The Beggar: Marrakech

The first time I walked past him he was in a half squat with his hand partly stretched, his elbow nestled between his groin. His right hand was out, his left hand covering his chest – holding his cloak in. His back was supported by the pinkish wall behind him – they all had a shade of pink and were virtually indistinguishable. 

It was just after lunch and we had, having placed our bags in the hotel, left with eagerness and purpose to begin some preliminary exploration of the souks. The mosque, which he was perched opposite, had emptied and the business of the narrow street had resumed. It seemed as though there was an endless stream of the noisy motorcycles just waiting for you to begin trying to navigate your way before hurtling down the narrow streets. And the maps, those blasted maps, never made any distinction between what was quite obviously an alley to the foreign eye and what was a street: how self-centered. Needless to say, we eventually got lost. 

Sometime before leaving London, I had been sent by a colleague to offer a homeless man some soup. He had frowned as he saw me coming and lifted his palm to me like a gate, demarcating the area I was not to enter. It’s no excuse but (the excuse is) I had up to this point encountered ‘the professional beggar’ plenty of times. This had made me weight the scales in favour of distrust and away from compassion.

We walked past this one. 

“To the least of my brothers” He said.

The Walker

john the baptist

“Where are you going?”
Said the boy to the walker.

“I go to the horizon
to find the place where the sun emerges,
Rising when it’s darkest
So with the first rays I can harvest
the hope of things to come.
It sinks into the dew
and evaporates when the light is brightest”.

“But you have neither bag not basket,
How do you keep what you harness?”

“Peace demands I take no bag,
Courage that I take only the shirt on my back,
I shake the dust off where there are mountains
And drink where there are streams.
As for the quarry I seek, these feet,
soaked in the mornings joy,
feed the heart I follow
to the visions that keep my soul warm.

Besides,
I placed my bright mourning flower on the widow’s window,
Put my loaf of bread at the door of the new parents,
Gave my bag to the beggar for his first belongings,
And my water jar to the unpaid servant.

So all I have is me.”

He then watched the thoughts
shoot through the young boys mind,
Watched as those fresh eyes
noticed the closed doors
and flickering candle lights
just about piercing through the gaps
of the boarded up windows.
He watched as the perked up ears
noticed soft whimpers
in between the quietening bird song.
He watched as the the blood
drained from the unguarded face,
the beating softening
as the realisation grew
that though all was not gloom,
it had left little room for much else.

Then knelt the walker,
Gently taking off his shoes.

“One day,
When these fit you,
You will chase the horizon too.
Perhaps towards the setting sun
To mine the hums of the cooling breeze
For the gifts of the seasons:
Reasons to keep going
in the face of encroaching darkness.
Between us maybe
we can feed the trees to fruit again.”

With that he handed them over,
Smiled,
And carried on his way.

© Denis Adide 2018

With special thanks to Peter Duckworth.

Joseph: A father’s song.

joseph-father-of-jesus-2 (1)

The words chimed on the wind like a soft breathed whisper,
then lingered lazy – full of as much meaning as a seaside sunset –
and yet,
what thoughts it triggered weren’t new but old,
untold and not faced since we first visited the city:

“Rising and falling of many…”

Sustained they were by a heartache fore-felt,
despite valiant efforts to forget,
and the unfulfilled thirst to whisk you away
forsaking the path set.

I did it before once,
when the drums were rolled
and chariots scolded the roads to us;
when spears were wielded
and swords throttled new sons.
I knew then we had to flee
but from this… from this… I can’t keep.

I saw it, I saw it as I was sweeping,
sweeping sawdust –
which mixed with my weeping made for a somber evening.
My work was finished,
The table was made:
smooth and with carvings overlaid.
What remained were the three nails
nestled together at the centre
receiving and reflecting the bright midday light.

“Rising and falling…”

I beheld the sight
and the old fright gripped me to the core
you were mine but always more
and the road to be walked was yours –
I knew then that I couldn’t follow.

