and, spitting, touched his tongue;

then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,

Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” —

And immediately the man’s ears were opened,

his speech impediment was removed,

and he spoke plainly. 

Mark 7:31-37

For today’s readings, combining Isaiah and the healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment:

The wasteland stretches out before;
the desert road is long,
but we who heard you hear no more
and sing no more your song.

When will the desert bloom for us?
When will our closed ears hear?
When will the springs burst forth for us?
Oh, when will you draw near?

Our tongues are tied and mute, my Lord;
our feeble hands are bound.
Come, give us once again your word
and lift us from the ground.

Then shall our eyes be opened wide,
our wounded souls shall leap.
Your fountains welling up inside,
our hearts shall wake from sleep.

Then place your fingers in our ears;
reach out and touch our tongues.
If you will heal us, we can hear;
your songs can still be sung!

Then come, O Savior, flood the ground
'til deserts all are past.
Break open clouds and end the drought:
oh, let us bloom at last!
Christ healing the deaf mute of Decapolis, by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, 1635 – http://www.insecula.com/oeuvre/O0017918.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5746158

Thief

Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

Matthew 24:42-44
When shall you come, O Thief?
When shall the final hour
cut down the forests of our grief?
When shall we see your power?

What shall we lose to you
when you break on our sight?
What treasure in your hand made new,
shall we see in your light?

Thief, if you take from us,
let it be to our gain:
Take all the sorrows of our dust;
take all the years of pain,

then in your crucible,
oh, let them be refined!
Turn all our sorrows into gold
and with you let them shine!

So do we long to be
robbed of our weight of dross:
Come in the night and let us see
joy for the years of loss!

Come, though we know not when,
no one may tell us how.
Come, let your endless reign begin,
Thief with a thorny crown!
Icon of the Second Coming. Greek, ca. 1700 A.D. By Anonymous, Greece – http://ikona.orthodoxy.ru/icon.php?source=source36/53, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3229269

Foolish

On the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.

I am not wise; I am not good,
and when the bridegroom comes at last,
will I be standing where I should
with lighted lamp and ready flask?

Or will he see my empty hands,
my wick untrimmed and guttering,
and cast me out to wail and gnash
while calling others in to sing?

Where shall I go to seek for oil?
Where shall I find that burning light?
Not all my good or all my toil
can make me ready for that night.

But Christ the merchant ready stands,
and if I give all that I have
the oil of mercy, from his hands,
will flow for feasting, fire, and salve.

Then I must go—the hour is late—
to buy the oil I know will light
before the groom comes to the gate
and I am left to wail the night.

And if I fail, O Christ the groom,
O Christ the merchant, fill my lack!
And at your coming, still make room
for those who tried to fill the flask.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins (section) by Phoebe Traquair, Mansfield Traquair Church, Edinburgh By Phoebe Anna Traquair – Own work Stephencdickson, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37847772

Dirt

He summoned the crowd again and said to them,

“Hear me, all of you, and understand. 

Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;

but the things that come out from within are what defile.
“From within people, from their hearts,

come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,

adultery, greed, malice, deceit,

licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

All these evils come from within and they defile.”

Mark 7: 21-23
The dust of all the earth,
the centuries of grime
could never to such things give birth
as come from my own mind.

From there, as in good ground,
the seeds of evil grow,
and in my heart the roots are found
of every sin I know.

They ripen and come forth,
the fruits of my own hands,
and other seedlings, in their course, 
in other hearts they plant.

Come, sower of good seed,
and make this field your own.
Come, plant a different seed in me
from any I have known.

And let it bear your fruit:
Send sunlight and send rain.
Come, Christ the savior, Christ the root,
and grow in me your grain.

So what comes forth from me
shall be the fruit of love,
of Love himself, who sows the seeds
and reaps the grain thereof.
 Parable of the Sower, 1557. By Pieter Brueghel the Elder – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=148461