There is Nothing I Can Do Against Your Coming.

Today is the winter solstice‚ÄĒthe shortest of days, the longest of nights. The early sunsets and the cloud cover of the Pacific North West means that our Advent ‘wait for the light” is as literal as it is metaphorical. We are in the long dark, awaiting the break of dawn.

But these days are dark in other ways too. We may have lingering sadness for friends and family we won’t see this Christmas. We may feel anxious about money, grieving the loss of a loved one, or feel the ache of a failed relationship. We may be depressed and lonely. This can be a difficult season for lots of reasons. In our house, we have been battling the flu. There is no good time to be sick, but the prospect of sick kids over Christmas feels pretty awful.

Jane Kenyon was no stranger to the darkness. Like many poets, she struggled with clinical depression. Her poem Having it Out With Melancholy describes her lifelong struggle with the dark:

1 FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited 
behind a pile of linen in the nursery, 
and when we were alone, you lay down 
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on 
everything under the sun and moon 
made me sad — even the yellow¬†
wooden beads that slid and spun 
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude. 
You ruined my manners toward God:
“We’re here simply to wait for death;¬†
the pleasures of earth are overrated.”

I only appeared to belong to my mother, 
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts 
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. 
I was already yours — the anti-urge,¬†
the mutilator of souls.

2 BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, 
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, 
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. 
The coated ones smell sweet or have 
no smell; the powdery ones smell 
like the chemistry lab at school 
that made me hold my breath.

3 SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn’t be so depressed
if you really believed in God.

4 OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner 
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away 
from the massive pain in sleep’s¬†
frail wicker coracle.

5 ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw 
that I was a speck of light in the great 
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole 
human family. We were all colors — those¬†
who are living now, those who have died, 
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm, 
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood 
you came flying to pull me out 
of the glowing stream.
“I’ll hold you up. I never let my dear¬†
ones drown!” After that, I wept for days.

6IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me 
upstairs, lies down with a clatter 
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing 
saves my life — in and out, in¬†
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 

7PARDON

A piece of burned meat 
wears my clothes, speaks 
in my voice, dispatches obligations 
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying 
to be stouthearted, tired 
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine 
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night 
I feel as if I had drunk six cups 
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder 
and bitterness of someone pardoned 
for a crime she did not commit 
I come back to marriage and friends, 
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back 
to my desk, books, and chair.

8CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work 
but I believe only in this moment 
of well-being. Unholy ghost, 
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet¬†
on the coffee table, lean back, 
and turn me into someone who can’t¬†
take the trouble to speak; someone 
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing¬†
but sleep; can’t read, or call¬†
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do 
against your coming. 
When I awake, I am still with thee.

9WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light 
I wake at four, 
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air 
presses through the screen 
with the wild, complex song 
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment. 
What hurt me so terribly 
all my life until this moment? 
How I love the small, swiftly 
beating heart of the bird 
singing in the great maples; 
its bright, unequivocal eye.

Married to Donald Hall (another brilliant poet!) and a dog owner, she was able to stave off the dark long enough to leave behind some great poems, full of evocative imagery and emotion. As she faced the darkness and sometimes she found the beauty in the shadow:


Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles 
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come. 


Let Evening Come

I love that last stanza: Let it come, as it will don’t be afraid. God doesn’t leave us comfortless, so let evening come.

Darkness in the guise of leukemia would claim Kenyon’s life in 1995, just as she was hitting her stride as a poet. Her last poems are wistful and sad. And yet despite the struggle and the sadness and the lingering dark, there is a thread of hope that runs through her poetry. God does not leave us comfortless so let evening come. Morning is coming soon and with it joy.

Unnoticed and Unknown to Men of Power

When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, her ancient cousin‚ÄĒlong past the years of child bearing‚ÄĒshe 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 ‚Äėtoo young‚Äô,

Elizabeth with all called ‚Äėpast their prime‚Äô

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‚ÄĒa song which recalled Hannah (1 Sam 1), another overlooked woman‚ÄĒGod 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‚ÄĒ
¬†¬†¬†¬†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.‚ÄĚ (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 ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚Äď- 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 ‚Äď- numb
Ransacked by green greed and time catching up
Now … nothing ‚Äď- 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 ‚Äď- 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 ‚ÄĒ 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‚ÄĒanother 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‚ÄĒ
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. 

‚Ěá

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‚ÄďYou
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‚Äďthe 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‚Äôs descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.‚ÄĚ

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‚ÄĒalmost 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‚ÄĒfreedom 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‚ÄĒforgiveness 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‚ÄĒwitnesses 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.


‚ĚČ

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?

Stand Still, O Beautiful End

The second week of Advent is the time for declaring our hope for God’s peace. We cry peace, peace when there is no peace. Our journey with the poets has noted a dissonance between our anxious thoughts and war-torn world, and Advent promise. Too often what we call peace in this life, is just a diversion and distraction‚ÄĒa turning a blind eye to the suffering of the world. We stuff down our wounds. We comfort our souls with wine and song.

But we know that there are people struggling, hurting dying. We know about those desperate migrants who have fled the violence, economic and politic instability in Central America; the tenuous relationship between Israel and Palestine, starving children in Yemen, and we’ve heard something about escalating violence in the Philippines. All this seems so far away and abstract. We know we probably should care more than we do and that this is just the tip of the iceberg of the suffering of the world. There are so many stories we don’t know and hurts we’ve not heard about. We are aware, when we listen the anxious cry of our own hearts and though we may have some small measure of inner peace it is fleeting and we are ever aware of the ways we don’t experience it. Yet. 

Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengalese poet was the first non-western Nobel Prize for Literature laureate (1913).  Called the Bard of Bengal, he  was given a knighthood by King George V but later denounced it in protest of the British Indian Army’s Jallianwala Bagh massacre. His novels touch on the violence of Colonial powers and the violence between Hindus and Muslims in India. His poem, Peace, My Heart (part of his Gardener cycle) describes our common longing for peace:

Peace, my heart, let the time for
the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain
into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end
in the folding of the wings over the
nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be
gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a
moment, and say your last words in
silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp
to light you on your way.

For Tagore, peace was what awaited us in death‚ÄĒ a release from the heartache and pain of existence when we are reunited with the Cosmos. This idea is more Eastern than Western and reflects Tagore’s religious and spiritual worldview. Yet he captures what it means to be at peace, much of which is echoed in our own scriptures:

  • Not be a  death but completeness‚ÄĒfrom fragmentation to being made whole (Luke 17:19 “Your faith has made you whole”).
  • Love melting into memory and pain melting into song (Psalm 126:5, They that sow in tears will reap with songs of joy).
  • Our flight through the sky ending with us safe the nest, under the wings of a Mother bird (cf. Psalm 91:4, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge”).
  • Our last touch of our hands gentle like a flower in the night (Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near”).

Qoheleth wrote that God set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Strangely anxious souls though we are, we long for and can describe a peace we know little, experientially about.  Torah written on the hearts of humanity (Romans 2:15), we all hunger for the peace of God to come.  Our heart testifies to us‚ÄĒwe long for what none of us has, yet. 

Stand still, O beautiful end. . . .I bow to you and hold up my lamp
to light you on your way.