Blog Posts

Joy is My Name

Poor Zachariah. He was cranky one day at work—not enough coffee—and he just wanted to get his job done. His hands held a stick aflame, ready to burn incense in the temple. He was interrupted by an angel—they tend to hang out there—this one was talking crazy, the whole thing surreal. One sarcastic retort and he was doomed to nine months of silence—no voice from the time he left the temple to the day he named his son, John.

William Blake engraved by Luigi Schiavonetti

What was it like for this father? He was an old man who had long since gave up hope for an heir to see his pregnant wife. In his silence, he remembered the angel’s words:

He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the LORD. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the LORD their God. And he will go on before the LORD, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the LORD.

Luke 1:14-18

I imagine the joy he had the day he first held his son! The words of William Blake’s Infant Joy come to mind:

I have no name 
I am but two days old.— 
What shall I call thee?
I happy am 
Joy is my name,— 
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee; 
Thou dost smile. 
I sing the while 
Sweet joy befall thee. 

It is different for us dads. I remember when my wife was pregnant with our first child, a daughter. Of course I was excited and eager to meet this little one. But she was not inside me, pushing my organs aside, making room for herself to grow. She didn’t widen my hips or make me tired or make me gain weight (though I did). My wife felt her kicks and prods a long time before I was even able too. There were ways that this child was still abstract to me. I worried as a dad that I just wasn’t feeling enough and wondered how I could love this stranger.

Then labor and delivery. I spent the night at the hospital listening to our baby’s heartbeat quicken and slow with every contraction, comforting and encouraging where I could, but feeling helpless and useless as my wife pushed out a tiny human. Then I held her, and was instantly smitten. I knew that I would do anything and everything for this child. My heart grew. My joy was full.

An incident at work left Zechariah speechless for three-quarters of a year. He watched, he waited, he regretted his stupid reply to God’s messenger. Then the day came. He held his little one. He fell in love. The child was joy and delight to him. He wondered at the angel’s promise and the man his little boy would become.

On the 8th day, they came to circumcise him. Elizabeth explained to Rabbi that the child’s name would be John. They silenced her and went instead to Zechariah who wrote on a tablet, “He is to be called John.” Suddenly Zechariah’s words returned and he began praising God:


Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
 salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
 to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
     the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:68-79

A father’s hope and joy—the frustrating months of silence swallowed up in praise.

The Advent promise is that our tears will be turned to joy, that shalom awaits us, that the Day of the Lord is near and our hope is secure.

And yet, like Zechariah it is still abstract to us. We are still here. Our bodies have not changed to make room. Our day of joy is coming soon.

Sweet joy befall thee

Unnoticed and Unknown to Men of Power

When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, her ancient cousin—long past the years of child bearing—she came out to meet her. Elizabeth deepest shame had been that she was barren, but when Mary approached she saw her cousin’s glow, the swell of her abdomen, and delight in her eyes. As Mary approached Elizabeth was momentarily breathless. She put her hand on her belly. The baby had given her a spirited kicked. 

She called to Mary, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why am I so favored that you would come to visit me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in me leapt with joy. Blessed is the one who believed God would fulfill his promise to her! (Luke 1:41-44)”

This is the setting of Mary’s own song, the Magnificat, where she glories in the Lord for her goodness to her and the coming justice her baby boy would usher in.

Priest and poet, Malcolm Guite imagines the scene, two women on the edge of things, unnoticed and unknown to men of power:

The Visitation

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,

Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’

They sing today for all the great unsung

Women who turned eternity to time

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth

Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

This poem is taken from Malcom Guite’s blog: https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/a-sonnet-for-the-feast-of-the-visitation/

Two women overlooked. The one who couldn’t conceive (Elizabeth), the one who shouldn’t (unwed teenager mum, Mary).The “too young” and the “past her prime.” It is it any wonder that Mary’s song lifts up the poor, the humble, and the hungry, over against the powerful, the wealthy, rulers of the age? Even before Mary unleashed her melody—a song which recalled Hannah (1 Sam 1), another overlooked woman—God was already at work lifting up the forgotten, the overlooked, the outcast.

When the Triune God set his redemptive plan in motion, he didn’t come to the powerful, the strong, or the patriarchy. He came to an unwed teen girl blessing her older cousin also. Both would have boys who would call God’s people to repentance and point to the coming reign of God. One of their boys would be God himself.

