Ready or Not

 

Meditation on Advent 1, Year A

 

(Psalm 122, Matthew 24:36-44)
Click here for biblical texts
 

I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go into the house of the Lord.

What other temple gives you so much joy?
Is it your home, or your parental home,
or maybe temples of shopping—Macy’s,
Walmart, Target—where do you go
for inspiration, nurture, joy and hope?
Now, beginning the annual march toward Christmas,
are we ready to enter the stable, familiar territory simultaneously
strange and comforting, where few have actually ventured
outside the obligatory pageant
but where we see proof of God showing up
ready or not.

Noah knew about this, and Pharaoh’s daughter too,
Sarah and Paul, fishermen with nets to put down,
later so full they cannot cope.
Are we ever ready for God,
I mean truly ready, eager,
like a child waiting on emotional tiptoe
for her natal day and the pile of gifts
to tear open
while gorging on cake and ice cream,
not wanting it ever to end,
ready or not?

The proverbial thief in the night comes
with good news, our life is turned upside down,
once settled in the north now we go south,
or are drawn inexorably by a star in the east
no one else can see—
or is it they don’t want to see,
maybe us, too,
afraid to take a chance on God,
we look away,
hoping God comes
at more convenient times?

Ready or not,
our calendar measures mere time
while God’s counts out yearning,
divine desire for us to become all
intended at conception—imagine
if we followed God’s agenda,
how much richer our individual lives,
and the life of the world, would be!
We could stop predicting
and start listening, going with the flow
of holy energy.

I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go into the house of the Lord,
ready or not.
 

About this poem . . . The urgency of Jesus’ teaching from this portion of Matthew, responding to the disciples’ anxiety about knowing when he will descend and the present age will end, can put off modern ears if we think that Jesus is endorsing violence and even what seems like capricious death (although death is often feels like that). Yet the underlying point that we need to be ready for God’s presence in our lives, and that we cannot know for certain how and when that presence will be enacted is fundamental to living a faithful life. We could stop trying to figure this out, and instead let the experience wash over us.

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

 

Who Does Our We Include?

A Meditation for Thanks-giving and Thanks-grieving

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,
the first line of a favorite Thanksgiving hymn
sung over and over year after year,
but these days I wonder, who is the “we” in that sacred song?
I have known for years it does not include turkeys,
as a vegetarian I am not joking,
the right of animals to live is very important to me,
not to mention how if we ate less meat
there would be more grains and other foods
for starving children and even adults.

But does our “we” include Native peoples
whose ground is no longer theirs, belonging
now to us, the white descendants of those
who took the land for a few beads or over dead bodies,
gunfights, cavalry charges, and disease
all playing a part in creating many trails
where tears and loss were, and still are,
markers on the way to landlocked prisons,
somebody’s so clever idea of fair trade:
after all, we’re civilized, they are not.

Does our we include these?

Or what about those grieving for dead sons, daughters,
brothers, sisters, friends, lying in blood on our streets,
victims of drive-bys and of trigger-happy cops
not to mention those still living who walk in fear,
holding their black and brown bodies hard and ready,
swaggering perhaps to hide the terror inside,
or the transwomen, especially those of darker hue,
who rank so high on the dead-to-be list,
and those lying in pools of their own lost identities
begging when they can for a scrap, a bottle, a kind word.

Does our we include these?

And what of those from away who journey here,
to this land we call ours,
seeking safety, work, and education,
a chance to break out of stifling, dangerous
roles and hierarchies, to breathe free air
we proclaim is the birthright of all God’s people
even as we continue to say some are more godly
than others, and their children told to dream,
but will it be deferred, even denied?

Does our we include these?

Queers, too, those who love differently,
their bodies performing outside the gender rules and roles,
for whom sex is an active language of desire
not merely a way to catch someone else’s eye
(though maybe that as well, in joy and fun and hope)
or snag their money in a purchase claiming to create
sexiness or success more than ever seemed possible—
sex workers as well–all who impudently challenge what others
claim is God’s unchanging law that only one man on top
of one matrimonial woman is ever allowed?

Does our we include these?

