Life’s a beach

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Sticks, logs, salted beams, tiny shells, great clumps of seaweed: people, places, events. Storm-whipped breakers and ragged gusts in place of time and chance – apt.
Dark mounds strewn down the years, the sandy strip at dawn stretched out, as if to walk it until dusk; else cut down at midday, gulls’ pickings.
A black shape flashes by, takes my breath: seaweed. Then the beach lifts whole, is hurled, blasting all. Collar to the storm I edge ahead, eyes clenched, searching the biting, thrusting world.
A whale!
Dark, deep flesh, singular, silent. Beset by a galaxy of grains.
Alive?
One eye to the sky, one to the sandy grave, gravity has wrenched it from the waves, cast up, laid low, headlong, side-on.
Alone I cannot save it. Only wait for the sea. Pray.

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Crunch time

They all looked to him – Peter knew that. And he was glad. They needed someone to look to, one of them, that is. They all looked to Jesus of course. But of the twelve – he was the man.
To be honest, Peter sometimes wondered what Jesus saw in some of the others. OK, they tagged along, they took the risks if they had to. They were faithful in their own way. But what did they actually bring to the group? They didn’t know where to stand, that was the truth. Jesus had to tell them every minute. And they still didn’t get it!
Well, Peter mused, that was Jesus down to a tee. He had to do things the hard way – the ‘right way’. And Peter bought into that. If Jesus didn’t know the right way, who did? But you couldn’t make it much harder than dragging around a bunch of dunce fishermen from the Galilee. Peter knew that from bitter experience.
One of them? Never. Peter was never like them. He understood them, but they would never understand him. He had learned to keep his ideas to himself over the sun-baked, Sea-drenched years in Galilee. Now he had someone who really knew him, someone they all had to listen to. Someone who showed them he was different, he was Peter, man of the Rock, and he mattered.
Perhaps that’s what kindled Peter’s anger as they paced the dark Jerusalem alleys on route to the Mount of Olives, stomachs full of Passover lamb, a better feed than Peter had expected for a very long time. One out of the bag – typical Jesus, again. Just what you least expected. But now this: ‘you will all desert me’.
All? That made Peter just like the rest, just one of the motley gang.
Of course they would desert Jesus. They didn’t know their top from their tail, one moment to the next. But he did. He knew where this whole thing was at and he was ready. He didn’t understand it but he was ready. Something was going down, something big. Sure, Jesus often said crazy things, but the last few days had been different. And tonight – some of the talk was pretty heavy. “Better were it for that man if he had never been born…” Peter shuddered – whoever that was, he didn’t want to know. Then again maybe he should know? It was his responsibility, probably.
They all looked to him, and time was ticking. One by one they were coming to the same conclusion – Peter knew no more about these strange sayings, or what was ahead, than the rest of them. It was just another crazy night with Jesus, but the food was a whole lot better, and the wine… If they hadn’t been walking they would all have been asleep by now.
Peter silently fumed. He remembered another time he disagreed with Jesus. “Get behind me, Satan.” It was enough to make the others know they never wanted to be in Peter’s shoes, even if he did get special treatment sometimes. Right then Peter could have left. But instead he had grown, his roots had gone deeper, slowly his singed branches had budded again. Once, though, was enough. When he felt rage knot his chest he bit his lip, and sure enough, in the course of time, Jesus untangled that knot and Peter was glad he had kept his mouth shut.
Right now though he was singed bad enough already. “They would all desert Jesus” – and Peter had nothing to say? His silence condemned him. The blanket of shame covered them all, faceless in their weakness.
“Though all men will be offended because of you, yet will I never be offended.”
No sooner had the words left Peter’s mouth than he knew it would cost him. He just couldn’t hold back, it was like the words came out by themselves. He hadn’t even known what he was going to say till he said it. Thinking on it though, that pretty much summed it up. He was ready – for something – and whatever happened, he wouldn’t turn tail on Jesus. And he wouldn’t let Jesus forget that one of them was different. He was Peter, and whatever was coming, he was different and they would all know it. Crunch time.

Looking back, it was hard to know how it happened. Judas, of course. That he should have seen. But then Jesus did keep company with the least likely types, Judas was just another one, not by any means the worst to be honest. But he should have known.
But then, himself. He had fought to stay true to his word. Yet in hindsight every step he took had led down the path of betrayal. He had walked it like a dumb animal to the trap, oblivious. Peter, Peter, Peter. Ha! What a joke. Peter the special one. Specially stupid, that was all. He was different alright. At least the others had known their lot and accepted it. Were they the worse for that? What more could you really, ever do with Jesus? All Peter had earned for himself was a doubly shameful part in the whole debacle.
It all made sense now, why Jesus had chosen them. The others, that is. Simple, supple clay, that’s what they were. Good earthy clay, soft to the Maker’s hands. Jesus’ words lodged deep in them, skirting their misunderstanding minds to sink deep in their good, earthy hearts. And they were not lost. Peter could see it now – those words would spring up in time, everything was as Jesus planned. But where was he, Peter?
Peter’s clay was lumpy, full of smart ideas. Full of himself. Full of stones – ha! Stones, from Peter of the Rock. In the end he had made a better Simon than Peter.
They had no need of him now. Finally it was settled. All his striving, his rage. He was different, yes. And he didn’t belong. One Shepherd was all this flock needed. He wouldn’t make a fuss of it, but no doubt his path would lead away, and he wouldn’t resist. All those big ideas, some special seat for himself, Jesus’ right hand man – everyone could see now what that was about. Judas the betrayer, and Peter not far behind. So much for that.

