The hawk

This morning, I watched the chicks scuttle around outside the door.  Their mother was there, of course. Watchful, but not intruding. Because they were quite big now. That gawky, half-feathered stage. And they had no idea that they were gawky, half feathered. They thought they were adult. As we had thought ourselves grown up. Yet it was only the mother hen who saw the circling hawk. Squawked, then they all had to dash for cover and for her.

This is the anniversary, then.  You could never forget it, and it is forever pegged to Passover, to the run-up to Passover. The time just before the frantic clean-up. The time when all kinds of hope and fear and memory grow out of proportion.

I remember a very young Mary, all righteousness and fervour. A slightly sullen Martha, the insult about not remembering, no, not choosing the best thing as yet not wholly forgotten or forgiven. A very very young Lazarus, still a boy really.

I remember my fury with Jesus for not saving Laz, the worse because he had saved so many others, not dear to me at all. Martha being even more sullen. And Laz, well, Laz as a burden on our hearts, as a huge pain somewhere about my diaphragm.

Then, Jesus arriving, and his sitting weeping. And if he had been Laz, I could have gathered him in my arms, but of course I could not. Not touch him. A man and a rabbi and no blood relation at all. And to be honest, I only wanted to comfort him so much, and no more.  Yet I felt for him some, and at last, I said “I am sorry. I am sorry that I thought you did not care.” And his lifting blurred eyes to me, and looking at me as if what I said did not even make the most formal sense. As if there would never be comfort in the world for him again.

Then the amazing trip to the tombside. Jesus standing sobbing again. And the words, and Laz staggering out, and the amazement as the smell fell off with the bandages, and the joy.

And a few days later, the dinner. The men all lying dining, Laz one of them. The joy was still flooding me. Because now it was all over. Lazarus was not just alive, but well. He lay at table with the others, taking his place as a man among men. And the women all serving, so gladly. And then my knowing I wanted to do something more, something special.

Fetching the most valuable thing I had. That pot of nard. Breaking it open. Scent and gladness. And pouring it over Jesus’s feet, because I could never do enough. It was not enough to pour it on his head. His very feet were holy.

Oh yes, I saw the looks, heard the muttering, knew using my hair was so so shocking. I did it to shock, if you have been wondering. Rejoiced in the looks.

And now, I sit in the doorway, and look at the chicken and the hawk. I never saw the hawk. But ever since that Passover, I have known how I helped to draw the hawk down on Jesus.

Now, I am an old woman. Astonishing. I creak when I sit in the doorway. I creak when I rise up from sitting, too. And I sit and think. So. This. It does not matter that I drew the hawk down with a lure as men do. Because there is a price for everything. The love of man and woman brings the child. Brings labour and pain and blood and, if you are lucky, brings a live child. And the child brings pain, too. And grows, and brings more pain. I remember one of Jesus’s stories, and I think of a rich man, so desperate for his son’s love, he would lose his dignity and run to greet him.

I am making a bad job of this. I don’t know how it all works, not really. But I do know that lies, and cruelty and misery and the rich paying a pittance for the work of the poor, and the poor always hungry and desperate – I know these things have to be both forgiven and also put right. I remember the song Jesus’s mother had made, and taught us.

That is what brings the hawk. Every time you put the big ones out of their seats. Every time you fill the poor with good things. And now I realise that when Jesus raised my brother, he chose to call the hawk down on himself. He alone was the grown-up that day. And in all our wild joy, we did not see the cost of what he did. He did not weep for Lazarus dead. He wept for Lazarus living.



Mary Oliver gives Instructions for Living a Life

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Head down, thumping the keys on the computer, worrying about getting all things done.

Pay attention… the trees are changing, buds are forming, little signs of green and yellow, the wind is moving them and the sunlight is making silver flashes here and there. Stop for a moment to watch, to pay attention to what is around me outside. Stop and breathe more deeply. Stop and drop my shoulders, sit back, let the tension go.

Another day, another to-do list, another phone call to add to all the rest of stuff to do.

