This is the season of new beginnings. Some people may have made the resolution, in one way or another, to ‘turn over a new leaf’, though when I used that phrase once in a conversation with my mother, she looked at me sharply and said: ‘Its not the leaves, its the roots that want turning!’
I am turning then to the roots of my faith in the living words of Jesus, deep generative words, words of Life, as the gospel calls them, because Life himself speaks them, and from them so much new life and growth can spring. But there is a problem. Many of these ‘words of life’, these sayings of Jesus are so over-familiar that we have ceased to hear them at all, ceased to register the shock, and challenge, that many of them contain. And when we do begin to grasp them we often find them difficult and don’t take the time we need to wrestle with them.
I have begun a new sonnet sequence called Parable and Paradox, reflecting on and wrestling with the sayings of Jesus to try and get past that familiarity and return again to these deep roots.
In this particular sonnet, which will come near the beginning of the sequence, I look at the moment in John’s Gospel, when disciples are leaving Jesus, because they find his sayings too hard and challenging, and he asks Peter directly if he too, is going to leave, and we read in John 6:68:
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Peter may not understand all that Jesus has to say to him, but he knows that somewhere in there is the heart of life itself and he is going to stay with Jesus until he understands it. And that really is the starting lace not only for this sonnet but for the whole sequence.
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button
The Words of Life
John 6:68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
You have the words of life, where should we go
Except to you, to try and take them in?
We want your words to quicken us, to know
And be transformed by knowledge deep within.
How is it then, these words seem dead in us?
We neither let them go nor let them live,
Their empty echoes always seem to haunt us,
As daily we refuse what they might give.
Oh Teacher we need more than just the hearing,
More than these readings we have set apart,
Somehow the two-edged sword we have been fearing
Must pierce at last the well-defended heart.
Unsheathe it now and help us take the pain,
Pierce to the point where we can start again.