The creativity part of this post is simply an observation. While I was on retreat during my sabbatical I found time and energy to produce a number of poems as well as several drawings and paintings. I have never considered myself to be a poet or and artist and I never do these things except when I am on retreat. Yet a retreat gives time for reflection and to allow the creative process time to develop and mature. My day to day life, I conclude, does not give these opportunities, but this is something I am determined to address over the coming weeks and months. It is too enjoyable and satisfying (even with my poor technique) to allow to wither.
One of the poems I wrote concerned the dream Joseph had, warning of Herod’s impending genocide. As we commemorate the Holy Innocents, I thought I’d share it:
In my dream I hear
the clatter of hobnails on a stoney street
muted in the moonlight, so as not to stir to premature alarm,
and purposeful, feet that know
exactly where they are going,
what their orders are and what to do.
And in my dream I hear
a signal, and at that signal and on every door
a loud knock followed swiftly by
the splintering wood, loud raucous shouts –
no two second wait for legal niceties –
drowning the dazed, confused mumble
of those awoken by this 3 a.m. alarm.
And in my dream I feel and smell
the shock and fear of those roused early from their beds
to clash and clang of ringing steel.
I almost hear the rushing thoughts,
the “why me?” questions; “what have I got to hide?”
I feel the roughness of the soldier’s hands,
the strength and hardness of his boot.
And in my dream I see
the little streams of blood trickling
from a hundred doorways where
just yesterday a young child cried or screamed
or played or took a first step, said a word.
The streams collecting in the path outside,
the bodies left, of no more consequence
than tomorrow’s lunch.
And in my dream I feel
the pain and anguish of those bereft –
fathers and mothers, whose joys and hopes
lie dashed against the pillars of their homes.
I hear the wailing of a thousand tongues
and voices raised in grief:
Rachel weeping for her children.
And in my dream I see
a tyrant satisfied that now the threat
to undermine his power is allayed –
until tomorrow when some new plot
to seize his power may be uncovered,
feeding the paranoid frenzy once again.
No peace for the ruthless.
And from my dream, once woken,
this I know: the time has come for us to move
far, far away. No time to lose.
Tonight, the three of us will meet at edge of town
and, like our descendants, flee
to far-off foreign safety for a while –
until I dream again.
Holy Innocents is the dark side of Christmas – certainly not “for the children.” The Word becomes incarnate in a violent, politically motivated world like ours – a world where the suffering and death of thousands and millions is accepted without a murmur by the powerful as “collateral damage” to protect their interests. It is a stark reminder of what humanity is capable when it feels threatened.
Finally, here is a carol which is rarely sung in most churches over Christmas – the Coventry Carol in a setting by Kenneth Leighton sung by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge (nearly as good as the rendition given by our diocesan clergy choir last Tuesday).