What Song Will You Sing?

A Meditation for the 7th Sunday of Easter
(click here for biblical texts)

The cynic’s saying No good deed goes unpunished
may have occurred to Paul in Philippi when—
after making common cause with Lydia and friends—he
ordered ugly spirits to leave a servant girl
who irritated him with public pronouncements .
We don’t know her feelings about being released
from demon’s power but Paul and Silas
find themselves on the wrong end of the law
because her owners are enriched from her fortune-telling.
Not for the first time or the last, emissaries
of The Way find themselves stripped, beaten, and locked up.

paul-and-silas-in-prison bloorlansdownechristianfellowship wordpress com
bloorlansdownechristianfellowship.wordpress.com

But the story takes an unexpected turn to become
one of the greatest liberation moments of all time,
perhaps ultimate in nonviolent revolution,
a model for how God works when we pray
and get out of the way.
Singing and praying in the night,
as their fellow prisoners listen,
some force—is it an act of nature or of God
or simply the earnest, faithful power
of their prayers and voices—
creates a midnight disturbance,
an earthquake we are told, that flings open every cell door
without so much as leaving a trace of damage
to the walls and foundation. Even more, no one
injured, not even the jailer who had confined
Paul and Silas to the worst of the puny accommodations.
In gratitude he takes his new friends home for blessing and supper.

This is the way we want our world to work!
Hebrews escape between the walls of the Red Sea
but Egyptians are so overcome by the sight
they do not pursue and thus do not die.
Israelites advance into Canaan and locals
are so glad to see them they throw a neighborhood party.
In his determination to find the child born in Bethlehem
Herod throws a giant party, treating all the children
and their parents to dinner, games and magic show
before sending them home.
In our own version of Canaan
(recreated in Palestine in 1948?),
European settlers bring much wealth to share with natives,
no attacks are made by either side, no reservations
for native peoples are created and none die
from diseases imported from Europe.
And here’s one more: needing to import labor, recruiters
go to Africa with brochures and bonuses
for early signing, inviting locals onto cruise ships
for the voyage across the Atlantic
with secure, paying jobs and health care waiting here
for those who choose the journey to try a New World.

And how about this? Police, leaders, citizens learn to sit down
with young Black men, listen to what they  need
to gain self-respect, and then work to meet the need.

A utopia, you say?

But why not? Paul and Silas were
two men, people like us. God is still God. Let’s start
praying and singing (don’t worry about your voice, it is
the intention that matters), and expecting the
disturbance. The world is ready for change.
It begins when we unlock whatever cell of despair,
discouragement, and doubt where we have put ourselves
or have allowed others with a different agenda
to confine us.

What song will you sing? What disturbance do you seek?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Acts of the Apostles continues to share stories of divine intervention (at least that is how I see an earthquake that does no damage) that challenge our rational minds. But is that not the job of faith, to move us beyond our ordinary selves into the realm of Spirit where anything may happen, especially if it intends or results in liberation for the oppressed?

 

Does Anyone Observe Ascension Day Today?

A Meditation on the Ascension of the Lord, Year C
(click here for biblical texts)

Does anyone observe Ascension Day today?
Our Lord bade farewell to trusted comrades
and rose in the sky, as one irreverent person said,
like a balloon slowly drifting to heaven
out of sight but not out of mind. Did this really
happen or is it a way of expressing the feelings
of disciples knowing Jesus was gone,
like a young child watching a loved
parent drive away after the divorce,
the child not sure she will ever see the
other again. And Jesus, did Jesus sob like the sad
parent on his way up? But wait. Even if we observe,
do we believe? And does it matter either way?
To believe ascension is different from believing
in Ascension; do the details, as we have them,
have to be true in order to know, to know, that
his friends felt his absence—they, unlike us,
may not have known for sure he would still be around.
Or do we know, do we trust that Jesus is here,
even though he ascended? Or are we so jaded by
science, by incessant needs for proof, scientific proof,
that we cannot grant God the power to do this, to let
Jesus rise right before their, our, eyes? And return,
even if not in the flesh? If we cannot, and
for many it must be so, then we are more powerful
than God—or at least God can only do what we allow
Him to do. What kind of God would that be?

