Invitation to Wholeness

The first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel
tell us the story we know,
words of comfort
as we hear them once again.

Another holy man,
the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah
in chapter 31, verses 7-14,
shares a divine pronouncement,
glad tidings of great joy—
the caring God
who does not forget who or where we are,
calling yet again to us
to gather, in person or virtually,
(just think, God does so much virtually
even as God is right beside us)
to know that no matter how scattered
we may be—whether by geography, social station,
politics, race and gender, age—
we are called together
as the people of God
to claim our sense of belonging,
weeping or laughing or singing
or all three,
to go beyond rites and rituals of this season,
to know and share our regrets,
our laments, anger, sense of neglect,
our relief, our happiness, our love
not only with those in our immediate circle
but the whole world, the whole of creation,
more and more coming toward us,
crowds becoming almost scary in their size
and diversity and yet, and yet,
every one a divine offspring,
the cherished of God
responding to the ever-present
divine invitation to live whole lives
not only in our own selves
but in every other being as well.

The biblical texts for the Second Sunday of Christmas, Year B, may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=58

A Brave, Determined, Faithful Couple

Nothing stops Mary and Joseph,
not traveling from Nazareth to Jerusalem,
then to Bethlehem to obey an official edict,
searching in Bethlehem for a place to stay
and giving birth to a son in a manger,
a feeding trough for the sheep and cattle already there,
and surrounded by strangers who arrive after the birth,
then returning to Jerusalem
to bring Jesus to the temple
to be circumcised on the eighth day,
to be named and blessed—
and not having many resources,
they can only offer a pair of turtle doves
to meet their holy obligation.

Joseph probably did not have funds
to rent a room even if one were available,
not only in Bethlehem—
the journeys slow, he walking,
guiding the donkey on which Mary sat
and later Jesus in her arms,
they would need to stop several times,
64 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem
six more to Bethlehem
six more back to Jerusalem
then home to Nazareth—
not to mention water and food
to sustain them both,
especially a pregnant and then nursing mother.

The blessings by Simeon and Anna,
truly a gift for all three of them and for us—
even as the parents may have felt both overwhelmed and nervous,
hearing about glory and trouble all at the same time,
not to mention the survival needs of a poor family.
Simeon knew they were poor
because they did not sacrifice a lamb
Would they have appreciated more tangible help?
How often do we bless people for their faith
and then ignore their needs for food, housing,
funds for the basics of life? 

Lectionary texts for the Feast of the Nativity may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=52

Blessed Births

A woman with no social standing or power
gives birth to the holy child
and shepherds, held in low esteem
if not victims of hostility,
are the ones the angel visits
to share the good news,
to empower them to share it widely.

Do we know, do we remember,
that women of low estate
give birth every day
in homeless shelters and under bridges,
on reservations, in rodent-infested dwellings?
Do we know, do we remember
that those babies are sacred,
and their mothers, too?

Do we know, do we remember,
that men and women of low station—
victims of White supremacy, rapacious capitalism,
drug dependency, and more,
have stories to tell, news we need,
perspectives to enlarge our own?
Do we know, do we remember,
that they are sacred,
and their stories, too?

Each Christmas I remember a special time in my life,
when a ewe gave birth to a precious lamb.
I was 14, raising sheep as a 4-H project,
when a ewe became pregnant very early—
about two months before we had scheduled it.
It was Christmas Eve and my father and I
attended her after returning from midnight worship.

Kneeling on the straw, stroking the mother,
speaking encouraging words,
I could not forget the birth
we celebrated at church.
Our barn was larger than the lean-to
often pictured in art and books
but it was filled with animal smells,
sheep baa-ing,
a brisk wind whistling outside,
while the light from the bulb in the ceiling and our lantern
was not as bright as from the star.

As the adorable little one emerged
standing on wobbly legs,
mother licking her
to remove the birthing membrane,
I knew I wanted to name her
Mary Christmas!

And so she was.

Still, the time came
some years later
when I had to send her to market
where she joined
all the other sacred beings—
those hung from trees, from crosses,
those shot in the streets and casualties of war,
those taken that others might eat their fill,
those who die for lack of water, food, and health care—
all those whose memory others cherish
as I remember her.

Texts for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=52 , https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=53 , and https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=54 

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

 

 

Eden Again

 

Reflection offered on January 1, 2017
at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.

Focus texts: Psalm 8 and Eccleasiastes 3:1-13
for New Year’s Day, Year A
Click here for texts

God gives us so much.
With the psalmist we give thanks and praise,
but the singer also knows we may not be all we think we are.
What are human beings that God cares about us?
Is it because we are created to be divine franchise agents,
with everything at our feet–presumably God knew what She
was doing, but polluted lakes and streams, endangered species,
stripped-mine hillsides, fouled air, war,
poverty, and group hates and ugly stories about those not like us,
may create skepticism in parts of heaven
not to mention earth.

There is a time for all that, of course, but so much more,
or maybe less, I mean the simple ways of living in peace
and hope and love and joy that God intends which
could take up all our time if we accepted the gift of God:
that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results
of their hard work. It seems so simple, and it is,
but not easy, never easy when every day in so may ways
we are tempted by the siren calls of those who claim
to have something better: building walls to keep people out,
a bigger house or better car and internet to go faster,
private schools to increase odds of Ivy League admissions, 
droning, bombing everyone who looks at us wrong, making sure
there are enough guns to shoot every person, adult and child,
at least once, and kill as many of them as necessary
to keep stocks rising along with income gaps widening
between rich and poor at home, even slowing the climb
of other nations out of the rut of domination.

