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

Listen

Reflections on Proper 7, Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: Jeremiah 20:7-13, Matthew 10:24-39
Click here for biblical texts

 

 

He was raking in 10 million
in leanest years, celebrated
for Midas ways with stocks,
his counsel sought by all
who wanted more and more
even as he felt less and less,
waking at night with scenes
of gaunt-faced children watching him
as he ate at Sardi’s and the White House.
He cried, he prayed, went to church every day,
gave away millions to hungry kids everywhere ,
still the money piled up
mocking his nightmares, misery and guilt.

Hurrying from one meeting to the next,
he heard a street evangelist quoting Jesus,
“Those who find their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
He was stopped, unable to move,
I want to lose this life—the voice sounded like his—
no more capital gains
no house in the Hamptons
no private jet.
He cried, right on Wall Street.
People stared, others averting their gaze,
most kept their distance as he tore
at his Armani uniform
thrusting his coat, then his tie, shirt, shoes, pants
at gaping tourists and brokers,
“I don’t need these, please take them, in the name of God,”
he said, and hearing himself thought,
where did that come from? Who said that?

He looked around, as if seeing the street
for the first time,
now knowing what he had to do.
He remembered hearing a preacher say
following a divine call is rarely easy,
Jeremiah and Jesus surely knew,
friends and family, authorities too
turn away, turn against,
the loneliness can overwhelm
even in the embrace of God.

But he felt raised up, resurrection-like,
his mind racing, his heart at peace,
beat of new life beckoning him
to become a disciple, a student
of the Lord, gentle Jesus whom he knew also said
some hard either/or words
about not bringing peace
setting children against parents
foes arising in the household
hierarchies of teachers above disciples
seeming normal
but masters over slaves grate against modern ears
can we love Jesus more than mother and father,
what about God?

He thought, I love God most of all,
and I want to serve with Jesus and the Holy Spirit;
this is my ‘I can’t not do it moment’
I heard my pastor describe, when he knew
he was called to share the Good News:
God’s total, unending, unconditional love.

Naked as Francis long ago,
he saw the church and went inside
to pray and to listen
for further instruction.

 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem. . . So many of the really cool people in the Bible show us that following God is not a necessarily smooth way, that the challenges can be huge, daunting .  Upending a life is best done with divine direction and that can come in all sorts of ways to all sorts of people. Jeremiah and Jesus, two prophets who had hard things to say because they listened so carefully to God, surely must have felt, from time to time at least, why me? Of course, God’s answer to them, as to us, is, who else?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2015 FaithfulPoetics.net

The Lord’s Day

Reflection on Proper 6, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

 

Textual foci: Matthew 9:35-10:23; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8
Click here for biblical texts
Sunday morning at the Metro Station
pleasant people staff stations for sharing
the truth they claim, they know, will set us free
pamphlets, magazines, personal testimony
and smiles, handshakes, even hugs too
to show the love of God
in case we don’t know it
already and to be sure our belief
is correct so when Jesus comes,
when Jesus comes,
we are counted worthy.

They smile and say “Good Morning” as I pass
clerical color and dangly earrings
marking me a man different from others
as I smile too—the politeness of our exchange
linking us strangely with the One
who was often impolite, or at least impolitic,
healing the wrong people on the wrong day
breaking bread with the disreputable
loving sinners as much as the pious—
or maybe more—the One
with big plans for his twelve
just as he has for us,
compassion to share with the lost,
curing disease, healing the sick
in body and heart, guiding sheep
who lose our way.

Yes we are the sheep called also
to be shepherds—there always is
someone who needs leading
to water or food or medical care
or encouraging words
like those some give
my friend Tyrone the Pennyman
at this same station but not on Sunday.
He does not sit in his usual spot to call out
“Pennies, pennies, pennies,”
to busy travelers
on the Lord’s Day,
we being fewer in number
(why is church attendance declining now?)
and perhaps more intent on filling the collection plate
than the stomach of one
with few teeth, many rags
and unkempt hair—
 yet in his cheerful countenance
reminds me of St. Paul who says
suffering produces endurance
and endurance produces character
and character produces hope.

I just pray Tyrone’s hope
does not disappoint him
and others who struggle in like manner,
that somehow divine love
moves enough sheep, and shepherds too,
you and me among them,
to help the lowly rise
that all may make a joyful noise
and worship God with joy.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem. . . . Jesus sent out the 12 and sends us out, too. The question, at least for me, is what is the mission to which I have been called? What is most needed in the world, and what is my part in meeting that need? And am I sure I am hearing the call correctly? Is it really Jesus or is it just my idea or the idea of others I like?  
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Still Here

Reflection on Ascension Day and 7th Sunday of Easter, Year A

 

Textual focus: Acts 1:1-14, Psalm 47, Luke 24:44-53, John 17:1-11
Click here, and here, for biblical texts

 
Hurry!
Limited time only—offer will not be repeated—
must liquidate all merchandise
Sale ends at midnight tomorrow!

Is this it, Lord, is it the time
You will restore
the kingdom to Israel?

Oh the questions they asked
as if he appeared on Fox News
to outline the latest theory
of how the world will end
or at least the Roman Empire.

When Jesus left the disciples—
modern minds wonder about Ascension,
what principle of physics allows it—
they looked up, what else can they do,
we too thinking God is above,
heaven and all angels
dancing on high.