For a while my days were made hollow.
Drawn out evenings,
shallow mornings,
and skies coloured by mourning eyes:
The seconds for my pleading still wouldn’t relent,
you were, in my weeping: the son I couldn’t protect;
you were, for my keeping: the Son I couldn’t reject;
the one my heart could not forget
nor eyes evade when the time came.
And come the time surely would,
so said the whispers,
the nails,
and the wood that perfectly still –
though the days moved –
before me perfectly stood.

“Rising and falling”

The words chimed on the wind like a soft breathed whisper,
then lingered lazy – full of as much meaning as a seaside sunset:
three nails, and my little lamb on the table laid.
Softly said with an exhale
so that I would know that my failing
was simultaneously also my hope
and though I grope at strength to save you
what I need do is repent.

Son I love you,
so when comes the prophets day,
and your flesh succumbs to the slightest decay,
I like your Father wont turn away
it won’t be dismay but heartache…

and gratitude…
and pride…
and gratitude…
and sorrow
and gratitude…
and pain.

© Denis Adide 2018

Scriptures to ponder…

Isaiah 53, Luke 2:21-35, Matthew 1:8-25, 2:13-18, 27:55-56.

A Strange Story : Easter Day Evensong sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral.

West Doors

“What are we to do with this strange story? This strange story that seems to us to come from another world. A world different from our own. This strange story about a child born of a virgin, conceived of God; a child whose birth is heralded by singing angels, shepherds and kings; a child whose birth is foretold centuries before it happens; this child who in his youth teaches his teaches but is always obedient to his mother and father. What are we to do?

What are we to do with tales of water being turned into wine; of people born blind being given their sight again; of the paralysed being animated; of the lame walking; of the sick being healed; of leper’s being made clean by a touch; of the dead being raised to life again? It seems to us from another world. A world very different from our own. What are we to do?

What are we to do with the claims of this child, now a man, that he was there with God in the beginning; that he is God among us, Immanuel; that it is he that placed the stars in the places they occupy; that it is he who decided the numbers of hairs we would have and at which point some of us might lose a few? In a world with pictures of black holes, science and modern medicine, what are we to do?

My suggestion this day is that we follow the evidence. We start by asking why a fire in an old cathedral is a tragedy? If all we see is all there is then why lament the smoke? Perhaps there is more, perhaps that world from which our story comes isn’t that distant after all.

If the story-teller is the same one in the beginning as is at the end, if He is Alpha and Omega then maybe in the corridors of history he might direct Isaiah – a prophet in exile – to speak of the day when the true rules of this universe would be revealed; to ask whether when that day comes, people would understand the gravity of what they witnessed.

If He is who he says he is, maybe he might allow humanity to throw their best at him. Beat him, force him to carry a log up a hill, nail him to that log and mock him as he dies. Maybe he might allow those who think death is the best weapon to bury him in a tomb and sleep soundly in their success: enjoying the grief written on the faces of his friends, soundly in the knowledge that the rules hadn’t changed. Soundly in the knowledge that might was right; you survived if you were fit or lucky enough; the sword would always win and bombs in churches would silence heaven.

Medicine tells us that blood and water from a pierced side only flow from someone who is dead.

History tells us that A Roman guard would never fall asleep on duty because it would cost him his life.

Science tells us that more than one person can hallucinate at the same time. But for two to have the exact same hallucination is extremely rare.

Where does that leave us when it comes to the three women at the tomb; or the 11 or more in a room they had locked from the inside; or the 500 who saw him alive; or the billions who have since encountered him in person by his spirit.

Today we strongly celebrate the reality that the rules did change. The tomb sealed to keep a dead man thrown wide open by a God who for compassion had come to the dust of the earth to make of them his children. The swords placed in soldiers hands to ensure he stayed dead were scattered by the display of what might really looked like. The earth shook. The way was paved for the women, considered the least, to come and find hope instead of continuing grief.