And homeless ones for whom alcoves and heating vents
become havens during frigid nights, huddled beneath raggedy cardboard
quilts, rickety shopping carts the only storage units
they will ever rent? And the millions even with homes of their own
with little or no health care or fearing the zeal of some
to take what they have by providing credits they can never use?
And those who do not believe, or believe in ways not as we do,
what of them? Do all these give thanks or perhaps they feel other ways,
not sure they are blessed enough to join in our thanks-giving,
instead joining in an unruly, but sacred, chorus of thanks-grieving?

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.
Who does your , and my, we include?
 

About this poem . . . . My dear friend and mentor of sainted memory, Rev. Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé, long ago told me about Thanksgrieving, a time when he, as an Africanibrahim American and Native American man, would join with many others to feel both gratitude and deep pain and loss for being alive on this one day each year when in the United States we pause to give thanks. My people, and many others, he said, paid so dearly that others, people who look like you, Robin, might carve a turkey and feel good about yourselves. I promised him I would never forget, and that I would seek to do what I can to help all of us remember and to give thanks for the sacrifice of so many, and to work to change the present and future so such sacrifice is no longer required.

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 Fatihfulpoetics.net

What Is the Reign of Christ?

Reflection in response to Proper 29, Reign of Christ, Year C

Click here for biblical texts
(Luke 1:68-79 and Luke 23:33-43)

 

What is the reign of Christ?
Surely not some royal court where he dispenses favors
at a whim, pointing a bejeweled finger
here, then there, to the delight of the crowd,
the retinue of those dependent on royal favor.
This is Jesus we are talking about,
the one who walked and talked with sinners, sex workers,
loan sharks and tax collectors, diseased folk
dreaded by all the good people,
and those cast aside for the color of their skin,
the one whom Zechariah prophesied
would give salvation to his people by the forgiveness
of our sins, to give light to those who sit
without the benefit of knowledge, to guide us
in the way of peace, the one who forgave
his tormenters at Golgotha,
who refused to play the games of Rome, and
told his fellow convict, as he tells us,
today you will be with me in paradise.

jesus-with-two-disciples-bfmindia-blogspot-com
bfmindia.blogspot.com

This is the one I know as Brother, Friend, and Lord,
who calls me to stand with the sojourner
in our land, and feed the hungry, comfort widows,
sit gently and lovingly with children,
stand against injustice wherever I find it—
and I find it many places
so what he asks is not to bow down but
to be brave and speak the truth with persistent  love—
trusting I am not alone, we are not alone.
In this day of troubles,
He knew such troubles—which is why
I trust him with my life—and now he shows
us to walk the walk as we talk the talk,
to listen to the depths of each other,
not just those we like but those we are trained to hate,
speak from our sacred souls more than our fear,
to create on earth the heaven as God intends
for all God’s people, their particular faith not counting
as much as their humanity, the participation
in the life of the divine family.

You may think I blaspheme
when I say I have two Jewish men in my life,
my husband and my Lord,
and with me they make a holy threesome—
oh, yes, only one of us is perfect,
and we fail him far too often—
but he helps us get up and move forward,
indeed my earthly partner who goes to temple
loves him some Jesus even though
he does not follow as I do,
but then I go to temple too
and find much truth about the Lord
I love, and seek to serve, among his own people,
ones he loves with all his heart as he loves
us who turned away from them, maligning the very ones
he came to serve and save.

This reign is one of joy and love, justice and truth,
peace and plenty for all,
so we may live out loud
as God intends.
Praise be to God!

 
About this poem . . . . What used to be called Christ the King Sunday is now the Reign of Christ. I appreciate the effort to undo some of the earthly trappings of royalty so that now we can remember, and love and serve, the one who never claimed any office but teacher and fellow-traveler on the dusty, difficult roads of life. This poem evokes the truth of my life that it took two Jewish men, my Lord and my Jonathan, to get me to accept the call of God on my life, so that today I know this paradise about which Jesus told the robber hanging with him—the blessed land of walking with him every day, no matter what troubles beset me, beset all of us, in this place we call Earth.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Make It Real for Everyone

Reflection in Response to Proper 28, 26th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Isaiah 65:17–25; Luke 21:5-19)

