On hearing the story of the prodigal son for the very first time


the return of the prodigal son by rembrandt

How astounding it must have been
to those first hearers of the story.
After he wished the years away,
wished his father gone and laid to rest,
his palms itching to grasp the lucre,
his mind reeling with the possibilities –
disposable means, available choices,
everything until now denied to him
in a world where every day was a fait accompli;
after he broke his mother’s heart
(why is she not mentioned in the story?
Was her grief too deep, too sacred for public sharing?)
After he squandered his children’s birthright,
and for what?  Not so much as a mess of pottage;
after he dragged his family’s name
into the literal mire of pig dung;
everyone present knew how the story would end.
And even now, I can see the jaws dropping,
The eyes widening,
The slow, delighted upward curl
of the corners of the mouths
spreading quickly into exultant incredulity.
And me, as I read again Your pièce de résistance
I find myself agape too, at how wide of the mark
my picture of the Father has been,
at how insanely recklessly He loves,
how limitless is His capacity
to bear insult and still forgive.
If this had been the only speech you ever made
It would have told us everything we need to know.

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Through the filter

May I always view the world
through this one filter: Jesus.
The people You made, loved
and gave Your all for
through this one filter: Jesus.
The street dogs, the exotic birds
and the monkey now screeching
in the treetops opposite my balcony
through this one filter: Jesus.
Made for Him, to be redeemed
and restored in Him, to thrive and burgeon
under His pre-eminent Kingship.
May I see no one through my eyes of flesh,
but every wounded soul I meet,
every angry, self-entitled abuser,
through this one filter: Jesus.
Every loving heart reaching out to the hurting,
every hand held out in kindness,
no matter the creed or heritage,
through this one filter: Jesus.
Every heart created to be His throne,
every longing designed to be quenched in Him.
May I always read Your word
through this one filter: Jesus.
Every requirement of the law,
every ancient scowling prophet,
through this one filter: Jesus.
Every epistle to Your church,
every revelation of Your return,
through this one filter: Jesus.
Through the rainbow prism of Him
who is the Father’s love embodied;
through this one filter: Jesus.

Prayer of remembrance

When I look back at all Your goodness,
the path You have led me by,
how You have redeemed my mistakes,
rescued me from myself
and brought me into a place of blessing
that I know I don’t deserve,
every time I tell the tale to someone new
and remind myself You have done this,
I fall in love with You all over again,
fall at Your feet in worship
and overflow with thankfulness.

In stillness

When all the noise is silenced
and I withdraw to a place alone;
when I take the load I’ve picked up
and find a spot to lay it down;
when all the inner turbulence
ceases to hold my attention and,
for  want of heed, subsides;
when I sit in that quiet stillness
for as long as it takes,
however long it takes,
finally the dense clouds part
and  as Your breathtaking beauty
comes into focus,
the thing I notice most
is the scars in Your hands,
the price Your love was willing
to pay to rescue me.

Revelation 2.4

It’s like a nostalgic, warm aroma
curling from the baking-oven door;
like waking from a coma
to find myself at home once more;
it’s like taking from the closet
a long-forgotten overcoat
and finding in the pocket,
unexplained, a fifty pound note;
it’s like a dream of recovery
where my desires have all come true,
this longed-for rediscovery
of my first love for You.

Bread of Life

Did You, I wonder, watch Your mother,
As these girls are watching me?
Did You see her select from the shelf
each hand-picked ingredient,
chosen to bring flavour, texture, nutrition?
Did You watch her measure with precision
the right amount and combination,
then pour in the water measured only
by a long-experienced eye
and, with supple fingers,
gather the mix together,
binding with that particular flick of the wrist?
Did You gaze with undiminished fascination,
as so often before, when she began to knead
with those familiar knuckles
that so many times had rapped on the door
when she returned from the market,
having left You securely shut inside
with instructions to open to no one
until You heard her signature knock?
Did you watch as she lifted the kneaded lump
Onto the stone slab, shaped and patted it
before sliding it into the nook above the fire?
As You studied her hands,
Did You glance down at your own
young, smooth palms and shudder
at a fleeting foreboding, as if something
might someday smash through their perfection?
Did You sit and gaze as the dough
rose, settled into its final shape and crisped over,
all the while the aroma tantalising Your nostrils?
Did you watch as, with cloth-gloved hand,
she lifted down the finished loaf,
placed it carefully to cool in the centre of the table?
Did You learn from her the right way
to break and distribute the loaf,
as You hungrily accepted Your share
and allowed its savour to permeate
your body and mind?
And did You someday, many years later,
remembering this day,
reflect on how Your Father had selected
everything the world needed to flavour,
nourish and sustain it,
blended in Your human form,
kneaded together in her womb,
and gently eased into the fire of tribulation
that awaited You here?
Was that the moment when first You knew it –
I am the Bread of Life?

Recognition

Wide, unblinking eyes
looking but not comprehending;
ears on which words fall fruitless;
contented giggles, untrammelled
by awareness of the future;
lips from which no words have yet escaped.
Will they ever?  Who can tell?
And every now and then a spasm
of anguished sobs from one
who has no way to open up a full heart,
and share its knowledge or dreams or fears.

And I, silently watching, suddenly
realise with delight
it’s You I’m observing.