And God is up, but also down,
nowhere God is not
can pray everywhere—
where is your upstairs room,
or woods, office, hammock,
mountain top, backyard, busy avenue
to wait for God
who is already here?

Prayer and much else comes to those who wait,
not filling the air with our words
as God prays in and through us;
all is gift, Jesus says
everything You have given me I give to them,
no special Easter sale,
we, living in post-Resurrection time,
look up, down, around, world without end.
He’s still here though he rose.

Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ is here.
Christ will come again.

Oh yes.

 
About this poem . . . In the church’s calendar, it is still Easter, although the hoopla has ended. And finally Jesus rises not only from the dead but from the earth, the disciples’ mouths agape at the sight. But is it so? Do we also only look up, or can we look within and around at others and know he remains, seeing him perhaps even in ourselves? Can we pray and wait and know there is always more, for the asking? Often even without asking? 
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Aisles of Love

A Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after Easter, Year A

Textual focus: Acts 17:22-31, John 14:15-21
Click here for biblical texts
 

Worship
at many temples,
god of fossil fuel by Shell
money at First National Bank
sugar and fat by Dunkin’ Donuts
country at Washington’s obelisk
buff bodies by LA Fitness
hard to stop
bending the knee
making offering
when so many shrines and their gods beckon
street corner after street corner
mile by mile
IHOP has more Sunday morning worshippers
than St. John’s, First Baptist, and Trinity Lutheran
together
St. Walmart and Holy Costco compete
across town
lines of communicants
approach the check-out altar
awaiting blessing by swipe or insertion.

St. Paul would feel at home,
so many monuments
rise Athens-like,
but Jesus might wonder
if we can pause long enough
to see God in the aisles
or the eyes of credit card curates
or understand the movement
of love through those
who stock shelves
teach aerobics
cook
wait tables and drive-through windows

It takes courage to love
when it’s not on the printed menu
but we are not orphans,
no place no time God is not.
 

About this poem . . . Paul’s commentary and caution to the Athenians, recorded in Acts, speaks from the aversion to idols grounded in the commandment given to Moses.  It is easy to think that it is the Greeks or pagans of long ago who have idols, graven images. But there are many among us today. At the same time, these temples of commerce and more are also human gathering places, and God often shows up—probably is there all the time (as in Athens long ago).

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Where?

An Unfinished Reflection on the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: John 14:1-14
Click here for biblical texts
 

 

Easter is not ended officially
yet it seems long ago that we sang Alleluia!
wore our Sunday best, feasted at two tables,
maybe looked for a certain rabbit
to entertain our children—
do we still proclaim resurrection
and if we do, are we ready to follow
the risen Christ wherever he leads us?

We don’t know exactly where he is calling us
though many claim to know—
earnestly telling us they have the inside scoop
because they have the key to scriptural truth,
God not having said a new thing for several
millennia—and we must learn to trust,
sometimes what we see when following Jesus
looks unfamiliar even strange
but that does not make it less godly,
after all Jesus was always going places, doing things
those in the know knew were wrong.

God’s house is said to be roomy
at least that is what Jesus said
whether some of his latter day disciples
still see it that way;
no longer whites only on the main floor
but nursing moms and their babes
may be segregated to be sure
no one glimpses part of a holy body
and gays may want to be quiet
lest they be asked to leave.

Going with Jesus is a challenge—
he said we will do what he does
and even greater things
but when was your last miracle,
and who knows if he really meant that
even though he was not one for idle chatter or boasts—
easier just to read and ride along
and not get too engaged or eager
nor too far in front where we might be tempted
to look down like Peter and sink.
 

 

About this poem . . . .Did Easter really happen? Is it over? The church calendar says no, but what about in daily life?

 

 

 

©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

What Now?

Reflection on the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

 

Text focus: John 20:19-31
Click here for biblical texts

 

Huddled in a room too small for their number
fearing for their lives 
keeping windows covered
password required for entry;
others hiding outside
praying ICE agents do not see them
or dogs smell them
before night when they slip across the border
trusting false IDS will be ready
so they can find work
a place to stay
a new life to build
in the land they hope
will accept their bravery
and award freedom;
or gay men, lesbians, trans people
hiding in closets,
wanting life, not sure
they have strength to claim wholeness.

An old story, fear driving people
into hiding, authorities, angry crowds,
vigilantes, pious rule-enforcers,
fundamentalists of one sort or another,
determined to tamp down
freedom movements, different religions,
new ideas, ways of living
beyond poverty and despair—
not unlike disciples
behind locked doors
the evening of the day Jesus rose,
afraid they would be next on crosses.

But Jesus visited them
to breathe Spirit into them
give them hope.
release them from their prison
get on with sharing good news
healing the sick
witnessing to divine love.

So today’s question:
whose prisons will we visit
whose cells will we unlock
which fugitives will we take in
which disciples of love and hope
and family and justice
will we welcome
to our churches, our homes
to keep them safe,
whose hearing will we attend
to speak on behalf of mercy and justice
for all
or at least for one or two or more
of those most vulnerable
most afraid
most at risk?

 

About this poem . . . . It is so easy to leave the disciples back there, knowing things will get better for them. But we have been, maybe are, afraid; and have received the Spirit too; what do we do with it? 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net