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

Prophets  Rise in Unlikely Places

(Advent 2 Year C; click here for the biblical texts)

Prophets rise in unlikely places crazy folk
with car alarm voices breaking
through the imposed peace of earthly order
man or woman wearing rags even robes
ranting at passersby running like ants to work
keeping their distance feeling beaten up
life already has them gasping for air
like a black man driving in the wrong part of town no peace.
Where is peace? Is peace not our sacred gift birthright?
In this violated world can there ever be peace
And where have the peacemakers gone?
When was the last time you met one
on the street or the pew pulpit or Congress or in the mirror?
We are each called and chosen too everyone tapped
on the shoulder for a mission many decline yet the
call remains in the courtyard of our hearts teasing
us to come home to God to be reconciled in our Source
the spring overflowing with peace to fill the valleys
of despair and cut channels through mountains
of armaments so we can touch
the crooked arms of soldiers and cops
help them lower their cocked ready weapons
smooth out the roughness of their hearts and minds
in the battlefields and urban and suburban wastelands
to see God hanging out in every foxhole
not for courage to fire or achieve accuracy of aim
but for desire to love and live and hope
praying—
God prays without ceasing how do you think
we know to pray—
that someone listens someone hears someone
sees someone claims the salvation promised again
again ever given yet seeming just beyond our grasp.
The high and mighty rarely speak the word of God
preferring the sound of their own voices believing
that what they see and say is all there is
but the prophet rises in unlikely places
maybe in our own soul.

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