Picked Up by the Spirit

A Meditation for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

(click here for the biblical texts)

Lydia's baptism site en wikipedia org
A Greek orthodox chapel on the site where Lydia is thought to have been baptized en.wikipedia.org

Visions from God are rare for us but not for Paul
who is told where not to go, where to go, even
it seems at times what to say, to whom to say it.
He was sent to Lydia the dealer in purple cloth
and her women’s community gathered at riverside
outside the gate at Philippi, Paul’s first journey
to Europe, he an intercontinental figure
for the first time; more, he does a new thing,
baptizing women who listened without a man
to tell them it was okay and without Paul asking
for a man to authorize this church plant
far from headquarters at Jerusalem.

This woman Lydia, dealer in purple cloth,
a luxury only the wealthy can afford,
heads her own household, decides on her own
to be baptized, choosing for the rest of them, too,
and invites Paul and his companions to
stay at her home a few days—a woman
in charge of her own life and others’ too,
rare in this world where men rule all.

Can we see ourselves in Lydia, men, women
or in between, not constrained by gender,
sexuality or race or station, gathering with other
seekers, believers, to pray at chapel
or in our homes or riverside or park,
office, bar or restaurant, anywhere
people need prayer, desire union with the divine.
Must we wait until Sunday,
do we even need to be organized
or could the Spirit pick us up and draw
us together heart to heart, soul to soul,
on a street corner or in a Starbucks—
now wouldn’t that be novel, prayer and latté
with or without the whipped cream and cherry.

And could we pick a day and wear purple
not for Lent but for Lydia, claiming our spiritual
ancestor, the woman who stood up, was counted,
and many say was the first convert in Europe?
If we light a votive for St. Lydia, dedicate communion
In her name, we will help ourselves to be more brave,
open, outing ourselves as people of prayer, letting
visions take hold in us, going where Spirit calls
rather than where rote convention commands.
Can we, will we, do a new thing, honoring Lydia,
and yes Paul, boldly living out loud for God in Christ,
bending ourselves to Spirit’s way? O, what  a ride!

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .The story of Lydia and Paul in the Acts of the Apostles intrigues many of us. There are many delicious details . . . the community of women, the significance of purple cloth, to name two, and then there are things we don’t exactly know, like how Paul, in many ways a very traditional man, felt being invited by a woman to her home. The Spirit is clearly at work here, and it is good to open ourselves as well.

She Will Not Be Bound

 

Meditation for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C
(click here for biblical texts)

See I am making all things new;
is this verse from the last of the
Christian canonical biblical texts
not the whole truth of the creation,
byword of a God always on the move,
seeking us (as Rabbi Heschel said long ago,
the Bible is not the record of humans’
search for God but of God’s search
for humanity) so that somehow She
can get us to see that what we often
claim, namely that we have received
all God has for us between
covers of an often translated humanly
created set of texts, is only part
of the divine story–the rest being
God’s continuing revelation of all life.

Peter at Joppa pilgrimatthecrossroads com
pilgrimatthecrossroads.com

So we see Peter receiving a strange hieroglyphic,
a divine picture-text descending, not telling him to obey
old rules devoutly maintained for generations,
but to see the universe in a new way: what
God has made clean, namely every creature like snakes,
caterpillars, blue jays, frogs, wolves, bears, ants and anteaters,
do not despise or negate. And that applies not
just to dinner fare, but also to dinner companions—
God’s table excludes no one, forget human rules
of eligibility–God does not exclude
no matter how much human authorities try
to convince us and themselves otherwise.

And what about love? Does Jesus tell us
to love but warn that certain restrictions apply?
Or is love to be how we live as well
as the sign of who we are? Many think he meant
we do not need to love those who seek to harm us
or those of whom we are frightened  
or those who don’t obey Ten Commandments,
not wanting them chiseled on the courthouse wall,
but he did not say that. Love as I have loved you
is what he said.  I love you, Herod, I love you,
Pilate, and Judas, too, and the young man
who walked away downcast because you did not want
to give up your riches and privilege, I love you too.
Not just Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the beloved disciple,
and the others. No I love you all. All means all.

