Knowing

In her poem “Tablets IV”, Dunya Mikhail writes:

The homeless are not afraid
to miss something.
What passes through their eyes
is how the clouds pass over the rushing cars,
the way pigeons miss some of the seeds
on the road and move away.
Yet only they know
what it means to have a home
and to return to it.

During my morning practice of reading and a savoring a poem, this stanza gave me pause.  The “knowing” of the homeless Mikhail writes about is not a knowing we would envy.  The homeless know what it means to have a home because they miss having one. But the “knowing” of this poem made me instantly grateful for my home, my life, the bed I sleep in each night.

I’ve been writing a lot this summer. I haven’t posted as much on this blog because I’ve been carefully crafting a book proposal that I’m hoping will turn into my first book.  The book is about the “knowing” to which I have been led by people whose lives are wholly different than my own—prisoners, immigrants, LGBTQ+, persons of color. I should add the homeless. As a white woman of privilege I don’t know what their lives are like—in fact I am quite blind to and ignorant of this knowledge.  But I can know.  And I should. Because from knowing grows understanding.  And understanding builds relationships.  And when we are in relationship with each other we can begin to meet the needs of those who, for far too long, have been pushed aside by society.

[Feature Image: Patrick Marioné]

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More Bass; Less Treble

I’ve started reading a poem a day from the Poetry Magazine to which I recently subscribed.  I keep the magazine on the nightstand beside my bed so I will reach for it as soon as my alarm goes off.  When I get the chance, I reread the poem throughout the day, sometimes out loud, to find and feel its rhythm.  Every morning I wake up craving my new poem.

In a brilliant panel on “Making Room for Essayist Thinking in Hard Times” at this year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, I listened to Heather Lanier quote pastor Rob Bell:

Progressive Christian pastor Rob Bell describes a yearning specific to our culture right now: “I call it the bass note,” he says. “We are craving bass notes right now. The treble is the squeakier, higher frequency note, and then there’s the bass note. And something about modern culture, and something about the way the Internet has worked on us,… the way in which blips and squeaks are coming at us faster than ever, the way in which news is sensationalized, the headlines that demean actual news and journalism and reporting, this TMZing of our world, it’s sped everything up so that everything is happening right here in this moment. Have you seen this snapchat? It can easily disconnect you from things that are older than five minutes. Life can become all treble, no bass.”[1]

At the end of her presentation, Lanier encouraged us to spend time with the bass notes—with things that resonate deeply and take a long time to make.  Like trees and books, Lanier suggests.  Like poems, children, art galleries and churches, I’d add.

How about you?  What bass notes do you crave?  What resonates deeply within you?

[1] Bell, Rob. “What is the Double Down.” The Robcast. May 14, 2017. https://robbell.podbean.com/e/what-is-the-double-down/

[Feature Image: Squeezyboy]

Poetry for the Nation

“Poetry comes from conflict,” the poet Dorianne Laux says. “If it’s all nostalgia and wonderful it’s a hallmark card. If it’s a political rant, it’s an essay. Poetry is somewhere in between.”

On this Independence Day, I need something in between.  So I was excited to discover www.lovesexecutiveorder.com where a poem will be posted every week during Donald Trump’s presidency.  Matthew Lippman, the editor and founder of the site, wrote this week’s poem–exactly what I needed to read today.

A United States of America Poem
by Matthew Lippman

The United States is still here.
That’s why you have to go kiss your kids before they head out to the school bus.
That is why you have to go out to the dead tree,
cut it down,
rip up the stump,
plant a new tree,
maybe a Japanese Maple
because the Japanese Maple is red
and America is still here.
It’s in the bedroom, under the bed,
next to the plastic bin with all the summer tee shirts,
the blue one with ponies on it,
the same ponies that run and up down hills in West Virginia and Cold Springs, NY,
the ones you rode as a kid
when the air smelled of sweet lilac and burgundy autumn.
You fell off of one once,
landed on America, and America picked you up
like a grandfather who still had his strength,
put you on his knee,
and rubbed your cheeks to make you feel new again.
That America.
It’s still here in the ignition of the car,
you’ve just got to go find the keys and fire her up,
4 cylinders or 6, it does not matter.
It doesn’t matter that the mudslide in Big Sur
which crushed Highway One
crushed Highway One,
you can still get America going again,
drive over the stones and smashed trees to the other side
where the ocean goes on forever,
where America says hello in waves and sea glass
and hints at revolution.
You know that revolution,
the one that means well for the guy at the farm-stand
and the gal in the office with the big windows,
the revolution of a man with no home
and the woman with no food
that still believes in the belly of the day,
that there is a word called yes, which will lead her to a door
and that she can,
with her last ounce of strength,
turn the knob and walk through.
It’s that America that is still here and it lives in your heart.
The one that beats so strong you have to kiss your kids
before they head out for school with the lunchboxes and lunch money
and provided lunch service—the apples, the apple juice,
the turkey sandwiches on wheat bread
with the crust cut off.
It’s an America for today, the most necessary today,
where Georgia and New York, Vermont and California and Idaho and Paris, Texas
have all gotten together like old friends reunited,
sitting at the river on cotton blankets
not talking.
Not even listening.
Just being united states under one sky.
It’s blue. It’s not red or white.
It’s a blue sky
and it’s here where it has always been.
You have to believe this.
You have to go outside right now and find it.
It’s easy.
Just look up.

