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Some Walked and Walked and Walked

Prophets and poets read the times and tell us of the world to come. Neither the poet or the prophet are readily understood. A poet is without honor in his hometown. One such polarizing prophet and poet was Daniel Berrigan, SJ (1921-2016).

A Jesuit priest, he was active in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King in Selma and visiting South Africa during Apartheid. He achieved notoriety in the Vietnam war when he traveled with Howard Zinn to Hanoi during the Tet Offensive. But it was his action on May 17, 1968, which landed him on America’s Most Wanted list, and later prison. He and 8 other Catholic activists (including his younger brother Philip, also a priest), broke into the draft office in Catonsville, Maryland. They destroyed 378 draft files in the parking lot while singing and saying the Lord’s prayer, making their prayer in the name of  the God “whose name is peace and decency and unity and love.” After this Berrigan was a fugitive of the law. He and his co-conspirators were arrested and convicted, spending three years in prison (Berrigan immortalized the trial with his play, The Trial of the  Catonsville 9, 1971).

Daniel Berrigan was passionate and willing to put his life and reputation on the line to pursue the peace of God. He was later was the Plowshares 8 in 1980, breaking into a General Electric Nuclear plant, damaging warheads and pouring blood on documents. He was also an Aids activist and opposed American intervention abroad, and capital punishment, advocating for a consistent-life ethic. 

Berrigan’s poetry intertwined with his sense of  call as prophet and priest. His poem Some is dedicated to the Plowshares 8 with love:

Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.

Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It’s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I’ve had it,” they cried,

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.

“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”

“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”

“Because the cause is
the heart’s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”

Ezekiel describes the judgment of God against false prophets of Israel that cried peace, peace when there was no peace” (Ezekiel 13:10). Ezekiel was a post-exilic prophet. He denounces both those who had given Israel and Judah a false sense of security before the nation was carried into exile and those in the midst of empire who tried to tickle the ears and tell the people what they wanted to hear.

We live in an era that should have no pretension of peace. War is in the water. Violence is everywhere. Another Berrigan poem The Earth Prison Poems, Viking Press, 1973, p, 82) describes the state of the world under empire:

When earth yielded up to our arms
the multitudinous children of her invention —
streams, starlight, storms — we were the pampered lovers then
of those who loved us, one flesh and blood, one bone.
O that embrace the state’s steel gauntlet
raced down on like a wild fire.  Wounded
in the nearest parts, part men only,
we wind, unwind our bloodied limbs
feverish, icy, swept by what sighs and tides . . .

This is where we live. Some may claim peace, a strong economy prosperity, but this is a world of violence, of suffering, of pain.

The poets and prophets tell us about the state of the world. They also tell us of the world to come. Berrigan was a faithful witness to the peace of God. When other’s walked away he walked and walked and walked. He stood. He spoke. He took pen in hand. May we also walk and write and stand and speak. 

I am at Peace with My Becoming

Advent is the season of angelic visitations, miraculous births and joyful expectation. It is the season to mark not what is but what will be. The valleys have been raised up and every mountain brought low—the way is being made for the New. We are mindful and attentive, watching the signs. A baby will be born, a star will die and its brilliant light will ignite the night sky. Soon shepherds will encounter luminous messengers who burst with angel song, “Glory to God in the highest, shalom to women and men who find favor with God!”

All this, but not yet. Still we wait. Advent is a song building to a glorious crescendo. It stokes our expectations. We anticipate Christ’s coming, eager that in meeting again the Divine, we may be changed. The road is open, and there is now real potential:  illumination, enlightenment, change, union. 

Rami Shapiro is a Jewish Rabbi and a Zen poet (he studying Zen Buddhism with Leonard Cohen). His poem “There is a Hunger”(from Accidental Grace, Paraclete Press, 2015, pp 32-33), illustrates this sense of expectancy:

There is a hunger in me that no thing can fill;

a gnawing emptiness that calls forth dreams

dark and unfathomable.

My Soul is whispering; Deep calling Deep,

and I know not how to respond.

The Beloved is near—as near as my breath,

as close as my breathing—

The World Soul of

which my soul is but a sliver of light.

Let me run to it in love,

Embracing the One who is me,

That I may embrace others who are One.

Enwrapped in your Being,

I am at peace with my becoming.