Ascension-Day ascensionday2016 com
ascensionday2016.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or can we understand with Karl Rahner that Ascension
tells us that God intends flesh be redeemed
and glorified? Flesh be glorified, is that even Christian?
So many years of hearing about flesh mortified, flesh
hung out to bleed and dry on crosses, flesh to be
tamed, can we think God really loves us, and our flesh,
enough to glorify and redeem it, not just
spiritually but even physically? Is God reveling
in our fleshiness? If not, what are we
to make of incarnation, Jesus fleshing God better
than any human, or as many say, the way only He can.
Whatever. Doctrine does not guarantee salvation
but following Jesus wherever he goes and
being with him wherever he is calling us
makes a good recipe for blessed, even holy, life.

May you feel Ascension in your heart and body,
if not your mind.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .So many of us have lost connection with special holy days, and if we observe them at all we have moved them to Sunday, to avoid inconvenience in our daily lives filled with so much important business. Yet is the pain the disciples, men and women, humans all, must have felt, not worthy of remembrance? And what of our blessed, holy flesh: will we ascend someday? Will anyone remember?

She Will Not Be Bound

 

Meditation for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C
(click here for biblical texts)

See I am making all things new;
is this verse from the last of the
Christian canonical biblical texts
not the whole truth of the creation,
byword of a God always on the move,
seeking us (as Rabbi Heschel said long ago,
the Bible is not the record of humans’
search for God but of God’s search
for humanity) so that somehow She
can get us to see that what we often
claim, namely that we have received
all God has for us between
covers of an often translated humanly
created set of texts, is only part
of the divine story–the rest being
God’s continuing revelation of all life.

Peter at Joppa pilgrimatthecrossroads com
pilgrimatthecrossroads.com

So we see Peter receiving a strange hieroglyphic,
a divine picture-text descending, not telling him to obey
old rules devoutly maintained for generations,
but to see the universe in a new way: what
God has made clean, namely every creature like snakes,
caterpillars, blue jays, frogs, wolves, bears, ants and anteaters,
do not despise or negate. And that applies not
just to dinner fare, but also to dinner companions—
God’s table excludes no one, forget human rules
of eligibility–God does not exclude
no matter how much human authorities try
to convince us and themselves otherwise.

And what about love? Does Jesus tell us
to love but warn that certain restrictions apply?
Or is love to be how we live as well
as the sign of who we are? Many think he meant
we do not need to love those who seek to harm us
or those of whom we are frightened  
or those who don’t obey Ten Commandments,
not wanting them chiseled on the courthouse wall,
but he did not say that. Love as I have loved you
is what he said.  I love you, Herod, I love you,
Pilate, and Judas, too, and the young man
who walked away downcast because you did not want
to give up your riches and privilege, I love you too.
Not just Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the beloved disciple,
and the others. No I love you all. All means all.

This no poetic license, despite objections
that there is no evidence that he loved Herod
or even those screaming for his execution.
Where are the harsh words, where the angry screeds
delivered in Gethsemane’s Garden?
Did he keep the disciples up with harangues against he
who betrayed him, did he allow Peter’s
sword to have the last word or did he heal the wound
and say no to more violence?  And did he tell
Herod he was evil or call for a revolt against
his authority? He did not feel bound
by the king’s rules, but he did that without
disrespect to the person, and that is the ground
in which love can thrive–you must respect the
personhood of another in order to love them (if only
Congress could remember that love comes first, before
scoring points against those with whom you disagree).

The truth is that God keeps showing up with
another textual sheet with truth we missed before
or forgot, or is especially apt for the moment.
Our job–really God’s gift to us–is to pay attention
and follow that wisdom even if it challenges rules
we have imbibed at mother church’s breast,
even if those who claim to know say no.
God is on the move reaching and teaching
well outside their control, which is why they
try so hard to lock Him up in that book
or any other holy jail they can find or construct.
But She will not be bound, and
there comes a time, and more than once,
we have to choose whom to trust: God,
the Holy One who makes all things new,
or the people who tell us who God is.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .The account in Acts 11 of a new teaching–What God has made clean, you must not call profane—is a pivotal moment in the development of what eventually became Christianity. But so often we cling to the idea that revelation is over, that God has nothing new for us, that we have nothing new to learn, that to be faithful requires only that we repeat what was repeated to us. That is a God neither Jesus, nor Peter, nor Paul, would recognize.