But its not too late. It is never too late with God–that is what
makes God, God. She, or He, or They, refuse, despite ancient testimonies|
to the contrary, to give up on us, you and me, too, and the others,
even those whose agendas seem foreign and evil.
No one is a hopeless case with God.

The divine calendar is not ours,
so there has been only one new year, how many
millions of years ago we do not know,
and God is not counting,
but this is the moment of our latest attempt at renewal,
and in truth we can make the most of it—yes, with resolutions
of self-improvement if we must, but even more powerfully by a simple,
again not easy, commitment to listen to our individual
and collective souls where rests and rises the voice and hope
and love of God. And justice, too.

Let us not forget justice, divine justice which is not to punish or even chastise
but to repair, heal, move us to change, to do differently, better than last time.
Self-care is important, essential, but with God the we is as
important as the I, and the test of fealty to our holy parent
is how well we treat the rest of our human family, the ones God loves
as much as God loves us, not more not less, often
in different ways but still with an arm around all and each of us
at all times, everywhere without end.
World without end.

Don’t we know not to fear what is coming,
because of what God has given, and continues to give,
even when we don’t earn it? If we truly know and savor and trust
what God has provided, can we not share in the bounty
willingly, freely, joyously, generously,
so that no one goes without, no child is hungry,
no refugee is turned away from some safe place,
no young Black men and trans women hunted
and slaughtered on our streets,
no body is without health care,
no holy prayers cursed regardless what God or gods
or heavens are invoked.

This is the year God is making, again, for us, with us,
so let us rejoice and be glad in it,
and show our gratitude by making this the Year of Our God
and All God’s people, taking care of each human other and
all the rest of Creation, too, finally rising to meet
the divine challenge issued, earthly opportunity given,
at dawn on the first new year long ago,
to be Eden on earth again,
and forever.

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . Two biblical readings without a real story presented a challenge for me, but I soon realized that the gratitude, reality, and hope present in them fit for today. This is of course the gift of Scripture, and indeed in some way or other all inspired writing (whether called “holy” or not). And as I finished the earliest draft, I remembered poem inspired by Judy Chicago’s famous art installation, The Dinner Party, with its evocation of Eden. God must keep hoping we shall yet understand, accept, and celebrate the gift of life caught in that ancient story.

©Robin Gorsline 2017 LectionaryPoetics.net

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

What If . . . .

(2nd Sunday after Christmas, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)
 

The body of Christ wondrous to behold
paintings in museums chapels
Rembrandt daVinci El Greco
cathedral sculptures Michelangelo glory
beyond mere majesty beyond mortality
showing the historical One
no longer with us no multi-dimensional
breathing flesh blood figure
memory beloved spirit revered
central to living though not incarnate.
But what of God’s body you inhabit
I inhabit each of us living with
all the others offspring of God
family of the Divine a clear resemblance
to the parent who is both female and
male—do you think God is one or
the other—intersexed accounting
for each?
What if Jesus came not to be
the only one but hoping we would all
claim our godly bodies souls lives
disciples bonding on the road
to our own Emmauses where we see
in the mirrors of God who we are called
to be leading serving hanging on our
cross when needed rising always rising
into life beyond what the world gives and
takes refusing rules intended to
tame denying dogma that tamps
down spirit holy at our core–
What if – I’m just sayin’–
we you me here now are
the actual body of Christ?
©RobinGorsline2015 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

The Temple of Never Ending Love

(1st Sunday after Christmas, Year C; click here for lectionary texts)

Belief takes us familiar places
Passover at table Christmas midnight
mass Easter at sunrise weekly worship
choir practice Bible study groups
but sometimes we wander off caught up
in new understanding or led in a direction we
do not know maybe even want finding ourselves
like pre-teen Jesus in the temple listening asking questions
speaking words beyond what we and others
thought we knew.  Then we see the hand of God
caressing our lives touching intimately our
souls to awaken the true potential
we are blessed to become not God
but one with God born of God one
of God and one in God. What Jesus tells
us is that it could be us at temple
speaking wisdom way beyond we
are told we can know.  We must free
ourselves.  God is ready to loose the chains
of convention and rules when we say yes.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us
dwells among us Christ is not just coming
again Christ is here now inviting us
to sit with him grow in him to become
not him but our full selves in the beauty
of holiness wholeness shalom passing
all understanding going beyond all human
knowledge to the holy of holies
within us the temple of never ending love.
©RobinGorsline2015 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

Shall We Sing to God a New Song?

(Christmas, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)

Shall we sing to God a new song
becoming angels making joyful noise
listening to hear those high above
hearts ears open to hear
divine music in our souls to tumble
from our holy lips heralds of new birth
in Bethlehem yes but closer to home
our very own manger in which to lay
gifts of ourselves to share hope peace
joy love by which we are marked as
God’s beloved not just one night but
for life giving ourselves away feeding
the world with the symphonic melody
beating coursing in sacred veins
cherub chorus that never ends
divine energy flowing in through around us
touching hardened ones opening once
closed minds making shepherds of all
to proclaim yet again God’s love
for a world too frightened to receive
without shame and preconditions
what is freely given in delirious joy
pondering in our hearts
the gift vibrating still in Holy Land
war zones where mothers continue
to ponder in their hearts the blood
of birth as the sign of heaven’s favor
and fathers look on awed to see
what wildest dreams cannot conceive
hope rising peace born yet again
singing a new song in God’s key
heaven’s harmonics heralding
the chance to start again
where all was lost and yet
is never gone when we listen
watch wait pray hope give thanks
trusting the One we cannot see
right in front of our eyes.
©RobinGorsline2015 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form