Yes, an Angel had visited Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah. The proud man couldn’t accept the angel’s news. Not like Mary. Not like Elizabeth. Favored of heaven, outcast on the earth, Prophets who bring the best in us to birth. 

Our Spirits Rejoice With God Our Savior

Nothing captures Advent Joy the way that Mary’s song does:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49)

Mary’s song bursts. It exudes praise. She recognizes the significance of what God was going to do through her baby boy. Every generation will be blessed because of Mary’s participation in God’s redemption and the things her Son will do.

The song goes on:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 50-55)

She describes the mercy of God to those who fear (revere)him and how God scatters the proud, brings down rulers and lifts up the humble, feeds the hungry and sends the rich away empty.

This is radically inclusive and subversive!

A had a seminary professor who used to pastor an ex-pat church in the Philippines where it was illegal to read the Magnificat in public, for fear that it would incite riot and revolution. These words are politically charged. The proud are scattered and the rich go away empty. The humble are lifted up while the rulers are deposed. Mary challenges the whole system centuries before the classic Liberals defied Monarchy, the Communists decried Capitalism and the Anarchists denied institutional authority. If you do not hear a poignant critique of the way things are in Mary’s words, you are over-spiritualizing her words and dismissing them. There is raw power here. This is a rallying call!

Unfortunately, even the poets sometimes miss the point, focusing instead on Mary’s high praise while glossing over the phrases that challenge the status quo. Author and activist Lisa Sharon Harper published this poem in Sojourners in 2008. I think it gets at the joyful and subversive hope of Mary:

Mary’s Song: A Poem

Dark times
Regime change.
“How are we gonna make it?”
“How are we gonna live?”
Tomorrow?

Fear for breakfast
Trembling for brunch
Despair for dinner.

Dark thick air
Full of fumes
Can’t breathe.

Thick over the man on the street
With feet sticking out of his shoes.
Shoes wrapped in muslin.
It does not cover him
He lay cocked to one side.
In a fetal position.
He was a baby once.
Once — he cried and cuddled and coo-ed
Now he knows evil of this world.
His eyes have been baptized in the warped world of war.
They stare –- numb.
Dead eyes.
Murdered by drugs and guns and blood
Murdered by full metal jackets
Innocent eyes stolen
Stolen, too, the man’s soul.
Now
He lays in a fetal position
Waiting…

And the woman on the train
Across the aisle from me.
Her hand stretches forth
Rests on the carriage
Rocking a sleeping baby.
Innocent in all things.
Deserving of nothing
Deserving of all things
Baby lay waiting
In a fetal position
Baby waits to breathe above 125th street.
Fumes hover in her neighborhood
Where bus depots pepper the map.
Cancer fumes
Asthma fumes
Fumes that shape life
Limit life
Steal life
But for now she sleeps
And her momma rocks her carriage.

And the GM
And the Hedgefund
And the free-market giants
Three of them
Jolly and Green
They lay now
Tears trickle from baptized eyes
Dead eyes
They stare –- numb
Ransacked by green greed and time catching up
Now … nothing –- or at least it feels like nothing.
They have what feels like nothing.
And for fear of feeling fear
The giants lay feeling nothing.

Darkness hovers over the deep
And we wait.

We watch with dead eyes
Eyes that have seen too much.
Eyes that have known too much evil.
Redeem! Lord, Redeem!

Watch for the light.
Wait for the light.
It pierces darkness
And unfurls curled bodies
It covers twisted limbs.
It replaces fumes with blankets of breath
Mixed with love and sacrifice.

Mary watched and waited
The powerless, harassed young girl –- 13.
Barely a foot in the world
On the run
Chased down by power
Death surrounded her
Wrapped in the stench of King Herod’s dying babies

But

Into the darkness Mary sang!

“My soul doth magnify the Lord!
My soul doth magnify the Lord!
The one more mighty than darkness has done great things!”

For resting in her belly
Turning in her belly
Pressing on her belly
Light was being born

“God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts,”
Mary says!
“God brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts the lowly,”
Mary proclaims!

And the man with feet peeking from his shoes will be lifted up.
He will stand up!
And the baby covered in fumes will be lifted up.
She will stand up! Up!
And the green giants laying with dead eyes — yes, even they will be lifted up!
They will stand!
Blessed are they now, for they are ready to be lifted up.
They will lock hands
With their sisters and brothers and …

Our souls will magnify the Lord.
Our souls will magnify the Lord.
Our souls will magnify the Lord …
… together!
And our spirits will rejoice in God our savior!