Death has lost its sting, evil its greatest weapon. Humanity has gained victory.

Ye though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. For our shepherd – the good shepherd – has gone before us. Laying a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Giving us shalom, peace with God – the only sure foundation for joy.

Alas its is indeed a strange story, but not from another world. Granted perhaps it is a collision of two worlds, God’s plan for heaven and earth. A plan so that the eternal song of heaven, the song of the saints persecuted to death is “Sanctus! holy! Holy! Holy!”. For they see the tapestry completed. And the song of the church on earth, “Allelujah, Our Saviour is risen!”; of victory over death is sung with a hope unquenched and a joy everlasting.

Perhaps as we depart this day. Let us in the power of the death conquering spirit, confident in this strange but true story, participate in this seditious and rebellious song of a church united in heaven and militant here on earth.

Sanctus! Sanctus! Allelujah! Allelujah

May God bless his word to us today.”

Catch up: Part 4… Yes Retreat, Yes Surrender. 

Even though I’ve grown to love silence, it is sometimes very difficult to work out how to make it a resource when reflection is actually necessary rather than practise. It can be like those odd moments where someone tells you not to think of an elephant and you try to obey. Once the gavel rained down telling us to be quiet all I could do was notice the noise in my head and heart.

I hadn’t been a regular retreater so this was a somewhat unusual thing to be part of. most of the times I had taken to do some reflection involved very long walks/ hikes/ bike rides. I always had something physically exhausting to do which allowed me to think. Being in one place, and worse being still, didn’t really work for me. Neither did the surrounding city streets. So this ordination retreat was going to be awkward, even more so with that blasted elephant I had to try and barge out of my head (a thing not helped by the elephant’s penchant for trumpeting and hip hop based interpretive dance).

Once the train ride was done and we had found our way, bags and all, through to the east of the city, we alighted and carried our wares to St Katherine’s retreat centre. I was nervous. The bag that my cassock was in was white, noisy-plastic and quite cumbersome. It kept knocking against my knees. I had hooked the hanger on the strap of my football kitbag which was looped over my shoulder: my kitbag had my other clothes. The more we walked, the more foolish I felt. The more foolish I felt, the more nervous I got. The more nervous I got, the more the feeling that this role to which I was supposed to step into after this retreat was one which I was neither capable nor qualified for. It would only be a matter of time before they (whoever they are) would see through the facade and expose me as the fraud I felt I was. To compound the whole thing I didn’t offer to help one of our party with her bags coming down the steps from the train station (insert poop emoji here).


[Just to say… Our faith is one that is chuck full of hypocrites. Not because we profess to be something we are not, but because we are something we have no right to be. Righteousness is a gift given to those who cannot attain it. Accepting the gift is quite a hard task, especially because ever unction from within us rejects the gift: simultaneously also stating our need for it. This whole priest thing isn’t exempt from the struggle of self acceptance – acceptance of the self as God declares it to be. If you are facing a similar predicament, looking at the privilege and wondering whether you fit the bill then hear me say this… You are fit for it because you are not fit for it. You are fit for it because God makes you fit. It is fit for you as gift, like that blasted technicolor dream coat which repulses part of you because of the unfiltered and unexplainable hope. You wont be comfortable with this until the right time, and those parts of you that are impoverished, and trying to escape the drought rediscover this aspect of you seated in prime position in Pharaohs courts. Be patient. Trust God. Trust him more than you trust yourself. Oh… I digress. Let’s return to the regular programming.]

The tranquility of the retreat centre was as welcome as an oasis would’ve been to Lawrence of Arabia (hyperbole). Finally having a room to enter and a place to put my bags down meant, at the very least, space to breath. I took off my shoes. I was tired of hiding my nerves by joining in the niceness of the troop. I hate smart shoes. There was still dinner to endure followed by the silence for which I had downloaded episodes of Rev onto my iPad (apparently the final part of my theological education). The retreat schedule lay open on the small table, one for each room I assumed. I read over it as I unpacked my bag onto the bed, freeing my cassock from its confines. My Darth Vader costume was well pressed (Vader of Cheam) but my new and unused clerical shirt still had the new-shirt creases in it. It would need ironing before Saturday (when the force would be at full strength).