Engulfed in your flame

I am cleared and unclouded.

I am a window for the Light,

a lens by which You see Yourself;

a slight of Mind

that lets me know me as You

and lets me know You as me.

How wonderous this One

Who is the face of all things.

Of course, Shapiro’s spirituality, as a  Zen Buddhist Rabbi, is not particularly Christocentric. He didn’t pen these words in anticipation of some Christmas miracle. Certain lines hint at a pantheist union with all nature—the World Soul. However, if we believe as Christians that in Christ we glimpse the face of God, then our Christmas waiting opens up the potential of seeing Christ a new, in ourselves, in others, in the groaning creation.  We will become a window for others to sense Christ’s presence. How wonderous this One/ who is the face of all things!

The way is open for God’s shalom. Peace is the promise. Swords will be plowshares, spears will be pruning hooks. Predation will cease. All will be safe and secure. 

All this, but not yet. Still we wait. I am at peace with my becoming.

The Peace Thereafter

It is no mistake that the symbol of peace, the dove, is the self-same symbol which Christians use for the Spirit. In the Upper Room, before his crucifixion, Jesus intertwined his promise of the Spirit’s coming with an assurance of peace “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:26-27). Similarly, in the opening verses of Genesis 1, there is the Spirit, hovering, beating its wings like a bird, far above the void and watery chaos (cf. Gen 1:2). In the visage of a dove we see an image of both the wind of God and Shalom—the peace each of us craves.

Jesus taught us to ask for daily bread, but prayers for peace find their way, also, into our daily prayers. We ask for peace—the cessation of war, for reconciliation for our broken relations, for justice for the oppressed, for an end to systemic racism, classism, and strife. We long for an end to the fighting, for peace to reign in our relationships, and closer to home, we wish also for peace in our hearts—freedom from the anxious thoughts that plague us. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Peace,is one of my favorite poems (I’ve shared it here before). In it, Hopkins described our longing for peace:

  When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs? 
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite 
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but 
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it? 

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu 
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite, 
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

Hopkins describes Peace here, not as a gentle dove descending but as shy wild wooddove that darts about, under the boughs but at a safe distance from human hands. He longs for peace to come close. When, when, Peace, will you Peace?  Though he has experienced peace to some measure, it is but a piecemealpoor peace. Wars still rage and we still live under the threat of them. Peace, as we know it, is but a raid on the warmongers, not a full sail abolition of war. That comes later. The Peace thereafter. Until then we wait.

Hopkins was an adult convert to Catholicism. A Jesuit priest and professor of Greek and Latin in Dublin, he wrote this poem at the end (or near the end?) of World War I.  Personally, he was an anxious soul. He worried about the egotism involved in publishing his poetry(thus kept most of his poems from publication until after his death). Though a committed celibate priest, he struggled with his sexuality (attracted to a man in college and instructed by his confessor to sever all contact with him). He knew what it was like to be overwhelmed with anxious thoughts. The world that Hopkins was in was ravished by war. 

This week of Advent, the traditional theme people reflect on is peace. We say Peace, peace but there is no peace. Violence is everywhere. Mass shootings, police violence, war (America’s sponsorship of the Saudi War effort in Yemen is but the latest example). We are stressed and anxious. Injustice abounds.

We love the idea of peace but we bristle against its promise. Really? We have so little experience with anything we can really call peace. Peace is a whole different reality. We cry How Long O Lord? and When, when, Peace, will you Peace?  Peace is our longing but it seems intangible and inaccessible to us. 

“Peace” is the gospel in short form. The biblical concept of Shalom is a world made whole, everything as it should be, where nothing that shouldn’t be is. There is no war, but also no anxiety. No violence, and no sickness. No death, and consequently, no mourning.  The good news is that God’s shalom is the peace thereafter that the world is moving toward.

In the meantime,  when peace comes to our house, 
he comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

Those Who Expected Lightning and Thunder Are Disappointed


Lithuanian stamp on the 100th anniversary of Miłosz’s birth

Advent is a two-story house. Built on the foundation of Israel’s Messianic hope, it is when we prepare for Christmas—the coming of Christ, born as a babe in Bethlehem, our Incarnate Emmanuel.

