The problem with history is our imagination

I am a student of history, particularly Ancient History. A lot of people don’t understand that, or think it boring. Yet many of the same people, when I read them a poem or monologue which delves into the historical character will say, “Wow, that comes alive. I never realised that.”

History speaks to us when we allow ourselves to consider that the people who made history, were just like us, many with the same fears, self-doubt, arrogance, bravado, whatever….

 

It’s the same as the rest of our lives: when we look at the facts, we make judgements through our own filters. When we consider the motives of an individual, or more to the point, the factors that might influence someone to do what they do, then not only do we become more tolerant and caring, but their journey has the opportunity of meaning something to us.

 

Here is a poem about Abraham, the “father of the Jews”, who was also, of course, the “father of the Arabs”. Be that as it may, he was a man whose journey is chronicled because he happened to believe a promise from God, that God would bless him and make him a blessing, that his descendants would outnumber the grains of sand, the stars in the sky.

 

The poem is set at the end of his life and there are references to events that, if you wish to explore, you can find in the book of Genesis, Chapters 12 – 25. It is full of the mysterious, bizarre and difficult to believe – like many of our lives.

 

Abraham at Sunset

Mt Moriah

 

On this mount

I sacrificed my will

Yet fought to subdue it

Al my life since.

 

Through these branches.

Rays pierce my eye’s colour,

Depth and purpose, pure and unfettered

Where once struggled God’s provision.

And this broken altar’s long shadow

Separates me from the fractures

Of my past:

Vague pillars and rash, rogue words

In the deepening twilight behind.

 

Though ancient by any reckoning but his,

I feel my youth here,

This air, driven by his breath: my lungs

Fill with promise afresh,

And that which I believe –

My credit, my glory –

Is dwarfed by he who is faithful.

 

The golden light scans

And finds me flawed but looking

Full-face into its beauty,

For I do not know see life as

A struggle for superlatives by which

I may be known,

 

But it is to serve well,

Walk in peace,

Strive for fidelity of heart,

Doubt with integrity,

Think no other beneath you,

Cling to the one

Who calls you to greatness,

Yet never think yourself great.

 

But a maxim without a heartbeat

Is a sword without a champion.

 

So I would that those who follow

Not just be my flesh, my blood,

For generations hence, in name,

In tribe and in nation;

 

But spirit, wisdom, grace

And power incarnate that would grow

Beyond what I have learned and lived,

And so, make the promise a blessing unending.

 

Stars renew his vow

As this day’s last light drains

And i, with upturned face

Will close my eyes without fear.

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