Glorious Friday

On this day every year people say, “What’s so good about Good Friday?”—a question I consider quite often these days.

So here’s my attempt to address this painful, deeply paradoxical question.

Glory, Glory
A star bathed shepherds’ hills in light
The night that Christ was born—
Was this the glory of God?

Stone jars of water turned to wine
At Cana on that wedding day:
And was this the glory of God?

The lame man walked. The blind could see.
The leper left his sores behind.
So was this the glory of God?

The women grieved & Jesus wept.
Then Lazarus was restored to life.
Was this not the glory of God?

Under waving palms & cheering cries
He rode a humble donkey colt.
Surely this was the glory of God?

Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to a tree,
Shamed before friend & foe—

He was lifted high
On a cruel cross.
Does glory shine out here?

The temple curtain tore in two.
The voice of His Father was heard.
Glory. Glory!—more than ever in this world.

Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to the tree,
This—even this—was the glory of God.

© Words Lizzie Ballagher.  Image of Lampedusa Cross © Trustees of the British Museum only, used by permission.

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November: a time to reflect, a time to remember

Seven Candles

Light me a candle for sorrow:

For the one on a journey with no returning

And pennies on his eyes for the burying.

 

Light me a candle for tomorrow:

For the tug of longing & the loss of hope,

For the winds of war & the stuttering of prayer.

 

Light me a candle for blissful memories

In the darkest hours of night:

For sunlit colours & the laughter of friends.

 

Light me a candle for thankfulness:

For the holy moments of marrying,

For childbirth & the first faltering prayers of children.

 

Light me a candle for blessedness:

For bread & wine on a sacred table—

To stand & burn in beauty & in tenderness.

 

Light me a candle for gladness:

For a welcome at windows late in the evening,

For the hush & stillness of soft sleep.

 

Light me a candle for peace:

For the swansdown drift of dreams;

For the gift of Christ at Christmas,

And for His rising on Easter’s radiant morning.

Yes, light me a candle for the breath of day’s dawning.

 

The hiss of a flame, the flare of a spark

Will raise us soon against the dark.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher – words and image

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A Happy Easter holiday to all who follow this blog!

Belief that a man rose from death doesn’t come easily. In the poem that follows I try to chart my own spiritual journey to the place that is Easter.

A Doubter’s Creed

Why did I come here?
What did I expect to see?
They said I’d meet a keen-eyed king
Come to redeem his people
After all the years of prophecy & promise.
Instead I saw an infant in an ass’s stall
And cows lowing piteously over a starlit manger
Where yet there was no grain,
No corn, no sweet green summer grass,
But only a weeping newborn boy
And his quiet mother in a dusty cloak,

Her womb suddenly empty of her child.

Why did I come here?
What did I expect to see?
They said I’d greet a loyal lord
Riding in triumph over festal palms
Where massing crowds would bay for him.
Instead I saw a broken hillside
Naked as a dead man’s skull; soldiers dicing
And three men crucified, one bloodied
With a crown of thorns. ‘Jesu, King of the Jews,’
The mocking sign above him read.
And, later, a cave-pocked place they called

His tomb—suddenly empty of his body.

Why did I come here?
What did I expect to see?
They said I’d hail a ravening ruler
With resolute arm upraised in battle:
With two-edged sword to smite them left & right.
Instead they led me to a back-street house
Where cowering men & weary women
Met secretly for breaking bread,
For dipping bitter herbs & sharing wine;
And where that quiet woman sat with them,
Woebegone, still in her pilgrim cloak,

The room suddenly empty of the man they loved.

So why did I come here?
What did I expect to see?
They said I’d see the kingdom come.
I see no cunning kings.
I see no lordly leaders.
I see no raging rulers.
Instead I hear a voice that bids me
Put my hand into his side
And touch the nail-wounds in his bloody palms.
He lives! this Son of Man.
He lives! the King of Heaven.

Filled suddenly with grace, I cry, ‘My Lord. My God!’

© Lizzie Ballagher

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This Friday IS good.

Crown of Thorns

Head dipped below its slightest weight,
Eyes glazed with double suffering,
Did Jesus dream the garden
Where he played in childhood,
Where damask roses knotted, clotted red & white
Across an arch once crafted by his earthly father Joseph?
Do not believe such maudlin fantasies!

Whatever Pyotr Ilych thought
On looking at the tenth Station (where Christ was stripped
Of all His garments & took on that vicious coronet),
The thorny crown was not a crimson ring of roses;
That so-called garland caused no dainty drops
Of scarlet blood-petals on Jesus’ blessed brow;
It did not smell of sweetness but of sweated, abject anguish.

A parish artist, though (a score of centuries later
In a hidden church among the folded fields)
Conceived a vision of that torment.
In remembrance of that day he made
A wheel of infinite woe, infinite sorrow
On a hoist as high as a gallows tree
Below the stark Alpha of black-block roof beams;

He wove a circle of wooden spikes & branches:
A twist of twigs with stubs & sticks & strands & spines of pain,
A jagged agony & testament to human butchery.
Two thousand years now gone below the bridge Christ built
Between the earth and heaven, between the temple curtain torn in twain,
The crown of thorn still witnesses
The Truth:

Who wept alone in olive dusk above Gethsemane;
Who hung amid the skulls & rubbish on high Calvary;
Who rose, in spite of death; came back to us in Galilee.

© Lizzie Ballagher

Notes
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky composed a Good Friday anthem for children called “Legend” which was translated into English by W G Rothery. In this song he imagines that the child Jesus gathered roses that would one day form his crown of thorns.

The parish artist is Keith Pettit of Creation Signs, East Sussex, UK.

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November: No Man’s Month

In the northern hemisphere, November has long been a melancholy month—even before services of remembrance or stories from No Man’s Land. That phrase has always resonated with me; that’s why I wrote this short poem.

November: No Man’s Month
Fields ploughed, but not yet sown—
Except by pearls in spider webs
Or frost on tarnished stubble (scythèd sheer to
Earth’s crude clay).

Trees void, but still no snow–
Except where snowberries grow close to birches (flashing silver),
Or ash-trees (sprinkling grey among
Dark elm trunks).

Advent:
Christ promised, but not yet come—
Neither among the stubble stalks and razor wire of battlefields
Nor under cross-shaped stars
Nor to the lap of waiting Mary;
But only in the myrrh and frankincense of human lives.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Submerged

I am floundering under

water
shoals of deep-down fear
rising subterranean nightmares
the weightiness of endless work
books & the reading of many books
papers & the writing of many leaden papers:
the gravity of muddles

but I am drowning, too, in

slabs of buttered sunlight
lark-flights of soaring joy
the mood & magic of wild dreams
waves of unexpected, bright imaginings
the unrolling of a spool of story like a silken thread stretching & spinning from my mind
the blossoming of poems in my head:
creation turning chaos into craft

that springs up like a sapling birch-tree
under beaming logs of light &
under western rains where still I may
follow gleaming unnamed paths
into the untamed
wilderness  &
lose myself:

submerged.

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