This no poetic license, despite objections
that there is no evidence that he loved Herod
or even those screaming for his execution.
Where are the harsh words, where the angry screeds
delivered in Gethsemane’s Garden?
Did he keep the disciples up with harangues against he
who betrayed him, did he allow Peter’s
sword to have the last word or did he heal the wound
and say no to more violence?  And did he tell
Herod he was evil or call for a revolt against
his authority? He did not feel bound
by the king’s rules, but he did that without
disrespect to the person, and that is the ground
in which love can thrive–you must respect the
personhood of another in order to love them (if only
Congress could remember that love comes first, before
scoring points against those with whom you disagree).

The truth is that God keeps showing up with
another textual sheet with truth we missed before
or forgot, or is especially apt for the moment.
Our job–really God’s gift to us–is to pay attention
and follow that wisdom even if it challenges rules
we have imbibed at mother church’s breast,
even if those who claim to know say no.
God is on the move reaching and teaching
well outside their control, which is why they
try so hard to lock Him up in that book
or any other holy jail they can find or construct.
But She will not be bound, and
there comes a time, and more than once,
we have to choose whom to trust: God,
the Holy One who makes all things new,
or the people who tell us who God is.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .The account in Acts 11 of a new teaching–What God has made clean, you must not call profane—is a pivotal moment in the development of what eventually became Christianity. But so often we cling to the idea that revelation is over, that God has nothing new for us, that we have nothing new to learn, that to be faithful requires only that we repeat what was repeated to us. That is a God neither Jesus, nor Peter, nor Paul, would recognize.

Get Up. Now.

(Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

Tabitha, get up! Has someone said that to you?
Perhaps your mother or father when you
overslept—You’ll miss the school bus. Up! Now!
But this is different, Tabitha was not late, she was dead,
surrounded by her friends, grieving widows
telling stories about her good deeds, her sewing
for others. In their distress they called Peter, her leader
among the disciples—yes, she was a disciple, they
were not all men, you know; in the Greek text, Luke used
mathētria, the feminine form of the word  
disciple, when speaking of Tabitha—
we do not know what they asked of him but
he, perhaps burning with the spirit of resurrection,
sent them out of the room, as Jesus did
with Lazarus, and prayed. What did he pray?
Luke does not say, but we know what he said to Tabitha,
and more to the point what she did was this:
Opening her eyes, and seeing him she sat up;
Then taking his hand, she stood. Whether we
believe or not, she did. She got up.

Tabitha with Peter grieving
womeninthebible.net

Is there some part of you that is dead, cut off from
your soul perhaps, some injured place you keep hiding
rather than healing, a wound that wants to cry out,
or maybe it does in the silence of a broken heart ,
but you have succumbed to today’s truth that
this Tabitha thing never happened, not really; science
has no explanation for a dead woman, or even
a dead man, rising, so it did not happen. But
still deep down, in the inner quiet place
you rarely visit you yearn to hear Peter or someone
say, Get Up! if only from the job you hate or
the debt you don’t know how to pay or the
cell of fear you live in every moment , the depression
that has you in its thrall. There are answers you know,
therapy of course, or a new job or marrying riches,
or drugs, weed might tide you over, but then
tomorrow your soul still feels dead, broken, or lost.

So maybe, just maybe, you can ask God
to stop by; you don’t know who will come in God’s name,
it might be a friend or a trusted leader like Peter
or a stranger you meet in a long check-out line
or when sitting quietly in the back of the church you
decide to visit on your lunch hour just because
you feel an urge to chat with God, to be fed spiritual food,
or perhaps you suddenly know how desperate you are
to feel the love of God, the embrace of Jesus, the hope
of the Holy Spirit, to be carried forward by that power
of wholeness rather than human power that seems
to keep you trapped in an unending cycle of sadness
and despair, anxiety that things will never get better in your life.

But the truth is this: you can get up, you can be lifted
like Tabitha, like Lazarus, like Jesus, like all the disciples
before you, Peter and the whole gang, and those around you
now, who trust God to bring us back from wherever we have
let the world and others toss us like so much trash
or if not trash at least what they, whoever the they are
in our lives, call unnecessary baggage on the route
they say we are supposed to travel all our days.

