From the Daily Office: Daniel 5:1-12 tells the story of Belshazzar’s feast, in which the king misappropriates the temple vessels for his own carousing, and is answered by a mysterious finger writing on the wall of his banqueting hall.
Near the church that I serve is a bridge that no longer leads anywhere.
Over spring break, my son and younger daughter indulged my spirit of exploration and crossed the bridge with me. We used a lump of leftover tree to test the snow for holes in the infrastructure below. My children are too old for me to lay down the law, so I made only two rules: don’t fall through the bridge; and no reading the graffiti out loud.
Truth to tell, I am fascinated by the writing on the walls. Please don’t misunderstand; I am not condoning vandal acts, still less words of hatred and vitriol. But the casual way in which some communities lay their souls bare, writing their unspoken prayers on the walls of bridges and tunnels, speaks to me.
Under the bridge to nowhere, among the satanic symbols and sex crimes, a cry of the heart burst forth from the concrete – “expletive heroin!” – two words that carried the wail of the psalmist’s lament, the grief of a people overwhelmed by tragedy and undermined by a cunning and cruel enemy.
It would be a stretch to compare the blasphemy that heroin and its partners in crime commits against the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, to Belshazzar’s defilement of the temple vessels at his feast, but there it is all the same: the writing on the wall, condemning and defying; the cry of the remnant in exile.
The promise of apocalyptic prophets like Daniel is that God will remember God’s people. In the meantime the prayers of the people waiting in exile, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls,”[i] silent beneath the snow and the derelict bridge to nowhere, awaiting an answer, and someone who can read the writing on the wall.
Rosalind C Hughes is the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio.
[i] From “The Sound of Silence,” written by Paul Simon • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group
Cover photo: graffiti found in Chillicothe, Ohio