Get Up. Now.

(Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

Tabitha, get up! Has someone said that to you?
Perhaps your mother or father when you
overslept—You’ll miss the school bus. Up! Now!
But this is different, Tabitha was not late, she was dead,
surrounded by her friends, grieving widows
telling stories about her good deeds, her sewing
for others. In their distress they called Peter, her leader
among the disciples—yes, she was a disciple, they
were not all men, you know; in the Greek text, Luke used
mathētria, the feminine form of the word  
disciple, when speaking of Tabitha—
we do not know what they asked of him but
he, perhaps burning with the spirit of resurrection,
sent them out of the room, as Jesus did
with Lazarus, and prayed. What did he pray?
Luke does not say, but we know what he said to Tabitha,
and more to the point what she did was this:
Opening her eyes, and seeing him she sat up;
Then taking his hand, she stood. Whether we
believe or not, she did. She got up.

Tabitha with Peter grieving
womeninthebible.net

Is there some part of you that is dead, cut off from
your soul perhaps, some injured place you keep hiding
rather than healing, a wound that wants to cry out,
or maybe it does in the silence of a broken heart ,
but you have succumbed to today’s truth that
this Tabitha thing never happened, not really; science
has no explanation for a dead woman, or even
a dead man, rising, so it did not happen. But
still deep down, in the inner quiet place
you rarely visit you yearn to hear Peter or someone
say, Get Up! if only from the job you hate or
the debt you don’t know how to pay or the
cell of fear you live in every moment , the depression
that has you in its thrall. There are answers you know,
therapy of course, or a new job or marrying riches,
or drugs, weed might tide you over, but then
tomorrow your soul still feels dead, broken, or lost.

So maybe, just maybe, you can ask God
to stop by; you don’t know who will come in God’s name,
it might be a friend or a trusted leader like Peter
or a stranger you meet in a long check-out line
or when sitting quietly in the back of the church you
decide to visit on your lunch hour just because
you feel an urge to chat with God, to be fed spiritual food,
or perhaps you suddenly know how desperate you are
to feel the love of God, the embrace of Jesus, the hope
of the Holy Spirit, to be carried forward by that power
of wholeness rather than human power that seems
to keep you trapped in an unending cycle of sadness
and despair, anxiety that things will never get better in your life.

But the truth is this: you can get up, you can be lifted
like Tabitha, like Lazarus, like Jesus, like all the disciples
before you, Peter and the whole gang, and those around you
now, who trust God to bring us back from wherever we have
let the world and others toss us like so much trash
or if not trash at least what they, whoever the they are
in our lives, call unnecessary baggage on the route
they say we are supposed to travel all our days.

But you have to want to get up, you have to be ready to take
good orderly direction, you have to open your eyes
and see what you have not allowed yourself to see before,
and walk, now alive, among the dead and dying all around you,
offering yourself to them by saying, if you really mean it, Get Up!

It’s simple, though not always easy.  Why wait? Get up. Now.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .The book known as Acts of the Apostles often challenges us because so many things happen that in our modernity and post-modernity we question—like Peter raising Tabitha from the dead. It becomes easy to dismiss it as a charming tale, and thus easy to miss the importanceof bringing people back to life from whatever death they may be living.

He Keeps Showing Up

(Third Sunday of Easter, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

Disciples-Fishing spiritofthescripture com
spiritofthescripture.com

Jesus keeps showing up—
In body and out of body—
on the Damascus Road
tapping Paul for new work
(and ending his old angry career),
and at the Tiberian Sea
filling the nets of Peter and others
with first fish then promises of people
who need like sheep to be tended and fed.
We are those sheep but do we know
we are feeders and tenders, too,
disciples of the risen Christ
whom we proclaim each eucharist, saying
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Could we not say as well that Christ is here?
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is here,
and Christ will come again—the mystery
then is for us as for Peter and friends:
how can he be gone and yet here simultaneously?

