Monday, March 25, 2013

Whose every breath

One day,
it is admittedly unlikely,
a clever archaeologist
may dig up Jesus’ bones.
This will cause much consternation,
the reports of an empty tomb being the one detail
about which the four gospel writers
are in complete agreement.
Still, the inability to locate a corpse
will never be adequate proof
of resurrection.

So, what is;
what might convince a sharp
and enquiring mind
that Jesus is truly alive?
Surely it is his disciples,
those in whom his spirit dwells;,
people who have taken deep inside themselves
his living words of generosity and forgiveness,
whose activities thoughts, attitudes, politics
and whose every breath testifies
to his undying love.

© Ken Rookes 2013


They opened a souvenir stand
at the scene of the execution.
An enterprising soldier, having
embraced the government's
gambling-led economic policies,
declares: "Everyone's a winner!"
as he cuts the king's robe
into five-centimetre squares,
mounts them on pieces of parchment,
and, numbering each one,
offers them for sale to the public.

Business is slow, however,
and the soldier is forced
to offer them as a job lot
to some passing merchants.
"They'll be worth a fortune one day,"
he assures them.
The merchants raise their eyes,
but see no king;
only three criminals dying in the sun.
Unconvinced, they pass up
the opportunity.

©Ken Rookes

Why do you strike me?

He spoke his truth in places
where all could hear,
without any concern for caution.
Recklessly trusting in the God he called Father,
his courage could not be questioned,
bringing its own accusation
to those who had compromised. The voice of integrity
receives an uncertain welcome.
Truth is an expendable annoyance,
a disturbing inconvenience
for those who worship at the altars
of power, wealth and fear;
it will be dealt with.
Speaking openly and passionately
of love’s primacy, the man is unbending,
apparently unconcerned about the consequences
of his unauthorised utterances.
When finally Jesus is brought to account
he answers with the same disregard
for the opinions of his accusers.
A local walloper in the service
of the chief priests and Pharisees
feels compelled to strike him on the face
for his presumed disrespect.
Why do you strike me
when I have said nothing wrong?
he asks on his own behalf,
and perhaps for the sake of the millions of innocent
speakers of truth
in the centuries before and since.
Hold firm, Jesus,
there is worse to come.

© Ken Rookes 2013

a poem for Good Friday

To the God of the Godless

When I had tired of the wars around me
Longing for forgetfulness, the softness of arms and breasts,
I could not close my ears to the thunder of the living.

But tonight history has ceased to cry out within me.
My white flag of truce is hoisted, my arms are thrown to the ground,
My back is turned to the cannon and here I surrender.

The hunger of generations is nothing now? Nothing.
The brotherhood of heroes? The knowledge of vast constellations?
I have rejected my vision and renounced prophecy.

Love is the final quality, love and not courage.
Not the love of the Gentiles, the crucified love of disciples,
But the love of my love; it has silenced a thousand poems.

I have sought peace in war, serenity in struggle, pity in hatred.
I shall search no longer, the lights are turned down.
Only faintly, faintly, I still hear the marching step of the unborn,
Feet, feet, moving, moving.


God gives a candle

From The Fleeing Atalanta
God gives a candle
To his children afraid of the dark
How can you die, it says
When this between you lives forever
The candle is hard to maintain
Superfluous in the light
Nearly all prefer to blow it out
But they find with night's onset
It is not so easily rekindled

Jeer if you like at my obsession with love
When dying swine, you will all reach up
Desperate trotters for the same pearl


sitting in the Pain

The readings of Good Friday are about pain, not just Jesus’ pain. If the cross is about anything it is about the whole experience of creation’s suffering and about God entering into that suffering.
It is to me also about the silence of God, about, the death of God. If we fully enter into the experience of the disciples and followers of Jesus at this time we will find bewilderment, confusion and grief. Psalm 22 is a psalm about a person has been utterly cut off from God and the human community, yet who in the end, achieves some sense of peace. It has echoes to Jesus’ cry from the cross and in gethsemane. He is feeling so bad that he no longer defines himself as human but rather as a worm. After having complained to God that God is not be found, the thought of the psalmist turns to the history of god’s people and the promises of God and in them he finds some hope and future, despite what he feels in the present.
          Psalm 22 gives expression to the unutterable despair felt by one whom circumstances have cast completely adrift from all the reference points in life and from all other persons who lend joy and hope. There is no glimmer of divine grace, except for that which memory can borrow from the past. God is gone, and God’s only presence is a distant flame.
          This is where I believe Good Friday calls us to sit. In the absence of God. It is where the disciples were. all that they believed and held dear was shattered. We usually undertake Good Friday with a real sense of the closeness of Easter and of hope and resurrection. In other words we don’t really give credibility to the crucifixion and to our pain. 

