Friday, June 29, 2012

Midweek Poem 9: The Ache of Marriage

I once was blessed to hear Denise Levertov read this poem and others in Tulsa as a student at TU....

The Ache of Marriage

The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,   
are heavy with it,   
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,   
each and each

It is leviathan and we   
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy   
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of   
the ache of it.
--------Denise Levertov, 1966

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Body, hands, feet, eyes, heart

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, 
no hands but yours, 
no feet but yours, 

Yours are the eyes through which 
is to look out Christ's compassion to the world; 
Yours are the feet with which 
he is to go about doing good; 

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now. 
 -- St. Teresa of Avila

I rediscovered this wonderful statement a few days ago, and it has blessed me richly as I have pondered it in my heart since then. To me, this encompasses what our mission is if we wish to declare ourselves followers of Christ.

Sadly, in American pubic religion today, there is a big difference between being "Christian" and being a disciple, especially for those in leadership or positions of power. There is no religious test for public office, we claim (although I would be tempted to disagree about the reality of that statement), but I wish there was a reminder to many of us that we may be saved through grace, but we are known as Christians by our works. It is amazing the contempt with which "the least of these" are treated by so many institutions and parties, while these same groups profess allegiance to the teachings of our Savior.

I try to ask myself each day, "How have I tried to do good?" I would like to ask some of these people, who seek to profit from their declarations to be Christians, "How have you tried to do good today?"

I remember when I was in junior high. It was fashionable for kids who went to a certain church to carry their Bibles with them throughout the school day (they called them their "swords"- I kid you not). Anyone who wasn't lugging around the KJV along with their algebra books would often get cornered. "Are you saved?" they would ask. "Have you been born again?"

But what good did this all do? How did this help advance the message of Christ about what we are supposed to do as Christians? Was the point loving others, or judging others?

And, just for the record, yes--I realize that Jesus saves me over and over, every day, every hour, with every breath that I am granted. He saves me every time I fail to live up to his call to me as one of his sheep, when he forgives me and bids me to set my feet on the path once more even when it looks like a high-wire over Niagara Falls.

And that path is one of service. It is the way of love and peace. It is the way of care and concern for others-- and not just those in my family, my town, my parish, my Church, my tribe, my ethnicity, my gender, my generation, my class, my neighborhood, my sexual orientation, my state, my country. Jesus doesn't want us to crush those who are weaker or different. Jesus calls us to love others as we love ourselves-- which means to love them a LOT, in this narcissistic era.

We are really great at jealously guarding our turf, which means viewing others as threats. Too much of our public life is based on the fear that if we allow others to have something, it will diminish US somehow. This is an idea diametrically opposed to the message of God's unmerited and unbounded love that Christ brought into the world. And that we, as Christians, as called to give to each other. When our hands are closed into fists, they can hold nothing. It is only when we open our hands as we do our hearts that we can actually receive and hold that love that passes understanding.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

To everything there is a season

 This morning, one of the readings in the daily office was one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

There is a time for everything,
     and a season for every activity under the heavens:
  a time to be born and a time to die,
     a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 a time to kill and a time to heal,
     a time to tear down and a time to build,
  a time to weep and a time to laugh,
     a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
     a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 a time to tear and a time to mend,
     a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

When I was in college I had one of these rectangular posters of these verses in calligraphy. It moved with me to three dorm rooms and one apartment, and somewhere after I moved to St. Louis, it disappeared.

In these last few weeks, I have experienced all of these different times, it seems. A friend who just had a long-anticipated baby lost someone close to her just a few days later. The love for her child is taking root here in the midst of spring. I thought about this as I worked in my garden uprooting dead stumps of plants and some strange weed to which I am apparently allergic. I worked at killing this weed as well as the Chinese honeysuckle and this huge crop of cottonwood and pecan tree shoots and milkweed vines that overwhelm my yard with the least relaxation of vigilance.

It is the same way with my heart. Just as with many other people, I carry so many scars and weaknesses from my childhood, from the times I have been hurt, by my tendency to anger, by my impatience, by my arrogance and hubris-- there is so much from which I still need to heal, and so much that I have done that I need to endeavor to heal in penance and regret for losing sight of how I SHOULD think and act. I am particularly prone to being afraid of taking really big risks for fear of being rejected. And yet, I am called to do these. The one who loves me most of all calls me to be the very best me I can be, and when I fail in that, who knows how that affects those who see me stumble?

I need to tear down the walls I erect around my heart, especially those walls I place between myself and God. I need to build up my trust in the goodness of those around me as a reflection of God's love. There are times when I have wept, when instead I could have been laughing-- my mother recently gave me a very sentimental possession which had belonged to my father, who has been gone now for over 6 years, and at first, I wanted to put it as far away from me as possible, since touching it reminded me of the day I lost my dad all over again. Another of my dear friends lost her mother this winter, and she is sorting through the accumulated treasures of a life that lasted nearly 100 years. Imagine the things that had happened during that time!

One of the things her mother had kept was my wedding invitation that I had sent her nearly 24 years ago. It was so well-preserved, and the fact that she actually went to my wedding and stood up for me is still a memory that I will always treasure, especially since my only grandmother-like figure, my step-grandmother, was unable to be supportive of me on that day. But my friend's mother, mother-in-law, and step-grandmother were there for me. What a blessing! What treasured memories of their love do I still have, and if people like that love you, nothing can really be as dreadful as all that. We all move from mourning what we have lost to celebrating what we have at least had. And I have had the love of all these wonderful people in my life.

There is a season for everything. Everything but love, which endures every moment, and is the purest sign of God's amazing, uplifting presence with all of us.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Waiting. Not abiding.

I am not by nature a patient person. I am not very patient even when I try to be. This is something I constantly try to work on, because I am a teacher and a mother and a human being, and in all three of these categories one should treat others with love and forbearance.

I am also an impulsive person. If I want coffee, I don't want it in two weeks. I want it now (I know that sounds like that Violet girl from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but oh, well). I just read on facebook that Shawn Colvin's new album is out, and bang! there I go to iTunes because it has been oh, so long since Shawn has put out an album of new material (I am listening to it right now as I write this). I first test-drove my current car on Tuesday, and on Thursday, we bought it. Now, we had been planning for the purchase of a car for months and months, but the actual decision to pull the trigger was quick.

I do not wait well. But in my spiritual life, the boundaries of which I am seeking ever to expand further and further into all of the compartments of my life, I am especially working on a very important attitude: abiding. I think of abiding as being present in the moment, still and attentive. It's related to something our Buddhist friends do when they practice mindfulness.

We fill our lives so full with activities, and so many of these activities detract from our quality of life, especially that part that could be spent in contemplation and adoration of the Holy One. If I pay attention to the presence of the Holy Spirit, I will not need to be aware of the fact that I am waiting. Instead, I am abiding with She who brings comfort and wisdom. Alleluia!