But it also carries the nuances of Second Advent.  Jesus came and will come again. So, traditionally this has been a season to prepare our hearts for Christmas, but also a time to set our own house in order as we prepare for Christ’s return.

A lot of my Advent reflections have focused on this second meaning of Advent, the coming Kingdom of God and how everything wrong in the world will one day be set to rights. Jesus’ first Advent was foretold, and hoped for and prophesied about. However, when the day came, it was a  complete surprise. The Redeemer was here, and nobody expected his birth would be anything like this: Angelic visitations, a virgin birth, a chorus of angels, and a star to light the way for travelers from the East. It happened the way it needed to happen, but not like anyone thought it would. 

I wonder if this aspect of Jesus’ first Advent tells us something about the way we shall be likewise surprised by Jesus’ Advent.

Czesław Miłosz’s poem, “A Song on the End of the World,” plays with the way the end defies expectations:

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be

Warsaw, 1944

What strikes me about Milosz’s poem is the ordinariness of the “end.”  Fishermen mend their nets, a happy porpoise jumps, the birds flit about, women walk with their umbrellas, there is shouting in the marketplace, a drunk lies on the edge of the lawn, sleeping off last night’s good times. A yellow sailboat nears the island and there is violin music in the air. 

This doesn’t sound like the end, and it wasn’t what anyone expected.  The sun and the moon are still in the sky, bees on the rose bush, babies are born. Milosz says those who expected lightning and thunder are disappointed. The would-be-but-too-busy prophet binds his tomatoes and says, “No other end of the world will there be.”

The Bible’s Apocalyptic literature (Daniel and Revelation) speak of the world ending. There are Seals and Trumpets and Bowls, oh my! The Sun turns to blood, there are beasts and multi-horned dragons, earthquakes, pestilence, and war. But also a  garden city, the New Jerusalem, and a new heaven and earth. The old gone and all things made new.

Revelation does tell us about the future, but to make all about the future, is to miss the point. Apocalyptic literature wasn’t so much about some coming end, as it is about how the world as we know it just ended. There was some cataclysmic shift and everything was changed. The same way that today we might talk about how a new idea or a new lover rocked our world, the ancient writers painted a picture of their world’s destruction and the new world emerging.

For John of Patmos, the world became New when he trusted his life to Jesus. Still, old worlds died hard, and those who were faithful to Jesus were persecuted. The war between the Beast and the Lamb was/is a conflict between the old order and new order of God’s coming Kingdom. John recorded his revelation so that those who struggled to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of persecution from Imperial Rome would have the courage and resilience to stay the course. 

Milosz wrote his poem in Warsaw, 1944. The fact that he highlighted the ordinariness of daily life, doesn’t mean his world wasn’t ending. The Nazis had invaded Poland in 1939, but Germany’s grip on Poland was waning. This was the year of the Warsaw Uprising. Germany was retreating and the Soviets were advancing.  The Resistance timed their revolt to coincide with this Soviet advance, but the USSR halted their forward movement, leaving the Resistance to fight it out with their German occupiers. After 63 days of fighting, the Nazi’s defeated the Polish Resistance. 16,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed,  6,000 badly wounded and 150,000-200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly by mass executions. 85% of the city was destroyed. Milosz said later that the Soviets watched with binoculars while the city was decimated. 

 

Fishermen mended their nets as the porpoise played, the birds flitted, the drunk slept. No thunder or trumpets, but the world ended. For those who remained, reality forever changed. 

I don’t know when or how Jesus will return. I don’t expect a trumpet blast, the sky to crack or the moon to turn to blood. These are all ancient metaphor for a catalysmic shift. The kingdom of God may roar or come in like a whisper. It may feel ordinary—the would-be-prophet bagging your tomatoes at Food For Less and no fanfare or pyrotechnics. Or perhaps there will be blood, war, and destruction. Systems of oppression do not die easily. But when the world ends, the lamb wins, sorrow and injustice are no more. 

My Lean, Unripened Heart

Sylvia Plath struggled to stave off the darkness. She was clinically depressed, treated multiple times with electrical convulsion therapy. When her marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes dissolved, because of Hughes infidelity and him leaving her for his mistress, Plath succumbed to suicide by gas oven in her London flat. Her children were asleep upstairs. Six years later, Hughes mistress, Assia Wevill committed suicide the same way Plath did.