If you need to read more poetry of resistance, visit www.lovesexecutiveorder.com and click subscribe to receive a weekly poem in your inbox.

[Image by Alex McClung]

Troubling the Tyranny of the Ordinary

Reading and reflecting upon Christian Wiman’s book, My Bright Abyss, has become my latest meditation practice. These words were perfect for me today:

“Heading home from work, irritated by my busyness and the sense of wasted days, shouldering through the strangers who merge and flow together on Michigan Avenue, merge and flow in the mirrored facades, I flash past the rapt eyes and undecayed face of my grandmother, lit and lost at once. In a board meeting, bored to oblivion, I hear a pen scrape like a fingernail on a cell wall, watch the glasses sweat as if even water wanted out, when suddenly, at the center of the long table, light makes of a bell-shaped pitcher a bell that rings in no place on earth.”

Earlier, Wiman writes that “the very act of attention troubles the tyranny of the ordinary.” His words called me back to life, to the specificity of each moment. It feels as if, over this past month when all I had time for was getting stuff done, I have been trapped in the tyranny of the ordinary. But Wiman, like a good prophet, shows me the way back to life through the pen that scrapes like a fingernail on a cell wall and the glass that sweats as if even the water wants out. These details in the most boring of board meetings point to the vitality and the ‘moreness’ of life that is available to us if we are paying attention, if we sharpen our minds and spirits to cut cleanly to the beating organ beneath its protective skin. God is not dormant in this poet’s world. Instead, God is everywhere—in every thing and every one—including me.

[Feature Image by Enid Martindale]

Contributing to the Cause

https-cdn-evbuc-com-images-26658337-197060628551-1-original-jpgOn this day of national activism, I appreciated this post by The Poetry Foundation.  It  shares a selection of poems that,

“call out and talk back to the inhumane forces that threaten from above. They expose grim truths, raise consciousness, and build united fronts. Some insist, as Langston Hughes writes, “That all these walls oppression builds / Will have to go!” Others seek ways to actively “make peace,” as Denise Levertov implores, suggesting that “each act of living” might cultivate collective resistance.”

On a morning when I was regretting not being able to go to a march myself, this post reminded me that there are many ways to speak truth to power, to promote justice, to work for change in our society. Each of us has been given different gifts and different ways to contribute to the common good. For reasons I sometimes find hard to fathom, God has gifted me with a pulpit and a platform and opportunities to share my words. The responsibility that comes with such a public platform overwhelms me at times. But I recognize my position as a privilege, as an opportunity to serve, and, hopefully, an opportunity to influence for good. On this day, January 21st, 2017, I am more aware than ever of the need for articulate, wise, respectful and well-informed voices in the public sphere.  As I watch the events of this weekend unfold, I am praying today for all those adding their voice to our national conversation as we collectively seek a way forward in this liminal, or ‘threshold’, time of political and social action.

Refusing to let God Vanish

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A poet friend posted this quote to Facebook last week. It was the anniversary of a difficult miscarriage and she posted this as a prayer that her grief enlarges instead of diminishes her.  This struck me as a beautiful sentiment and so typical of a poet. I keep turning to the poets for the way they enlarge life, for the way they take a magnifying glass to all that seems mundane. A good poet can create a whole scene (or deliver a whole sermon) out of a detail as small as the petal of a pansy. In this enlarging of life it seems that Hirsch’s point is well taken; that the poet’s job is to leave a verbal record as a way of refusing to let any thing—any detail or experience or person, for that matter—vanish.

