Thursday, April 19, 2012

Midweek Poem 8: Love and forgetting


Because of you, in gardens of blossoming flowers I ache from the
perfumes of spring.
   I have forgotten your face, I no longer remember your hands;
how did your lips feel on mine?
   Because of you, I love the white statues drowsing in the parks,
the white statues that have neither voice nor sight.
   I have forgotten your voice, your happy voice; I have forgotten
your eyes.
   Like a flower to its perfume, I am bound to my vague memory of
you. I live with pain that is like a wound; if you touch me, you will
do me irreparable harm.
   Your caresses enfold me, like climbing vines on melancholy walls.
   I have forgotten your love, yet I seem to glimpse you in every
   Because of you, the heady perfumes of summer pain me; because
of you, I again seek out the signs that precipitate desires: shooting
stars, falling objects. 
--------------------------------------------------Pablo Neruda

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stone of Witness

"So Joshua made a covenant with the people at Shechem, committing them to follow the decrees and regulations of the LORD. Joshua recorded these things in the Book of God's Instructions. As a reminder of their agreement, he took a large stone and rolled it beneath the terebinth tree beside the Tabernacle of the LORD. Joshua said to all the people, "This stone has heard everything the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness to testify against you if you go back on your word to God."--Joshua 24: 25-27

"See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation;
the one who relies upon it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water shall overflow your hiding place."-- Isaiah 28: 16-17

"When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and annoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?' When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

"But he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, this is the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.'"-- Mark 16:1-7

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Midweek Poem 7: May she be granted beauty

 For the parents of daughters

A Prayer for My Daughter

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid   
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid   
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle   
But Gregory's Wood and one bare hill   
Whereby the haystack and roof-levelling wind,   
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;   
And for an hour I have walked and prayed   
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour,
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come   
Dancing to a frenzied drum   
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty, and yet not   
Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,   
Or hers before a looking-glass; for such,   
Being made beautiful overmuch,   
Consider beauty a sufficient end,   
Lose natural kindness, and maybe   
The heart-revealing intimacy   
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen, being chosen, found life flat and dull,   
And later had much trouble from a fool;   
While that great Queen that rose out of the spray,   
Being fatherless, could have her way,   
Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.   
It's certain that fine women eat   
A crazy salad with their meat   
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned;   
Hearts are not had as a gift, but hearts are earned   
By those that are not entirely beautiful.   
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty's very self, has charm made wise;   
And many a poor man that has roved,   
Loved and thought himself beloved,   
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree,   
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,   
And have no business but dispensing round   
Their magnanimities of sound;   
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,   
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.   
Oh, may she live like some green laurel   
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,   
The sort of beauty that I have approved,   
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,   
Yet knows that to be choked with hate   
May well be of all evil chances chief.   
If there's no hatred in a mind   
Assault and battery of the wind   
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,   
So let her think opinions are accursed.   
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn,   
Because of her opinionated mind   
Barter that horn and every good   
By quiet natures understood   
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,   
The soul recovers radical innocence   
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,   
And that its own sweet will is heaven's will,   
She can, though every face should scowl   
And every windy quarter howl   
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house   
Where all's accustomed, ceremonious;   
For arrogance and hatred are the wares   
Peddled in the thoroughfares.   
How but in custom and in ceremony   
Are innocence and beauty born?   
Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,   
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.
---------------------------W. B. Yeats, 1919

Monday, April 9, 2012

Resurrection Faith

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The LORD is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

As we now enter the magnificent season of Easter, I seek to contemplate the miracle of the abiding love-- unmerited, amazing love-- that Christ has for me.

 I want to rededicate myself to a Resurrection Faith-- a faith that responds to that grace by seeking to reflect the love of Christ into the world. A faith that drops the mask of cynicism that I often adopt to protect my fragile, broken heart and instead open myself up to the joy of life that rises like dawn from the deepest darkness that I allow to settle over my soul.

