Jesus rolled over and propped himself up on his elbows. He looked steadily at Judas. ‘You want it clean?’ he said, ‘You want it super squeaky clean? I am not sure you will like it better that way. But here goes.
‘There was a bloke. A trader – a specialist. He dealt in pearls. Always seeking the most beautiful, perfect pearls for his customers. And he never minded selling. There was no risk. Each pear he sold gave him more money to buy new pearls. And he never needed to cheat, as such, Judas, because he would buy with just the usual haggling, and then sell at a premium price to the super rich, because they respected his expertise and his knowledge.
‘Then it happened. He found the super pearl. Huge. Its lustre unbroken. A perfect sphere. A wonderful colour, white, pure. He knew at once he would never see another pearl like it. The trouble was, it was in the hands of another merchant.
They haggled. It was good humoured, but ruthless. The price was agreed. The pearl merchant, our honest, shining example of a pearl merchant, sold everything. He sold all his pearls, every one. He sold his house. He sold his donkey. Everything he could realise, he did. The lot. Then he handed over the money and came away with the pearl.’
Judas nodded, shining approval.
Jesus sighed. ‘Yes but look at the dilemma. He now has the perfect pearl. What is he going to do? Do you imagine he can sell it? That he can let go the one thing he has been searching for all his life?’
Jesus had this power with his stories. He sucked you in. You lived them. We were all looking horrified, and none more than Judas. No, we all knew what obsessives were like. No real person in this position could let go of that pearl.
‘He has nothing but the pearl,; said Jesus quietly, ‘and he will need to start from the bottom again if he wants to rebuild his business. Maybe he can. Maybe he has enough credit with others to borrow enough to buy little inexpensive pearls. But will his customers really want them? It is a disaster, that is what it is. Once you have the most valuable thing, you give up everything for it, and it may not be the shining easy thing to do you all seem to think.’
Then he wrapped his cloak around him, as though he was cold, and sat staring into the distance as if he was seeing something we could not see.

First Cry

Zadkiel stood shaking, with his wings covering his face.

Michael came to him.  They were not easy companions, these two, but Michael could feel Zadkiel’s terror, and knew he must stand guard.

‘What’s wrong? Why are you afraid?’
‘He wasn’t supposed to see me.  He wasn’t supposed to know.’
Is that all? Michael wondered, a glance from Jesus, and he’s overcome?
Oh God — why did you choose this angel?

Michael tried to reassure him. ‘He may not have, you know — they don’t see much at first.’
But both Michael and Zadkiel knew there was no truth in it.  There had been a moment, just after first cry, when Jesus looked at Mary, then at Joseph, and finally at Zadkiel, who shimmered bright gold — and who remembered to hide himself just as Jesus reached out for him.

‘But he saw me.  I felt it.  The air broke with his cry and I wanted to laugh, but then– when I looked at him…

‘You know what it’s like when God is at play — when he comes to you and chats and dreams and spins out Creation’s plan?  You know how it is when Sophia teases, and God jokes, and they draw you in and you laugh and dance, and just for a moment you forget they are God?  And then suddenly you feel your heart expand, love for them surging — and you must stop it, quickly, before they notice and you make a mess of everything?’

Michael watched his companion closely. Did he know?  What this how he experienced God? Maybe.  Sometimes — but he usually saw a different side of God. He nodded for Zadkiel to go on.

‘I have always been afraid of that moment — afraid that if I gave myself to it, and they realised…’   Zadkiel fell silent and tucked down his head.

‘Then?’ Michael prompted.

Zadkiel shivered.  ‘Then it would be too much.  If the love were let loose, if they saw it, it would overwhelm me.  Everything would change.’

This Michael understood. The moment of change. So he waited…

Zadkiel uncurled himself and looked at Michael — could he really be saying this? to Michael of all angels? But they both knew what had happened, and there was no point in denying it now.

‘When Jesus looked at me, I forgot to hide.  All the love I’ve ever felt, I’ve ever avoided feeling, filled the space between us as the air turned gold.’

‘And everything changed?’
‘And everything changed.’

Michael thought of the vast complexity of God — the mind that set the universe spinning, the imagination that gave beauty and light, the love that shimmered bright on the air.  And yet it all came down to this: God in a manger, a new born child.  Michael marvelled at the daring of it: God come as a child who could not be ignored, from whom no one would think to hide.


