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.
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.
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).
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
Before you lift the shaft
Of your bright blade on the bare bones of my black bark;
Before you come with the craft and crack
Of that cruel axe;
Before you take the cold-hearted hack
Of cheerless haste to chop me down—
Stop. Hold, & heed:
My roots run deep & steep.
Their old fingers, scrabbling & scratching, find treasures
In the filth, redeeming soot & soil
For lustrous pearls of blue-black sloes.
O, bitter they may be; while my spines
Stab out the scarlet sap of your dear blood—
Still. Show mercy:
Let me bloom among the greenwood trees
Another spring, another & another.
Let me unfold from twisted twigs the starry spray—
The foam & spume, white-frothed—of perfect flowers
To crown your head, your brow, though
Gathered, garlanded on such imperfect boughs.
Stand. Do your worst:
Cut my broken branches, if you must,
But let me long outlive you;
For you will surely turn as knotted, contorted, stunted as I,
Yet full of sweetness in the honeyed heartwood;
So shall I grow to be the prop of your old age,
A thorny shillelagh, if you will—
Stay. I, ancient blackthorn,
Plead for my life.
© Lizzie Ballagher, 2013
The Blackthorn Trust in Maidstone, UK, is a charity which offers medical care, specialist therapies and rehabilitation through work placements in the Blackthorn Garden. The Trust offers help to people with mental or physical health difficulties or learning disabilities.