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

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

 

 

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

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 

Names

Reflection on Trinity Sunday, Year A

 

 

Text focus: Matthew 28:16-20
Click here for link to texts

 

I baptize you—yes you,
who wants or whom others want
to be a disciple of Christ
or at least a member
of this church or other Christian body
or to be called a baptized Christian
when appropriate—
In the Name of the Creator
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

There’s that Trinity thing
again, pastor says it
at the weekly benediction
as well as at the end
of heavy-duty prayers;
it must be important,
it even has its own Sunday,
but does any mortal
really grasp what early fathers
of holy church
had in mind when they made belief
in Trinitarianism
a test of faith?

Or was it meant only to be a mark
of faith, an enigma
bound in mystery so securely
that we can only repeat over and over:
Creator—okay some still say Father—
Son and Holy Spirit (does anyone
still say Ghost?)—so we know
and we hope God knows too
we are speaking of the Holy Parent
Jesus knew, lived, and taught,
he part of the Trio
dancing across eternity
cajoling us on to the dance floor too
wanting us to hear the heavenly beat,
do more than tap our toes and hum along,
get up, join the romp of living
up and down and around
with history’s most famous gospel rock group
God Son Spirit
except they are not playing in history;
their greatest hits, new releases,
available now wherever we are
whomever we are, whomever we love,
whatever our ancestry—indeed as Meister Eckhart
of blessed memory said long ago,
Creator/Parent laughed,
and the Son was born,
then the two of them laughed
and the Spirit was born.
When all three laughed,
the human one was born.

Whether we understand or not
—its all in the family, each one of us
making a fourth
not for bridge but for life.
 

About this poem . . . Most preachers dread Trinity Sunday. How to engage people in a discussion of a declaration that God is in three persons and yet only one–that is the challenge. I have long enjoyed the idea of these three, the Trio, dancing and getting us to dance. Maybe if we could all get on the dance floor together we would not have to understand the theory, just enjoy the dance.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.

Last Days

 

Reflection on the Day of Pentecost, Year A

 

 

Text focus: Acts 2:1-21
Click here for biblical texts

 

 

 

Happy birthday, Church,
we say on Pentecost—
meaning not our local community
but whole Big C,
the Church universal—
but what if Luke in Acts 2,
citing ancestor Joel,
saw a bigger vision
in the tongues, the fire, Holy Spirit
moving, touching everyone,
surging wind filling the whole space
and beyond as crowds gathered
amazed, these devout Jews—
were there only Jews—
from every nation gathered in Jerusalem
for Shavuot, the feast of weeks
fifty days after Passover
and the Resurrection,
how could they all fit in one room
that was intended for disciples
including women of course;
how is violent wind
of many fiery tongues
contained in one room?

Did the walls disappear,
not crashing down
not scaring or hurting people
nor in battle as at Jericho
but vanishing
so that in a twinkling
the room is the world
the street is the room
all open to the divine
swirling in and around them—
all things are possible with God—
so on that day
as on all days
there were no limits
on the Spirit of God
that brooded long ago
on the face of the deep
in the first days.

In the last days God says
I will pour out my Spirit
upon all flesh
young and old all genders
humans of all stations
including those not allowed their God-given freedom,
all flesh, God says—
when does all not mean all,
and if we claim the right to change
the word, to say it is only
people who believe a certain way,
what or who is our authority?

Are we still waiting
or did the last days already come—
has not God poured already
does not God pour every day,
are not all blessed,
and how do we, will we,
you and I, respond?
 

 

About this poem . . . Walls are often necessary, but we also can get stuck behind them. I don’t think God likes many of our walls, so often slipping through them and hoping we do, too. The biggest, hardest walls are, of course, the ones in our heads.
 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Good Morning, God

Reflection on the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

 

Textual focus: Psalm 116:1; Luke 24:13-35
Click here for biblical texts

 

He always says “Good morning,”  “Good afternoon”
or simple “Hello” as he meets others on walks.
“You never know what someone may want to tell you,
so I like to prepare the way with courtesy and care,”
he said in response to a friend who asked him about his habit.
“It might be Jesus out for a walk, or someone else
God has tapped with a message for me.
Besides,” he continued, “I believe
each of us is created in the image of God,
so when I greet someone I feel I am greeting
part of God. I really appreciate when God answers back.”

“Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus,
you just never know when a conversation
will change your life,” he said. “One thing is sure,
if you don’t engage others,
the conversation will not happen.  I am
not in charge of which conversations
God may use so I try to be open all the time.”

“Here’s the deal,” he said, “we pray
often for God to be present.
I wonder how God feels about that,
when in my experience God
already is here and now, everywhere,
all the time. There is no place, no time, God is not;
I figure my job is to be present,
so God can get through to me
when God wants. I even speak
to some trees, the squirrels, flowers, birds.
You just never know.
Like those disciples, I might get a message
from the food I eat—that’s why I give thanks,
not just physical nourishment
but also spiritual feeding.
Anything, everything, is possible with God.”
 

