Lincoln Advent: 5 December

Advent Prayers, 5 December
Space4U, Spalding

“I know the plans I have in mind for you,” says the Lord,
“plans for well-being, and not for trouble, to give you a future and a hope.”
(Jeremiah 29.11, New Living Version)

Zechariah had it all planned: it was his turn to enter the sanctuary and offer incense to his Most Holy God. He liked it when it was his turn. He liked the ritual of it: preparing the fire, heating the coals, dropping the sweet sticky grains of perfume on the coals until the smoke danced high on a shaft of light. He liked waiting in silence until the darkness shimmered and God was all in all.

Afterwards, he would return to Elizabeth – to the one who shared his life. Long ago, he had hoped that others would share their lives too: a son, a daughter, a child to give delight. But that was long ago. He’d watched that hope burn on the coals until he was at peace with what he had.

His plans were simple now: he would light the incense and pray, then he would go home to Elizabeth. There they would eat and talk and laugh their way through the long evening.

Gabriel, however, had other plans. He watched as Zechariah bent over the coals. He wondered at the oddity of God’s choices – these strange people God chose for his plans. He waited for an hospitable cloud of smoke; then he stepped out of shadow and scared Zechariah half to death. (Ah yes. Gabriel liked it when it was his turn too…)

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah. God has heard your prayers. Elizabeth will bear a son and you will name him John.” Zechariah floundered as God’s plans eclipsed his own: “… a son? But how? How can I trust what you say?” He missed all the warning signs as Gabriel blazed brightly and rose in outrage.

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to give you good news. But now, because you would not believe my words, you will stay silent until these things come to pass.” Zechariah tried to protest, but he choked on his words. Gabriel gave an arch smile, bowed, and left Zechariah to his duties.

And so it was that Elizabeth spent nine happy months: preparing for her son, rejoicing with her cousin, and laughing (kindly) at the silent fury of her much humbled, much beloved husband.

Today, we pray for Space4U : the Spalding centre for listening and counselling. We pray for all whose lives are thrown by the unexpected, and those who help them to make sense of it.

the original post is here.

bright gift

This post was written for Beauty from Chaos.

The women ran from the tomb as the angel chased after them, flapping his wings sharply.

‘Wait!’  Zadkiel ordered, catching Sariel’s wings in his own.

‘But they don’t believe me!  They are running way. They won’t tell anyone.  They are too afraid.’   Sariel’s words tumbled in breathless panic.  ‘They do believe you.  They will believe you.  You just need to wait.’

Sariel watched the women as they ran across the hill, and his wings dropped.  ‘But it’s never been like this before.  My wings flap, and my word is effective. My wings close, and it is done.’

‘Yes, with death.’ Zadkiel said gently, ‘But when the word is life, it takes longer.  They have to choose…’   Sariel looked disappointed.  Zadkeil went on: ‘You knew that it would be different now, yes?’

‘Yes.’ Sariel whispered, a bit embarrassed. ‘So what do I do now?’

Zadkiel pondered.  He knew he had to slow Sariel down.
‘Do you remember — in the beginning?  Before you learned to close your wings:  what was it like then?’

Sariel was reluctant.  He had blocked that memory for a long time.  He could feel Zadkiel prowling about in his mind, uncovering the loss of it.

‘It was simple.  No one was afraid.  The blossom died to give way for the leaf.  The leaf died to nourish the root.  The root gathered strength to send out a new branch.  Most of the time we just played.’

‘Yes.’ Zadkiel said, realizing how simple Sariel’s complexity really was. ‘So help them remember.’

Sariel looked for the women, and saw that they had stopped running.  They sat with their backs against cool stone, catching their breath.  In front of them, there was a tree in blossom, which they didn’t see.

‘There.  The tree.  I can show them.’
Sariel gathered his skirts and began to run.
‘Wait!’ Zadkiel cried, slowing him down again.  ‘You need to go gently.  Don’t show yourself at first.’  Sariel was getting impatient: ‘But you always do.’  ‘Yes, but I’ve been living with them a long time. I know how to fit in.  Don’t show yourself at first; just touch them with your wing.’

Sariel stood back from the women, and stretched his wing till the tip brushed Mary’s arm.  He saw her shudder, and drew back in alarm.  ‘It’s all right.’  Zadkiel said, ‘they take fright easily and are slow to let it go.  Go gently.’  So Sariel tried again.

