Sovereign Service

- Sovereignty over us, Propriety in us, and the Zeal he hath to his own worship -

Ted the farmhand receives an invitation to the Palace: The King desires to meet with his subjects. There is a prescribed list of regulations that subjects are obliged to follow, when addressing the royal, as showing due deference to one who guards, keeps and nurtures his people well. Ted visits his neighbour, William, and ask what it was like when he went to the Palace. William tells of the goodness of the King and how he spoke to him, William! 

Ted begins to look forward to going to the Palace and finally the big day arrives. On arrival he is handed a list of the regulations to obey when meeting the King, but Ted the farmhand gives it back to the courtier.

“Can you not read?” asks the courtier.

“Oh, yes. I read well,” replies Ted. “But I don’t need to read any regulations. You see, my friend William visited here the other month and said about how good the King was, and how he spoke civil to him and treated him nice.” The courtier looked long at Ted and offered the regulations once more.

“I told you,” insisted Ted, “they’re not important.” And Ted strode into the main hall, at the far end of which stood a grand throne. 

The King was more regal and beautiful than Ted had imagined. He watched as a little girl stood silent, almost trembling. When her name was called she approached the throne with caution and curtsied low and long. She did not look into the eyes of the King until he lifted her face to his. The child seemed to melt in his smile of approbation and although her knees still shook, there was a glow of joy on her face as she stepped backwards, away from the throne.

Ted’s name was called next. He had imagined this moment so many times and he almost ran across to the throne. He looked the King square in the eye, put out his hand to shake and said, “Morning, your majesty. Nice to meet you!” The King did not shake Ted’s hand, nor did he smile. “Ted the farmhand - why do you not do me the honour that is required? Have you no fear of my power that you do not show deference? Do you not respect my person that you give me no bow? Would you look at me as at an equal?” Ted was a little surprised by this but stood casually, with one hand scratching his back pocket while he thought before answering. 

“You see, William, me mate, he came here. And he said how kind you was to him. So, you being so kind and good and all, I didn’t think you’d care much about formality.” As Ted finished he winked at the King. 

The King sat very still. Ted began to feel a bit awkward, just standing there. He wondered why there wasn’t a chair nearby - he thought they might have anticipated that.

At last the King said, “You knew of my goodness and my condescension, but rather than obeying my commands out of gratitude and love, you choose to mock me in my own court.”

Ted was confused. A courtier gestured to him that it was time to leave and Ted slouched away, turning his back on the King.

That evening, William came round to see Ted and find out how the meeting had gone. Ted said he was disappointed. After a long silence, Ted asked, “William, did you read the regulations?”

“Sure!” answered William.

“Just out of interest - what did they say?” asked Ted.

William eyed his friend carefully. “They instructed visitors on how to address the King and how to present themselves before him.” Ted still looked confused and cried, “But why must things be done a certain way?” William smiled at the memory of his own meeting with the King and answered in a far away voice, “That is what the King would have made plain to you, if you had obeyed his commands.”

Written in 2008.

One Day in Seven

Sunday comes

And all the rest, the promised rest

Of silence and of song

Of sermons and prayers

The Word

The Truth

The Living Way, the only way

To face another week.

 

 

Monday comes

And soon it steals the peace

To leave a piece,

A fragment of the time

From duty done

To duty left to do

With half a thought for finer things

Behind a smothered yawn.

 

 

Tuesday comes

And follows in the wake

Of Monday's master plan,

Concludes, completes

And perhaps perfects

But staggers

Pauses

Stoops to find a seat

In work's low-ceiling'd room.

 

 

Wednesday comes

And all is joy or woe -

Too pressed to rest,

Too stressed to work,

Proceed, now lead

It's all the same.

Neither start

Nor end in view,

So flung, right in the middle, there we dance.

 

 

Thursday comes

And as the sun comes out

We also strive to shine,

To conquer tasks

And overcome distractions

Until they

Conquer us

And sad news upon bad news

Darkens out the sun.

 

 

Friday comes

On dreams of sea and beach,

But soon the tide comes in

And washes dreams away,

With all that was deferred

In the days

Gone before

But can no more be ignored

Than the tide around our knees.

 

 

Come Saturday

And the prospect of a change

When first the bits and bobs

(So better done today

Than left

To linger on

Until next week)

Are done, and all that's left

Is leisure, nothing less, for half an hour.

 

 

Sunday comes

And all the rest, the promised rest,

Obeyed as a command at first

We land on as a blessing:

To rest that we might stand,

To hear that we might speak,

To read that we might know,

To sing that we might praise,

To forget all else that we might worship God

Remembering Him, who kept us all the week.


The Wages of Sin

Written after hearing of three deaths in 24 hours last week. All expected, given age and infirmity, but unconnected in life. One a dear family member and friend; one a neighbour of 90, who I grew up supporting; one a friend. 

This staccato structure is not my usual style, and yet I think it serves the subject better than something more lyrical could. It is a sober reflection on the fact that the wages of sin is death (Epistle to the Romans 6.23). The Apostle Paul finishes the verse with hope, saying that the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. This poem does not touch on that hope, for my sober reflections of last week are of three, who did not to my knowledge grasp that gift.