Click here for biblical texts

Behold, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth–can I imagine that
when a pink sky tinged with gold and orange
bathes troubled souls,
when despite whatever
calamity has happened in the world,
an election gone awry, perhaps coup d’etat
in some foreign land, even here,
or a death in the family,
or an anguished call from a friend,
cancer diagnosis–can I imagine God
promising not only me, not only my family
and friends and community, but the world,
faithful and otherwise, such a glorious reality?
But it is here all the time, is it not?
Did God stop promising this after Isaiah
wrote it down or later prophets
intoned the words and preached
them as if they were true?
No way!
This not a new or old promise,
not even an unfulfilled one
nor expired either.

new-heavens-and-new-earth-isaiah-65

backtothescriptures.org

Do not become trapped in terror when ugly things happen,
whether created by men (yes, sometimes women,
but with their lesser social power it is more
often male-bodied persons), or by force
of nature, sometimes referred to as Acts
of God though if people die I doubt it is God
acting–God not wanting to lose any
of the divine inventory
of creation known as humans.
Instead, in the midst of challenge
see an opportunity to witness, testify
to your faith that when needed God shows up.
When you are not sure of this, check the sunset
or look at the blue waters of the bay
in front of your eyes, or beautiful child
singing quietly as she plays with toys,
or falling leaves and even snowflakes
preparing for new spring and somnolent summer,
grandfather holding the hand of toddler
learning to walk, youths abandoning care
of what others think to dance their hearts out,  
again to be reminded that God shares
much with us including beauty as well as
hardship, the former a gift to feel loved,
the latter to remind us there is always work
to do.

Jesus knew about this and he tells us
nation will rise against nation
(white nations against nations of color,
men nations against nations of women,
have nations against nations of have-nots,
ableist nations against nations of differently able,
youth-obsessed nations against old people nations,
profits-above-all nations against care-giving nations,
discrimination nations against nations of Queer warriors),
and there will be earthquakes, famines, and plagues
not to mention dreadful portents, great signs
from heaven (whatever they are);
there will even be persecution and arrests:
Oh we shall, we must, know about persecution
and arrest because without those
can our testimony break through
the veil, the wall, of privilege and power
that believes in earthly strength rather than divine mercy,
bombast more than quiet murmurings of prayer,
conflict more than peaceful coexistence,
despair and finger-pointing more than hope–
can we be brave and true, faithful,
no matter the provocation?   

It takes strength, courage, to be persistent
and gentle when all about us
are flailing and screaming, beating each other up
with words, as well as fists, armies, and drones.
Endure, that is the word, the truth, the way:
new heavens and a new earth are here already
even if we,
and most, maybe all, others
have yet to see enough
right in front of ourselves
to work with each other and God
to make it real for everyone.

 

About this poem . . . God does not cause all things but God is present in all things. Troubles, like  joys and celebrations, can be opportunities for us gain new wisdom and to experience the presence, grace, and love of God.  Isaiah’s prophecy of new heavens and a new earth need not be about some time in the great “by and by,” but now, right in front of us if we are able, and willing, to read the signs. And we can see in the daily struggles of people for liberation, and wholeness and peace (shalom), despite often daunting odds and steep climbs, God at work. But we do have to be open and receptive, allowing ourselves a level of vulnerability not often encouraged in human society, one based on deep and continuing trust in God.

(c) Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Go Well into the Good Night

Reflection in response to Proper 27, 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38)

Click here for biblical texts

 

Sing to God a new song because of the marvelous things
God has done! The psalmist often plays this tune and Jesus
repeats it, too, especially when skeptics try to use
what they believe are settled Mosaic axioms to trap him
in embarrassment. Jesus is too wily to be trapped
because he refuses to be locked behind boundaries
set by his critics and by ancient texts of which they claim to be
the sole interpreters.

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pinterest.com

Sadducees not alone; other people, even ourselves,
spouting things we have been taught and accept without question,
trying to maintain control of our lives and maybe others,
too, even when they, we, have no evil intent. Others
use intimidation, base intent, to squelch those
they hate, burning Black churches in Mississippi,
erecting walls to keep Mexicans and Palestinians out,
police shooting unarmed men first, checking, asking, later.