Be astonished… a painting on my desk catches my eye, of Mary and Martha, a reminder to be more like Mary but the painting focuses on the things Martha has to work with, food to get ready, hospitality to be offered, and I wonder how much freedom a working woman has to make the right choices.

Things to ponder in Lent, books to read, prayers to pray, confessions made, alms given.

Tell about it… when you have nothing how easy is it to sit and contemplate, to listen to holy things, to not fret about what you have to do? When you are working three jobs to make ends meet, how can you find time to sit and just ‘be’ let alone get to church? I know it is a parable, a story to astonish us. But it seems so unfair to ask this of men and women who have no time but struggle every day just to exist. Tell that story.

Image result for velazquez christ in the house of martha and mary

Diego Velazquez, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1618


Salvation’s Song

Miriam led Mosheh to the edge of the Reed Sea. ‘Are you sure, sister? Can you do this?’

Once, once before she had tried to turn the tide of a river, to change the flow of the reed bed to make a bit of dry ground. It was nothing more than a dare to herself — to see how much she had learned of how the current was shaped. And then, it was a tiny flow, and small inlet. She surveyed the mass of water ahead of them. ‘Yes, if God is with us. And who knows, brother, there may be time for your wonder working too.’ She sounded calm, poised, but in her head, she prayed: ‘God, if you would give him frogs and gnats and plagues, give me this: wisdom, wit and a few well placed sand bars.’

God smiled at her daring.

She watched the wind bend the reeds, and said, ‘Quick, follow me.  And say to them: “walk where I walk, step where I step.  Do not hesitate, or change the path.’ Moses spoke to the Israelites, and Aaron did the same.  Miriam set out into the waters, ‘And brother? Remember: walk where I walk…’

Mosheh realised he was the weak point in her plan.

Miriam crept and leapt and ran through the reeds as the currents demanded. As they followed, the waters shifted: responding to their presence, adapting to the new disturbance in the flow. Miriam led them out into ever deeper waters, and then found them a resting place where the reeds grew thick.

‘Wait here!’ she cried. ‘Mosheh! Aaron! Tell them to wait here and you come with me.’

Miriam ran not across the sea, not towards their goal, but straight into the river’s source. To the top of the sandbank, where the water split around the raised bed of the sea. The people could see them — if she was lucky, they would be able to hear them too. ‘Mosheh, tell the people: “I am going to strike the sea with my rod. When the dry land appears, run. Run to the shore.’

This rod that brought vipers, Miriam whispered, let it bring life. 

Mosheh called to the people. ‘It is time. God will save us. I will strike the sea and you must run. Run as fast as you can. I will see you on the other side.’ The people looked out at the still pools of water ahead of them — the deep pools of water, that they knew they couldn’t cross, and wondered where Mosheh had taken them. But the Egyptians were closing in, and a rumour began: better to die than to go back! They prepared to run.

Mosheh was fearful.  ‘Miriam?  Will this work?  Am I really going to strike the sea?’ He liked it better when God spoke through burning bushes, than when God spoke through his eldest and bossiest sibling. ‘Yes, Mosheh. You will. But Aaron and I will be with you, and we must stand firm and spread our cloaks wide. Angled, there… like this!’  Miriam got them into position.

Mosheh raised his staff and prayed to God. He felt the winds stirring as he spoke. Miriam watched the current, and judged the angle of the flow. She leaned far out to catch the edge of the current. ‘Now, Mosheh, now! Strike the water.’

Moses brought down his staff, and the people prepared to run. Miriam watched as the current bent around them — not parting over the sandbank as it usually did, but curling around towards the Egyptian shore. Miriam knew they didn’t have long before the waters swirled back and the whole sand bar would be undermined.

‘Tell them, Mosheh. Tell them to run!’

And the Israelites saw the dry land appear. At first, they were too shocked to move, but then one of them understood what was happening and shouted, ‘This way! Follow me! Run!’ The Israelites fled across the sudden sandbanks, the ever changing reed bed, finding dry ground.

Quickly! Miriam prayed. She could feel the water swirling behind them. The sandbar was beginning to give way

As the last of the Israelites approached the shore, Miriam said to Mosheh ‘Lift your rod and flee. Get to dry land!”  And she followed behind them, pausing only to thank the water.

