Back then

Dates and times are vague
in the story of Ruth;
in the days that the judges ruled
there was a famine in the land.

That is all we are told, but it is enough.
How old were Mahlon and Chilion
when they took local Moabite girls,
Orpah and Ruth, to be their brides?
Old enough to take on the responsibilities
of wife and family. And how old
were the girls? The usual age;
pubescent, most likely.
And how old would they have been
when they were widowed?
Ten years older, we are told,
but that may be an exaggeration
since neither of them had yet produced a child.
So it is, at least according to the story,
that thrice-bereft Naomi packs up her tragedy
and returns with her young daughter-in-law
to her home town and country.
There she must trust; both in God
and in the generosity of her wider family.
Ruth, a young woman who is presumably
not yet past her mid-twenties,
will, for all time, become the standard
for loyalty and devotion;
not bad for a foreign widow.

© Ken Rookes

Your neighbour as yourself


We all heard the reports and the rumours.
It seems he was from Nazareth,
“Centre of intellectual enquiry
and religious education,”
we had joked among ourselves.
We went down together,
to the temple precinct, to see for ourselves.
We weren’t the only ones.
Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians,
and fellow scribes
keen to bring him down a notch or two.
My colleagues entered the fray
with great enthusiasm, but I stood back.
I watched, I listened.
I was impressed.
Amid the grunts and snorts of all the scoffers
he spoke confidently, with passion,
and seemed concerned for the truth.
After the others had finished,
and retreated, muttering,
to devise new riddles,
I stepped forward, and respectfully asked
him to name the greatest commandment.
He quoted two laws about love;
of our duty to God and to neighbour.
I heard the candour in his voice;
saw the joy in his eyes.
I smiled. We talked,
nodding our heads in agreement;
and he told me I was close
to God’s kingdom. I smiled again,
and let him have the last word.
I wasn’t looking for,
didn’t need his seal of approval,
but I took it.

© Ken Rookes 2012

We socialists

Growing up in the sixties
with Dylan, Lennon and Buffy Saint-Marie,
I also listened to the songs of Jesus.
He sang of freedom,
had compassion for outsiders,
and regularly warned
against the dangers of riches.
Identifying with those who struggle
and yearning for the revolution
that was surely coming,
I abandoned the politics of my parents
and took a sharp turn to the left.

The revolution never quite happened.
The powers of Capital and Wealth,
manifesting themselves in the persons of
Fear and Greed, seem to have God’s measure.
They continue to hold much of the planet
in their thrall; in spite of serial betrayals
we still vote for them. Constantly anxious
that their supremacy might be challenged,
they take every opportunity
to use their abundant resources
to discredit, ridicule and revile their opponents;
lest civilization as we know it, be lost for good.

A world shaped by justice, generosity,
peace and compassion, may yet happen;
and without the violence and destruction
of bloody revolution. Such a miracle
will require many fearful dragons to be slain,
multiple tyrants to be opposed,
and manifold evils to be confronted
before the people can be truly free.
Together we can stand strong,
together we can make it happen; one day.
Roll on, Jesus’ gentle, (and costly),
revolution of love.

I still call myself a socialist,
and refuse to apologise.


© Ken Rookes 2012


Let me see again

Let me see again
the blue sky gleaming gold day
when I saw the wonder of your grace.

Let me hear again
the words of love and hope
which make my spirit leap and shout.

Let me sing again
the song that soars beyond
the mean confinement of my thoughts.

Let me feel again
the cool wind of your Spirit,
causing me to shiver and stumble.

Let me dance again
the steps which ever surprise
as they rise towards the mystery.

Let me taste again
the cup of your discipleship
and weigh its bitter-sweet draught.

Let me reach again
to be embraced by love
and to share it with your friends.

Let me see again,
like at the first,
and let me follow with brother Bartimaeus

on the way.

© Ken Rookes

Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch.

When God finally did the right thing by Job,
so the story goes,
he blessed him with a new family.
Not quite the doubling of numbers,
as with his wealth and possessions,
but we assume that he was not complaining.
Most certainly the unnamed woman
who happened to be his wife
would have been more than satisfied
with a total of ten,
having given birth to a precise replacement
of the seven sons and the three daughters
that were lost at the start of the story.
If we take the figures seriously
that’s a total of twenty confinements,
which, I daresay, she thought was enough;
besides which, if you do the arithmetic,
you’d think that she must have been past sixty
by the time she had finished giving birth.
(Hmm, we might need to go beyond the literal
to find the meaning of this story.)
The ratio is probably about right;
more than twice the number of sons
than that of daughters. Proof,
in the context of the times,
that Job was truly blessed by God.
But, funnily enough,
the writer seems only interested in the girls,
not even bothering to name the boys.
Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch
were very beautiful, he tells us;
without compare in all the land of Uz.
Perhaps even more notable
is the story-master’s assurance
that the daughters each received their share
of Job’s estate, alongside their brothers;
a remarkable thing in the context
of the times and the culture.

We celebrate Job for his virtue of patience,
and for his faith in the face of suffering;
perhaps we should also celebrate
his pioneering insights into gender equality.
That and his counter-cultural determination
to be fair and just.

© Ken Rookes 2012

Seats of glory

You know I love you both like brothers,
but I’m embarrassed,
and you should be too.
You don’t get it; you haven’t been listening.
If it was up to me you could have them,
but it’s not that simple
and the others might object.
The seat on my left and the one on my right,
they’re not mine to grant,
because they belong to everybody
and no-one.
There will be no worldly kingdom,
because it doesn’t work like that;
and there will be no heavenly kingdom, either,
because a paradise among the clouds
is just as irrelevant, and disquieting,
as one amid earth’s dust.
There will be no seats of glory;
not for me, not for anyone.
There are no seats, only places,
and they have little to do with glory
and much more to do with serving
and giving and suffering
and living and dying and making peace.
Places for standing and moving,
not seats for sitting and presiding;
places for gathering and for sharing together.
Places for being a servant,
not reserved for the best, or the greatest.
Places for everyone
who is willing to drink the cup
and to immerse themselves
in prickly water-spirit baptised life.
Places for disciples; followers
who allow themselves to be raised
above all the fears and the worries.
Places of connection, with the Spirit,
building justice, love and grace,
into kingdom and community.

© Ken Rookes 2012