Connecting with God through poetic articulations of lived, embodied experience–engaging texts from the Revised Common Lectionary for Christian churches, other biblical and spiritual texts, and evocations of the divine in rituals and other public events–always accepting lived reality as a primary source of divine revelation and mystery.
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.
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
Jesus tells us, several times at least, that we have what we need, but most of us worry, doubt even, that we are not good enough to earn, deserve, what we have already received. And then Jesus tells us more proof that the gifts will arrive, perhaps when we least expect it, and it can sound like we had better be sitting up all night with our ears attuned to every sound—which one will be him or God or Spirit breaking in our lives?
What he is really saying is that it is always happening, In fact we need to learn how to be open to all the gifts, so many gifts, that God has for us each day, all day.
Did you see the glint in the person’s eye as you passed by them at the mall, they were having a God moment, you could have received it too if you had been paying attention. Or what about the touch of your friend as you parted after lunch, did you feel the embrace of the Holy Spirit, did you feel electric current between you and your friend as it traveled up your arm into your shoulder, taking direct aim at your soul? I mean, did you really feel deep holy warmth at your core?
And the simple Shasta daisies outside your neighbor’s door, did you see heaven as you rushed by them this morning on your way, late for work, not too late for God’s presence if you could simply pause long enough to breathe? The question is not only where are you putting your treasure, your money, but also your time, your energy, focus. Where is your heart? Your mind, is your mind on God or your to-do list? Indeed, is God on your to-do list? Does God have a time on your calendar? Every day? More than once a day?
Jesus wandered around Palestine talking with people, all sorts of people—including the local people of color known as Samaritans, as well as hated tax agents, listening to their troubles, worries, ailments, offering healing and hope and clarity about how God, the holy, is not locked up in Temple or even a book, but is on the loose, moving freely among us, like Jesus, open to hearing us, sitting with us, even praying with us—how about we stop praying to God, start praying with God?—everywhere we are, all of us, not limited to folks in a particular pew in a particular house of worship, God in some ways less like a bridegroom, more like a street person, a beggar, just hoping we will notice and stop and pass the time of day, perhaps sharing not only a quarter or a dollar but also a word or two of connection, human connection, divine connection, trusting that as we open ourselves to the wonders of the universe we shall remember from whence we come and whose we are. And then we shall be ready for the next moment we catch a glimpse of the holy among us, in us, with us, and we shall celebrate with God and know we have once again been invited to sit at the holy table and feed until we are full of our inheritance, ready and eager to share the blessing with those who do not yet know what a glory it is to be blessed, to be beloveds of God.
About this poem . . . . It is so easy to get wound up in the literal text that we miss the larger message. In Luke 12:32-40, I don’t experience Jesus telling us to be in a literal vigil, not doing anything but sitting in readiness, day and night after day and night, but rather to be alert in all that we do and say and see and hear, in all moments, to the presence of God. We are given so much each day, each moment, and we, at least I, miss so much of it, busy fending off the vagaries and troubles of life that I forget to see the beauty and joy and holy power in each molecule, each atom, each moment.
(Sunday of the Resurrection, Year C; click here for biblical texts)
I. I have seen the Lord! proclaims Mary Magdalene, beginning a new, never-ending adventure In faith. Again, God has worked through the unlikely, now a woman whom some once considered tainted, but the only person in all four gospels to have testified, from direct observation and even divine exposition, to the resurrection of Jesus, she called the apostle to the apostles by one early church father—an astounding claim by a patriarch, a sign of things turned upside down, reflecting the wonder of the empty tomb, God’s power working through one of us—this Nazarene man— to do what many call impossible.
II. Colorful eggs, hopping bunnies, are nice, even fun, but a man rising alive from a tomb of the dead— now that’s worth the world, which is what God intended to say: I want all to live full of joy and love and peace, to trust divine power more than any other, to know that I, God, am always here, at the ready, present for all life which comes from me eternally.