The Last Supper

The Last Supper by Rainer Maria Rilke
On seeing Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper", Milan 1904.
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.

The meaning of the cross

"What if we see on this cross not a transaction with an offended mountain god, but a revelation at a moment of time of the love which is eternally in the heart of God, lived out in the long trek of Jesus? What if we smile at our failed and compromised images of paid penalties, sacrificial blood, ransoms, and punishments, all of which reflected some truth but also distorted it, and see in this historical moment a climax of lived love and lived hate, of the gods of religion and the God of compassion, of the political suppression of change and the unwillingness to recant on care? Then he died for us, against us, within us, before us - in a moment frozen in time for all time. And perhaps, then, we begin to know. "
William Loader

Friday, March 22, 2013

In paradise

I could never get much excited by the notion
of Paradise / heaven / the hereafter.
It sometimes seems to be a construct of the church,
attached to the teachings of Jesus
and distracting us from his command
to get on with the work of love.
At best, it is a bit-player, thrust
on to the centre-stage, to claim the spotlight.
There it assumes the role
of an all-controlling Master of Ceremonies
through whom ecclesiastical authorities,
popes, priests and everybody in-between,
direct the thinking and the behaviour
of the masses. If you want to get there,
as opposed to the other place,
remember; we hold the keys!
It suited, too the civil authorities
with its message of divinely ordered patience.
No need for revolution, in Paradise
you will receive your reward / recompense
for all the indignities, pains and brutalities
suffered during your earthly sojourn!
In Luke’s story of the passion
the word is placed upon the lips
of the cross-suspended Jesus,
as he responds to the justice and compassion
of a fellow criminal. Truly I tell you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.
To die with Jesus; perhaps this
is the proper meaning of Paradise.

C Ken Rookes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Giving God a laugh

This is a post from our Uniting church's national President's blog at
personally i think God might be having a good laugh at us at the moment.


The taxi that took me from Sydney Airport to Kensington was driven by a Russian Jew. I was on my way to a meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee. The driver enjoyed having a practicing Christian in his car. He wanted to know what “Uniting Church” is. Was it like “Protestant”? Was it the same as “Catholic”? We talked about circumcision, baptism, Israel and genetic testing. As we got nearer to the conference centre he decided to give me a gift – an old saying a Rabbi had given him once – “If you want to give God a really good laugh,” he said, “tell Him your plans!”
So I collected my bags, still laughing at his true joke, and found my way into the building for three days of making plans with church leaders from all over the country. Three days of giving God a laugh.
I’ve got some plans to tell you about in the next few days. Exciting plans. At least the ASC seemed to think so. But I still thought it might be good to share that bit of Jewish wisdom first: If you want to give God a really good laugh, tell Him your plans!

i don't know who

I don't know who - or what - put the question, I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.

From that moment I have known what it means "not to look back," and "to take no thought for the morrow."

Led by the Ariadne's thread of my answer through the labyrinth of life, I came to a time and place where I realized that the Way leads to a triumph which is a catastrophe, and to a catastrophe which is a triumph, that the price for committing one's life would be reproach, and that the only elevation possible to man lies in the depths of humilation. After that, the word “courage” lost its meaning, since nothing could be taken from me.

