Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward, by John Donne

Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward, by John Donne

This is one of my favourite poems, John Donne perfectly blends a formal complex style with the very human desire of repentance, of turning around, to becoming more Christ like (O think me worth Thine anger, punish me, Burn off my rust, and my deformity; Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,). It’s a poem that has spoken strongly to me several years over, and contains too much for me to delve into now, so I will leave this with you for your own reflections on this holy day.

Let man’s soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th’ intelligence that moves, devotion is;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl’d by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul’s form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees God’s face, that is self-life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul’s, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg’d and torn?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnish’d thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom’d us?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They’re present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and Thou look’st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang’st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face.

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The Three Faces of Christ by Trevor Dennis

I started writing my sermon for Midnight Mass around this poem before I went off an a tangent which developed into the current sermon (previous post). But I thought it was too good not to post.

The Three Faces of Christ by Trevor Dennis

What you must first understand about the face
of Jesus
is that it is so small.
He has no hair yet.
His milk teeth are not yet shining beneath his gums.
His lungs are well developed,
as Mary and Joseph and the animals have already
discovered.
But he has no language beyond his crying.
He, the Word of God,
cannot say ‘Mamma’.
He, the Son of God,
cannot call him ‘Abba’,
let alone argue with rabbis and priests in the
Temple
the finer things of heaven.
He is the Love of God,
and yet he cannot smile
(though sometimes, when he gets the wind,
his face crumples up as though he can).
His face cannot focus,

and yet, and yet,
if you kneel beside his manger
(you will be far too high above him if you stand),
if you kneel so that your face is close to his,
then you will find yourself
looking level-eyed into the face of God

A second feature of his face to have imprinted
on your soul,
the laughter lines that play about his eyes.
Some keep their Christ pickled in piety,
or paint him stern as a schoolmaster,
in Dickens,
on a bad day,
unbending, uncompromising, unforgiving,
Why then is he such good company?
Why does he tell such stories?
Why does he teach the lame
not just to walk but dance the tango?
Why does he turn water into wine,
and speak of living life to the full?
Why does he bend so low,
this ‘unbending’ man,
that he can wash disciples’ feet?
Why will he always compromise,
if that means touching someone in their need?
Why is forgiveness his Alpha and Omega,
his beginning (his middle) and his end?
Why does he fill his own tomb with such merriment
that we can only call it ‘resurrection’?
See, his whole face dances with the laughter lines of God!

The third marking of his face you cannot miss.
I mean the pain,
the bewilderment,
the sorrow,
the sheer anguish of it.
Such is the expression we have left him with,
now we have strung him up on that heavy cross beam
he has lugged along these narrow streets to Golgotha.
He will die with it.
His hair is hidden behind black thorns.
His teeth are gone,
knocked out in the beating the soldiers have given him.
His lungs rasp for breath and soon will lose the fight.
We have robbed him of his language, too,
left him just a few last words
with which to hurl his loneliness at heaven.
He cannot smile,
for we have wiped all smiling off his face.
His eyes can hardly see for pain,

And yet, and yet,
if you stand yourself beneath his cross
(oh do not kneel, or bend your head, but raise your eyes and see!),
if you stand on very tip-toe,
then you will find,
to your great sorrow,
but his small comfort,
that you can reach
to soothe the very face of God.