Amen.

Poem originally published by Sojourners, 12-17-2008 https://sojo.net/articles/marys-song-poem

The homeless, the mother and asthmatic child riding the train, the greedy green giants which lost everything in an economic downturn. All humble or humbled, awaiting the day when they will be raised up. Jesus is coming. My soul magnifies the Lord!

Pain Will Endure. Joy Comes in the Morning.

Annunciation means an announcement of something. When you see the word capitalized and called out, “The Annunciation” it signifies the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary announcing the birth of Jesus. But there are other annunciations, perhaps, not all so joyful or hope-filled. Some announcements catch us off guard, fill us with sadness and make us anxious. 

Madeleine L’Engle, beloved author of  A Wrinkle in Time, has two poems entitled Annunciation. The first, I found in The Weather of the Heart(Seabury Press, 1978, 44). It is a short poem which describes Mary’s yes to God :

Annunciation


To the impossible: Yes!
Enter and penetrate
O Spirit. Come and bless
This hour: the star is late.
Only the absurdity of love
Can break the bonds of hate.

Hopeful exuberance and full acceptance of the Angel’s claim.  Mary understood, that as whimsical and absurd as it all sounded, God was in the details and this was indeed good news Only the absurdity of love can break the bonds of hate. 

The second of L’Engle’s poems called Annunciation (from Cry Like A Bell, Seabury Press, 1987, 45-46)  weaves the Lukan image of Mary’s annunciation with another angelic visitation—another boy to be born. But here there is less a sense of good news. Instead we hear a mournful warning, foreboding of what lay ahead:

1
Sorrowfully
the angel appeared
before the young woman
feared
to ask what must be asked,
a task
almost to great to bear.
With care,
mournfully,
the angel bare
the tidings of great joy
,
and then
great grief.
Behold, thou shalt conceive.
Though shalt bring forth a son.
This must be done.
There is no reprieve.

2

Another boy
born of woman (who shall also grieve)
full of grace
and innocence
and no offense—
a lovely one
of pure and unmarked face.

3
How much can one woman bear?

4

Pain will endure for the night
but joy comes in the morning.

His name is Judas.


That the prophets may be fulfilled
he must play his part. 
It must be done.
Pain will endure.
Joy comes in the morning.

We aren’t accustomed to thinking about Judas in Advent. We tell the story of Jesus coming and how kings are toppled from their throne and the lowly raised up. We celebrate the child born, full of possibility and promise. A baby changes everything!But not all news that finds us is good.

I am a father of 4 with all kinds of hope for each of my kids but I can’t tell you what their future holds. I fear unwelcome annunciations. A vexing diagnosis, traumatic experience, difficult circumstance may each derail my heartiest hopes for them. Or maybe, like Judas, they may each choose to walk from the light and go their own way. 

A baby does change everything. With each birth comes hope and worry, sleepless nights and heartache. Even joyful Mary was warned a sword will pierce your heart too (Luke 2:35). 

Judas, the betrayer, played his part in delivering up Jesus to be crucified. But he was also loved by God, chosen by Jesus, welcomed as a friend. He dies desolate and alone, overcome by shame, lost to himself. Such a sad end for one so-well-loved. 

Pain will endure. Joy comes in the morning. 

There is a third annunciation poem by L’Engle entitled After Annunciation  (The Weather of the Heart, 45):

This is the irrational season

when love blooms bright and wild.

Had Mary been filled with reason

there’d have been no room for the child.

The joyful hope of Advent, defies our reason and reasonable expectations. I do not know what hope there is for Judas. I both worry and dream about the futures my 4 children will inhabit. And God is at work redeeming the world. The Pain endures, joy in the morning.

These Still December Mornings


By the time the third week of Advent rolls around, we’ve marked hope and our lingering dissatisfaction with where the world is. We have longed for the Peace of Christ to come to our war-torn-and-too-violent world. Then in week 3, even though we know it’s coming, we are surprised by joy. 

Luci Shaw

‘Tis the season for angelic visitations, a perfect image for this happy surprise of Advent Joy. Luke tells of two such visitations. Both times the visitor brought good news: A Child will be born. God has remembered his people and is sending a redeemer!

The first  visit left  Zechariah dumbstruck (Luke 1:22). On the next visit, Mary was receptive and after seeing Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, pregnant in her old age, she burst with song (1:46-55). 

