Of Human Bonds, and Bondage

Reflection on 2nd Sunday after the Day of Pentecost, Proper 4
(Click here for biblical texts)

If ever we needed proof that healing
happens communally ask Luke’s Roman
centurion. Dramatis personae include
the soldier and his cohorts, the Jewish leaders
he turns to for help to contact Jesus,
the slave near death and other regimental slaves,
Jesus and disciples, and most likely a host
of others who heard of the plea for help
and its magnificent outcome. In our today,
the news would have blanketed internet,
Dr. Oz probably jealous,
and most likely Ellen’s next guest would be
the centurion, probably without his slave
or lover or whatever he is—we are not able
to imagine people owning their love objects,
even as bodies are sold every day, vulnerable
young and older women, young men, enslaved
for the sexual pleasure of others—because
this story is about one kind of healing from
sickness and almost death, but not being
liberated from inhuman bondage.

Roman centurion
shalominthestorm.blogspot.com

But can we imagine a new ending—
when the centurion/owner sees his great love
healed, in the pink of health; in gratitude
he orders a party at which he pronounces to all the world
not only his love but also that he purchased
an end to bondage—larger story where love not only
heals but also frees both parties
from entanglement in a system that values
people as spoils of war, conquered peoples
as machines to be chained for what they can
produce, including, in some cases, sexual pleasure.
Pleasure, did I say pleasure?  It may be one thing
to pay for pleasure from a willing seller but it is,
isn’t it, different not to pay but to own body
if not soul of another to receive the divine gift
of intimate lovemaking as if one’s command
can create bonding of such power, grace, and love.

Yes, this is an old story without this happy ending
and still it tells of faith profound, true, real,
strong enough to cause Jesus’ amazement
but even more to clear away all bars
to healing and then to welcome holy power
that heals wherever it is allowed to land. Was it words
from Jesus, not recorded here, or was it faith
from the centurion/lover that healed?
Or Jesus’ recognition of that faith?
We shall never know for sure, but this we do know:
faith can move mountains and does, but sometimes
the mountain must want to be moved
or at least its many admirers know it must
be moved—God has the power to do all,
but counts on us to lend our shoulders, hearts,
minds, feet, and hands in the struggle.

Whose healing, whose liberation, have we
made more possible, more real, today?

 

About this poem . . .This beautiful story of love and healing leaves a number of unanswered questions, including just how was the healing accomplished? And like many stories from a vastly different age, things we abhor today are unremarked and unchanged. That does not leave us unaccountable for who we are and what we do today; instead, it reminds us that holy testimony of old is still in need of new holy interpretation today.

 

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

Endless Dance

Reflection on Trinity Sunday, Year C
(click here for biblical texts)

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Ghost).
This the formula by which all things holy are done in Christian contexts.
But what does it mean? Does anyone really know?
Trinity Sunday—first after the Day of Pentecost–is intended
by liturgical planners to help us understand the ancient doctrine
containing all the power of our faith.
But what kind of power is it?
A cleric intones the words, all respond Amen, seeming to say
the deed, whatever it is, is now done.

But what if the Trinity is not done, what if instead
of finality it is just the beginning?  What if that Blessed three-sided
family is always on the move in a dance of divine proportions,
touching, engaging each other and all living beings in an endless
do-si-do, moving themselves and us to embrace and part over
and over to create new life, new meaning, without end?

trinity theologybyheart com
theologybyheart.com

And more, why does it have to be Father, white Father with white beard
at that? If the Creator is old why is he, or she, not black—the first
humans were Black in Africa, and their parent surely could be, should be
it seems to me, the same. And why not mother, does not a woman
give birth to all life of all sorts? Holy Mother God, an ample bosomed
Parent in whose loins all are birthed and at whose breasts all are suckled!
But more than a birthing, nursing machine, She sets the beat
of the dance, teaches the steps, commissions her two cohorts
to go forth to touch, empower, raise up, renew all life .

And they, Blessed Son and Holy Spirit, eager always to engage life,
on the move, being fed and taught by Mother, bring fierce truth
and energy everywhere whether invited or not, even as
they know rejection and avoidance from all at least some of the time.
But they do not stop, when dismissed or slain they do not truly leave
or die but await a new opening to heal the breach and recreate
the love of life they carried and taught the first time, indeed
every time, world without end.

Blessed Son is male, with penis and all that signs maleness,
going forth among us from time immemorial to teach and counsel and lead,
daring to be what no man before or since has been or will be.