After a few seconds staring at it I tucked the collar into the inside jacket pocket and then by the hangers lifted everything off the bed and placed them in the wardrobe by the door. It had doors which, thankfully, meant I could compartmentalise that part of my future for now. The full size mirror hanging on the outside of those blasted doors weren’t helpful. There I was. In full ‘colour’; the dreamer in technicolor (HD). I couldn’t look myself in the eye for too long. Priesthood… lol (insert tear drop emoji here). The story behind me was a full and enfleshed one, my heart wouldn’t let me turn back even though my stomach desperately willed it. It was too late now.

I cannot capture in words the depth of gratitude I have for our retreat guides. The balance between the seriousness of the task before us ordinands and the truth of a joy filled life on display not only filled me with courage, it inspired me past the cobwebs of my shaken self concept and into a place of deep trust in the God who was gently beckoning me forward. The pre-dinner introduction was fantastic. it gently teased me into laughter by making the experience I was about to have a corporate one: the nerves were shared equally between the 30 odd ordinands on this retreat. The stories that our guides shared made what seemed like a dark thicket at first turn into a well trodden path whose pitfalls were well documented, avoidable, and survivable.
Permit me to straddle two times here.

This post should’ve been sent shortly after Catch Up 3. The reason for the delay is the great disruption that was Brexit and its equally devastating aftershock TRUMP. I put my silence down to a broken heart. All of a sudden the world I thought I lived in took its mask off and once more revealed itself to be negatively complex. Worse still it didn’t understand itself as it was appearing. There were friends, close friends who I felt were contributing to the this negative complexity and as such I didn’t know how to respond. I couldn’t understand their positions. Neither could I understand my own hearts. I couldn’t write about what I hadn’t understood, mainly because I didn’t have a clear ethic to apply. The lessons captured in the book of Barabas needed to seep in. The bitterness to which those lessons spoke into needed to be digested so as not to pepper every expression with the same blotches of red (or whatever colour grief takes).

At this juncture I must apologise to those who listened to me preach ‘in those days’. #Gosh.

“That morning” one of the retreat guides said to me in a moment of prayer. He was referring to the end of the ordination ceremony. “Look out the great west doors to the cathedral. Look out into the world to which you are called”.
At the time these words lifted some of the weight I had felt thrust upon me by the little black boy. They refocused my mind away from questions surrounding my capacity and aptitude towards the clear image of a God who went before those whom he called. The shepherd was good and all I had to do was follow him. Simply true, and traceable through the life I had thus far lived. I was where I was due to a stupid bumbling into obedience. God had made use of my errors to make me who I was and was now about to do the same in leading me to life, and with that others also. #SolaGratia

Then came brexit… and trump.
To the ordinands out there slowly marching towards their ordination I share this. The world is messy. That makes the calling both complex and life giving. Complex because people generally do not realise their rejection of Jesus and each other (it is one of those things the bible attests to).

Complex because the effect of it all is heart ache (and I suggest that a lack of heart ache indicates an unknown resistance to Christ: because having compassion and being confronted by its subjects will always break hearts). Complex because the nature of the compassion and the nature of the people who need it most make embodying compassion extremely difficult.
Life giving because the banner we bear is the only one with a realisable hope at its core. There is nowhere else other than in Christ that the world finds resolution (both existentially in the present but also in eschatological terms). Life giving because the same place of deep frustration at the seeming ineffectiveness of compassion is the same place of understanding God’s gracious unconditional compassion towards you. Life giving because for a brief moment at different frequencies, there will come a moment when the banner and uniform will grant access to the privileged place of helping others see that compassion from God as centred upon them – and that is magical.

