Response to ‘The Other’ by RS Thomas

As part of the RS Thomas Poetry Appreciation Group we have been asked to write a poem in response to one of his … this is my first attempt which I posted to the group today … you can find his poem on the Intranet … it’s a beautiful read.

There is a 
wakefulness that
is not bound 
by the margins
of sleep;
an awareness that
is constant and
alive. Alive to all
there is in the
infinity and
eternity
of being.

We could not
bear it. Only One
who has borne 
our weakness and
broken our chains
hears and listens,
watches and sees,
across the ocean
that separates
and calls us
home.

The Other Tree

The Garden of Creation, now lost to one and all,
replaced by forest thickets upon whose roots we fall;
our destiny still governed by laws we always break
and all creation stumbles over the mess we make. 

The fruit for which we lusted, upon that single tree,
reminds us of our stubborn pride and failed humanity.
The other Tree was kept from us lest we should live forever;
expelled, we faced the mortal cost of our rebellious error.

But while that sin stained everyone born to the world of men
the love of God could not be dimmed and purposed, even then,
to be the way for our return into his holy place,
our restoration, full and free, by such a costly grace.

Into our world he placed the seed: his Word, his Light, his Son
and he, among us, lived and died - the hope for everyone.
The Tree of Life was lifted up to bear the Lord of All
as it became the wooden cross that broke our fateful Fall.

And once again the Garden received that perfect Man
and we began to understand the mystery of Love’s plan.
The empty cross, the empty tomb, now relics of the fight:
the darkness withers at the dawn of Resurrection Light.

Knowing.

The garden 
awoke: 
bathing in 
the fresh dew 
on its leaves 
and petals; 
stretching 
towards the light 
of dawn.

They knew.

The birds 
chased each other 
in the misty air,
trilling
their joy at
being alive.

They knew.

The ancient trees,
rooted deep, 
let their branches
play in the breeze, 
responding 
to the warmth 
of the rising sun. 

They knew.

The stream 
burbled its way 
with a brighter tone
while the stones 
and the dust
held their place
but in their own way

they knew.

The shimmering air,
the drifting clouds,
the mountains and valleys,
the lands and seas,
the sun, moon and stars,

they all knew ...
and waited.

First,
the women came;
focusing on 
the emptiness,
fearing the worst,
running to tell the men ...

They didn't know.

Next, 
the men,
seeing the evidence,
without understanding ...

They didn't know.

So much distress,
so many tears,
confusion 
and chaos 
swirling 
in their world.

Then, 
just as on 
that first Day,
God's Spirit
hovered,
the Son spoke ...

and they knew.



(c) 2020 Graham Oakes

The Seventh Day

Never,
since the seventh day, 
had there been 
this silence of 
accomplishment.

Not that 
the world noticed.

It had long since 
lost its sensitivity 
to eternity and 
the breathing 
of creation.

Behind the stone,
in a virgin tomb, 
lay the body of 
the Creator.

The Word that spoke,
"Let there be Light",
was contained within 
complete darkness,
just as Deity
had been contained
within human flesh.

The final sacrifice;
the ultimate definition
of "Immanuel" -
God with us:
in living,
in dying
and now
in death itself.

Outside, 
the soldiers 
nonchalantly 
do their duty.

The Pharisees
find comfort 
in their religion
but are haunted 
by his words.

The disciples, 
incredulous that
it had come to this, 
fear
for their own lives 
as those who had 
once believed ...

The women
keep watch.

And, 
as the sun 
slowly slips 
into the evening
of the seventh day,
God, 
having accomplished
all that could be done
took his Sabbath
once again ... 


(c) 2020 Graham Oakes


 

Three Crosses

Three crosses stood on Calvary's hill
struck deep to hold this dark world's ill;
but one of them bore Heaven's Light
that came to break our darkest night.

Rejection spoke in hateful tone,
“I curse you all, leave me alone”.
A life depraved lost its last chance
to look and live with just a glance.

Repentance wept for debts unpaid
and, in his agony, he prayed,
“Remember me, O Master hear,
for in your presence there’s no fear”.

Redemption hung twixt heaven and earth,
oh, who could tell its holy worth?
Repentance heard these words of grace,
“Soon, by my side, you’ll find your place”.

Three crosses stood on Calvary’s hill
with only one remembered still:
the Cross that held Love, crucified,
where, for our sake, our Saviour died.


(c) Graham Oakes

Maundy

He chose to wash disciples’ feet,
despite his majesty,
and showed them all the way of love,
his holy destiny.

Though tempted to refuse the Cup
he knows its history.
The Chosen One has made his choice
and drinks his destiny.