For Jesus endured all-- all for the sake of love. How can I at least not attempt to reach out my hands to those I encounter each day? How can I not attempt to live according to my best impulses rather than my worst?

A Resurrection Faith is one that calls us not to just love God out of fear of the terrible punishment we think we deserve for our manifold sins, but calls us to love God through living out the Great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." 

A Resurrection Faith calls me to not just rest upon the saving power of the cross but to always seek to bear my own crosses of pride and vanity and self-centeredness. I then pray to leave them at Golgotha, and tear them down as the hateful banes that they are to walking in the true path of Christ.

A Resurrection Faith calls me to the work of building up rather than tearing down. A Resurrection Faith raises us all from the dead, and calls us to be alive in each moment and in each other. A Resurrection Faith calls us to be, not just profess.

As one of my favorite hymns sings in my heart:

I want to walk as a child of the light;
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world;
the star of my life is Jesus.

In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God:
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

I want to see the brightness of God;
I want to look at Jesus.
Clear Sun of righteousness, shine on my path,
and show me the way to the Father.

In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God:
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

I’m looking for the coming of Christ;
I want to be with Jesus.
When we have run with patience the race,
we shall know the joy of Jesus.

In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God:
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When bad things happen to good people

One of the biggest, omnipresent questions that linger over our lives as Christians is to try to answer the question of why good people suffer. It's human nature to want to believe that faith in some power-- be it detachment, as the Buddhist believes; or Jesus, as the Christian believes; or karma, as the Hindu believes; or guru, as the Sikh believes-- will then magically lead to all of our suffering being eliminated.

We all want to find that magic bullet that protects us from anything unpleasant in our lives. We want to find some power that raises us above the plane of suffering.

We want to be rewarded for having faith, even though that turns the meaning of faith upside down.

It's human. Childish, but human. The fact that good people still have to deal with bad things is also one of the "proofs" that critics of religion use to mock religious belief and to claim that there is no God.

But no one is immune from tragedy, or pain, or illness. Being a good person doesn't get you a free ticket from God, because the world as created by God does not work that way. We all have to deal with illness, with pain, with sadness, with heartbreak.

This week is the start of Holy Week, and we begin with Palm Sunday. Here is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to loud shouts of joy from the people of the city! Here at last is the Messiah, who is supposed to kick butts first and ask questions later. Here is the one who is supposed to be a great military and political leader and lift the yoke of oppression once and for all from the neck of the people of Israel.


Our perspective from the 21st century allows us to know that those aspirations the people had for Jesus are not going to be fulfilled. Instead, we know that these shouts of joy will lead to the suffering of Jesus-- the dark events that happen AFTER the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The remembrances of Holy Week emphasize that the triumphal entry into Jerusalem is quickly followed by the betrayal, arrest, and trial of Jesus. He will be handed over for execution after having been judged so dangerous that the only suitable punishment is death.

As Christians, we are reminded of this fact this week as God's own son, Jesus, undergoes betrayal, trials, and suffering. Friends will sell out Jesus for money. He will be charged with blaspheming against God for his criticism of religious authorities. His other friends will abandon him and even deny that they know him. He will be beaten. He will be mocked. He will be tortured to death.

The incarnational aspect of this is that Jesus shares all the joys and sorrows that we do. He loves, and he loses those he loves. He is celebrated, and he is despised. He lives, and he suffers and dies. He has experienced the entire range of human experiences. Even God's son was not spared suffering.

If the story ended there, we would not have much to go on. However, this week begins Holy Week. The story of Jesus does not end at the cross....

Jesus is with us in our pain, sorrow, and suffering. Jesus shares those experiences with us in good times and in bad times, as we are reminded in this Sunday's reading from Philippians 2:5-11:

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who although he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness..."

Jesus is not here among us to take away suffering and pain. Jesus is here among us to help us bear suffering and pain, because he has endured it himself.