As I continued along the Way, I learned, step by step, word by word, that behind every saying in the gospels, stands one man and one man's experience. Also behind the prayer that the cup might pass from him and his promise to drink it. Also behind each of the words from the cross.
-Dag Hammarskjold

how to make a palm cross

Palm Sunday coloring

Monday, March 18, 2013

A question of identity

It is a question of identity.
If you are . . .
Is this not . . ?
Who is this . . ?
Who do you say . . ?
So, at the end, when he is paraded
for judgement, before the governor,
the tetrarch, and then the governor once more;
the questions continue.
Who are you, carpenter;
are you a king?
Will you perform for us a sign,
a something that will set our minds at rest;
or speak for us a word that will seize us,
a truth that will change our living?
No answer is given;
only silence.
The words have long been spoken,
scattered alongside the road, in villages,
kitchens and lake shores.
Some were heeded,
some discarded;
there will be no more.
One final message remains to be uttered.
It is not new, but a repetition
of the oft-spoken word
by which the man has shaped his living
and wrought his identity.
It will not be voiced by lips and tongue,
but by his body, suspended
and reaching out.

© Ken Rookes 2013

Mantra for those who refuse

We do not care what Jesus says;
our enemies are our enemies,
we will not love them.

We do not care what Jesus says,
when we forgive
we shall keep count.

We do not care what Jesus says;
we will store for ourselves treasure
upon this earth. We may need it one day.

We do not care what Jesus says,
our neighbour will have to stand in line;
as will the kingdom.

We do not care what Jesus says,
we will seek revenge upon those who slight or injure us;
the turning of cheeks is for wimps and losers.

We do not care what Jesus says;
anger is useful and we shall cultivate it;
along with anxiety and fear.

We do not care what Jesus says;
we will judge the unworthy,
we will not give our stuff away,
we will not weep
or walk an extra mile.
We will only make peace
when it is to our advantage,
and we will not play the servant,
except where ceremony demands.
We will not welcome strangers.

We do not care what Jesus says;
we will not drink of his cup,
nor will we eat
of him.

© Ken Rookes 2013
Not written as a poem for Lent or the Passion, but then again. . .

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Leave her alone

I wrote this a few years ago, and made the video last year. I am reposting it in the hope that people might find it useful this lenten season. I think the poem is one of my best. The video can be viewed here.

Leave her alone

An action unexpected,
a pouring seeming haste,
a moment for a spilling
of recklessness and waste.
A gesture for defying
the frugal and the wise;
a splash of beauty’s perfume
bringing tears to the eyes.
The jar of alabaster
holding ointment thick and sweet,
its suffering and death
spilled over tired feet.
With crying and with touching,
love’s cavernous caresses
embrace the teacher’s weary heart,
and, wiping with her tresses,
in devotion spends herself
with carelessness and weeping;
the man is strangely grateful
and grasps the loving deeply.

Things there are, so beautiful
they can’t be bought or traded;
with wasteful generosity
the vision’s never faded.
And beauty is an odd thing,
not understood by all;
and loving, even stranger,
for those who miss her call.
Some simply fail to comprehend
and good souls take offence;
the teacher talks once more of love
and speaks to make defence:
The poor are always present
to test your loving’s power;
this gift she has created here
is precious to this hour.
Our time on earth is given,
one day we’ll all be gone;
my burial is waiting now:
Let be, leave her alone.

© Ken Rookes

And wiped them with her hair

Mary of Bethany,
sister of Martha the industrious
and Lazarus the once dead.
How she loved him,
yearning in silence
having determined to be content
with the sound of his words
uttered in company.
He was unlike any other.
Had convention permitted,
she would gladly have left her siblings
to join his itinerant band; perhaps then
she might steal a few minutes of him
for herself. Was that being selfish?
Never fully understanding herself
and driven by something deeper than desire
she resolved to claim her few minutes
Flouting convention, common-sense
and good manners, Mary went in to her beloved
where he sat at the table,
taking a bottle of fragrant perfume
along with her heart.
The former she poured with extravagance
over her beloved’s feet.
With her hair, her hands.
and the same breaking heart
she wiped her beloved’s feet,
and wept for love.