Of course “angelic visitation” may not  always mean an aura of light, a long flowing robe and feathered wings. In Luci Shaw’s Advent Visitation the visitor comes in with the  ‘satin wind’ to her cabin door. We don’t get a look at the visitor but we sense the joy that this visit brought her:

Even from the cabin window I sensed the wind’s
contagion begin to infect the rags of leaves.
Then the alders gilded to it, obeisant, the way

angels are said to bow, covering their faces with
their wings, not solemn, as we suppose, but
possessed of a sudden, surreptitious hilarity.

When the little satin wind arrived,
I felt it slide through the cracked-open door
(A wisp of prescience? A change in the weather?),

and after the small push of breath–You
entering with your air of radiant surprise,
I the astonished one.

These still December mornings
I fancy I live in a clear envelope of angels
like a cellophane womb.  Or a soap bubble,

the colors drifting, curling.  Outside
everything’s tinted rose, grape, turquoise,
silver–the stones by the path, the skin of sun

on the pond ice, at night the aureola of
a pregnant moon, like me, iridescent,
almost full-term with light.


Like Shaw on one of these still December mornings, Mary, Elizabeth (and Zechariah) were each surprised by joy! The things they each hoped for but feared would never come to pass were now happening! The gnawing loneliness and ache of absence were being swallowed up. A people’s long exile was coming to an end. There was joy in the visiting and joy for what was yet to come. 

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 3He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 3and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary floated like she was in a clear envelope of angels like a cellophane womb. Or a soap bubble. Everything outside was tinted rose, grape, turquoise and silver. Joy! The reflection of the moonlight on the frozen pond, an areola of the pregnant moon—almost full-term with light! Anticipation and excitement reach a fever pitch. Jesus is coming, God is here!

Have you had an angelic visitation yet? God is near. 

Clad in Peace I will Sing the Songs

Creation cries. It is a full throated, snotty nose cry. It is a deep groaning cry. Nature longs to be free from its decay, death and entropy. The Apostle Paul wrote that, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22) awaiting its redemption, its restoration and its being made whole. 

When we talk of our hopes for peace, we most often mean the cessation of war and reconciliation between rivals. Sometimes we describe a hope for inner peace—freedom from anxious thoughts that plague our heart. If we are really spiritual and/or evangelical we might speak of the possibility of  peace with God—forgiveness of sins and our personal salvation.

But Creation cries too, and hopes for shalom. It groans under our violence and dominance. Our weapons of war scar the Earth’s crust. Our pragmatic utilitarianism and economic shortsightedness damage the planet, as we deplete her resources. Creation cries and longs. Anyone with ears, listen!

Maya Angelou helps me to hear. Famous for her memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and her Civil Rights activism, her poetry is a hopeful shout against human oppression. In, The Rock Cries Out Today, she gives voice to the rock, the river and the tree—witnesses to the long history of human violence and victims of our un-shalom:

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Mark the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.
The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A river sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.
Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.
The river sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing river and the wise rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the tree.
Today, the first and last of every tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.
Each of you, descendant of some passed on
Traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name,
You Pawnee, Apache and Seneca,
You Cherokee Nation, who rested with me,
Then forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of other seekers–
Desperate for gain, starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot…
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,
Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the tree planted by the river,
Which will not be moved.
I, the rock, I the river, I the tree
I am yours–your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

The rock cries out to us, we who have crouched too long in bruising darkness and spelled words armed for slaughter. The river sings to us. We hear her song from behind our walls. She invites us to rest by the river banks and give up our armed struggles for profits which slash her shore. Come, she sings, and study war no more:

Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.

The river exhorts us to listen to the singing river and wise rock. The Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew, the African and Native American, the Sioux,
the Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek, the Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh, the Gay, the Straight, the Preacher, the privileged, the homeless, the teacher hear and yearn for the peace the river and rock have seen. The first and last of every tree, the tree with deep roots, that will not be moved invites us to plant ourselves with her, there by the river, and  to dream. 

The rock, the river,  the tree invite us to life our face toward the coming dawn:

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.


Creation cries its plaintive cry, bearing the scars of our battles and our preference for profits over prophets. Isaiah long ago had warned us what our lack of shalom was doing to the earth:

The earth dries up and withers,
    the world languishes and withers;
    the heavens languish together with the earth.
5The earth lies polluted
    under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
    violated the statutes,
    broken the everlasting covenant.