Jesus knows we are free in God, not to abuse others or God
or do evil; but God likes free thinkers,
people faithful enough to trust God’s love does not
depend on their parroting human doctrines and judgments.
Seven dead husbands/brothers, one wife, no child—they become,
if flesh and blood or not, the center of an argument
whose purpose is to entangle Jesus and his hearers,
endless hairsplitting as if the point of religion is debate.

Yet discussion is good, even debate, about important stuff,
deep enough issues to really matter in people’s lives,
soulful digging into the ground of all being.
Trouble is too often debaters think someone has to win,
and someone lose. Religion is not free from politics
inside itself, jockeying for human advantage in the name of God,
the search for truth used to create disadvantage
for those with whom we disagree.

Before Catholics were Sadducees, before Protestants Pharisees,
religious people always dividing into groups to be sure
the right side wins. Yet the main response from Jesus
to the provocation about divorce and afterlife
is that God is not God of the dead but of the living,
saying arcane and yet important arguments
over points of doctrine and practice matter less
than trusting God to orient our lives.

Predictions of the Lord’s return just that,
no more, hopeful guesses perhaps sincerely arrived at
and intended, yet merely claims of insider knowledge
about an event of which we can know little.
Our real task is to wait and be ready
for whatever God has in store, our faith to trust
God and go forward whether we know the actual way
or not, traveling mercies being God’s specialty.

We can go well into the good night, singing a new song
not only for what God has done
but also for what God is doing, and will do.

 
About this poem . . .  Doctrinaire believers are nothing new, and they generally are sincere in believing what they profess. At the same time, the debates can so often become like erecting walls to keep some in and others out, perfecting points to demolish one’s opponents, or at least attempting to make them look foolish or uninformed or ignorant. In the record we have, Jesus was deft in deflecting others who seemed to want to trap him, without demeaning them. It is a skill many of us could learn more fully. It probably begins with an admission that what we believe is, at best, a partial truth, God being far bigger than all of us combined.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Always More with God

Reflection in response to Proper 26, 24th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Isaiah 1:10-18 and Luke 19:1-10)

  Click here for biblical texts

 
Isaiah starts in chapter one telling the Israelites
how little God values their sacrifices, they really
get under the divine skin, creating holy heartburn.
The prophet reminds them God wants justice:
Do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend orphans,
plead for the widow. Don’t waste time, energy on empty
rituals, focused on obeying rules. Show up
where needed, be ready for divine presence at all times
especially when, like Zacchaeus, you catch a glimpse.
Always want more, eager to see and to receive,
because with God there always is more, never less.
Sometimes you have to climb up to get a good view,
one reason God creates trees is so that we can
see above the crowds, past the human barriers.

zacchaeus-in-the-tree-prayer-bracelet-com
prayer-bracelet.com

Desire to see God, to be with God,
is an attribute, an attitude, a precondition and an outcome of faith.
In parts of the world going to church, temple or mosque
because you want to be with God
and others who love and want to serve God
can cause trouble in your life, even serious injury
or death. In other places, some people will be angry
if you try to come to church because you are viewed
as irredeemably sinful. Don’t come here with your filth,
they say! Sometimes, as happened with Jesus and Zacchaeus,
people grumble when you hang out with the wrong sort
at church or anywhere, or as happens today
when the wrong people—maybe immigrating “bad hombres”
or Black men wearing hoodies—walk or move
into “our” not their neighborhood,  
want their kids to attend “our” not their school,
to disrupt our children’s opportunities in the Ivy League.

Jesus says he came to seek out and save the lost.
But who is lost? Was Zacchaeus, even though he wanted
to see who Jesus was and gave away much
of his ill-gotten wealth—if he was lost, he surely now
is saved. What about the grumblers? A woman
told a pastor she would no longer come to
church because they had sinners serving communion.
The pastor replied that he did not know who else to ask;
besides, he said,  if sinners were excluded then he too
would have to step aside.

 
About this poem . . . Christians struggle today, as always, with the competing demands of religious perfectionism in ritual and other practices versus enacting justice within the church, in society, even in the family.  Isaiah’s remonstrance to Israel rings very clearly today. And Zacchaeus is a wonderful role model for faithfulness, not so much because he gave away so much money but because he climbed a tree to see Jesus. Would we bestir ourselves from our television if Jesus came to town? Or would we go to a neighboring church if he went there rather than showing up at ours?

 

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net