 

 

About this poem . . . As a boy, I remember wondering what it must have felt like for the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus to be engaged by, and to engage, Jesus. Later, thanks to some wonderful spiritual teachers and moments of my own, I began a lifelong journey into understanding I can experience that closeness, too. I am still learning, and receiving.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Jesus Keeps Walking, God Keeps Moving

Reflection on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Focus: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
Click here for biblical texts
 

Jesus kept walking no matter what was happening around him
whether John was arrested or Lazarus needed him;
he walked to the wedding in Cana though he may not have
known what he would be asked to do. He set his face and feet
towards Jerusalem even when he knew that was the way
to trouble with a capital T. Paul kept moving too,
knowing that his mission was to proclaim the gospel,
so when Corinthians began to mess things up
he wrote to them while on the road.
Isaiah knows God sends joy to those once bereft of hope.

God is always on the move, and not just walking, but touching
and blessing and inspiring and jostling status quos with new life.
Pharaohs. presidents, generals, moguls, dictators, pass through
on their way to self-described greatness,
but they are not really moving so much as walking
on the treadmill called success and power and wealth,
while God and faithful ones God touches
really move, living where things count less than soul,
where hearts are eager and minds open to receive and share,
not grab,  the gifts freely available to all.  
These are ones Jesus calls, the ones who answer,
putting down nets in which they have loaded all they own,
to be captured, raised up and sent forth
by a power greater than themselves, greater than
all of us, all the world.

It seems easiest to move with the world,
not trusting in God or prophets or others
who ask us to move in holy, other ways,
not out of the world but deeper in it
because we move knowing the truth
of the psalmist and Jesus and Paul,
and Mohammed and Moses, too,
God is my guide and my salvation,
whom shall I fear? God is the stronghold
of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

Can we not be brave like the smallest seed
that pushes up from the soil into a world
it does not know, trusting in the rain, sunshine,
and nurture God provides and encourages us to offer, too?
Can we not become, like Simon and Andrew, and James and John,
mighty oaks of faith, the winds of God blowing in and through us,
gracing all around us , our roots going every deeper into earthy soul,
shedding leaves of faith, joy, hope, and love
wherever we stand, the never-ending melodies of God,
the ceaseless plea to care for the widow, orphan, immigrant,
divine prayer for us to love as God loves,
crossing our lips not just on Sunday mornings
but in every moment of every day?
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . God so often gets locked up somewhere—a book, a temple, an idea—for safe keeping. But the prophets and even the psalmists, in their better moments, knew better, and surely Jesus did, and he helped Paul figure it out, too. One of the problems with churches may be that we are locked up in one place, too, and forget that God is on the move, everywhere, all the time. Of course, God comes to us all the time, but we can easily miss the visit because we do not expect it right where are.
 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

God’s Tree, Our Tree

There is a tree, an oak, our tree I say,
although I do not know what kind of oak,
that stands like a beacon outside my church,
Metropolitan Community Church of Washington,
District of Columbia, United States of America,
a beacon of God calling the people
to worship, to focus on higher things,
to see the changing seasons through the glass
above the communion table, to see God’s sacred squirrels
and birds running, flying, landing in its branches,
reminding us that life is more than our
human-centered preoccupations, to accept
rhythms of life that beat the universe
into being and unfolding.

mcc-tree-through-glass

I love this tree, grateful to the people
who designed the sanctuary so that
when we sit in worship we face the tree,
even now as it is dying, leaves shriveling
up, clinging when they can to the branches
just like I want to hang on to the trunk,
resisting like the man in Tiananmen Square,
refusing to accept what the authorities
say I must, yet I know that denial
while real, must give way to tears, to grief,
to celebration of the faithfulness
of this divine creature, agent of God
who has served its time, whose angelic
presence is needed elsewhere now,
even as our memory will always be healing.

Authorities have painted the red blotch
of impending death on the trunk,
saying clearly tree homicide
is about to be committed
by those who don’t want trees to fall
on passersby or into the sanctuary—
I know they must do their job, but
how I wish we could give sanctuary
to our faithful friend, member, and beacon.
What we can do is hug—yes, hug this tree—
and speak our gratitude, perhaps we can
even make something from the wood
for the church as a permanent memorial;
never forget our friends, those who
stand with us through thick, thin, and in between.
God gave and gives us the church, and God shared
and shares God’s trees. Thanks be to God,
and thank you, Tree!!

 

robin-hugging-mcc-treeAbout this poem . . . I love trees, all trees. The first time I entered the sanctuary at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.–for a denominational function years ago–I immediately saw the tree standing tall in the clear glass above the communion table. I stared, teared up at the simple elegance of a tree–we say Jesus died on a tree, for one thing, and for another, trees signify life for me–in that vision. I never forgot that tree, and always looked forward to seeing it on other visits. Now, I am a member of the congregation, along with the tree, and I see my friend each week. I give God thanks for the gift which will never die in my heart. 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net