As I contemplated Psalm 36 for an upcoming sermon, I began to recognize the psalmist’s job as leaving a verbal record of God. These ancient poets enlarged every detail of God. Psalm 36, in particular, enlarges the details of God’s steadfast love that extends to the heavens, God’s righteousness that stands like the mighty mountains, God’s judgment that runs like the great deep and God’s refuge that the psalmist emphasizes is for all people. Implicit in this poetry is a refusal to vanish and a refusal to allow God to vanish. It almost seems like an act of rebellion–an act of rebellion against all that counters love and justice, refuge and righteousness; an act of rebellion against all the pain, heartache, and grief that this world dishes out–to refuse to let God vanish.

This past holiday season all of the end-of-the-year reviews seemed to be ripe with heartache, tragedy and grief.

After the shooting in San Bernadino, California articles were written about how there had been more mass shootings this year than days—as of December 2nd, 355 mass shootings had occurred in 336 days. So much heartache has been caused by these shootings, and yet we Americans are so solidly entrenched in our culture of guns and our worship of guns that we can’t seem to do anything about this abhorrent violence. It breaks my heart to know that my 6-year-old not only knows the drills at her elementary school for tornado and fire, but also what to do when an active shooter is in the building.

hqdefaultAdding to my heartache this holiday season, I read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness in preparation for a college trip I am leading where we will study the mass incarceration of our American men of color. What I learned in reading this book—about how our nation’s War on Drugs has strategically and systematically rounded up and locked up our impoverished, black males—blew me away and it made me understand the urgency of the #BlackLivesMatter movement all the more. Our societal imbalance and ‘disadvantaging’ of a whole population of people is a tragedy.

And then there’s the continued evil of groups such as ISIS, Al Queda, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. There’s the insanity of Donald Trump’s popularity, our nation’s gobbed up political process, militia men taking control of a wild life refuge in Oregon, another black teen gunned down by police and a “Bible believing” man who walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic to shoot it up.

My God, it seems in the midst of all this heartache and grief, evil and tragedy that there is simply nowhere to turn. Everything is just so messed up.

So I am grateful for the Psalmist who leaves us a verbal record of:

Steadfast Love

Faithfulness

Righteousness like the Mountains

Judgment like the Great Deep

A refuge in which ALL PEOPLE may find shelter

By recording and enlarging these sacred details, the psalmist refuses to let God vanish in a world so full of heartache. The psalmist defiantly lifts up that which counters the insanity, grief, tragedy and evil of the world in which we live.

People of faith do the same every time we gather for worship. Have you ever thought of worship as an act of rebellion? I mean really, how dare we gather to read the psalmist’s words out loud, to pray bold prayers for peace, to sing hymns of hope when all that is taking place out there? It’s kind of crazy, really. But God will not vanish as long as God’s people gather to speak God into this world.

2301691623_7d9f87ac31_oWith the state of the church today—which is a state of rapid decline—I oftentimes think to myself where Christianity would be without the church? Or even, where Jesus would be without the church? If no one is gathering anymore to read the scripture, to sing the hymns, to pray the prayers and build the Body of Christ, then where does that leave Christ? I know this is kind of radical, but consider with me this question: If the church vanishes, then would Christianity, maybe even Christ himself, vanish too?  I don’t know my answer to this question yet.  But I want to ask it.  Because I’m afraid God would vanish if God’s people do not speak and act and live God into existence.

So I guess I want to encourage an uprising—a revolt against all that is terrible and terrorizing.  I want us to rebel against the heartache. I want us to be enlarged, not diminished by the grief. I want us to counter the evil, hate and bigotry with steadfast love, and righteousness, and justice for ALL who are welcome into the fold of God’s refuge. I want us to be God’s poets, refusing to let God vanish by leaving a verbal record.

Who knows, maybe this could be the start of something big? We won’t know unless we try.  And I think God is hoping, maybe even depending upon us to try.

 

 

 

 

 

What the Poets say about Mary

unnamed-8He tiptoes into the room almost as if he were an intruder. Then kneels, soundlessly. His white robe arranges itself. His breath slows. His muscles relax. The lily in his hand tilts gradually backward and comes to rest against his right shoulder.

She is sitting near the window, doing nothing, unaware of his presence. Ah: wasn’t there something he was supposed to say?[1]

Mary, chosen vase
Like any cup, easily broken
Like all vessels, too small.[2]

Her downcast glance
Asks the angel, “Why?”[3]

No one can know
How lonely it is
When an angel departs.[4]

 

[1] The Annunciation by Stephen Mitchell

[2] Nazareth by Rosario Castellanos

[3] The Annunciation by Samuel Menashe

[4] Annunciation by Anna Kamienska

 

[Feature Image: John Meng-Frecker]