Advent Again – day 23

“again in the pains of childbirth”

 

a-woman-called-mother

“A Woman Called Mother” by M.T. Brown (personal collection)

“From ‘The Black Maria'” by Aracelis Girmay

 

The body, bearing something ordinary as light                           Opens

as in a room somewhere the friend opens in poppy, in flame, burns & bears the child — out.

 

When I did it was the hours & hours of breaking. The bucking of

it all, the push & head

 

not moving, not an inch until,

when he flew from me, it was the night who came

 

flying through me with all its hair,

 

the immense terror of his face & noise.

 

I heard the stranger & my brain, without looking, vowed

a love-him vow. His struggling, merely, to be

 

split me down, with the axe, to two. How true,

the thinness of our hovering between the realms of Here, Not Here.

 

The fight, first, to open, then to breathe,

& then to close. Each of us entering the world

 

& entering the world like this.

Soft. Unlikely.      Then —

 

the idiosyncratic minds & verbs.

Beloveds, making your ways

 

to & away from us, always, across the centuries,

inside the vastness of the galaxy, how improbable it is that this
iteration

 

of you or you or me might come to be at all — Body of fear,

Body of laughing —& even last a second. This fact should make us fall all

 

to our knees with awe,

the beauty of it against these odds,

 

the stacks & stacks of near misses

& slimmest chances that birthed one ancestor into the next & next.

 

Profound, unspeakable cruelty who counters this, who does not see.

& so to tenderness I add my action.

 

Source: Poetry (April 2016)

 

From <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/88747>

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Advent Again – day 22

“Do not be afraid to…”

 

“Hymn” by A.R. Ammons

I know if I find you I will have to leave the earth

and go on out

     over the sea marshes and the brant in bays

and over the hills of tall hickory

and over the crater lakes and canyons

and on up through the spheres of diminishing air

past the blackset noctilucent clouds

           where one wants to stop and look

way past all the light diffusions and bombardments

up farther than the loss of sight

    into the unseasonal undifferentiated empty stark

 

And I know if I find you I will have to stay with the earth

inspecting with thin tools and ground eyes

trusting the microvilli sporangia and simplest

     coelenterates

and praying for a nerve cell

with all the soul of my chemical reactions

and going right on down where the eye sees only traces

 

You are everywhere partial and entire

You are on the inside of everything and on the outside

forest-1890-cezanne

Forest (1890) by Paul Cezanne

 

I walk down the path down the hill where the sweetgum

has begun to ooze spring sap at the cut

and I see how the bark cracks and winds like no other bark

chasmal to my ant-soul running up and down

and if I find you I must go out deep into your

    far resolutions

and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves

Advent Again – day 16

On that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a scroll,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see. – Isaiah 29:18

dark-sea-dave-anderson

“Dark Sea” by Dave Anderson http://clampart.com/2012/04/dark-sea/dark-sea/

from “Song for the Last Act” by Louise Bogan

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music’s cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat’s too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

Advent Again – day 12

not slow, but making space for all to change…

movement-in-kind-by-matthew-whitney

“Movement in Kind” by Matthew Whitney

from “A Change of Maps” by Carolyne Wright

 

Above us, satellites measure the drift

of continents, dissolving vows

of bedrock, offshore shelves conceding

 

all their striations to the sea.

They track the moon’s loosening orbit,

explorer shuttle homing in

with batteries of data, micro-

 

chips shrinking our wildest dreams.

We roll up the old cartographies

coordinates overlaid with newer,

more transparent certainties

 

in the subatomic shadows’ glare.

Where now? we want to know of landscape –

houses and poplars and children the maps

and master planners have no idea of.

 

Our arrival will coincide with the true

colors of our going. We look

both ways for distances that shift

their bearings in our favor.

 

 

Advent Again – day 8

“a branch shall grow…”

the-tree-of-life

“The Tree of Life” by Gustav Kimt

“Tree” by Jane Hirschfield

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

Advent Again – day 4

“The word is very near to you…”

near-and-far

“Near and Far” by Jamie Heiden

“Nothing is Far” by Robert Francis

Though I have never caught the word
Of God from any calling bird,
I hear all that the ancients heard.
Though I have seen no deity
Enter or leave a twilit tree,
I see all that the seers see.
A common stone can still reveal
Something not stone, not seen, yet real.
What may a common stone conceal?
Nothing is far that once was near.
Nothing is hid that once was clear.
Nothing was God that is not here.
Here is the bird, the tree, the stone.
Here in the sun I sit alone
Between the known and the unknown.

Advent Again – Day 3

What are you waiting for?

from “I Am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed

and I am anxiously waiting

for the secret of eternal life to be discovered

by an obscure general practitioner

and I am waiting

for the storms of life

to be over

and I am waiting

to set sail for happiness

and I am waiting

for a reconstructed Mayflower

to reach America

with its picture story and tv rights

sold in advance to the natives

and I am waiting

for the lost music to sound again

in the Lost Continent

in a new rebirth of wonder

 

I am waiting for the day

that maketh all things clear

and I am awaiting retribution

for what America did

to Tom Sawyer

and I am waiting

for Alice in Wonderland

to retransmit to me

her total dream of innocence

and I am waiting

for Childe Roland to come

to the final darkest tower

and I am waiting

for Aphrodite

to grow live arms

at a final disarmament conference

in a new rebirth of wonder

 

I am waiting

to get some intimations

of immortality

by recollecting my early childhood

and I am waiting

for the green mornings to come again

youth’s dumb green fields come back again

and I am waiting

for some strains of unpremeditated art

to shake my typewriter

magritte-la-clairvoyance

“La Clairvoyance” by René Magritte

 

and I am waiting to write

the great indelible poem

and I am waiting

for the last long careless rapture

and I am perpetually waiting

for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn

to catch each other up at last

and embrace

and I am awaiting

perpetually and forever

a renaissance of wonder

Questions for Galatians, chapter 5

Click here for chapter 4

First reading: Read Galatians 5. What word, phrase, or verse stands out to you? Does it bring up a question? Speak to a question you’ve been having? Just resonate somehow? Is it confusing? Disturbing? Comforting? Make a note of it.