I’ve been reflecting on hope and the promise of Advent, how the Christian story tells us that the telos which we are moving toward, is one where all suffering ceases, wars end and all our mourning turns to joy. In the meantime, hope can be a hard thing to hold out for. The pain of broken relationships and biochemistry may make it nearly impossible. Sylvia Plath described the heartache she felt in losing Hughes in her poem Jilted: 


My thoughts are crabbed and sallow,
My tears like vinegar,
Or the bitter blinking yellow
Of an acetic star.

Tonight the caustic wind, love,
Gossips late and soon,
And I wear the wry-faced pucker of
The sour lemon moon.

While like an early summer plum,
Puny, green, and tart,
Droops upon its wizened stem
My lean, unripened heart.

The bitter, the sour, the acetic, the puny green and tart, the drooping, wizened, lean and unripe. 

I believe wholeheartedly in Christian hope, that the story of God’s redemption ends well. But let’s not abstract it. Hope can be a hard thing to hold on to. I don’t know the heartache of being jilted by my lover the way Plath did, nor do I have her struggles with depression. But I know heartache. I know what it is like to a lose a job, and how insignificant and incompetent it makes you feel. I know what it is like to be rejected by those I care about and felt called to love and serve. I know what it feels like to lose hope, and have my life turn sour. 

Christian hope isn’t just for the nameless poor, the migrant, the refugee, or the war-torn in some far off distant land. We, ourselves, need it. When we lose hope, all the sweetness goes out of life. We despair. We give up. If we are to sustain life and joy, we need hope for tomorrow. 

  Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, fell to Babylon in 587 BCE. The city of Jerusalem was captured and destroyed. The temple was torn down. Many of the inhabitants died in the siege. Families were torn apart and many were carried into exile. If there was a time that God’s people lost all hope, that was it. God had abandoned them. Their nation was no more.  They were under judgment for their rejection of their God. 

For 70 years they were in exile. A lifetime. People were born and died in captivity. And yet, God was still at work and he hadn’t really abandoned his people. Jeremiah prophesied:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”  (Jeremiah 31:27–29, NRSV)

At the end of 70 years, the sourness was gone, the exiles returned. The walls of Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt. They experienced what  Martin Luther King used to say, “The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.” It wasn’t as it was, but their hope returned. Tough the fruit of experience was still sometimes bitter there was hope for tomorrow. 

I feel sad for Sylvia Plath—depressed, rejected, despairing. Suicide is a disease that has claimed far too many lives, and I doubt if I was there I could have said any words that would restore Plath’s hopes for another day. I do know one day, maybe soon, maybe many lifetimes away that:

God will dwell with his peoples, and be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will cease. The sourness will go out of life. He will make all things new.  (cf. Rev 21:4-5). 

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.

In yesterday’s reflection, I asked if hope asks anything of us. Emily Dickinson said no, not a crumb but I wondered if hope did not at least invite certain actions from us. 

Wendell Berry wears many hats. He is an environmentalist, an activist, a farmer, an essayist, a cultural critic, a novelist, and a poet. No one else has been more compelling and steady as he, in warning us against the environmental and economic dangers inherent in the industrial agricultural complex, and the things we’ve lost in our rush to progress.

I love Wendell Berry. He is incisive in his analysis of the state of things. I’ve read his non-fiction and have devoured his novels—all set in the Port William Township, with the Catletts and the Coulters and Jayber Crow. Yet, it was Berry’s poetry that first drew me to his writings.  His best-known poem is Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. I hesitated to include it in these Advent reflections because it is final exhortation, Practice Resurrection feels more Easter than Advent. But Resurrection runs all the way through Christian hope, even at Advent. No Easter, no Advent hope. Here’s the poem:


Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

The opening of Manifesto describes the state of things in contemporary life, the tedious monotony of a world with no beyond. We scheme for our own personal success—quick profits from get-rich-quick-schemes, jobs with good benefits,  a lucrative 401K. Everything is done for our own satisfaction and security. We are comfortable, but each of us is the center of our personal universe. We have not thoughts of the world beyond our existence. We fear our neighbors (or migrants, refugees and asylum seekers). We fear our own death, and perhaps the death of those who make us happy. Consumerism drives our desire and our behavior. We exist and subsist with a loss of hope for the future, our connection to the past and a sense of transcendence. There is no God, and if there is, it is only the God that makes me happy.  