Isa. 24:4-5

We can’t go back. Eden is lost to us. It disappeared in a cloud of exhaust. All our winters are nuclear. Wildfires ravage our forests. The Earth quakes. There is war and rumors of yet more war.

What would it take for us to lay down our cynicism and the bloody sear on our brow, and hear the wise rock, the river song and the tree that will not be moved? When will creation’s cry be heard? When will it be renewed?

Let’s Neatly Stack Anxiety’s Sweaters

Johnathan Swift’s essay, A Modest Proposal, was a brilliant satire, designed to expose and mock callous attitudes to the poor in 18th Century Ireland. [Spoiler Alert!] Swifts’ solution to abject poverty was intentionally untenable, the eating of children. Swift took aim at those who would try to offer quick-fix schemes and cure-all-solutions in the face of real economic, social predicaments, and he lambasted the commodification of the poor. 

Like Swift, we too live in age where the poor and marginalized are commodified, and devalued by those in power. Refugees are called terrorists, migrants are called very bad people, rural Americans are denounced as hicks and rednecks, people of color are dismissed as thugs, welfare recipients are declared a drain on our economy, and the LGBTQIA are decried for destroying tradition.  But when people are routinely robbed of  their value, it isn’t too long before we hear demands for  their sacrifice (and we’re okay with it). The real horror of Swift’s proposal wasn’t the graphic description of raising children as livestock. The horror was that poor children, and the marginalized, were already laying their lives down to keep the reigning aristocracy well-fed. Swift’s modest proposal was “why don’t we do the things we are already doing to the poor?” It was satire, but it laid bare the upheaval and classism of 18th Century Ireland. And it’s true for us as well. 


Joy Ladin is the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University Modest Proposal. She is the first openly transgender woman employed by an Orthodox Jewish University. Her poem Modest Proposal lacks the biting irony of Swift’s essay. She is more straight forward, in her proposal:

Let’s not kill or die today.
Let’s make angels out of yarn, men of snow, mashed potato animals
that smile as we spoon
their eyes of melted butter.

Instead of killing ourselves or one another,
let’s neatly stack anxiety’s sweaters
and scratch our itchy trigger fingers
by whittling turtles for our mothers,

or pretending to understand Heidegger,
or imagining the sexual embrace
through which time and space
first conceived of matter.

If we still aren’t over killing and dying,
we can search the stacks for library books
that haven’t circulated in generations
and savor the mold

that spores their spines
the way wine snobs savor the nose
of vintage wines bottled
between wars to end all wars.

Look, we’ve played all day
and haven’t spilled a drop of blood
apart from the occasional paper cut.
In an hour or two, when it’s very dark,

let’s make up stories out of stars,
and fill them with all the killing and dying
we didn’t do today, except in our imaginations.
Let’s pull our comforters over our heads

and sing ourselves to sleep
like good little civilizations.


From The Future Is Trying to Tell Us Something: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Joy Ladin. 

Ladin isn’t being ironic here. She’s exploring the “what if,” wondering, “what if we stopped wars and violence, brave sacrifices and wounding one another? What if instead we were free to play, explore, read old books—savoring their mold—, make stories out of stars, pull the covers over our heads and sing ourselves to sleep?”

It sounds idyllic and unattainable, even less plausible than Swift’s gory satire. We want peace, and celebrate the laying down of arms, provided that the other side lays theirs down first. I like Ladin’s proposal, but it is less modest than Swift’s. He told us what we were doing, she asks us to change. 

But isn’t this something we’ve read before?


The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
 They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.
Return of the Remnant of Israel and Judah
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Isaiah 11:7-10, NRSV

The predators—the wolves, the leopards, the lions, the bears, the snakes, the rich, the powerful and despot, the very bad people, the terrorists—will not bare their teeth. They will velvet their paws and stand alongside those they once victimized. Enmity and violence will be gone. Instead prey and predator alike will make angels out yarn and mash potato animals, the Little Child will lead us as we stack anxiety’s sweaters and whittle turtles for our mothers, pretend to understand Heidegger, contemplate the cosmos, We will play, explore, and dream. No more killing. No more dying.

With Ladin I am done with this serious business called war and long for the play of peace where there is no bloodshed outside the occasional paper cut. I long with Isaiah to see the day when all the violent predatory behavior cease and to have a Little Child to lead us to make stories out of stars. I will entertain no more proposals that advice me to eat the young and vulnerable. Peace is the proposal on the table. Advent says it’s coming.