Schotse gedichten

Toen Stephen Smyth, secretaris-generaal van de Schotse Raad van Kerken (Acts) onlangs op bezoek was in Nederland, heeft hij niet alleen de bezoekers van de kerk van het Leger des Heils in Almere toegesproken. Hij voerde ook enkele persoonlijke gesprekken over het werk in Schotland en hij maakte een excursie naar het voormalige eiland Schokland om iets van oud-Nederland te proeven. Daar vertelde hij van zijn liefde voor gedichten en toen hij hoorde dat het eiland in 1859 noodgedwongen door de bewoners was verlaten, omdat de dijken het eiland niet meer konden beschermen, vertelde hij van een gedicht dat hij zelf over ‘dijken’ had geschreven. ‘Maar het is wel kritisch op een bepaalde manier’, zei hij erbij, ‘dat zullen Nederlanders waarschijnlijk niet begrijpen’. ‘Stuur maar op’, kreeg hij te horen. En dat deed hij. Hieronder het gedicht ‘Manning the Dykes’. En om nog iets meer van de dichtkunst van Stephen Smyth te ervaren nog een tweetal gedichten: ‘Tents, not temples’ en: ‘Give us a God with skin’.

Manning the Dykes

We have gotten very good at dykes:

planning and building, draining and drying,

mending, extending;

reclaiming laundered land from salted silt;

squaring off our human will

against a much more complex creation.


We have gotten very good at dykes.

But, for too long now,

trapped by our own achievements,

we have had to contract our overburdened workers

ever longer,

had to stretch our under-nourished populace

ever thinner.


For, out there, in our days,

the world has changed:

its systems storming

towards an unfamiliar balance.

The tide has turned

and all our petty fabrications

are less than castles made in sand.


There is no point now

in plugging our heroic fingers

against the flood.

Our future

is in fishing, not farming;

in fluid, not firm.


What we need now

is to teach

our faithful, but exhausted, community

to learn afresh

how to swim and sail.


Stephen Eric Smyth


Tents, not Temples

We keep on building temples

where we should be pitching tents.


We keep on constructing ownership

on rock and sky, and clinging

to This spot, This space,

This hill, This tower….

none of which is sure enough

to last the sands of time.


We keep on falling at the feet of idols

made in our own image

and born of our own projections:

little matter

be they built from gold or power

or stone upon hewn stone.


Yet beyond our fabrications stands a god,

a god who speaks our name. Listen

to the freeing in our hearts.

Wherever we are called tomorrow

is it likely to be within our self-confining walls

or settled on some present land of little promise?


This god, this Other,

tugs at our tentflaps

and, rustling off through dry or meagre pastures,

invites us onwards.

Sometimes, this god, this real God,

will lead the way;

sometimes, we will walk alongside

this Him or Her;

and, sometimes, we must take our turn

to carry this God, this needy God,

upon our weary backs.


Oh, there are many days,

and even more nights, when

the shifting sand beneath our steps

best understates our faith-filled journeying.

Yet, with every glimpse of new horizon,

we do have the sense

that we are

getting somewhere.



Stephen Eric Smyth



Give us a God with skin

not the forgotten god of empty ritual,

nor some vague kind of inferred presence.

We don’t want that indifferent greybeard

nor the frigid bookkeeper nor capricious wonder worker.

We don’t want a human choice from a pantheon

of our own fears and foibles, our hopes and heroics.

Do not try to palm us off with a warm fuzzy

nor to confuse us with some clever theological construct.


We need a God with skin:

a God who is embodied and earthy;

who is washed down lovingly in our birth

and anointed equally lovingly in our death;

a God who hungers and knows our bodily needs;

a God who can laugh and dance,

who has played and who knows the importance of rest;

a God who can be cared for, who can be touched.


We need a God who sweats and blisters

from work and from walking,

who smells of the crowd and of the marketplace;

a God who is leathered with exposure

and tempered with tears;

a God enfleshed,

who will shiver with all our fears,

and will bruise and bleed under lash and thorn.


We need a God who knows our dust

yet whose presence glows with the fullness of life.

We need this God beside us, within us;

to sustain and unite us.

We need this God to assure us

that we are not alone

and that, yes, our fleeting mortal day

is meant, and is meaningful.



Stephen Eric Smyth

© Stephen Eric Smyth    used with permission