Enter the Mad Farmer, calling us to each day: do something
that won’t compute
, to Love the Lord, and Love the world; to Work for nothing; to take all that we have and be poor and to love someone who does not deserve it; to denounce government and hope our nation will one day live its ideals of freedom; to approve the incomprehensible and praise ignorance, to be thankful for the things humanity has not encountered and destroyed; to ask the questions with no answers, to invest in a millennium. to plant sequoias and trust in the two-inches of hummus that will build under the trees every thousand years; to listen to the carrion, and hope for the world to come, to expect the end of the world and laugh; to be joyful, even in the face of facts; please women more than men (as long as women don’t go cheap for power), Swear allegiance to our nighest thoughts, lose our minds instead of letting ourselves be co-opted and controlled, to be like the fox, making more tracks than necessary, practice resurrection.

The Mad farmer invites us to enjoy life, to not be driven by our economic interests, to not see Creation and all that’s around us as something to be manipulated for personal gain, but instead, to invest in the far-off future, to expect the end to the world and laugh.

It is possible to go through life and just let it happen to you, to give little thought about how your choices impact nature, others and the future; to drink Keurig coffee because you don’t like the inconvenience of washing out the coffee pot. 

Like the Mad Farmer’s Manifesto, Advent hope is the invitation to see the world beyond us. Jesus is coming! Get ready. All the things that isolate people from one another, all the broken relationships and the things that steal our joy, all the ways that institutions chew people up and steal their soul, will meet their end. The wolf will live with the lamb,  Expect the end of the world. Laugh. If hope asks anything of us, it is this: don’t just let life happen to you. Live mindful of the world to come—the world beyond. 

The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them. Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain. The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.” (Isaiah 11:6–9, The Message)



Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Emily Dickinson was a recluse. She spent most of her adult life in seclusion, at her Amherst family home. Publishing only a few poems during her lifetime, she made her sister, Lavinia, promise to burn her papers after she passed away.  Had her sister kept her promise, the world would never know her short lines and slant rhymes. 

 Eschewing Second Great Awakening revivalism and the rigidity of New England Presbyterianism, the Transcendent yet haunts her poetry. I hear it in poems like ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers:

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me. 

Dickinson describes hope as a bird, that never quits singing despite storms and cold and roiling waters. This is a poignant metaphor. Hope, for her, was resilient, irrepressible. The bird perches in the soul and “sings the tune without the words—/And never stops—at all—.” Hope is the stubborn songbird whose song is carried by the breeze, all the sweeter in strong winds. A melody that warms us through the storm.

Hope, this buoyant birdsong, doesn’t quit. It persists. Despite the weather, sometimes despite the evidence, “in chillest lands—/and on the strangest sea.” Can hopes be dashed and destroyed? Dickinson allows for the possibility, “and sore must be the storm . . .’ but the emphasis here is on the constancy of this birdsong in our souls. 

Advent is the season where we turn our ears toward the bird singing in our soul. In terms of the Christian story, the song she has been singing, does have words. For two thousand years, she sings, “the kingdom of God is at hand. (Mark 1:15).” This song is resilient and the songbird keeps singing despite wars, and rumors of war, families being torn apart and placed in detention centers, environmental degradation, disease, the fear economic collapse and personal bankruptcy, poverty, trumped-up legal charges and the wrongfully convicted, death and the raw experience of grief. Through wind and storm, in tundra and tempest, the song rings out, “the kingdom of God is at hand.Dare we hope that God’s redemption and righteous reign would break into our broken worlds? 

Dickinson’s final two lines: 


Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me. 

indicate that the song of hope is not coercive.  A young Emily Dickinson rebuffed revivalism when she attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She didn’t reject the gospel story per se, she did reject manipulative attempts to get her to respond in a particular fashion to the call of Christ. When Dickinson attended church services with her family, she appeared disinterested. She has cemented her place in history as the patron saint of the spiritual-but-not-religious. 

It is worth asking here if Dickinson is right. Does hope really ask nothing of us? Not even a crumb? I think she is right to say that hope does not demand, coerce, manipulate us. Definitely not. But does not the songbird, invite us, inspire us, and move us to sing along?

The Kingdom of God is at hand.How may we join in the song?