But you have to want to get up, you have to be ready to take
good orderly direction, you have to open your eyes
and see what you have not allowed yourself to see before,
and walk, now alive, among the dead and dying all around you,
offering yourself to them by saying, if you really mean it, Get Up!

It’s simple, though not always easy.  Why wait? Get up. Now.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .The book known as Acts of the Apostles often challenges us because so many things happen that in our modernity and post-modernity we question—like Peter raising Tabitha from the dead. It becomes easy to dismiss it as a charming tale, and thus easy to miss the importanceof bringing people back to life from whatever death they may be living.

He Keeps Showing Up

(Third Sunday of Easter, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

Disciples-Fishing spiritofthescripture com
spiritofthescripture.com

Jesus keeps showing up—
In body and out of body—
on the Damascus Road
tapping Paul for new work
(and ending his old angry career),
and at the Tiberian Sea
filling the nets of Peter and others
with first fish then promises of people
who need like sheep to be tended and fed.
We are those sheep but do we know
we are feeders and tenders, too,
disciples of the risen Christ
whom we proclaim each eucharist, saying
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Could we not say as well that Christ is here?
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is here,
and Christ will come again—the mystery
then is for us as for Peter and friends:
how can he be gone and yet here simultaneously?

When they sat on the beach eating fish he had helped
them catch and bread he broke for them
they knew it was him but they dared not ask—
why so timid? Are we like that? Are we afraid
to feel his presence when we cannot see his face?
I don’t know about you but Jesus keeps
showing up in my life, often at odd moments
as well as in worship, mostly in quiet times
when his gentle voice beckons me
to turn around, not so much to see him
as to face the right direction so we can walk
together towards my fellow rams and ewes,
all of us lambs in his tender shepherding care,
but more because he has called us shepherds
too, and charges us with encircling the whole flock
in arms of love.

But to love like that, like he did and does,
to feed his sheep, our fellow lambs, to tend
the flock, we have to put down our judgments,
drop the stones we want to hurl at those who hurt us,
tear down the walls we want to build to keep the other out,
stop being certain we know what is wrong
with them—instead using a spiritual stethoscope,
listening to our own souls to find out how
alive, how present, we are, to find out
if we are showing up to answer his knocking
or if, when he seeks us, he finds
the gate locked  and we and all our charges
missing in action, wandering among dried out
pastures looking for food and dodging wolves—
of self-importance, wealth-seeking, getting ahead—
who claim to be our friends as they devour
more than our beautiful broken bodies.

Still he keeps showing up
like a homeless person, hoping this time
we will give something more than a quarter,
more than a dollar or a protein bar,
or even a meal in a diner—this time he
hopes we will give ourselves, knowing
that he not only has died, is risen,
and will come again, but really truly
he is here now . . .right here . . .right now.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Many faithful Christians confess confusion about the relationship between Jesus and the Christ, this human divinity many call Jesus Christ (no, Christ is not his last name).  So, when we read Gospel accounts of his post-resurrection appearances to groups of disciples we may rightly wonder, just who was showing up? I am suggesting here, as in so much of our faith journey, that this is not a case of either/or but both/and. We don’t get to touch his literal physical body, but Jesus is still here and Christ is still risen, so be ready, because they are, he is, knocking at the gate to your heart. Now.

Praying to Change the World

Written for and Delivered at the
Interfaith Passover Seder
sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace – Metro DC Chapter
at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.
April 3, 2016/5776

Praying to Change the World

I join you tonight in prayer and hope and peace and love,
even joy, as a queer Christian minister and theologian,
married to a beautiful Jewish man, a father, grandfather,  brother, uncle,
member of Jewish Voice for Peace and Conservative/Reconstructionist
synagogue and an LGBTQI affirming, multi-racial Protestant church,
citizen of this land that is still far from free,
that still imprisons Native peoples on reservations
and kills descendants of slaves on the streets
for crimes of living while Red and/or Black
where ethnic, gender, religious, bodily, and sexual hates
are often the center of our national dialogue,
and embraced by some who want to be our leaders.
That is my personal context; it probably bears at least some
relation to yours. We are in this together, one way or another.