He stretched out his wing and willed Mary to look at the tree.  He focused all his being on blossom, and on his desire for her to see.  When he shook with the strain of it, he felt her move.  She bent her neck and brushed her hair from her eyes, then looked up.

Zadkiel saw her eyes soften as they fell on the tree. ‘Good,’ he said to Sariel.  ‘Very good.  Now: fill her mind with something familiar. Sing her a song.’

Sariel reached — naturally enough — for a Sanctus:  sharp as glass, with refracted rhythms.

‘Wait!’ Zadkiel cried again.  Sariel fell silent and looked perplexed.  Zadkiel continued: ‘That one is too hard.  She needs something familiar.’

Sariel thought for a moment and summoned a fiddle:
Tra -li- laa, la-li-laa, l’ laa.
‘Better.’ Zadkiel said, as he took up the song.

They sang till the gold light shimmered.  They sang till the women relaxed.  They sang till they drew breath and dropped their shoulders and turned their faces to the sun.

‘Now,’ Zadkiel said.  ‘Tell them again.’

Sariel stepped forward and let himself be seen.  The women flinched only a bit.

‘Do not be afraid.  He is Risen.  Go and tell the others what you have seen.’

Mary reached out, tentatively, and let her hand trail down the dark shimmer of his wing.  Her eyes widened, and at last she understood.

Jophiel was watching, now, too as Mary stood and ran quickly toward the town.  Sariel deserved his Sanctus.

Jophiel nodded and the choir began.  Light shattered the last darkness, and Sariel stood amazed as his wings turned bright.

wing-held darkness

This post was written for Beauty from Chaos,
but I have posted it here too, since I want to keep Zadkiel close by.

Zadkiel looked slowly around the crowd. Mary. Mary. John.  Most of the others had fled.  But as his eyes searched he saw familiar faces. The blind man. The woman who had bled. Those who had realised that suffering was not the end of the world.

But this suffering might be, he thought.

Jophiel knelt on the other side of the clearing, tears streaming down his face as he recorded the fugue that had begun with those hard struck nails.

Michael seemed unflinching, but one wing reached out.  Feathers brushed the woman he had chosen, who had done her work so well.

On the edge of the crowd, stood Sariel: his work not yet done.

Michael drew close to Zadkiel and said, ‘It is time.’
‘Must we?’ Zadkiel said angrily. ‘God seems to have gone already.’   ‘No. This is just the beginning. You know what we must do.’

Zadkiel nodded and caught Jophiel’s eye.  Jophiel set down his quill, and called the angels to attention.  One signal, and the circle formed: wings locked to forge a wall around the cross.

The tent of absence, Zadkiel realised.  He raised his wings reluctantly, and darkness covered the whole earth.

Their task was to keep God out.  God had withdrawn himself from himself, and become as remote as the deepest fear of the heart.  God stood on the edge of non-being to create a space where he was not, to allow this darkness, this freedom, this choice.

And we bear the weight of it, Zadkiel uttered, still resisting his task.

The darkness held for three hours.  The angels strained with it, letting love and grief, longing and abandonment bash against their wings.

Then Jesus cried aloud, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’  and Zadkiel’s scream filled the heavens.  Michael and Jophiel flexed their wings around him, absorbing the force of his grief and using it to strengthen the circle.

God’s agony pressed in on them too. The sun stopped; the heavens shuddered, and the whole earth stood on the edge of the abyss.

Jesus cried out again, and Sariel stepped forward.  He curled his dark wings around the cross, gently. Then, as Jesus breathed out, his wings snapped shut: cutting breath from breath; life from death.

Jophiel was the first to break the circle, as anguish overwhelmed him.  Myriad of angels shut their wings as the sky was rent and the veil of the temple torn in two.

‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ Zadkiel whispered, the words now fully his own.

turning point

This post was written for Beauty from Chaos, but accidentally posted here.
I’ve decided to leave it on both blogs, in case it was all Zadkiel’s doing.

As soon as the birds sang, Jesus slipped out of the house and went down to the stream.  Zadkiel watched him from beneath his wing, then rose to follow.  It was getting warmer, at least.  But hot days and cold nights still made for wet grass, and Zadkiel went reluctantly down the path.