Could then Holy Blessed Spirit be some of both, Mother and Son, transcending,
indeed expanding, preciously paltry ideas of gender?
So that where She/He goes we are impregnated and birthed
at the same time, to join the endless dance, the do-si-do
of eternal creation, growing, when we listen to the divine beat,
in spiritual strength, claiming our holy origins,
unafraid to be really alive from the soul out to
pulsing fingertips and toes, whirring brain
energy seeking not stasis but vibration that moves
all life to be in relation with Holy Mother God
and all She creates and nurtures.

In the Name of the Mother, Blessed Son, and Holy Spirit,
may it be so, and more, may we not miss the dance!

 
©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .The Trinity seems to most of us a mystery explaining a mystery. And sermons seeking to explain it can become pedantic, especially if they are consumed with the need to defend that which really needs no defense. Doctrine rarely makes good homiletics, or indeed poetry. I am indebted to a somewhat mediocre yet strangely powerful work of fiction, The Shack, by William Paul Young, for sharing a glimmer I have long had of these three-in-one moving, alive, laughing, living to the fullest in all directions, dancing because there is no tomorrow, only always today.

One Fine Pentecost

Reflection on Pentecost, Year C
(click here for biblical texts)

Have you ever noticed on the first Pentecost people
were not only able to speak in tongues not their
own, but also the people inside the house and
outside could share—speak and be heard?
How does that happen? It surely is not happening
today in the United States where people, even when
they are in the same room, talk right past each other.
And instead of walls seeming to evaporate,
some leaders, so they call themselves, propose to build
new ones—and not just physical walls against immigrants,
Muslims, but cultural ones against transgender persons and gay
men and lesbian women, and put even more
young and old black men, and women too, behind bars
or behind the ultimate barrier called a casket,
not to mention denying health care for many
unable to pay—too bad, so sad, you’re on the wrong side  
of the great health divide. Just don’t get sick, okay?

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.
“When the day of Pentecost came; Mark A. Hewitt, pastel pen, 2012 larrypatten.com

Somehow on that Pentecost morning walls
of the house where the followers
of Jesus were hanging out came down, or
if they did not fall physically they were transparent
or at least able to let sound mingle inside and out.
That surely was divine work but also it had to come
from the desire to reach into
the community of strangers,
to those who believed other truths—
they wanted to build community not tear it
apart and they knew it could only be done by reaching
across borders, taking the risk of talking with
unfamiliar people, accepting difference
as natural and God-given, indeed a gift
manifesting the richness and bounty of Creation.

Building community requires trust,
trust first in God, a power greater than oneself,
a power greater than one’s voice claiming to be
all that is necessary—vote for me and we’ll be great
again, whatever that means—knowing God
is the source of all our strength and goodness,
that no one human or even group of humans
provides all we need, no nation, no tribe,
no church, synagogue, mosque, party, business,
family is self-sufficient.
It takes all of us to make a fruitful life together.
When we deny our interconnectedness we slowly,
but surely die. The interdependent web of life is like a spider
web, truly,  even the www.whatever, when one strand, one server,
one station, one town’s water system, is broken, the whole is no longer,
it is only a lesser version of what it was or could be.

So let us on this Pentecost be open and honest
with those who doubt, as others doubted that morning
long ago, but even more let us stand
against those claiming to have, and even to be, the only answers
we need, and especially we must stand foursquare opposed
to those whose answers involve tearing down others
in order to garner whatever spoils they think are theirs—
because they shout louder and bully more.
Most of all, let us lower our own walls,
proclaiming liberty to the captives—even bullies
are captured by a creed of greed and awful need—showing
all of us the better, more faithful, trusting way of life.

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

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .The message of Pentecost—everyone can be in conversation with each other, we can accept, even celebrate, our differences and learn from them, when we lower the barriers, when the walls come down—is so contrary to our public culture in the United States today. Can we have a new Pentecost? Can we actively engage across the lines in order to defuse tension and war, create peace? It must start in our own hearts and lives, of course, and then we can take it into the world. This will put us in active opposition with those who live off, and promote, fear, but even with them, our own walls need to be lowered.

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What Song Will You Sing?