When they sat on the beach eating fish he had helped
them catch and bread he broke for them
they knew it was him but they dared not ask—
why so timid? Are we like that? Are we afraid
to feel his presence when we cannot see his face?
I don’t know about you but Jesus keeps
showing up in my life, often at odd moments
as well as in worship, mostly in quiet times
when his gentle voice beckons me
to turn around, not so much to see him
as to face the right direction so we can walk
together towards my fellow rams and ewes,
all of us lambs in his tender shepherding care,
but more because he has called us shepherds
too, and charges us with encircling the whole flock
in arms of love.

But to love like that, like he did and does,
to feed his sheep, our fellow lambs, to tend
the flock, we have to put down our judgments,
drop the stones we want to hurl at those who hurt us,
tear down the walls we want to build to keep the other out,
stop being certain we know what is wrong
with them—instead using a spiritual stethoscope,
listening to our own souls to find out how
alive, how present, we are, to find out
if we are showing up to answer his knocking
or if, when he seeks us, he finds
the gate locked  and we and all our charges
missing in action, wandering among dried out
pastures looking for food and dodging wolves—
of self-importance, wealth-seeking, getting ahead—
who claim to be our friends as they devour
more than our beautiful broken bodies.

Still he keeps showing up
like a homeless person, hoping this time
we will give something more than a quarter,
more than a dollar or a protein bar,
or even a meal in a diner—this time he
hopes we will give ourselves, knowing
that he not only has died, is risen,
and will come again, but really truly
he is here now . . .right here . . .right now.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Many faithful Christians confess confusion about the relationship between Jesus and the Christ, this human divinity many call Jesus Christ (no, Christ is not his last name).  So, when we read Gospel accounts of his post-resurrection appearances to groups of disciples we may rightly wonder, just who was showing up? I am suggesting here, as in so much of our faith journey, that this is not a case of either/or but both/and. We don’t get to touch his literal physical body, but Jesus is still here and Christ is still risen, so be ready, because they are, he is, knocking at the gate to your heart. Now.

He Will Touch You

(Second Sunday of Easter, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

jesus_doubting-thomas-cropped
thejesusquestion.org

Some of us need proof beyond the testimony
of others—at least when it comes to things
out of the ordinary; like Thomas we want
to put our fingers in the holes, maybe even feel  the dried blood.
But can faith ever be dried, captured in a book
or locked up in systems that claim to explain everything?

Some people appear to freeze-dry their beliefs and then
add water when needed and call it faith;
others quote a verse or two and claim that resolves it all.
But faith is a more lively affair, lived in ups and downs,
not without doubt or fear, often messy, unpredictable like
soft ripe pears, juicy peaches, grapefruit squirting all over,
sweet liquids running down my chest
rivulets of nectar coursing through hair over nipples
reminding me of tactile sensations—
like Jesus healing the leper with his fingers,
life poured out and on a hungry soul and body
made whole by faith, in faith, working in ways
reason always fails; logic has limits beyond
which God continually goes, inviting us
to cast aside fear and doubt which hold us
back. Yet doubt is part of faith if we dare
to really go where God leads—walking in
clouds of unknowing, not always able to see
through the fog of our own creation let alone
glimpsing far off a divine horizon we will never
reach but whose power when we let it in
draws and drives us forward. But it is right
for Thomas to want to touch Jesus’ wounds—
it is often in our wounds that we find deeper
faith, and why not in our Lord’s wounds
as well—to learn how to see all that God
has for us and all that the world creates,
including death and destruction and oppression,
too often in God’s name however wrong
it may be. God works with our doubt as well
as our faith—there is nothing God will not,
cannot, use to lead us forward where we
fear to go. Let us then not judge Thomas—
have you not demanded proof, have you not
doubted? So, let us go on the journey
with him and the others who scattered like
holy seed to the east, the west, the south
and north, knowing that they had a story to tell.

What is your story, what is your witness,
when have you said, I have seen the Lord! Are
you even looking? If not, you may miss him, too.
But trust that he will come by if you ask.
He will touch you even if you cannot touch him.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .As a preacher, I got tired of the story about Thomas, the same year in and year out—as if the Lectionary architects felt we needed a dose of doubting every year after the big Sunday of the Resurrection. It does get me ponder doubt, however, and how essential it is to living in the midst of the ups and downs of faith.  

What Are We Waiting for?

(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
writing+poetryAbout 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.