A lesson for Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

That’s  Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. I bet you read it at school if you’re my age.

It’s a good reminder that however firmly you tread upon this earth, however diligent you are, however you live your life, the sun will continue to rise in the morning and the tides will still rise and fall when you are gone.

That gives such comfort – God is in charge, not me. I don’t have to live for ever, and while I’m here I don’t have to be perfect, there is nothing I can do that is so bad that it’s irreparable and nothing I have done that is unforgivable. Without that knowledge, if I was struggling under the illusion that I was in control, that I must always be right and in the right, how would I sleep at night? How did old Ozzy sleep?

Ozymandias must have had a horrible life, a life of desperate striving and ambition and the desire to impress and create fear… to make his mark upon the world. A right old show-off. ‘Look on my works ye mighty, and despair.’ but I don’t see only megalomania in that image, or arrogance, I see fear and anxiety. Fear that he might not impress the world unless he built a temple, a city, an empire, grander, bigger, more powerful than anyone else. Ozymandias was Ramses the Great, a Pharoah who ruled a thousand years before Christ, a man who worshipped the Sun and images of cats, of jackals, of mythological birds. He lived in splendour, served by a powerful army, he expanded the Egyptian empire, he was called the Great Ancestor….. and his 8 metre high statue has now been found, in pieces, in the mud of a Cairo slum. All that anxiety, all that striving.

What a weight to carry.

It’s a weight we don’t have to carry. We can instead turn to these words of Jesus from Matthew Chapter 11 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Ahhhhh. ‘Come to me.’ What an invitation. Rest for our souls.

Anxiety is high just now, especially among the young. I can understand that – these last few years have thrown a pandemic at us, life has been disrupted, teenagers have spent two years in on/off isolation, tutoring has all but stopped, the degrees they’ve worked so hard for have been devalued, they’re left up to their necks in debt and now these young people look at what seems to be a bleak future.

Today I sat next to my 20 year old granddaughter as she went online to find her marks for her second year at Uni and of course she was dreading the reveal. I felt her tension, as she resolved not to cry whatever the email told her, and I so wanted to give her courage and optimism and resilience – of course I did. Every Nana would, but those things take years to develop and they can’t be neatly wrapped up and handed over in a gift. She’s an anxious person by nature, quick witted and capable but so unsure of herself. I wanted her to see herself with my eyes, to say to her ‘Look at you, you’re strong and hard working and perfect and imperfect and silly and wonderful and unique. When you’re my age, this moment will be just one tiny stitch in a great rich tapestry, a stonking great tapestry more beautiful than you can imagine.’

But of course I didn’t. She would have rolled her eyes and thwacked me with a “Oh, Nana!” and probably cried anyway.

I wanted to tell her that degrees are good but they’re not amazing and exciting and they don’t guarantee anything, they don’t necessarily bring happiness. I wanted to tell her to do her best, and yes – tuck her exams under her arm, but care more, care most for her soul. That no success is forever, no hard-won achievement is eternal, that our footsteps are washed away, our empires crumble and that’s good. It really is! It’s absolutely wonderful because it frees us up to stop fretting and worrying, it frees us up to enjoy the amazing adventure of following Jesus.

And, of course, her grade was better than she had feared or expected.

And my footsteps this morning were washed away, like my sins. Like my sins! Isn’t that marvellous? Go on, admit it. It is.

Eternity washes all cares away, and when we understand eternity, when we know that we are already in eternity, what on Earth (!) should we fear? Last week I finished reading Romans. How’s this for a stirring clarion call away from worry and into joy?

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


And here’s Psalm 55:22 (TPT)
Leave all your cares and anxieties at the feet of the Lord, and measureless grace will strengthen you.

Double Hurrah! A dozen hurrahs. Enough hurrahs to wake up the whole village.

It’s two minutes before 1am. I’m going to bed. Night night. God bless.

They’re not all mine

2 thoughts on “A lesson for Ozymandias

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