Days of Turmoil

Reflection in response to the 1st Sunday after Christmas, Year A

Primary texts: Matthew 2:13-23; Isaiah 63:7-9
Click here for biblical texts

 

Refugees are people who flee to something less terrifying
than continuing to stay where they are or what they see coming,
often giving up what was once thought comfortable, pleasant, safe,
now untenable due to violence already inflicted
and/or more about to be dealt,
threats feeling so real you grab your clothes
and run, maybe a few pictures, a crust or two of bread,
your children of course, like Mary and Joseph grabbed
Jesus to escape to Egypt. This first-family-to-be
ran for their lives in the face of Herod’s
fear disguised as anger–tyrants, elected or not, everywhere
the same–to return later–tyrants die although they want us to forget–
to be replaced by a fearsome son–where have we heard that before–
so again this family finds another new home,
in Nazareth.
That is Matthew’s story, and he’s sticking to it.

Luke starts the story with a Nazorean family
forced to Bethlehem for the registration
who then return to Nazareth
to live and grow together in peace, love, and care.
Either way, a ruler, whether Emperor or lackey-King,
seems to control the earthly action.
It is good for us to remember in days of turmoil
that those who claim mandates to do as they wish,
no matter the needs of those less powerful,
do not in truth control everything or in some ways
much of anything. Who cares today what Herod thought
or even the august emperor, footnotes to history,
necessary props in the story that turns out to be
not about them at all, no matter how much they strut
and preen and issue a thousand tweets like a flock
of angry, self-absorbed starlings?

Isaiah and others knew all this so well–
tales of people pushed about by despots from afar
and often their own rulers, so that they lost their way–
prophets seeing God present in all things,
redeeming the people in divine love and pity
even when they did not know it, or denied
the very God who creates us all, of whom prophets
told repeated truths and angels in every sort of form
sang loud hosannas echoing across the skies of
slumbering yet unsteady, at risk, earth.

When will we learn, really learn and understand,
it is not tyrants, blowhards, insecure rulers
and small-minded puppets pretending to pull strings
of the rest of of us who matter, but God, the one who
refuses to treat us with other than respect and love,
whose gentle power is what really runs the show?
Not a puppet master, not even a taskmaster or
judge, but one whose desire for us, for us to live
whole lives as we are given at birth, exceeds all
negativity, all hate, all puny politics and war–that is
The One whom we worship, The One who touched the babe
in the manger and continues to touch us, too.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . . The familiar, though often forgotten story, of Herod’s mad rampage on feeling tricked and scared by challenges to his rule, is the backdrop for Joseph and the family, as it really is even today as in the midst of wonders and joys in our lives, and even our private sorrows, we continue to contend with small-minded, petty oligarchs of politics, business, militarism, etc., just to survive. But history is not really about them, any more than daily life is.

©Robin Gorslilne 2015 FaithfulPoetics.net

Where Are the Shepherds?

Reflection on Nativity of the Lord, Year A

 

Focus: Luke 2:1-20
Click here for biblical texts

 
In those days a decree went out
from Caesar Agustus that all the world should be registered,
but did that include the shepherds? 
If so, what were they doing in the fields?
Waiting for the angels?
Are you waiting, too? Or has the story
become so worn, predictable, that it no longer sends shudders
down your spine, as it did when angels shone
in the sky, proclaiming the best news of that, and our, time.
‘Tis the season of outcasts, and none were more scorned
than shepherds—so of course angels appeared to them,
not magistrates or merchants or certainly kings.
Indeed, the story of Christmas is about the lowly,
not just Mary but Joseph too and all the rest
of Israel under the heel of Rome
and those on the margins of the marginalized.

But it is not only that angels appeared to shepherds,
God doing what God does so often—appearing to,
speaking with, the powerless not the powerful—
but that shepherds became angels themselves,
testifying for and to those gathered in the stable,
agents of the Holy One to the world.
Is not that our call as well, to witness
to the grace, truth and love of God
wherever we are—hillsides, homes, small towns,
big cities, churches and temples,
family dinners, public places, casual conversations,
anywhere we hear good news that needs to be shared
with a world hungry for more than increasing stock prices,
celebrity misbehaviors and divorces, political tweeting,
and mad attacks on shoppers and students.

Shepherds in the church are expected to be calm,
perhaps even quiet, always kind and gentle,
and it is good when they do not yell or condemn,
but to get excited, to be eager,
is what we need, and God wants, to share love and hope and joy
and peace, too, with strong voices , heartfelt expressions,
souls bursting with deep truths of divinely inspired lives.
Not sure what to say? Maybe we can venture to nearby hillsides
or other quiet places under the stars
and wait, like shepherds, for the angels on their way—
there are always angels, God makes sure of that—
the question is, for us, will the shepherds show up again?
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Jesus and his parents are the focus of course, and yet there are all these others playing important roles, the animals in the stable, of course, as well as shepherds and angels. I used to raise sheep—a small flock for a 4-H project on the farm long ago—and I continue to wonder at the many times sheep and shepherds are central to the biblical record.  I know I have been at times a sheep (and beautiful though they can be, that is not necessarily a compliment) and as a pastor some called me a shepherd.  But maybe, just maybe, shepherds are supposed to do more than keep the sheep in line, maybe we, all of us, shepherds ourselves, are called to testify in our own ways to the presence of God in our lives.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Thank You, Joseph