A Meditation for the 7th Sunday of Easter
(click here for biblical texts)

The cynic’s saying No good deed goes unpunished
may have occurred to Paul in Philippi when—
after making common cause with Lydia and friends—he
ordered ugly spirits to leave a servant girl
who irritated him with public pronouncements .
We don’t know her feelings about being released
from demon’s power but Paul and Silas
find themselves on the wrong end of the law
because her owners are enriched from her fortune-telling.
Not for the first time or the last, emissaries
of The Way find themselves stripped, beaten, and locked up.

paul-and-silas-in-prison bloorlansdownechristianfellowship wordpress com
bloorlansdownechristianfellowship.wordpress.com

But the story takes an unexpected turn to become
one of the greatest liberation moments of all time,
perhaps ultimate in nonviolent revolution,
a model for how God works when we pray
and get out of the way.
Singing and praying in the night,
as their fellow prisoners listen,
some force—is it an act of nature or of God
or simply the earnest, faithful power
of their prayers and voices—
creates a midnight disturbance,
an earthquake we are told, that flings open every cell door
without so much as leaving a trace of damage
to the walls and foundation. Even more, no one
injured, not even the jailer who had confined
Paul and Silas to the worst of the puny accommodations.
In gratitude he takes his new friends home for blessing and supper.

This is the way we want our world to work!
Hebrews escape between the walls of the Red Sea
but Egyptians are so overcome by the sight
they do not pursue and thus do not die.
Israelites advance into Canaan and locals
are so glad to see them they throw a neighborhood party.
In his determination to find the child born in Bethlehem
Herod throws a giant party, treating all the children
and their parents to dinner, games and magic show
before sending them home.
In our own version of Canaan
(recreated in Palestine in 1948?),
European settlers bring much wealth to share with natives,
no attacks are made by either side, no reservations
for native peoples are created and none die
from diseases imported from Europe.
And here’s one more: needing to import labor, recruiters
go to Africa with brochures and bonuses
for early signing, inviting locals onto cruise ships
for the voyage across the Atlantic
with secure, paying jobs and health care waiting here
for those who choose the journey to try a New World.

And how about this? Police, leaders, citizens learn to sit down
with young Black men, listen to what they  need
to gain self-respect, and then work to meet the need.

A utopia, you say?

But why not? Paul and Silas were
two men, people like us. God is still God. Let’s start
praying and singing (don’t worry about your voice, it is
the intention that matters), and expecting the
disturbance. The world is ready for change.
It begins when we unlock whatever cell of despair,
discouragement, and doubt where we have put ourselves
or have allowed others with a different agenda
to confine us.

What song will you sing? What disturbance do you seek?

 

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

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Acts of the Apostles continues to share stories of divine intervention (at least that is how I see an earthquake that does no damage) that challenge our rational minds. But is that not the job of faith, to move us beyond our ordinary selves into the realm of Spirit where anything may happen, especially if it intends or results in liberation for the oppressed?

 

Does Anyone Observe Ascension Day Today?

A Meditation on the Ascension of the Lord, Year C
(click here for biblical texts)

Does anyone observe Ascension Day today?
Our Lord bade farewell to trusted comrades
and rose in the sky, as one irreverent person said,
like a balloon slowly drifting to heaven
out of sight but not out of mind. Did this really
happen or is it a way of expressing the feelings
of disciples knowing Jesus was gone,
like a young child watching a loved
parent drive away after the divorce,
the child not sure she will ever see the
other again. And Jesus, did Jesus sob like the sad
parent on his way up? But wait. Even if we observe,
do we believe? And does it matter either way?
To believe ascension is different from believing
in Ascension; do the details, as we have them,
have to be true in order to know, to know, that
his friends felt his absence—they, unlike us,
may not have known for sure he would still be around.
Or do we know, do we trust that Jesus is here,
even though he ascended? Or are we so jaded by
science, by incessant needs for proof, scientific proof,
that we cannot grant God the power to do this, to let
Jesus rise right before their, our, eyes? And return,
even if not in the flesh? If we cannot, and
for many it must be so, then we are more powerful
than God—or at least God can only do what we allow
Him to do. What kind of God would that be?

Ascension-Day ascensionday2016 com
ascensionday2016.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or can we understand with Karl Rahner that Ascension
tells us that God intends flesh be redeemed
and glorified? Flesh be glorified, is that even Christian?
So many years of hearing about flesh mortified, flesh
hung out to bleed and dry on crosses, flesh to be
tamed, can we think God really loves us, and our flesh,
enough to glorify and redeem it, not just
spiritually but even physically? Is God reveling
in our fleshiness? If not, what are we
to make of incarnation, Jesus fleshing God better
than any human, or as many say, the way only He can.
Whatever. Doctrine does not guarantee salvation
but following Jesus wherever he goes and
being with him wherever he is calling us
makes a good recipe for blessed, even holy, life.

May you feel Ascension in your heart and body,
if not your mind.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .So many of us have lost connection with special holy days, and if we observe them at all we have moved them to Sunday, to avoid inconvenience in our daily lives filled with so much important business. Yet is the pain the disciples, men and women, humans all, must have felt, not worthy of remembrance? And what of our blessed, holy flesh: will we ascend someday? Will anyone remember?