I did not hear you knock or bid you enter

Yet still you came

Without an introduction

But your name.

 

You came to take the wages you were due

The time was right

No other way to pay

Out of sight.

 

They say, "Weep not, for I have had a good life"

And so admit

The blessings they have 

Accepted gratis.

 

Living so long in debt but blind to it.

They were your sins,

A life self-made,

A death long due.

Parhelion

Two years ago, for a reason I cannot even recall, I asked my brother to bring his new camera on a walk in the hope that we could film the sunset over the nearby marshland. We met the usual dog walkers on the way and stopped on a likely spot, with a bit of solid rock to stand on if needed.

As the sun began to dip, one of the dog walkers stayed too. He watched us and watched the sun, his dog the whole time running in and up and out of the long grasses that fill the marshy riverbed.

"Why are you doing it?" he asked.

I smiled. "Because it's so beautiful."

The stranger blinked and grinned. He liked the novelty of the answer. 

"We all should!" he said and with that he settled on the rock nearby to watch the setting sun.

It was no ordinary sun. I do not know how common Parhelion are - the phenomenon of seeing apparently three suns - a brighter central (the actual) sun and one on either side, weaker but visible. I knew of it as a possibility from the history of Mortimer's Cross, in the time of the Wars of the Roses, when Edward IV could point at the three suns in the sky and under such a remarkable "sign", rally support for the Yorkist cause. I even recalled that someone said he might really have had three suns in the sky, had it been a "parhelion".

As we sat, the only night in 30 odd years that I had chosen to watch the setting sun, three suns appeared. It was more beautiful than I had expected. More beautiful than our dog walking companion had expected. When the sun had truly gone over the horizon point and the sky was darkening rapidly, we started to wend our way back a mile or so towards home. We bid farewell to the dog walker, fixed as he was on the rock, still staring at the place where the sun - or suns - had been.

The beauty of the created world is too often owned by the modern pagan, with his worship of nature as a god. It is easy to swing to the opposite end of the pendulum. Some swing so far as to see the Lord in all creation, a sort of pantheism. But there is no need to fall into either trap. We need only look with the eyes we have been given at the work of our Creator and say with him, It is good.

By Sun and Candlelight

The last four years of my Grandma's life were good ones, as she recovered from many stresses and lived in peace. She found it a struggle to keep up with new information about younger family members but a great happiness to relive the memory of the family who she had lost years before. I worked out our family tree in order to become acquainted with those people who had loved her so much and whom she still loved. We talked about them. We looked at photos. Although the picture of events was still fragmented from my point of view - for my Grandma had an amazing facility to say nothing she would regret in those last four years - it was enough to increase my respect for her. She had faced terrible obstacles with courage. She had endured a very difficult start in life, through no fault of her own.

In By Sun and Candlelight I wrote her life, as best I could and printed one copy as a keepsake to show her. I chose the title as a remembrance of one lovely day in Grandma's care home. I had sat with her for over an hour and resorted to a poetry book for amusement. I read and she listened. We got through quite a few before she found one particularly pleasing, the description of a wife's love in the famous poem that begins "By sun and candlelight ..." She liked it so much that I offered to write her out a copy. I only had a watercolour pad with me and I had to borrow a pen from Sylvia (who was doing the crossword with another resident), but I wrote it out as I would have done at school in my best handwriting.

We were joined by T., my sprightly old lady friend, who used to run the catering in a military canteen. And V., my lovely endearing friend who was part-time kleptomaniac and part-time flatterer. Then J., a recent admission to the home and still feeling a bit lost. So there I sat, with four delightful widows, admiring my handwriting, reading the poem and looking at some old postcards. They each one had a diagnosis of some sort - usually dementia. And I felt completely honoured to be in their inner circle. All their experience as wives and mothers had come to this - a room in a care home. The widows showed one another uninhibited affection and care. They cast sidelong glances, supported each other and were as sweet as a baby bird sitting on a branch. 

Since that day I have been in cities and towns. I have talked to people who looked normal and people who were bizarre. I have passed ten people in the street without anyone looking up to say hello. I have endured the cold shoulder and the disdain that flows from disinterest. In short, there was more genuine love, warmth and compassion from those ladies between themselves than I have observed in any other sphere outside the kindness of my own family members.

It was the only day quite like that in the care home. And I don't mind telling it. But I cannot publish By Sun and Candlelight because to make it public would take away a little of its sweetness. When we put something into public view, we invite people to judge it for themselves. And if they should judge the events differently? Or if they should bring their own baggage and project it into the tale? What if the writing does not adequately protect something from misinterpretation? No. Some things need to be said sometimes, by someone. But not everything. We have lost the habit of casting a veil over private things and that is a shame.

I have compositions that I write which other people will never hear, unless they happen to be in the garden of my home while I am singing. They are not composed for sale or published to make the world a better place - whichever way you like to look at it. It is enough that they are there, that I can sing them to the Lord and no one else. And the same with this story. We have grown so accustomed to the way things are. Creative skills are for money or for art. In either case they are public and showy. But here is a little appeal for doing things for the sheer pleasure they can bring in the doing and, once finished, in the achievement of having done.

