God the Unboxed

God tells a victorious David,
through his counselor Nathan,
I don’t need to live in the house
you want to build me.
My tent works for me,
I can live among my people, move about with them,
besides I don’t require
monuments supposedly for Me
but more likely to glorify the builder.
I am the Master Builder
having already created a world
for you and everybody,
every single body, human and non-human
(those are your categories—all are equally dear to Me).

God tells Mary,
a young woman unknown to the world,
speaking through the divine angel
that she will deliver a child,
a child who will grow up to be known
and celebrated and worshipped around the world—
but God knows his will not be an easy road.
Still God trusts Mary and she does not fail
delivering the baby
not in a grand room
nor hospital,
but surrounded by shepherds
cows, sheep, and hay
and yes, several others
of more exalted station.

He grows up to tell us
to value the meek and peaceful
not those who strut the world
building up themselves and those they favor;
to heal the sick,
not ignore their needs:
to free the prisoners,
not add to their number;
to comfort those who mourn
not create more disaster and distress.

He reaches out and heals
those the world ignores, maims and kills,
knowing that God wants
not only life and liberty
but also the pursuit
of just happiness for all.
He is not governed
by morality the dominant powers create
for their own interest,
but by how God values all,
the poor not just those
successful on the world’s terms
and those who break narrow, puritanical rules
in the name of love;
those whose skin color,
gender, and personal and social identities
are less favored, even abused by,
worldly rules, rulers and life;
those born on both sides
of the tracks,
living in tumble-down shacks
as well as suburbs;
and those who agitate for justice
as well as those who fail
to see and do it.

Lectionary Texts for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B, can be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=51

 

 

The Spirit of God Is Upon Me

John, moved by the spirit of God to testify, cries
make straight and smooth the way of the one who is to come–
this the one we recognize in the words of Isaiah:
The Spirit of God is upon me, for the Holy One has anointed me.
God has sent me to bring good news to those who are poor,
not more tax breaks for the rich nor crushing burdens for the rest;
to heal broken hearts, not turn them away nor deny them help;
to proclaim release to those held captive and liberation to those in prison,
not build more prisons nor make necessary more refugee camps
nor ignore those suffering through multiple viruses;
to announce a year of favor from God and the day of God’s vindication,
not mere greatness for our nation nor our political party
nor power over those of other faiths and no faith;
to comfort all who mourn,
not deny them their personhood and pain
nor trample on the memory of loved ones;
to provide for those who grieve in Zion, humans and all living beings,
not deny the truths of their lives;
to give the abused and molested and raped a wreath of flowers instead of ashes,
immigrants and dreamers the oil of gladness instead of tears,
all who resist evil and oppression a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness.

God says I love justice so those who hear and respond to God’s call
will be known as oaks of righteousness, trees of integrity,
planted by God to show divine glory, to show God’s way forward.
They will renew ancient struggles for dignity, raising again the cries of the oppressed,
rebuild cities and communities neglected, injured, and left for devastation,
they will welcome the stranger, those in need of asylum, with grateful hearts,
they will overturn the rules that keep people down,
they will cultivate flourishing for all Creation.
Now is the time, this is the place,
is the Spirit of God upon me, you?
Is it upon us?

Texts for biblical readings for Advent 3, Year B, may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=48

Advent Messages

Comfort, O comfort my people, says God, according to Isaiah.
Do we hear the melodic lift from Handel’s Messiah
and immediately feel better
or do we feel how much we need comforting,
knowing how much trauma is in the world—
not just in distant war-torn lands
but in our own where war rages too,
maybe not a shooting war,
although Black women and men
may have a different view, but war nonetheless,
ugly words, untrue claims, threats of violence
not just one virus but many,
do we wonder if comfort will ever come?

Mark begins by announcing the good news
of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
then repeats Isaiah
to assure his listeners that John the Messenger
will prepare the way for the people in the wilderness—
struggling under the heavy fist of Rome, desperate for a new life—
to be ready for a new reality
made possible through repentance and confession.

But does that sound like good news?
Does it sound comforting?
Repenting and confessing are not easy,
requiring honest examination of ourselves,
telling the truth even when it is not pleasant
facing things we want to forget.

In his own way, John reminds us of the need
to go back, to engage in a searching and honest look back—
being clothed in camel hair with a leather belt
was several centuries out of fashion,
and locusts and wild honey
hardly reflect success and power to lead.
Still, many responded to the gift, yearning for change,
for God who resides in human hearts.

