Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Poem for Holy Innocents

A Little Boy Lost

Nought loves another as itself,
Nor venerates another so,
Nor is it possible to thought
A greater than itself to know.

'And, father, how can I love you
Or any of my brothers more?
I love you like the little bird
That picks up crumbs around the door.'

The Priest sat by and heard the child;
In trembling zeal he seized his hair,
He led him by his little coat,
And all admired the priestly care.

And standing on the altar high,
'Lo, what a fiend is here! said he:
'One who sets reason up for judge
Of our most holy mystery.'

The weeping child could not be heard,
The weeping parents wept in vain:
They stripped him to his little shirt,
And bound him in an iron chain,

And burned him in a holy place
Where many had been burned before;
The weeping parents wept in vain.
Are such thing done on Albion's shore?

William Blake.  A Little Boy Lost

I have chosen this poem by William Blake for Holy Innocents day because Christmas is a time when we should be challenged. Far from being a sentimental festival, Christmas is followed by the feast of the first martyr and a commemoration of the slaughter - although it is probably not historical fact - of the male children under the age of two. We keep pretty quiet about Holy Innocents nowadays, it's not the sort of thing that can be described as "for the children", although it has to be said that it was a very popular element in the medieval mystery plays, apparently the butchers would often act out this scene and you have to admit that a villain like Herod gave great dramatic potential and the chance to boo and hiss to your heart's content.

And that is the perhaps the problem, it is only too easy to see evil and atrocity in others but we can be blind to our own cruelties and abuse of others. Holy Innocents should not be about booing or hissing Herod, but about recognising the potential for cruelty and evil closer to home, in all our systems of power and control. The Church itself has not been immune from hurting and damaging those entrusted to its care, as has been evident in some of the depressing abuse scandals which have emerged in recent years. In Little Boy Lost, a child questions the commandments to love God and others as himself and asks how can this be possible? The priest's reaction of burning anger and "trembling zeal" at this heresy is vividly conveyed and he does no more than seize the child and burn him to death on the altar while his parents weep and the onlookers approve!

What a shocking and radical poem! The little boy in his vulnerablity and innocence represents anyone small or powerless who dares to question the system, and Blake himself as a dissenter would have known about the prejudice and violence that could be condoned and colluded with in the name of religion - or indeed in the name of any insititution or ideology. Blake ends his poem with a question to make us think - "Are such things done on Albion's shore?" We might ask ourselves today whether injustice, abuse and cruelty are still perpetrated in the name of  power, greed or ideology, whether abroad or closer to home. On Holy Innocents, and at any other time of the year, we only need to look at the headlines to know the answer.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Reckless Love

A wonderful Christmas video. A reminder that Christians believe that God intervened with a plan that was not sweet or sentimental but rather implausible, unthinkable, bizarre, reckless, extravagant and amazing.

Wishing all readers a very Happy Christmas!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Snow and Salvation


By what are you saved? And how?
Saved like a bit of string,
tucked away in a drawer?
Saved like a child rushed from
a burning building, already
singed and coughing smoke?
Or are you salvaged
like a car part -- the one good door
when the rest is wrecked?

Do you believe me when I say
you are neither salvaged nor saved,
but salved, anointed by gentle hands
where you are most tender?
Haven't you seen
the way snow curls down
like a fresh sheet, how it
covers everything,
makes everything
beautiful, without exception.

By Lynne Ungar

H/T to Blue Eyed Ennis for this lovely poem. The Advent before last I was particularly taken with a beautiful post from the Colophon blog (now the i-Benedictine blog) written by the nuns of East Hendred  in which they liken the snow to Advent, something that descends softly and gently into our hearts and souls, silencing and transforming the world with its impossible purity.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Joseph - a Nativity poem

They say there are signs.
Not with her.
I’m no professor
but neither am I stupid.
I asked her who she’d been seeing.
She sat there murmuring ‘Angel’.

She went north a few days
- change’ll do you good.
The solicitors said to forget it.
‘Without proof…’ they smiled.
If anything she started to brighten:
‘They’ll be cousins, same age!’
(I can’t be sure,
but I think I saw him, too.)

We left it too late, of course.
The traffic was solid,
some pop idol on the hire car radio
massacring ‘Hallelujah’.
We stopped at a Little Chef
on a B-road somewhere in the hills.

Crystal midnight it was,
good as daylight.
Then she grew wild-eyed.
Her bawling, a blunt saw,
cut through me.
It wasn’t like in the songs.

Anthony Wilson

I love this modern day version of the events leading up to the Nativity told from Joseph's perspective. H/t to Phil's Treehouse.