In the face of these things, it is definitely worth recognising early that the rank your joining is one you’ve already been apart of. You are being set apart to be who you are and no more. There may be other responsibilities but the tip of the spear remains the same: proclaiming Christ the crucified and resurrected forever servant-king of kings. It remains being his witness to a world that doesn’t know him or even understand the impact of its blindness to him. Our proclaimation will work against a vast and seemingly endless tide but, in the words of a very wise group of people, “we are on the winning side”.

Embarking on my retreat, all I had was the petty nervousness that was born of a small world. A world that encompassed only my own perception of myself. Now, about to embark on another retreat (priesting), I am assured of a bigger world into which I’m being sent. If this was as clear to me last year as it is now, I might have dealt with the heartbreak a lot better than I did.

When the time to be silent came, I plugged in the iron and brought out the shoe polish. With each crease I took out of my clericals, I recognised the flawed nature of the institution I was soon going to represent; I recognised the flaws in me that these well pressed garments would either cover or highlight; but most importantly I recognised the reality that God had chosen to not reject either. In his mercy and wisdom he had chosen earthen ware to carry his Holy Spirit. I wasn’t with Simeon, who after patiently waiting to see the Messiah now sought peace. No! I was with simon peter, who through error and betrayal and blasted cockerels (or elephants in my case) was now being asked to feed lambs and sheep; who was being asked to fish men into an eternal net; who was being granted the privilege of watching them draw their first breath once out of the waters of baptism.

I didn’t watch Rev in the end.

Left onto Stoke Lane

The sun shone brightly,
it’s warmth tempered by a deep cooling breeze.
The days weren’t as long as they had been,
the grasses were browning from summer’s green,
And I could see, as I drove in,
that the leaves were desperately clinging to the trees,
Soon all would fall and a new thing would begin.

It had been a quiet drive,
Serene and subtle deep,
The slower speed now meant I could perceive
the acorns and conker seeds
knocking in the wheel arches.

Left onto Saville Road from Parry’s Lane,
then right onto Stoke Road down the hill,
I’m sure its here I should turn in.

There are indeed some scenes that stick
like the big rocks at the bottom of clear streams,
or words vividly spoken mid-winter dreams,
that lay claim to a past and form the present’s meaning
while conquering future schemes,

She was one of these,
The tree’s – like her veil – did peel,
her brick work sealed by the gardens (Big up Dave Snell).

Intimidating, her beauty was to me,
Shyly I walked into her open arms
and within her embrace I blinked.

Then with a blade, dipped in love she touched me
Hurting to heal, healing to teach,
teaching to give me more than I had dreamed

There are indeed some scenes that stick,
like the big rocks at the bottom of clear streams,
or words vividly spoken mid-winter dreams
that lay claim to a past and form the presents meaning
while conquering the future’s schemes.

How indeed, will I now with eyes open
Full of hope release the grip of her embrace?
Even though the grasses are green,
and the flowers pristine,
And the trees themselves in bloom,
And my real calling is to serve her groom,
How will I, without tears, this very long journey resume?

Well, I must bid these faces adieu,
Treasure the spaces and rooms,
The calories burnt and consumed,
The songs sung in and out of tune,
The comedians, The d.j’s,
and the tears shed in the old swimming pool.
As they go from present meaning to past anchor,
securing my future schemes
as I turn left one last time onto Stoke Road,
and up the hill.

The light brightly shines through the clouds,
the sun they slightly shroud in drizzles will win,
His warmth, seeping in through the slight chill
will bless the new leaves and fill the trees,
And lay claim to a past, form the present’s meaning,
and conquer the future – once a dream.

© Denis Adide 2016

PS: All mistakes are on purpose, they frustrate those who notice. Those who notice… know!!

 

https://www.trinitycollegebristol.ac.uk/blog/kingdom-living/left-onto-stoke-lane-a-poem-from-one-of-our-leavers/