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?

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? 

Two Recent Poems

These two poems are reflections on recent news and the paltry response to sexual violence in the church. If this topic is an open wound and a trigger, please skip reading this. As a follower of Jesus and a man, I want to have a compassionate response toward the #metoo movement and the stories women are telling. Too often, Christian men have failed to really listen and we have also failed to call victimizers to account. 


You see God, but do You hear?

El Roi—the God who sees.
Well, God,
we all see too much.
Open your ears
and hear the
cries of the broken,
scattered mass
crying ‘me too.’
We don’t want,
anymore,
the mercy
which papers over
the sins of victimizers
demanding we forgive
the things that
they’ve
never owned.

Hear us.
Hear us.
Times up,
enough.


Spring, 1998

 [warning: graphic content, press the link above to read Jules Woodson’s story]

That was Savage there,
at the end of
the dirt road,
taking by force
what was yours alone
to give and then,
quaking with chagrin
pleading with you
to pledge
to him your
everlasting
silences.

Later that savage
told a flock of
horny teens:
True Love Waits—
Take the long view!
your future wife
is a Jewel that 
ought to be
 treasured!

Did you feel treasured, Jules?
When he unzipped his pants
and demanded of you: Suck it?
Or when he had you
unbutton your blouse
and jumped from
the driver seat,
aware in
that moment
of the damage
this would do
to (no, not you)
his career?

You were crying in
the church office,
the senior pastor,
conspicuously absent.
He saw your tears,
but Larry,
Cotton in his ears,
wouldn’t hear.
“So you are saying you participated?”
“We’ll handle it.”

 
Twenty years later,
The rich man fatted
with lamb,
No prophet Nathan
came to stand
before the man
and demand
justice
For what
he took.

But you stood—
yourself—
for you
(but not just you),
for the others,
so no more
Cotton men
could
refuse
to hear.

Waiting: Joy (Advent Week 3)

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, Gaudete¹

I.

“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”
These words penned
in prison—
written by
an old man,
in a cell
on death row.
He was almost
blind but
still hoped
he’d taste
His release.

II.

“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”
Though the
The dark
is long and dusk
devours days,
Behold, a
light shines

the Sun’s rays—
a joyful rage,
against the
dying of
the night.

III.

“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”
The Theotokos
aching and sore,
her hips hurt.
And back.
She’s so tired now,
she lowers herself down
on the couch,
rests her hand
on her belly,
she smiles and asks:
How Long, O Lord?

IV.

One day soon:
kings will topple
from their thrones,
the poor will rise,
the hungry feast,
and broken mend;
whole and healthy,
the lame leap,
blind see,
and every
prisoner will
be free.
“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”


[1] The Introit to the Latin Mass for the Third Week in Advent, Gaudete Sunday,  is the Latin translation of Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord Always, I will say it again: Rejoice!”  This week is all about joy, the rose candle a joyful reprieve to the season’s penitential purple.

Notes on Ps. 131 (Poem)

Psalm 131, A Song of Ascent, of David.

 

 

I kick and rage–

proud heart, haughty eyes

I thought I’d

made my mark

already.

 

Insides spinning–

a hope deferred–anxiety

throbbing through my thighs.

 It’s  all too great for me,

I cannot

bear it.

 

Teach me to be-

To know who holds me

upon Her knee, and then

I’d drift contentedly

to peace.

 

I stop kicking and sit, still

proud-hearted-haughty;

yet there is no need to

make a mark

today.

 

You hold me

    there is hope–now,

and when

forever comes,

with You I will rise.

 

©James Matichuk, 2016

Prayer for Epiphany Week 2

 

I know it has been quite some time since I included my prayer reflections. Life has been busy but I aim to renew the practice. This is my prayer reflection on John 2:1-11, the lectionary text for today. 

 

Six stone jars stood empty.

The had held the water

for the washing of hands.

Now they sat hollow in the entry way.

 

Mother Mary had come and

begged You,

Defend the honor of the hosts.

May no one know the limits of their hospitality,

that they invited guests but did not have enough.

 

Six stone jars stood empty.

They had held the water

for the washing of hands.

You had them filled to the brim.

 

And when they poured them out.

Wine flowed–better than any wine

the guest had, had  before. the chief steward

was full of wonder (though he did not know the source).

 

Six stone jars stood empty

They had held the water,

which had turned to wine.

Long after the guests had their fill

and Ordinary Time resumed they held

the memory of the wine on their tongue.

Later they would remember You were there.

The day that everything changed.