The Prince of Peace is judged by hate
though reason would him free.
This world will never let him rule
and change its destiny.

The Servant-King gives up his throne
to grip a cruel tree.
With hands held wide and crowned with thorns
he bore his destiny.

My God, my Saviour and my Friend
has suffered all for me.
He calls me to leave all for him
and share his destiny.

Now may I live as if I’ve died
to all that I might be
and rise with him, to live and love,
this is my destiny.



(c) Graham Oakes

Gethsemane Night

This deep and silent darkness,
this all too human fear;
this self-denying Deity,
this judgement drawing near.

This cool and fragrant garden,
this echo of the Fall;
this reason for his Passion,
this hard and heavy call.

This path of pain and sorrow,
this pruning of the bud;
this cup that must be taken,
this shedding of the blood.

This one last opportunity,
this choice to turn away;
this Love that answers for him,
this Will that means he'll stay.

This Father-Son communion,
this precious Trinity;
this loss of heaven's presence,
this fulfilled prophecy.

This waited for arrival,
this friend and solemn foe;
this end to end all endings,
this life to death must go.


(c) Graham Oakes

Palm Sunday 2020

This Holy City, silent now,

no congregating crowd;

no busy bustle in the streets,

no meetings are allowed.

But still Messiah makes his way

despite no welcome praise;

his mission, yet to be fulfilled,

the cross must still be raised.

He comes for one, he comes for all;

the sick, the lame, the lone;

he brings his comfort, peace and grace,

to make his Kingdom known.

So listen, in the silence now,

can you make out the sound?

The stones are singing out his praise,

Redemption Love abounds.

The Unexpected Visit

They arrived unannounced. It was not the best of times and we were in a mess. A lot to do, to think about. It was a fearful time and violence was in the air. We did not feel safe and any knock on the door could be the last …

We were here in obedience to the government’s edict but the powers that be were not on our side. We would not be afforded any special protection for being obedient to one set of rules if we were found to be guilty of another – even if the evidence was circumstantial.

The strangers hurried in and immediately I could sense something was not right. For one thing they weren’t locals. Their language and dress appeared eastern. What few words they spoke were difficult to understand – they seemed to prefer gestures; bowing and clapping in the main. It looked like some sort of happy adoration which I thought a contradiction but which they were completely at ease with.

The baby was awake and giggling at all this attention which only seemed to encourage them – and then they unpacked their gifts.

Nothing, apart from the birth of our son, could compare with what was revealed in our presence.

The purest gold, glinting in the semi-darkness, being offered by an aged, trembling hand and then laid at the baby’s feet. A moment’s silence as the visitors bowed low in reverence as if before a king.

Then, the unmistakable aroma of such a fragrance that sweetened the atmosphere – overcoming the smells of the travellers’ long and arid journey. One of them anointed the baby with some of the frankincense and then they all hummed some sort of lullaby or perhaps it was a prayer …

The last gift was similar but offered in silence and some sadness.

Myrrh, from the rich flow of a wounded thorn tree. It suggests pain and sorrow but brings comfort through its salving application. The silence continued for some time … even the baby made no sound.

Eventually,the visitors rose and prepared to leave as quickly as they had arrived. I saw them to the door wondering whether, and how, to thank them. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps we should ask if they would take us with them – escaping the fears of this place – but they left too quickly for me to suggest it. My fears were confirmed however when, later that night, I awoke with the intense compulsion to gather my family together and leave immediately …

So, once again, we became travellers, refugees from terror; carrying only what we had just been given.

Poor and despised in the minds of the rich and powerful we may have been – but we were confident that what we had was the most precious gift the world had never seen.

The Salute

This is something I wrote recently as a thank you to Son-in-law Daniel, who was a bearer at Mam’s funeral.

His RAF uniform was a silent reminder of Mam’s love of her life, Dad, and a fitting memorial to their happy life together.

However, it was another silent statement at the graveside that really touched me and which inspired this response …

The Salute

The fallen fill this forlorn field;
old memories hanging in the air.
Some have no monument to read
while others tell how they came there.

We who are living stand and stare
and ponder our own history.
With little thought, in deeds we write
our very own obituary.

He came with us to say farewell
who, only for a little while,
did know the one we laid to rest
yet still was captured by her smile.

He helped to bear her to the place
where that frail body now would rest.
In Airforce Blue, he proudly wore
the colour that she loved the best.

And so, we stood, in silent prayer;
commending her to heaven above
but he, in honour of her life,
saluted Nana’s grace and love.

My eyes shed tears for this small act;
my heart was filled with thankfulness;
my soul, well cheered that, at the end,
this faithful soldier’s death was blessed.

© 2018 Graham Oakes