Unless sentiment cloud the view, I ought to add that by the time I took the book to show my Grandma the fine dedication to her and perhaps read her a little, she was too tired to take an interest. The lady who once wrote down every grade I achieved at school could no longer be impressed by such show-and-tell but she could be overjoyed with a hand pressed in hers or, even better, a comfortable shoulder to lean against. And that was enough for both of us. 

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Yesteryear

A family's a garden, they say

With all kinds of bushes and trees,

With corners that don't catch a ray

And rushes that sway in the breeze.

A family's a garden in Spring,

When new life will touch every thing;

Till the warmth of a glorious May 

Makes a garden of flowers one day.

 

And yet if this garden will grow

It must have its fair share of storms,

Be cooled when the north wind will blow

And bloom as the temperature warms.

In Autumn the Summer leaves fold

In a carpet of crimson and gold,

Till they're frozen in Winter's first snow -

Still the garden's the garden, I know.

 

Come into my garden and hear

The proud Robin singing his tune.

Come in on an evening that's clear

And blossom scent reaches the moon.

Come into my garden and see

The great oaks of sweet memory,

And water the ground with a tear

At the memory of the those who were here -

In the garden of our Yesteryear.

Copyright © 2016 Abigail Judith Fox

The Memory of Edwin Sand

The clocks struck eight. The sound of so many clocks chiming at once was somewhere between cacophony and the dawn chorus. Out of force of habit, Arthur Sand checked the watch on his wrist and noted its silent harmony with the rest. Thirty-five years of clock-repairs had inured him to the noise; in fact he had grown to welcome it, as a sign of order and precision in an untidy world. 

The post had arrived early that morning and an unopened envelope leant against the teapot. It might, thought Arthur Sand, be easier to face after he had eaten his breakfast. He cast an eye over the cards already displayed on the Welsh dresser. Everyone seemed account for: elderly aunts and uncles, cousins, family friends - in short, the ghosts that gather at family funerals. And they really are like ghosts, thought Arthur. After all, one never saw these people at any other time. Did they really exist, outside of funeral garb?

They would all come for Edwin.

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Why should we then live?

If this, my life, is not for thee, O Lord,

Why should I live

And all else do the same?

What is the end and purpose of the world

If not to glorify thy Holy Name?

 

How know I that the sun will keep its time?

How know I that creation will remain?

How know I that the wooly sheep won't change -

The tame gone wild as all the wild go tame?

 

How can I trust that rain will make crops grow,

The wind that it won't steal my breath from me?

If this life is not true, where should I go?

If you, Lord, aren't my life,

What's left for me?

Copyright © 2016 Abigail Judith Fox

It Never Rains but it Pours

When you’re lying in bed, and rain’s beating against the window, there’s something very cosy about being in bed. After a while, this cosy feeling wears off, and you lie very still, hoping that you might get back to sleep.

Mummy tucked me under the duvet hours ago. The shadows in my room are darker now, and I can see what they are. At first, I thought that the shape near the door was my dressing gown, hanging like it usually does. But, now the room is darker, I can see what it really is: it’s a dragon. It stretches out its green and gold wings, when it thinks that no one is looking. It has an awful face and savage teeth, but it won’t harm me, not while I’m under my duvet.

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Jackie

It was a perfect night for a murder. Not that murder was on my mind, but if it had been, then that moon behind the clouds and that sky without a star would have set the scene beautifully. It was as if the moon was hiding from something, peeking through occasionally to see if the coast was clear - only to creep away again, behind the shroud.

I still don’t understand why anyone wanted to commit a murder on that particular night. It annoys me. In books everyone always knows who did what, and why ‘the colour of the toothpaste’ was important, right from the start. Indeed, by the end of the story, you don’t even think of the poor murdered soul as a person anymore - after all, if they hadn’t been murdered then the story would have fallen flat, wouldn’t it?

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The Proof of the Pudding

I knew I’d regret it. I knew when I was letting Jenny write out the invitations. I knew when we put the invitations through the letterboxes. Of course, Jenny pestered about using stamps. My fool of a daughter never had any sense and it seems that my granddaughter will have none either. I don’t have anything against grandchildren, not in theory. But in practice it’s another matter. Jenny gets sent round to “cheer Grandma up”. Like I need cheering up!

But I know what my daughter’s after. She gets more out of sending me her silly children than I do in having them. To start with - childcare. I’ve heard her telling people that it’s a treat for me to look after them! Is that how she convinces herself that she isn’t using me! (Of course, she doesn’t know that I heard this - she thinks I’m deaf, but I just pretend to be. It makes everything so much more open and friendly when people say to your face what they’d normally say behind your back.) Anyway, the other reason she sends me her children is so obvious that I don’t know why she doesn’t just admit it. You see, she said terrible things about me. So I told her they were all out of my will. She knows I don’t joke, but somehow thinks that if her children look at me lovingly then I’ll melt, and leave them all my money!

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