Heart Speaks to Heart


botticelli madonna

In these moments of his silence
there is something the like of which I have never known;
yes, a realisation of a precious gift,
a contentment (not without worry)
and quite a simple relief,
but more:

My silence speaks to his,
our hearts meet at a point of sheer simplicity,
we rest together in a moment out of time
that transforms time,
we know something of each other that had not before been known
and I dare not try to name it
for speech would fill
that gracious, overflowing no-thing
with unnecessary noise.

But I will speak a word or two,
because the overflowing desires to be spoken:

A fragile rose
An embracing mantle
A profound rest
A tiny breath
A winding-sheet
A life

Sandro Botticelli’s Virgin adoring the Sleeping Christ Child (c.1490) is in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland.

One Day More

What if it were true?

What if Christ really were coming tomorrow, God on Earth, only this time we were all forewarned?

I write this in the United States (I know many readers are British) and here the whole past week the chatter has been about Phil Richardson, a man who plays himself on the popular American television Duck Dynasty, or did play himself, until he made some anti-gay and racist remarks in an interview published in a magazine, and his television producer fired him.

In the States we have people who are pro gay-marriage–17 of our 50 states have legalized it–and people who are anti gay-marriage.  Many of the antis cloak their opinions in a mantle of religiosity, claiming that they have to speak out against gay people, because the Bible clearly says that homosexuality is a sin.  (This side of the argument also tends to believe that homosexuality is a choice, not something you’re born with.)

Many people on the other side don’t think that Bible is all that clear about homosexuality.  The Leviticus verse is somewhat vague in its original language.  It is perfectly clear that Leviticus bans eating bacon, and also shrimp, but somehow we’ve all become okay with ignoring those restrictions.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter.  And also, it does.  It matters because, at least in the States, a whole lot of people are telling other people that God doesn’t love them.   It matters because, at least in the States, gay teenagers are three times more likely to commit suicide than straight teenagers.  It matters because someday someone who spoke out harshly and emphatically against homosexuals is going to have a beloved child confess that he or she is gay.   It matters because there’s no reason to believe that any one sin is bigger than any other sin, that someone else’s gayness trumps my vitriol, that it’s bigger and more important than my lack of charity or love.

And yet.  All the newsprint devoted to this one issue, to one man who said that homosexuality was a lot like bestiality and that black people were happier in the days before they had equal rights.   When yesterday, 19,000 children died of preventable causes.  Abigail/Aisling/Amanda/Amata/Anne.  That’s five.  Jacob/Jafta/Johanne/Jordan/Justin.  Ten.  18,990 to go.

What if Christ came back tomorrow?  What would He find us fighting?  What do we ignore?

The Great Stories

“It’s like the great stories, Mr Frodo, the ones that really mattered…”

I was a child who lived and breathed books. I was brought up with the written word and on the power that it together with only my imagination had to transport me far away in time and space. I was raised on, as Samwise Gamgee says, the great stories.

The stories of mothers and sons. The stories of far-away places, desert heat rising off the page and making itself known in the mind’s eye. The stories of ordinary people who did remarkable things. The stories of the impossible and of how it became possible. The stories of love that could burn down a city or raise it up in glory. The stories that tell of the triumph of good over evil, and of the sacrifices made along the way.

Remember,” said Albus Dumbledore. “Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good and kind and brave…

This is the greatest of the great stories.

A story of a mother and her child, and of the man who loved them despite what it cost him. A story of stifling heat and an uncomfortable journey and a bare floor. A story of one woman who accepted an extraordinary task and did it with joy. A story of a man who accomplished the impossible and of his father who so loved the world that he gave us his only son. A story where good will always triumph over evil and where life will always, but always, be stronger than death. A story that is the greatest story, because it is real.

A story that will end, in two millennia or three decades or a few months, in a garden, with a man who makes a choice between what is right and what is easy.

But, they said to each other. But. They gathered around a fire on a hilltop and they said to the children who were hearing the story for the first time. It was as though they were telling a secret. And they said: That wasn’t the end of the story. And it is because that wasn’t the end of the story that we gather and we tell it again and again and again. The most ancient and the newest of stories. An old tale and a living Gospel.

Tonight, we tell each other with one voice that, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

We tell it as the body of Christ.

We tell it to remember it.

And we tell it in the name of the one whose promise was true, whose coming is certain, and whose day draws so very very near.