Advent can be a nostalgic journey, even one of cheer,
remembering Christmas pageants of our younger years
now featuring children and grandchildren,
obscuring the unmistakable longing
for what is just out of sight,
the gift of wholeness we are promised
in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Is this not a season of comfort, gratitude, joy
and longing? 

Biblical texts for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B, can be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=49

I would appreciate knowing if you choose to part or all of this poetic reflection.
Please write me at fp@robinhawleygorsline.com 

Who Is Knocking?

The beginning of Advent
a time of witness and expectation of the blessed birth,
already focused on the stable and star in Bethlehem
—but is this only about 2000 years ago
or also when and where Jesus is coming now? 

Jesus counsels us to stay awake
to be ready for the one who is coming—
we do not know when or where
so be ready to answer the knock at the door,
to welcome the Holy One.

There is so much pressure to stay awake already
the latest Pandemic numbers
remembering to wear a mask,
the latest Tweet—
what incredible claim is it this time—
the latest Black person killed,
if we can still breathe will we march?

And we’re called to stay awake
for Jesus, for God, too?
In this time of troubles
we can be caught between believing God is near
and wondering where God is.
Does God really hear us?
Or do we not hear God? 

Isaiah laments the distance
between God and God’s people—
the people have wandered from God
and think God has left them,
a feeling of exile
no matter who is responsible. 

Today can feel exilic.
Don’t we want to be anesthetized,
to numb ourselves by drowning in the drugs of denial,
of seeing others as our only problem,
buying into the myth of our nation
being free, just, kind, merciful—
not understanding that we,
like ancient Israel,
are separated from the dream
that was once our guide? 

How do we let ourselves be molded by God,
the Divine Potter
creating vessels for life in each of us, all of us?
Is that not worth staying awake 
to receive gifts of God in our life?
Can we learn to be the clay,
the gift from which all was created,
and trust God, Jesus, already knocking?

©Robin Hawley Gorsline 2020

Biblical texts for the 1st Sunday in Advent, Year B, in the Revised Common Lectionary, can be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=48 

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

 

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

 

It Takes a Real Woman

(Advent 4 Year C; please click here for a link to the biblical texts)

Believing God is different from believing in God
Mary teaches us the difference knowing the mercy
power help only God gives when we are open
trusting willing. It is not easy but can be simple
when we yield our need to be the sole agenda
and see in signs of our times what God asks
of us. The divine desire is what counts
We must listen and feel the thumps inside
our souls and bellies the word appearing
in unlikely ways times places
lemon vendors on the streets of Buenos Aires
men in a bathhouse whispering sweet love
trees in the woods sighing soft truth
protestors chanting hope
wounded communities living tough love.
We know what to do. Not to look away
not to pretend we do not hear
but listen as if our lives depended on it
as real lives do not the ones we put on
for sleepwalking jaywalking speedwalking
to get to the end
rather than enjoy a pilgrimage with our holy tour guide
seeing all the sites inviting us to sit a spell
for what comes next praying to see
the wisdom buried inside an ugly package
unlikely call or unplanned pregnancy.
Anyone can believe in God. It takes
a real woman to go all the way.

 

©RobinGorsline2015 lectionary poetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

 

 

 

When Good News Doesn’t Sound So Good

(Advent 3 Year C; please click here for link to the biblical texts)

Advent’s third Sunday known for joy a pink candle
no one told John so he called out the brood of snakes
he saw slithering around claiming holy lives
keeping warm with coats some need more
cheating others of funds bullies for personal gain.
No mincing words still people thronged
wondering who John is and he tells them
I am the harbinger the forerunner of the One who will bless
and baptize and toss into the fire those who fail
to pay attention. This is Good News?
Directions yes but a recipe for happiness not
happiness overrated anyway
Joy is the bigger deal lasting a lifetime no matter
what comes even a crotchety prophet who points
in the right direction we fear to go
sheep bleating stammering backs up
unwilling to be the first to go through the gate
except to buy presents and pretend all is well
while the world continues teetering closer to the edge
of oblivion fail-safe trigger fingers cocked
just in case figures on the chess board bolt their squares.
In God We Trust we say but it is bombs armies soldiers
sailors marines tanks guns generals admirals leaders
who act tough
we trust more
markets tycoons corporations stocks bonds mortgages too
profiting perhaps most of all
But prophetic  preaching
was long ago another time another world
a curiosity in the shop of spiritual memorabilia.
Still he speaks. Will we catch the truth
of joy within bearing salvation fruit to share
with a frightened angry torn weary world
that only knows nine shopping days ‘til Christmas?

©Robin Gorsline 2015 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form