By the time Zadkiel got there, Jesus was leaning against a tree, looking out at the water.  As usual, he’d found a stone, and was turning it over and over in his hand.

Zadkiel felt weary.  They were getting close now, and there were moments when he didn’t want the job he’d been given. He walked past Jesus to the water’s edge, and stooped down to trail his fingertips through the ripples.

Jesus watched him for a while, and registered his own surprise.  Usually it was the other way round:  Zadkiel watching, Jesus longing for the bright splash of grace.  He set down his stone and went to Zadkiel’s side.   The angel smiled, but did not move, and his eyes went out to the far shore.

‘Peter thinks that I am the messiah,’ Jesus said suddenly.
‘I heard.’ Zadkiel muttered.
‘I told him not to say.’
‘Yes, that was probably wise.’

Both of them, now, were trailing their fingers through the water, relishing the cool of it against the warmth of the sun.

Zadkiel looked at Jesus, cautiously, and summoned his will.  He could do this…
‘And you?  What do you think?  Are you the messiah?’

It was Jesus’ turn to look away.  He turned from the stream and walked up the bank.  He saw a dead branch lying there, picked it up and gave it a tentative swing.

‘When I was young, some of the boys would play “Messiah”.  They’d find a stick, like this, and they’d steal a pot to wear as a helmet. Then they’d round us all up, with stories of how unfair the world was, and claim that they would be the one to change it.  Sticks, pots, off we’d go to prepare for battle.’  Jesus threw down the stick he’d been swinging and turned to face Zadkiel.  ‘The thing is: I hated it.  It never felt right.  Violence breeds violence, and killing people doesn’t really tell me much about God’s love.’

‘No,’ Zadkiel said, ‘I can see that.  So, if you were the messiah?’

Jesus sat down, looked at the stream.  Further up, the women were beginning to gather, filling their jugs.

‘There was a song my mother used to sing — a sort of lullaby when I couldn’t sleep.  A song of trust in what God was doing, of light coming to the nations.’

‘Yes.  I remember.  Simeon had taught her.’

‘Simeon.  She used to talk about him.  She loved remembering that day they took me to the temple and Simeon raised me in his arms and sang, and Anna laughed and shouted that God was good.  They were so startled by it that they forgot about the doves, and went home carrying them still.  We had those doves for years.  It was one of her favourite stories.’ Jesus paused, remembering.  ‘But sometimes, if I asked her about it at the wrong moment, it felt different.  She’d say all the same things, but her eyes would be different.  She seemed afraid.’

Zadkiel turned away from Jesus, and went back to the stream.  He watched the light dance and thought how Jophiel would be noting the rhythms of it.  He wished he were anywhere but here.

‘Yes, well, Simeon said a lot of things that day.’

Jesus was getting annoyed now.  This wasn’t like Zadkiel at all.  He went to him, and put his hand on his shoulder, forcing Zadkiel to look at him.

‘What is it?  What did he say?’
‘Oh, just the usual sort of thing.  The sort of thing Peter said.  And that you would be opposed.’

Jesus laughed harshly, ‘is that all?  Well that proved true enough.  Opposed at every turn.  I’m getting used to it by now.’

Zadkiel looked relieved.  Maybe they could stop here, and go back to looking at the water?  But no. Jesus was still thinking, and when he spoke it was less bravely: ‘But there was something else too, wasn’t there? Opposition doesn’t explain the look in her eyes.’

Zadkiel looked at Jesus, and knew he would have to tell him.  ‘Simeon saw it all.  He had met so many mothers.  He told her that a sword would pierce her own soul too.’

Jesus looked confused, as he turned Simeon’s words over and over in his mind, and then he seemed to realise. ‘When we played,’ he said, ‘when it was my turn to be “Messiah”?  I never swung my stick.  I just carried it, and they followed.’

‘Yes.’ Zadkiel said sadly, ‘I remember that too.’

Jesus stood long on the water’s edge with his eyes closed, absorbing the warmth of the sun. ‘I know how it will be, then.  I think I’ve known for a while, really.  I must tell the disciples.’

Zadkiel nodded, and said nothing.  He knelt down to touch the water again, as Jesus turned and walked up the dusty path alone.