For this study, encourage others in your group to come with their own questions for the chapter or the book as a whole. Here were mine:
What kind of freedom is Paul talking about?

In verses 2-6, what are the negative consequences of giving up this freedom and what are the positive consequences of maintaining it?

You’re probably familiar with this list of the fruits of the Spirit, but might not have realized Paul composed it in this context. Why here? What does it have to do with the issue at hand?

Christ for Culture – part 1

“Seven Ages: The Walking Figure” by Ghislaine Howard

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” – Raymond Chandler [1]

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” – Cardinal Suhard [2]

Raymond Chandler’s walker of the mean streets epitomizes incarnation. Completely common and yet unusually honorable, this figure speaks the language of the age and acts as an agent of redemption. Cardinal Suhard’s witness, on the other hand, seems more steeped in the incense of holy mystery. Inexplicable and yet attractive, the witness calls us away from the world as we know it. For the Christian Church, Jesus Christ represents both the walker and the witness. In our accounts of him, he navigates the complexity between these two seemingly conflicting roles so gracefully and yet we agonize: How did he do it?  How do we do it?  There is no question that the reality of Jesus Christ can and should transform our human cultures, but how? Arguments for the creation of a separate Christian culture do not resonate with our accounts of a Savior who lived and died and lives for the sake of the world He so loves. Christ calls the Church to live as a faithful community of communities that, like Christ, transcends and critiques, but most critically participates in human cultures for the good of all. The Church distinguishes itself from the world-at-large by offering a unique understanding of reality that changes lives, not Christian knock-offs of worldly goods and services. Intentionally forging an exclusionary culture negates our human and God-given identities. While making too small a distinction between ourselves as the Church and our wider cultures is fatal, making too large a distinction is absurd. God sets us in human as well as spiritual families; sometimes we’re called to leave them for the sake of the gospel, but not because it is us versus them. God calls the Church

to be the bearer of God’s saving purpose for his whole world….  It means that this particular body of people who bear the name of Jesus through history… with all its contingency and particularity, is the body which has the responsibility of bearing the secret of God’s reign through world history.[3]

Our charge is unique, but we tend to claim things, such as God’s affection and attention, for ourselves that properly belong to all of creation. God’s incarnational economy requires us to root and ground ourselves not only in God’s love, but also in the cultures to which God wants to reveal divine love.

We the Church must not shun such grounding for fear of contamination. Rather we should broaden and deepen our personal and corporate cultural experiences so we’re better educated to critique our cultures and better equipped to understand our alternatives for living godly lives within them. Otherwise we do damage by talking about the world as we fear it may be rather than addressing the world as it is. We don’t merely absorb our cultures indiscriminately, however; we follow Christ’s example in embracing our identities as cultural beings and transforming the times and places in which we find ourselves from the inside. Christ remains our best model and representative in our relationships to our cultures. Christ loves and communicates to cultures through the Church and the Church should love and communicate to cultures through Christ. Jaroslav Pelikan points out that

as respect for the organized church has declined, reverence for Jesus has grown…. There is more in him than is dreamt of in the philosophy and Christology of the theologians.  Within the church, but also far beyond its walls, his person and message are, in the phrase of Augustine, a ‘beauty ever ancient, ever new,’ and now he belongs to the world.[4]

Christ neither feared nor feared for the world; rather he took up residence in it and sacrificed his life for the good of all of us in it to the glory of God. He instructs his body on earth to walk as witnesses in the world, communicating, displaying and verifying in our daily lives this gospel, this reality that has taken hold of us. We do so by living deeply, freely, and abundantly into our cultures following the standard and example of Jesus. In order to do so, we will all find it necessary to reject some key assumptions of our cultures. In Jesus’s day those false assumptions included God’s favoritism for Israel, the rich, and the religious. In my place and time they include false assumptions of the inherent goodness of radical individualism and rampant consumerism that define success in life as getting what’s “mine.”

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.[5]

The world around us poses all kinds of pressing and complex questions. We cannot assume they are all the wrong ones, that they don’t apply to us, or that we have all the answers at our disposal ready-made. Along with the danger of dismissing honest inquiry, we risk missing God’s direction; we must remain open to the possibility of God guiding and teaching us through present cultural situations. God has invited us to be part of the process of Christ becoming all in all. When we approach all the times and places and dilemmas we find ourselves in with this staggering invitation in mind we become agents of redemption in the here and now. We will know God’s goodness in the land of the living.

“Sing redemption everywhere you go.”


[1] Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder” http://www.en.utexas.edu/amlit/amlitprivate/scans/chandlerart.html (accessed June 17, 2011).

[2] Emmanuel, Cardinal Suhard, qtd. in Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Commemorative Edition (Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1998), 34.

[3] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 86-87.

[4] Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 232-233.

[5] David Orr, “What is Education For?” In Context 27 (Winter 1991): 52.

[6] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Where Resident Aliens Live, 100.

[7] Philippians 3:

[8] Jeremiah 29:7

[9] Gregory Wolfe, “The Four Cultures,” Image no. 58 (2008), http://imagejournal.org/page/journal/editorial-statements/the-four-cultures (accessed January 31, 2013).

[10] Anthony Ugolnik, “Whose Crisis of Faith? Culture, Faith, and the American Academy” in The Two Cities of God: The Church’s Responsibility for the Earthly City, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 92.