rembrandt entombment

You let yourself be
fixed hard
to the place
of bleakest abandonment
of weightiest guilt
of sharpest pain
of wildest sorrow
and now,
in your spent body,
you have borne all that brokenness
to a hidden place
where you will
bear with it
endure it
abide with it
until it becomes
all rest

Then from that silence
the tiniest flame
begins to glow


Rembrandt’s Entombment Sketch is in the collection of the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow.


Passion Triptych

van cleve triptych

A city looks on:
the domestic industry of smoking chimneys, lighted windows,
life goes on, people shrug,
another criminal gets what’s due,
sad for the family but the rule of law must…

As others filter out this everyday evil
I, with the three others, let a hand touch
this bruised reed,
this now-extinguished wick,
no longer dimly burning
but darkened by
judicial sentence,
military-precise humiliation,
hammer blow,
dead wood erected,
quiescent citizenry.

Our hands that touch
offer the only care left to us –
to bear the weight of sorrow,
to lay claim to the Loving One,
to place all our hopes in the dark mustiness of hollowed-out rock,
as if to plant a seed in soil that has never yet brought forth yeild.


Joos van Cleve’s triptych of 1505-08 is in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland.


He answered not a word

El Greco Christ

Sometimes I sit in front of you

and have nothing to say;

no word of confident proclamation,

no fine expression of devotion,

no compassionate intercession, well-crafted and sincere.

And sometimes it’s not just that I have no words:

I feel silenced by you.

Silenced by those steady eyes

that fix me in their challenge,

their probing questions,

that repeat the questions I’ve heard you ask before;

‘will you follow?’

‘can you drink?’

‘will you stay awake?’

‘do you love?’

Well, let me try on you that trick you pulled on Pilate,

answering not a word.

I can do that too.

I can meet your questions with a silence of my own!

And so I sit. Defiant. Pleased.

And still you look

and in your silence bid me open my mouth

and say but one word – your name.


And I do so,

and in that word I see that you seek

not an answer but a response,

not a knowing but a loving,

not the next thing but one thing.


El Greco’s Christ the Saviour of the World of c1600 is in the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Vanishing Point

Hobbema middelharnis

Whiptail trees, spindly, gnarled, stripped,

Leading me on and on to a vanishing point –

A simple, placeless place beyond the place where I stand,

A place of convergence, concentration, homecoming,

A single-pointed oneness.

I long to set foot on the rutted path

So that I might hasten my arrival there,

Each stride, each exertion bringing my goal closer.

But the trees, who have been here longer than me,

Tell me not to be so foolish:

The vanishing point will always be beyond the next step.

They have their own homecoming simply by standing where they are planted.

We reach that simple point of unity not by striving, but by stillness.


Meindert Hobbema’s The Avenue at Middelharnis of 1689 is in the collection of the National Gallery in London. The image is reproduced from Wikimedia Commons.

Silence Speaks With Many Voices


Silence speaks with many voices:

the silence after an echo, before the next bar resumes the melody;

the silence of not-knowing, in the face of wonder, fear or loss;

the silence before a word takes shape, and the silence to which the word points;

the silence of simple consciousness, of awakened awareness;

the silence of the desert, in which demonic voices arise and are then silenced by silence itself;

the silence of one whose words have been stolen, whose voice has been denied;

the silence of one who faces his accusers, refusing to play their game of terror;

the silence between us as we rest in the knowledge of our communion;

the aching-peaceful silence of death;

the silence of eternity, interpreted by love.

William Dyce’s Man of Sorrows is in the collection of the ational Galleries of Scotland, image from Wikipedia Commons