III. That is why the empty tomb is such a potent marker, even as it is not an easy marketing symbol any more than the stone rolled away. But when Mary and the others arrived they were not seeking the cross. They were coming to care for the dead body of their Lord. That they did not find it, that in one account Mary found him and talked to him, that is the news, that is the miracle, that is the sign of the victory over death-dealing injustice and hate that affects and infests us all to this day. We can’t get to the empty tomb without the cross, but what truly is the mark of God’s reign in this world—a bloodied man-made tree erected by an ugly regime based on the fear and anger of otherwise good, faithful people, or the fact that ultimately none of us need be governed by such ugliness and fear and anger?
IV. We crucify people all the time, on the streets, In jails, subway stations, public markets, as lethally— though sometimes with less agony—and legally as was done by Pilate and his minions, when what we need is resurrection, new life, a raising, rising, of walking dead to live not as the world makes it happen but full, vibrant, vital human beings striding forth Lazarus-like from tombs, theirs and ours, to claim divine birthright belonging to all. God is ready to empty our tombs.
V. What are we waiting for?
@Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form About this poem . . .I have long strained against using the cross as the universal symbol of Christian faith and life, because it is the mark of neither. It is the sign of evil and ugliness, of human fear gone amok, unchecked by those in authority. Their actions were understandable, so very human, but the result on that hill is not, to me at least, the marker of my faith. My faith lies in the empty tomb, in the natural boulder rolled away that death could emerge and live again. That is Easter faith, the truly good news.
(Lent 5, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)
The poor we always have with us, so God’s truth is: reach out, feed, house, clothe, care—but not in tightfisted begrudging dutiful charity ways, and certainly not to pretend poor people alone are to blame for their reality and we who are not poor are innocent—embrace God’s beloved, all of us siblings in the divine family.
Let’s follow Mary at table, pouring the gift of our soul—a gift from God— like cheap wine at a block party where no one has to worry about driving home, a fountain of living loving liquid to quench the dried out hearts and weary bodies of neighbors in need of laughter, joy, mountains of love to feed children’s empty bellies, to ease pains of living on edge, not sure when the next paycheck comes if it will, or whether there even is a job.
Mary chose expensive ointment, showing how to value those we love by stretching beyond the comfortable to extravagance, doing a new thing dazzling in simplicity, grace and intimacy, using her own hair as the agent of anointing, adoration, and announcement of devotion to Lord Jesus beyond the well-trod ways. Can you imagine presidential candidates really hugging people, not photo ops, really listening, not video opportunities, telling whole truths in love, not advantage against the other side? That’s the revolution Mary began and we are called to continue.
So when will you let your hair down long enough to bathe your neighbor and the world in endless pure love, no conditions, no ugly boundaries just love, more love still, an extravagance of love?
About this poem . . . The story in John 12 about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with costly oil and her hair seems to stand in stark contrast to the last line about the inevitability of poor people—at least that is how it has often been interpreted. But what if her actions are the template by which we learn to care for each other, and perhaps especially for the poor?
(Lent 3, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)
Gardening requires a generosity of spirit a willingness to invest in unlikely specimens seeing potential where another sees failure taking a chance on a gangly fruitless tree when the sure bet says cut it down. To be a gardener is to know God at least the God who patiently nurtures without being certain of the outcome but does not back away from the challenge. God’s like that with us over and again taking chance after chance on us, playing against the cynic’s house, not listening to the naysayers and gossips prattling on about sin and lost causes— she must have sinned a lot to be so sick, hurricanes are because men marry men, Muslims are mostly terrorists, Black men are dangerous— tossing judgments around like rice on the brides and grooms leaving church. When we brood over or proclaim divine judgment, it is good to remember God’s mercy— sinners are always in the hands of a loving God, despite Jonathan Edwards and those who feel the need to tell God to punish the others who break rules they tell God He needs to make for our good. But God does not love us because we are good, She loves us because God is good, the Master Gardener who knows when our roots are dried out our leaves shriveled and limbs drooping even before we do, providing spiritual fertilizer and living water—spigots are everywhere always in the on position. Just pray and drink deeply, the flow that never ends.
About this poem . . . The parable of the unproductive fig tree always feels a little incomplete to me; what will happen if the tree does not bear fruit even after the gardener digs around it and gives it nutrients? The gardener tells the owner he can cut it down then, but we do not know for sure that will happen. Might not the gardener ask for yet another year? I know God gives me more time to get right all the time.