A reflection for Advent 4, Year A

Text focus: Matthew 1:18-25
For biblical texts, click here

 

The conception not socially approved, an inauspicious start
to marriage where the rule is the man’s right to be the  first,
but as we know this plays out differently. Joseph listens
to God and the world is never the same. Is that not true
every time we listen to God? Joseph, sainted Joseph,
did not ask to raise a child technically not his,
but what does that mean, not his? He claimed the baby,
raised him in his trade, made sure he learned the Torah,
respected his elders even when he knew more.
This was a good father raising a blessed son.

The child was from the Holy Spirit; many wonder though
If that means immaculate conception,
parthogenesis, procreation without fertilization,
or whether it means God’s blessing does not depend
on following human rules. Is not every wanted child
a gift from the Holy Spirit? Is a marriage license
required by God for the child’s holiness?
Can non-monogamous partners not give life to a blessed child?
We spend so much energy trying to bend God to us
when what Joseph, and so many others, show us
 is that God breaks rules, our rules, all the time.

We cannot contain God; if we could, God would not be God
but god, an idol of our creation, the Creator being creature.
We are wondrously made in God’s image, probably images
in reality, not the other way around no matter our endless efforts
to tell God who God is. The greatest spiritual gift is listening,
a way of life requiring constant cultivation
in order to defeat human need for control,
and that means truly hearing and following what God says,
including hard stuff, the counter-cultural directions
and guidance, love bursting through and beyond all human restrictions.

Thank you, Joseph, for showing us the way.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . .  Joseph eventually seems to disappear from the Jesus story but at the beginning he looms large, the man who, according to Matthew, does “the decent thing” by not dumping Mary. It is critical to recognize that he had a choice; just because he dreamt of God telling him to be faithful to her even though it looked as if she were not sexually faithful to him does not mean he had to do that. And whether we believe that the conception of Jesus was due to parthogenesis, the Holy Spirit providing the spermatozoa if you will, or whether Mary was raped or even got herself in trouble—scholars have suggested all these—Joseph stayed the course with her, with his new son, and with God. So did she. And why wouldn’t God choose a child conceived out of wedlock for the Messiah? It’s just one more example of God acting by God’s rules, not ours.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

 

Can It Be So with Us?

A Reflection in Response to the 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year A

 

Text Focus: Psalm 146:5-10, Luke 1:45b-55, Matthew 11:2-11
Click here for all biblical texts
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in their God—truth known by John
the Baptizer and Mary too. Can it be so with us?
Dare we open our eyes enough to see
God at work in every moment, read signs
of the times and feel joy as God takes us
on new journeys in faith? John did, and it led him
to prison and death, while Mary’s life grew
both inside and all about her, she proclaiming
the gift of God’s favor, mercy and strength.

They seem so different, rough-clothed, even angry,
on one hand (though might he be sweet in his own way),
soft-spoken, gentle on the other (but so strong as well);
yet both open to what God delivers—
promise of salvation through another
born to her, seen by him;
she births, nurtures, the sprout,
he witnesses the full-grown tree
standing tall, speaking true in biblical witness
in pages close together but separated
by decades, yet saga tells us
their births—John and Jesus—were close
in time and even blood so they
are cousins through their mothers’ line.

We know stories of these men as they live and die,
almost side by side in Jerusalem and countryside,
to carry God’s word to those who want to believe
so long as it does not cost more than they, or we, will pay.
If Mary had known she would weep at the foot of the cross
on which hung her beloved son would then she praise
or curse her fate, and his? And John, and his mother,
cousin Elizabeth, would they then sing
or speak in joy and love for the God of Jacob?
The answer is yes, they did not count the cost dear
but the chance to witness so much more than ever
they dreamed in ordinary lives, a gift so rich
their hearts ring full, Mary’s praises,
John’s hand pointing to the one he came to announce.

Can it be so with us?
Will we birth and nurture what God places in us
trusting Holy One who is our soul and knows us
inside out, from glowing darkness of God within,
calling us to abandon old and narrow habits
that block our own sacred living
in a world that wants control and substitutes order
for life?
Will we cast out fear and choose joy,
to take a chance on God?
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem……This week’s lectionary contains two gospel options, the Magnificat from Luke (My souls magnifies the Lord) and Matthew’s account of John asking Jesus, “Are you the one?” It got me thinking about these two powerful characters in the Jesus story, especially when I came across reference to the Isenheim Altarpiece (featured image above) by the Italian Renaissance painter Matthias Grunewald. It shows a bloody Jesus on the cross, with Mary, on the left, despairing in the arms of the Beloved Disciple, and John the Baptizer, on the right, holding a book and pointing to Jesus. These two figures, joined together by more than shared family connection, may help us be prepared for the journey we are soon to begin again, from birth to ministry to death and beyond, with Jesus and so many more.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Stop!