© Ken Rookes

Sacred beauty, flower power and a different sort of courage

“During the Vietnam War days, at the height of the protest movement against it, a rally was held  [in Australia] to discuss strategies. The hall was packed with people who regarded themselves as the leading social activists of their day. Grim analyses were delivered of the situation in Vietnam, several leaders proposed tough action to challenge the Australian government amid murmurs of approval. Then a brave man rose and suggested that we buy hundreds of baskets of flowers and hand them out in the streets as a sign of a peace which had not yet come. There was a stunned silence. This is not what peace activists did – hand out flowers? Come on! The money for flowers would be better used to help people in Vietnam. As a minor member of the movement there, I felt deep in my heart that flowers would be a great sign of a sort of grace, something beyond grim activism. I didn’t say so be-cause I lacked the courage. Many years on, I associate those flowers with a Christ who invites the spreading of perfume over the world, the entry into and the connec-tion with a sacred beauty as well as money for the poor.”   Ian Price from Words for Worship 2001, 

Mary Magdalene marble

Mary Magdalene coloring

In the week of international women's day ....

"At Cana, the divine excess was for a wedding celebration. At Bethany, Mary's extravagance foretold of an imminent death.
           If the suspiciously similar-but-different story in Luke 7:36–50 describes the same event, the anointing of Jesus by a woman is one of the rare stories that's told in all four gospels. It was a powerful memory for the earliest believers. Jesus says her act was so singular that from that time forth, "wherever this gospel is preached, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
           And how's this for unintended irony — Matthew and Mark never name this person; they simply call her "a woman." Luke describes her as "a sinful woman." There's a long history of identifying the woman as Mary Magdalene, although the gospels never say this. John alone tells us that it was Mary, the sibling of Martha and Lazarus.
Jesus anointed at Bethany, by James Woodward.
Jesus anointed at Bethany, by James Woodward.
           What is the Spirit of God saying in this story of wild excess during the Lenten season of self-denial?"

Jesus anointed at Bethany, by Donald Krause.

Jesus anointed at Bethany, by Donald Krause

Many things at once.

A jewel that invites us to view many facets of living. 
Here is Jesus as the receiver of care and love, 
and here is a woman of passion 
and a sensual image and action.
a woman unacceptable in so many ways,
and yet the right one. 
Here is the righteous condemnation, 
the cry for justice and equality; 
(in some ways quite reasonable.)
The moral bitterness, maybe jealousy?
at the heart of it all.
Here is the God/man 
who knows his vulnerability 
and his mortality 
and his need/desire for love.
and the power of the salve of tears.

James Tissot, May Magdelane's box of precious ointment

El Greco, Mary Magdelane

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Prodigal

The Prodigal by Gladston

coloring - the Prodigal son

James Tissot - The prodigal Son

Welcome-home party

An errant & disrespectful son,
(been there, done that);
dissolute living – code
for wine, women and song;
a robe, a ring and a fatted calf;
music and dancing
and a pissed-off older brother:
Jesus knew how to put a yarn together

The older brother was deserving
in the way that the younger one wasn’t.
Worked hard, did what was expected,
never questioned his father’s judgement;
until the outrageous welcome-home party.
The old man couldn’t even wait for the sun to set;
didn’t think to send out to the field
with instructions to knock-off early.

Like the father in the story, who pines
for his lost son, God, they say,
is forgiving and generous to a fault.
Which may be true, but it misses the point.
It’s the older brother, and the rest of us,
unable to rejoice at grace shown to someone
who might be less deserving than us;
we are the point.

Jesus never wasted a parable.

© Ken Rookes 2013

Let's Party

I have often reflected
upon the arrogance of youth,
having been one, once.
We thought we’d live forever,
that old people didn’t understand,
that the comfort we took for granted
would be delivered,
cargo-cult like,
by a world that recognised our cleverness
and rewarded us accordingly.
We thought the party would never end.
I can empathise with the son in the story;
blessed with a wealthy but frugal father,
he probably wondered when the party would begin.
His seriously self-righteous older brother
had been no help in that department.
With audacious and heart-breaking boldness
the younger son acts to claim his share,
and heads abroad where the party can proceed
with none to call him to account.
The party, sadly, does not prove perpetual.
The calf continues to fatten
while the boy’s father waits;
his own celebration held in abeyance.
His brother might still be waiting.

© Ken Rookes

The storm

Haiku of stillness After a long day telling stories, parables, Jesus needs a break. Suggests a boat trip. Let us cross the lake; ...