Too hard to follow …

Another breakfast chat with Jeff. This time we were chewing over John 6 and Jesus’ teaching on the Bread of Life and how his disciples are to feed on him … flesh and blood!  This can be hard for us to digest but think what it must have been like for those first followers who only knew the Mosaic covenant, the Manna and a unitarian God …

Jeff’s poem describes how one of those who had to leave Jesus (v66) might have regretfully come to his decision … 

John 6:66

It was there I reached the line
Beyond which I could not follow
All my invested time
Misplaced.  Left paddling in the shallows

At the Jordan’s shore:
Only thus far could I go –
Deeps I could not dare to venture,
Steeps I would not climb

With barest hints and mysteries,
And no surefootedness.  This talk
Of eating flesh and drinking blood –
‘Does this offend?’ he said.

Ironically, I stayed
Past all the heckling, the taunts of cynics,
Listened, agonised and weighed
Each word, praying for clarity –

‘The Spirit is what really counts,’
He said.  I heard the call to wade
Out further, and held back.
The fervour of a curious follower alone

No longer quite sufficient
For the level and the quality of mission
He’s suggesting is ahead.
It is too much.  It is uncertain

And there are too many unsubstantiated
Variables.  Back, then, to sound dry land,
Letting drop the travel pack to solid earth,
Shaking his saltwater words from my hands.

May 2017 Jeff Hankins

My poem is more contemporary and considers that when we decide to ‘leave’ a particular group of believers either to go it alone or set up a new expression which preserves and proclaims some important truth that we feel is at risk we may be acting in a selfish and reactionary way over something less important than maintaining the ‘unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’  – in humility, gentleness, peace and love … (Eph 4:3)

Does Jesus ask us, “Do you want to leave (me) too?” 

His 12 disciples were far from perfect yet he kept them close … how perfect do we want our ‘fellowship’ to be?


How often we grumble
and argue …

Preferring the comfort of
our own understanding
on points of theology
and literal interpretations
we separate ourselves
from each other;
sometimes in haste,
seldom ‘in love’!

And, as we estrange ourselves
because of doubt,
or fear, or arrogance,
we move a little further
from the Truth we think
we are preserving.

“You don’t want to leave too, do you?”

He knows our thoughts and our hearts.
He knows who are his
and who will deny or betray.

And so, as his chosen,
through all our failures and deficiencies;
our rumourings and grumblings;
our desperate divisions and
transient trends
he remains …
in us and with us,
to the end of all things

and forever.


May 2017 Graham Oakes

Contemplating Ascension

My friend Jeff and I meet regularly (about every 2 weeks) in local cafes, Supermarket cafeterias etc. specifically to discuss our spiritual journeys over breakfast or some other meal, share creative work and pray. It has proved an interesting experience, not least the praying together bit in full public view. We haven’t had any reactions yet but there has been a definite thrill in doing something overtly which could be misconstrued or otherwise objected to. It has also given me, at least, a greater appreciation of the freedom which is currently ours to speak the name of Jesus and read the Bible outside of our churches and other Christian venues.

At our last get together we each shared a poem we’d written about Jesus’ Ascension. I share them here as examples of our diverse styles but also the joy in discovering more about each other’s faith and walk.

Jeff wrote his poem in 2009 after an Ascension Day Service but it begins with memories of his childhood introduction to Jesus life and ministry …

Ascension Day:

It was my sister’s clothbound, dog-eared life of Jesus
Picture book which drew my early wondering through
Everything from manger, Mount and miracles, to passion
Cross and gaping tomb. More vivid to me than catechism,
More colourful than the eccliastical year.
It was the final frame, especially, that held with something
More than poignancy. A kind of challenge to me.

So to the postage-stamp square of grass
That was our back garden, I took the book
And devoted myself to practising the Saviour’s look:
The lift of the head, raised eyes, but even more
It was all about getting the hands right –
The angle of the arm-bend at the elbow, the turn
Of the wrist, the opened palm and splay of fingers.
I worked religiously to recreate the experience.

It was, after all, the age of Gagarin
And of America’s busy-bee responses.
Anything could happen. Nothing would surprise.
And despite my labouring in vain, I don’t recall disappointment.
True, the strategy was not mastered;
I remained earthbound; but perhaps, in place,
It was granted me to dream with regularity
Of flight, accomplished casually with most enviable ease.

Tonight our service seems tame: I’d like
To take the congregation out into the church’s grounds
To practice angling arms and hands for an Ascension lift-off.
We could look up, and learn the ultimate anticipation
Of emulating Christ the cosmonaut; I suspect we’d also learn
Most concretely, that like this crowd in the picture
Awed around the cloud of his upward propulsion,
We too are the ones who have to stick around.

(c) 2009 Jeff Hankins

Neither of us had seen each other’s poem before we wrote them but there are interesting similarities despite their very different design and language …

This Strange Gravity:

Here, we stand; rooted and
grounded by this strange gravity;
limited by our eye-level perspective;
weighed down by failure and falling;
distrustful of what we cannot see.

“He is risen!” And yet we still
focus on the empty tomb,
the memories of the garden and
the road to Emmaus (though our
communion often lacks such revelation).

Where is the life you promised?
Where is the quality, the essence?
We caught a glimpse of your blood-less body
but we need more than resurrection theory;
we desire a bigger life; better than the best.

you shook the foundations
of our tradition and faith.

you break the ceiling of
our low imagination
with such a weight of glory
and, through the gift of
that holy sprinkling,
you root us and ground us in
love …

… and we are free to fly!

© 2017 Graham Oakes

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