We gather with our own histories and our shared history.
We know that we are not alone in taking land from those
who lived on the land before us, we know its ancient roots
as recorded in Torah and we know countless ones today who
are displaced, unplaced, misplaced, replaced as were hundreds of thousands
in the Nakba, just as we know that second class citizens live
not only in prisons and jails here but also on streets
and in neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

So we gather in the truth of this time with all its ugliness
and fear and othering, but we are here also because we claim
our inheritance as people who know something about liberation,
our own and that of others, and because we know 
this day like all other days is made for us to wake up,
grow up, look up, act up, stand up, live up, speak up
from our heritage as people whose Creator breathes life
into all beings, pouring sacred water down
for all beings without exception, not based on any
puny criteria of mortals who walk among us.

What makes this night different from all other nights?
Only this: we are gathered  here today in an ancient
and honorable ritual, but if all we do is recite the words,
sing the songs, eat the food, say the prayers it will
fade like so many other days into the cavernous
space of forgotten promises, avoided truths, fearful
inaction, well-meaning but empty expressions of care.

So as we proclaim again, Next Year In Jerusalem,
we don’t want it to be the same one it is now,
we want it to be a truly golden city, of real
peace.  We intend to do our part to make it so, because
we are drawing this day on the power of each other
and all sacred beings who roam among us, and we know,
we believe, that it is our mission, our divinely inspired
mission, to join with others, many others here and there,
to create the new Jerusalem, the new Israel,
the new Palestine, the new USA,
the new people there and here, everywhere,
no longer living and walking in fear, no longer dispossessed,
no longer forgotten, no longer denied entry, exit, jobs, housing,
life, or dignity for being on the wrong side
of one line, one wall, one gate, one identity, or another.

We pray tonight, whether prayers be traditional
or postmodern, whether they be to a power greater than ourselves
or desire spoken in unbelief only to ourselves, or perhaps
not spoken with lips at all but on our posters and in letters to editors—
because we are all in this together, one way or another,
and because I know, and I believe you know,
we can change the world.
Amen.

©Robin Gorsline2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

He Will Touch You

(Second Sunday of Easter, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

jesus_doubting-thomas-cropped
thejesusquestion.org

Some of us need proof beyond the testimony
of others—at least when it comes to things
out of the ordinary; like Thomas we want
to put our fingers in the holes, maybe even feel  the dried blood.
But can faith ever be dried, captured in a book
or locked up in systems that claim to explain everything?

Some people appear to freeze-dry their beliefs and then
add water when needed and call it faith;
others quote a verse or two and claim that resolves it all.
But faith is a more lively affair, lived in ups and downs,
not without doubt or fear, often messy, unpredictable like
soft ripe pears, juicy peaches, grapefruit squirting all over,
sweet liquids running down my chest
rivulets of nectar coursing through hair over nipples
reminding me of tactile sensations—
like Jesus healing the leper with his fingers,
life poured out and on a hungry soul and body
made whole by faith, in faith, working in ways
reason always fails; logic has limits beyond
which God continually goes, inviting us
to cast aside fear and doubt which hold us
back. Yet doubt is part of faith if we dare
to really go where God leads—walking in
clouds of unknowing, not always able to see
through the fog of our own creation let alone
glimpsing far off a divine horizon we will never
reach but whose power when we let it in
draws and drives us forward. But it is right
for Thomas to want to touch Jesus’ wounds—
it is often in our wounds that we find deeper
faith, and why not in our Lord’s wounds
as well—to learn how to see all that God
has for us and all that the world creates,
including death and destruction and oppression,
too often in God’s name however wrong
it may be. God works with our doubt as well
as our faith—there is nothing God will not,
cannot, use to lead us forward where we
fear to go. Let us then not judge Thomas—
have you not demanded proof, have you not
doubted? So, let us go on the journey
with him and the others who scattered like
holy seed to the east, the west, the south
and north, knowing that they had a story to tell.

What is your story, what is your witness,
when have you said, I have seen the Lord! Are
you even looking? If not, you may miss him, too.
But trust that he will come by if you ask.
He will touch you even if you cannot touch him.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .As a preacher, I got tired of the story about Thomas, the same year in and year out—as if the Lectionary architects felt we needed a dose of doubting every year after the big Sunday of the Resurrection. It does get me ponder doubt, however, and how essential it is to living in the midst of the ups and downs of faith.