As she turned, she could see the Egyptians approaching. They horses swam out towards the river’s swirl.

‘Turn back!’ she cried to them. ‘You will never make it.’ But they rode on and the water hooked around the horses hooves. Miriam would never forget the scream of the first horse as it fell. Remember, little one: she whispered arks are not the only way.

Miriam reached the shore where the Israelites watched as the sea swallowed their oppressors.  Miriam hated the devastation they had caused — but she didn’t want the people burdened by the weight of it.  So she did the only thing she could: she re-told the story.

Miriam took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’

The people joined in the song, and cried out their relief to God. They had escaped the Egyptians. They were free.

But God saw the tears that Miriam wept as she danced. God joined in the counterpoint: There is salvation, Miriam. The ark is not the only way.

She heard God’s whisper and laughed as she cried and danced.


They were young and beautiful, in the simply way the very young are. They did not realise this, the most of them anyhow, and by the time they did, the beauty would have drawn back a little. They were also, to a bridesmaid, asleep. It was late and they were young. Even excitement could not hold them awake.

The bride and groom were nowhere to be seen, delayed by the ceremonies and excitements, and the tediums of politeness at her old home. Her new one awaited. Probably with a difficult mother-in-law, but today nobody was thinking of that.

One small lamp burned. ‘Keeping the oil for the big moment,’ said Jesus, ‘but I hope they have plenty.’

‘Perhaps they should have stayed awake,’ said John, rather piously.

‘Perhaps,’ said Jesus, ‘But it can be a long wait. No the important thing is to have oil. I mean, to have what you need, to be ready when the moment comes. Because the wait is long, agonising. Justice? Love? How long a wait. It would make a good story, I think. Twelve young girls. The ones with enough oil, and the ones without. The point is, sleep, but then be ready – when the moment comes where you CAN make a difference, then be ready… I shall work on that story. It would be a good funny one.’


Carefully, she picked her way through the reeds. At last she had learned; at last her mother believed she had learned. At last, she was allowed to go down to the river on her own.

What her mother didn’t know was that she had become very good at finding dry land. Where others stayed by the banks, Miriam explored the channels. She’d realised that if you watched where the water was still and where it rippled, where the reeds were bent and where they danced, the paths went well out into the water. There was dry land everywhere, if only you knew where to look. And Miriam had found it.

She pushed her way into a clearing and thanked the deer who had slept there. If she settled right on the edge, she could dip her toes in the water and not be seen. She smoothed her skirts and took the ribbon from her pocket. The ribbon was her most prized possession. Another secret. She had found it one day, caught in the reed bed, lost by a careless princess. It was dyed with azure and woven with gold, and she had never seen anything so beautiful.  But more importantly, the dragonflies loved it. Miriam had learned that if she was very patient and let the bright ribbon trail across her tan skirts, blue would be drawn to blue. The dragonflies would rest on her lap, and she would feel richer than any queen.

Miriam stared at the water and watched them dart back and forth. She loved it here — dragonflies and sunbirds, deer and frogs. She imagined the reed bed was an ark, and all the animals were hers.

The ark. Now there was a troublesome story. She had been told it all her days as a sign of God’s goodness, but she wasn’t sure. If there were to be a great flood, then she liked the thought that God would take time to make sure the animals were safe. But if God sent the flood, then that was another matter all together.

‘What about you, little one? Were you on the ark?’ She whispered to the dragonfly who had at last settled on her skirts. She barely breathed lest she disturb him, but she asked again: ‘did you sit Naamah’s knee, or did you find your own way through the waters?’

For this was her newest theory. Some of the animals were indeed kept safe on the ark. Burrowing creatures, and grazers who were particularly vulnerable to flood. Voles and fox, cats and dogs, deer and milk-yielding goats. But some — like Miriam herself — would have known were the paths were, and ran fast to dry land.  And others — like her dragonfly — could find their own means of escape. God did not need to trap everyone in a boat.  God would let each one find their own way, and the ark was there for those who needed help and safety. 

‘I wish I had an ark for Moseh,’ she thought, and she began plaiting reeds.