January 12, 2016 § 6 Comments
Lately, I’ve been enjoying reading and, on occasion, writing a bit of poetry. Right now, I’m smitten with the poems written by contemporary poets in Image Journal and Ruminate Magazine, two lovely quarterlies that explore the relationship between art and faith. I’m also flipping through Caroline Kennedy’s She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey through Poems, which is a wonderful anthology of poems about the joys and sorrows of being a woman.
Here’s a poem I wrote as a writing exercise several months ago. I discovered it on a crinkled piece of notebook paper while clearing out my closet, and thought I would share:
Sour, the taste of lemons,
Sweet, the taste of chocolate white,
Sacramental bread and wine is
something, but nothing you taste like.
Sorrowful, holy voices rising,
Sonorous, organ boom,
Saint-like, I kneel to listen, hearing only
silence from an empty tomb.
Soft, a child’s bare arm in summer,
Squishy, the wet sponge in my sink,
Sheep’s skin, dew-covered, a
sign nowhere near the brink.
Sunset, a golden-hued death.
Sunrise, a purple-streaked birth.
Son of God, haloed and holy-hands
standing, but a photo before the broken curse.
Steaming, bitter coffee in a cracked mug,
Scented, the candle on my porcelain tub,
Smell of blood and water flowing,
salient story, though crass.
December 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
As some of you may know, I rather like Advent.
Last year, on an impulsive whim, I wrote a blog post for each day of the season, a spiritual practice that proved healing and expansive for me.
This year, I’m not so ambitious. Instead of writing about Advent every day, I’m reading about Advent every day, using the wonderful book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.
May I suggest it to you? It’s chalk full of great writers like Thomas Merton and C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen and Madeleine L’Engle and so many many more. I’m only a day into the season, and I’m already smitten.
But despite my decision to read instead of write this go around, I can’t resist the urge to jot down a few minor thoughts about Advent, loving it as I do. So, here goes: a thought (or two) on Advent.
During Advent, people talk a lot about waiting. That’s because Advent, which means “arrival”, is the season in which the people of God wait for the arrival of God, both the celebration of His birth long ago and the promise of His return in the future.
We are all familiar with waiting. In fact, waiting makes up a good portion of our lives. We wait in traffic, wait at the doctor’s office, wait for emails, wait for packages, wait for dreams to come true.
Implicit in the idea of waiting is the belief that something is coming.
One doesn’t sit around waiting for someone who doesn’t exist to pop over for dinner. One doesn’t sit around waiting for rain in the desert. One doesn’t sit around waiting for money to grow on trees.
These things just aren’t going to happen.
But one does sit around waiting for a friend who promises to stop by after work. One does sit around waiting for the first snowflakes to flurry in Michigan. One does sit around waiting for the cherry blossom trees to bloom in spring.
These things will happen in a matter of time.
But what about God? Was God really born to a virgin in a manger? Was it really true when God promised He would come again? Should we wait for these things, or is that just so much insanity?
Part of me says it is. Part of me, the lonely part of me that has known God’s absence, the cynical part of me that knows promises are broken all the time, the hard part of me that says this is silly and can’t be true, those parts of me say it’s insane.
But another part of me, the peaceful part of me that’s been filled with God’s love, the hopeful part of me that knows God doesn’t make promises He doesn’t plan to keep, the warm part of me that’s moved by the idea of God making His way to Earth, those parts of me say, okay, I’m ready, I’m waiting. I may not understand it fully, but God’s mysterious and ineffable – it would be trite if I did.
So, how is this waiting thing going to go?
August 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
Until a few months ago, I’d never given The Giver much thought. That’s when a friend from work lent me her copy over a sunny weekend in June, and I was surprised to suddenly find myself curled up on the couch with my face glued to the page. The Giver might be found in the children’s section of your local library, but like all great literature, it sweeps away adults and children alike. It’s been almost two months since I ripped through that book, but the story – and the questions it posed – still buzz around my head.
In case you were deprived like I was, The Giver is about a boy named Jonas who lives in a supposedly Utopian community sometime in the future. In this community, order is paramount. People are genetically engineered so they can’t see colors, which could further racism. They take drugs to control their sexual impulses. The weather is controlled to appear the same all the time. There is no music or art or dance. Children are born by specially designated birthmothers, and then assigned by a committee to a family unit, a mother and a father who have also been matched by the committee. The kids attend school, where they learn strict rules that maintain harmony in the community, rules like curfew and precision of language. As they grow up, the committee watches each child carefully to determine where his aptitudes lie. On his twelfth birthday, the committee assigns each child a job. Some become birthmothers, others become teachers, still others lawyers and doctors. Jonas is singled out to be the community’s Receiver.
The Receiver is called such because he receives all of the community’s memories. The former Receiver, now called the Giver, passes on to Jonas good memories, like the memory of a home at Christmas and sledding down a hill, as well as the bad memories of war, of injury, of hatred, of racism. Jonas’ job is to keep all the memories inside himself so the community can live in ignorant bliss.
As I read The Giver, I couldn’t help thinking, “Gosh, who doesn’t want to live in a world without pain? A world without war? Without racism?” I know I do. Granted, I want to keep my ability to choose, to see colors, to listen to Mozart, to love. But the goal of the community in The Giver is one that I share: a world without suffering. And I’m not alone. Barring masochists (who are believed to be mentally ill), we all want a world without suffering.
And moreover, we should. A world without suffering is a world where we are happy, where we no longer groan under the struggle of daily existence, where we see in full what is invisible to us now, where we are human beings fully alive.
So why shouldn’t we try to manufacture perfection? And why doesn’t it work out in The Giver?
It’s not the goal of the community that’s wrong; it’s that they’re trying to construct perfection in a world where perfection is not yet possible. The attempt is doomed to fail from the start.
While thinking about this, I was reminded of Jesus’ parable of the weeds in Matthew. A man sows good seed in his field, but while he is sleeping, an enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat, so when the wheat sprouts, the weeds grow as well. The owner fears that if he pulls up the weeds before the harvest, he may uproot the wheat with them. So he instructs his servants, “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”
The committee in The Giver try to entirely uproot the weeds of pain, of war, of racism, and as a result, not only are good things like colors, family, love, and music, lost, but evil things ensue: in particular, infanticide of babies who don’t meet certain weight requirements and senicide of the elderly when their health begins to decline.
As in all Utopian literature, as soon as man tries to perfect his world, he ends up destroying it instead.
But notice in Matthew there is a moment when the weeds are, in fact, finally separated from the wheat: the harvest. In Matthew, this signifies the moment when the world is fully redeemed.
I was struck by the difficulty of knowing the harvest will be a good time, of desiring the harvest, yet having to remain with the weeds until then. It feels a bit like the dream Jonas has after he first receives the memory of riding a sled:
“Always in the dream, it seemed as if there were a destination: a something – he could not grasp what – that lay beyond the place where the thickness of snow brought the sled to a stop. He was left, upon awakening, with the feeling that he wanted, even somehow needed, to reach the something that waited in the distance. The feeling that it was good. That it was welcoming. That it was significant. But he did not know how to get there.”
That’s where we are now: knowing there is something beyond, something we want but are unable to get right now, not knowing how to try – and living patiently among the weeds until then.
(P.S. I interviewed Brenton Thwaites, the Australian actor who plays Jonas in the movie, and he had some interesting thoughts to share. Read the story in The Dallas Morning News.)