Monday, 18 April 2016

A Vision or a Dream.

In vision or dream
I saw a man in Dachau
give his last morsel of bread
to one he thought was suffering more.
I heard his thoughts.
"I am no mere plaything of circumstance.
They can take my life but not
the freedom to choose my way."

I rushed to tell my friends
that choice determines who we are,
proof sufficient being in Dachau
a man chose compassion over self.

One friend replied:
"Noble indeed is such a one.
Heroes make these choices.
The exception though is not the rule.
Choice is circumscribed
by circumstance
and eliminated for most by horror of place."

Another then spoke:
"Oppression's boot can find the weight
To crush all choice away.
Was that man's compassion
an act of choice?
I rather think it a gift of grace."

A strange and diverse parade
then passed by
following the banner "Choice",
surprisingly small in number,
privileged ones all sleek and well fed-
warriors, warmongers and kings,
artists, writers, scientists,
simple honest folk and villainous ones too.

Then the next parade came in view
following the banner "No Choice"
and they passed by for days.
I wept to see
starving children shuffling by,
eyes bereft of hope-
women marching on and on,
slaves, bruised and beaten, acid scarred,
child brides, circumcised, mutilated,
disempowered, exploited, disenfranchised-
multitudes of poor,
their every choice dictated by need-
the tortured, guiltless and cruelly oppressed-
lastly, the largest throng,
billions with crippling chains forged
deeply inside their minds,
limited thoughts conditioned
entirely by place.
"Is there no-one to set them free?"
I groaned in tears,
until at last in blessed relief
the world went dark
and I could see and weep no more.

In the dark
a voice came softly speaking
words I had heard before.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.
He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's  favour.”
I cried aloud in answer
"How could this ever be?
How can these captives be set free?
How can the blind be given sight?
How can the oppressed have liberty?
Can there ever be equity?
What the day? What the extent?
What the arm? What the method?
What the power? What the man?
What the promised liberty?"

I awoke suddenly from my dream
in sober, shaken state.
Could so many be choice-less bound?
What of this hope
that chains will be removed?
Can humanity achieve this on our own?
and determining the answer to be "No",
(yet desiring all chains to go)
considered then my choice must be
to surrender in prayer to the hope
that chains be loosed,
and since compassion is a gift of grace,
my choice must also be
to pray that such grace comes to me
so that I too can,
in shared humanity,
offer my last morsel of bread
to those who need it more.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Caravaggio's St John the Baptist.

After the relentless repetition
of Annunciation, Nativity and Crucifixion,
the sadistic scenes of Last Judgment,
their florid, cruel sensuality,
their crowded, muscular nakedness;

after the ornate splendour of palaces
covered from wall to ceiling
in blue, gold and red,
depictions of battle, death and victory
or violent, Biblical narrative;

after these you walk down a darkened crypt,
past fading depictions of gospel scenes,
your mind numb from days of surfeit
and suddenly there it is,
Caravaggio's "St. John the Baptist",

not a prophet from the Judean wilderness
with fiery, uncompromising words
but a slender youth
rendered in exquisite truthfulness.

His skin is luminously beautiful.
The light, from the left, touches him
on cheekbone, shoulder, thigh, knee, calf.
The lines, composition and colour are masterful
but its real wonder is its truthfulness.
He turns from his simple shepherd's task
as if you've suddenly surprised him,
a complex mixture
of amusement, confidence and shyness,

a friendly, joyous gaze,
as if the nuance of his mind
in this single, fleeting moment
has been caught in Caravaggio's brush
and effortlessly placed upon the canvas
so we, who come to it after so many centuries,
can be transfixed by its beauty and truth
and be privileged by the momentary glimpse
into the mind of that boy
and the transcendent power that captured it.