Friday, December 05, 2008

That halfway place between prayer and protest

A number of years ago we received a Christmas card from a friend who was a long serving doctor in the Middle East. Card is not quite true – it was on rough cheap tissue paper, the picture stamped by a crude stencil. Paper and “card” were produced by refugees and survivors in one of the world’s suffering places, war-torn Beirut. It lay beside my Advent candle for most of the Advent period. In the clear up after Christmas I lost it.

In the more than ten years since, the story of the new millennium so far has increased the available vocabulary for the litany of suffering places in the world. The Twin Towers. Asian Tsunami. Darfur. Beslan School. New Orleans. Afghanistan. Iraq. Zimbabwe. Congo. Mumbai. In alphabetical order these and other place-names would make up a human lexicon of loss – lost life, lost family, lost homes, lost limbs, lost health, lost direction, lost innocence, lost hope.

The Beirut Christmas card is still important to me because that one picture portrayed the despair and the hopefulness that often co-exist in human suffering, the coincidence in the heart of fear and faith in the future, the desperate dance of darkness and light in our human, and inhuman history. The massacre of the innocents is there, disturbingly embedded in the Nativity story. And perhaps the greatest danger to biblical truth today is not liberal demythologising of stables, donkeys, shepherds, angels and mangers. Much more dangerous in our own all too real world is our editing out of the Christmas narrative the political ruthlessness that sees the collateral damage of a few dozen slaughtered toddlers as no big deal in the world of realpolitik.

As a result of all of this I’ve thought and prayed about the picture on the Beirut Christmas card, which remains a clear image in my mind. I've tried to describe it in this poem – like the Beirut Card, a rough draft, an amateur attempt to say and live the word hope, looking firmly in the face of world realities. Card and poem, offered in the hope that the miracle of mother and child will push us into that highly charged halfway place between prayer and protest that we call the coming of God.

Beirut Christmas Card.

Crude coloured, Beirut Christmas card,

hand-printed tissue roughly made;

pressed shapes, deep dyed against despair,

stencilled hopes of refugees.

The woman holds her crying child,

trapped in a doorway late at night,

silhouette, and threatening dark,

lit from behind by a transient star.

Two arms half open, cradled child,

Cherished and held, a cross beam of love;

body conformed and protectively hunched;

motherhood shaped to a cruciform shield.

Shared shadow falls, reshaping the light,

history told in the shape of a cross.

© Jim Gordon, 2008.


Catriona said...

Thank you, Jim. I feel I can see the card, and the sentiment connects with life in this corner of the world.

ash said...

Thanks for this, it's very vivid.