A Meditation on the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

 

Focus: Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12
Click here for all biblical texts
 

This strange John arises out of the wilderness
sounding like a crazy man wandering the streets
muttering and yelling incantations
we do not understand, or if we do
not wishing to hear as we bustle to and fro
from work to home to shopping, maybe even a party
where we gather to celebrate the Savior’s birth
with too much food and drink.
He is not Isaiah though he uses the prophet’s words
to declare his mission: big things are coming and the Lord
is on his way!

He is far from the first to proclaim big God news;
Isaiah himself tells us a shoot shall come from the stump
of Jesse and a new branch, a new David, will arise
to change everything, all the predators will cease,
their victims shall not only breathe easy
but all will lie down in peace and plenty,
a glorious vision for humans while undoing animal
ways of survival—and it cannot be disconnected
from Isaiah’s immediately prior verses where stumps
are made by divinity angry at the ruining of life,
the distortion of human relationships, by people
who profess to love God. Cedars of Lebanon
are cut down in response to perfidy by God’s people.

Strange John also points with alarm at the practitioners
of unholy or at least mixed religious rule
and greed for lofty stations based on public pieties
of his day—we might include, as Isaiah does,
those who trample on the economically distressed
and disempowered from their high towers
of privilege and gold-fixtured bathrooms—
even as we pray for the souls of all,
proclaim the coming reign of God. singing
Come, O Come, Emmanuel, ransom captive Israel.

But who is captive? Israel then as now for sure,
to fear of neighbors and desire to stride regionally,
but closer to home are we not captive as well,
enthralled by our own national virtue,
sure of the rightness of our cause
in the world as we bicker and stab each other
at home, unwilling to provide health care for all,
end violence on our streets and campuses by controlling guns
and transforming dead-end lives on mean streets
through shared commitment to the well-being of all,
no matter color, nation, religion, gender and all the rest.

Stop!

Could not this Advent be a time not only to honor
tradition—getting ready in the usual ways
for Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, and wise men—
but also to break with tradition and turn the world upside down,
letting our world be turned upside down, inside out,
waiting in hope not for what we want or expect under the tree,
or at the pageant, but being fully open to receiving
what God wants in our lives?
 

 

 

About this poem. . . . The figure of John the Baptizer never quite seems to fit in well-ordered worship; it is often hard enough to domesticate Jesus (but by and large much Christian practice and worship has succeeded all too well), but John really stands out. This is especially so as the stores and the web are alive with shopping deals and catchy, familiar Christmas songs. But the message this Sunday is quite clear and stark: repent and let God have God’s way.
 

 

© Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

 

Prayer

A Community Prayer offered at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.

First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016 *

Holy One,
as we gather in Your name and your love,
in expectant hope for Good News You have for us
through music, teaching, prayer, community and grace
at this special Advent time, the birthing
of our new, transcendent church year,
we acknowledge Your presence here—
we don’t need to ask You to come,
you are here! And we are grateful.

But we do ask You to help us
be open to You in our midst,
to trust Your whispers in our ears and hearts,
to live out loud, to dare holy boldness
in a world filled with fear,
a world that encourages us
to think small, even to be small
in our vision and our yearning.
But You are the big God, the God of all,
the God who frees captives, the God who responds to hunger
not just for food but for justice and peace,
the God who passes through walls and borders
and urges us to do the same.

Mother/Father, Birther of the cosmos,
You create all that breathes, and so much more,
and charge us with care for all You create:
yet so many are afraid, even in this room,
many filled with terror because
others, including some of our nation’s leaders
and people who live near or even with us,
people we love in this very congregation of the faithful,
have said things that sound harsh
or done things that cause us anxiety;
and we too have felt and said and done things
that create division and angst and fear.
We know this is not Your way, not the way of peace
and plenty and beauty and creation,
so we confess that we have fallen, and fall, short
and seek Your forgiveness here, now,
as we will do again many more times.

But still, we pledge to listen better, first always to You,
and to each other as well, knowing that peace comes
to those who not only do not give into violence
of thought, word, and deed, but also  
open themselves to the pain, joy and hope,
the yearnings, of others for peace and for plenty.

And we know You call us—even as we listen to discordant voices
and seek to engage them in difficult conversations—
to speak Your truth, our truths, to bear the cause
of equality and compassion and justice, surely freedom from fear and want,
from oppression that arises out of dread of difference—
different looking skins, genders, sexualities, abilities, classes,
histories, nations, faiths, and more—
for those long denied and left out of the bounty
You ordain for all Your people.

Help us, then, O Holy One of so many names,
to learn better how to be Your people
and thus to help restore the world
in Your name and Your image, renewing ourselves and our society
so the world we see and create, the world we strive to share,
is the one you called into being so long ago in Eden.
Thank you, God, for that world, and help us, God,
to make it so.

In all your names, especially in the name of Jesus,
our Brother and Friend, Guide and Constant Companion,
Amen. Asé.  May it be so. 

* A recording is available here

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net