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?”
“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
“Feed my lambs.”
“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”
“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
“Feed my sheep.”
“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”
“Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”
“Feed my sheep.”

_________________________

Light

I saw light fall so thickly through the clouds that it drenched the distant plain in yellow gold, the soft silhouettes of trees seeming adrift in an ocean of light. And I thought, what it would be to walk in that magnificent land, saturated in the glorious light! And though the light was bright so that it would dazzle I felt I would not be dazzled but filled with light and one with the light. And is it such a land we are called to?
And I wondered, what would it be like in that land of glory to look back at the dark world of pain, emptiness, loss, grief, foolishness and frustration, in which we now live? At my life now lived? And it seemed not empty but precious – for who could help but love the Son of God, bathed in his glory, healed of all pain, filled with his light? But now in the dark adversity of this empty life of longing and pain, to love him is faith indeed! That is love indeed! That is a memory to savour in the eternity of light, and now and now only can such memories be made.
And I saw that it is not a poor life I have been given even in its most dismal failures and cruel misfortunes, but indeed these are my greatest opportunities to praise my Lord, to love him as now only he can be loved, to share even a small part of the fellowship of his suffering, which memory we will share forever.
And I left off to envy the prosperous whether deserving or undeserving, to berate myself for failing to attain their goods or standing or benefits, even those who have prospered in welldoing, to accomplish their works. For there is no thing good or bad in which I cannot thank the Lord and know his greatness and kindness. For even in my own stupidity I can praise the Lord that he loves me nonetheless, and one day I shall be wise by his grace, and not suffer then from my foolishness now.
And though I saw that in bad things there is opportunity, yet I did not despise pleasure or success or satisfaction or love, such is they may be had in this life. For being freed from the grief of failure or of love or pleasure lost, seeing now the worth of that grief, I was free also from dissatisfaction with this world’s good, knowing it instead as a welcome reprieve from darkness in which may be found good but which is hard to bear, and I no longer sought that the good should be better but praised God doubly for it!
And though I have often regretted that I did not help others more, I now see that I could not increase the greatest opportunity they already had, to look to their Lord with gratitude in every circumstance; neither can any man take it from them. Neither did I, if I have harmed any. And so at last I had peace. I saw that God is not the author of darkness, but has granted that we may walk now through it, that we may show our love for our Lord in such a way that we will forever regard as one of his greatest gifts to us, to know him in the pain of the world he died for, to show ourselves his own, such as we may never do again. Praise be to God, amen.

Running on empty

Figs out of season – not really a big deal for the one who turned water into wine, who fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes – twice. And that’s only what we know about. Jesus even said to his disciples, what are you worried about food for? Don’t you remember the loaves and the fishes? (That’s my version – sorry its not word for word, it would pay to check the original.) But that morning on the way into Jerusalem Jesus was hungry. But then there’s more to figs out of season than just food. These are special figs – God figs. These are figs from the Father. That’s why Jesus was hungry, and that’s what he hungered for – a nod, a smile, a ‘keep going Son’ from on high. A message in figs – figs where there shouldn’t be figs, right where you need them. I’m not saying Jesus wasn’t physically hungry, I’m saying when we are emotionally drained we are looking for something to keep us going. And when Jesus saw that fig tree, a ray of hope flickered in him, and he knew, if Father was giving me breakfast, that’s where it would be. Food for body and soul, food for faith if you have a heart to know it, and no one had faith like Jesus, a heart like Jesus, who knew the mind of the Father, who saw Father’s hand at work everywhere. And in that fig tree, Jesus searched for that hand.

You see, it seems to me that as Jesus braced himself that day for the subtle, deadly, piercing inquisition of the pharisees, and the oceanic needs of the people, the seeds of what were to be some of his final words – Father, Father, why have you forsaken me? – had already been sown. He woke that morning feeling strangely alone, strangely empty, strangely abandoned. And in his heart he knew, ‘it has begun’. This is the end game. And its mine, and mine alone. And out of that realisation weakness flooded him, hunger arose, then anger – but that’s for another post. Before that came the fig tree, and a ray of hope – this is how it has always been, you and me Father, always your lifeline, the hand that no one sees, though I tell them, though I point to it, they stare blindly, but I see, I know, and I need your lifeline so much.

Not this time. As Jesus searched the branches, bleary-eyed, bewildered disciples watching, behind every leaf was only the cold realisation, it was not to be. A new feeling. A closed door. An empty stomach.