Always

Reflection on Holy Saturday, Year A

 

Textual Focus: Job 14:1-14; Matthew 27:57-66; John 19:38-42
Click here for biblical texts
 

 

Can we pause today, take stock
of how we feel after watching Jesus
bleed to death on the cross?
We know he will come back,
we prepare for the feast to come
tomorrow, but today
can we find a way
to do as Joseph of Arimathea did,
care for the dead body,
or sit shiva as Jews and friends do?
Or do we, like some who opposed Jesus,
post a guard around our hearts
so he cannot touch us from the tomb?

This is the day God has made,
we may not wish to rejoice,
and yet cannot our tears water a tree
cut down that it may sprout again,
emerging from the womb of our soul,
leaking like tremors of pure sunlight
against tides of death and destruction,
reminding us in the quiet of desperation
that God is always more—
keep watch
bear witness.
 

 

 

About this poem . . . . I will sit quietly in this space today.
 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics 2017

What Have We Learned?

Reflection on Good Friday, Year A

 

Textual Focus: Psalm 22; John 18:1-19:42
Click here for biblical texts
 

 

When I was a boy in a small town
40 miles northwest of Detroit
I asked my Dad, “Why are stores closing at noon today?”
He told me it was because Jesus was killed.
I cried.
I loved Jesus.
We went to church and cried together.

Not so many stores close today, even then
the South Side Grocery on the wrong side of town
did not close. Years later, as a teen,
at noon on the day Jesus died,
I helped Dad clean out an apartment
when the tenant left unexpectedly;
new renters were due later that day.
I felt ashamed—we were on Main Street
with our truck loading trash for the dump
while Jesus was dying, and good people
were with him (a few people drove by,
they were not with Jesus either,
and did not seem bothered to see us).
Were we like disciples who disappeared—
maybe they had work to do at home
or needed to fix their nets and boats?

A body will be struck down as I write
and as you read this meditation.

What if we sat in church, or even home or a park,
by ourselves or with others,
three hours every time someone in our town,
or  Jerusalem and the West Bank, Chicago or Ferguson,
Syria or South Sudan, dies
a violent, avoidable, death, every time a child
dies of malnutrition, starvation, in a world
with enough food for all,  
every time a refugee is shot
struggling to get to a land where they can breathe?

We don’t have to wear church clothes,
just sit, and ask forgiveness.
Nothing else would get done. We’d be sitting all the time
no sleep, no reading, no eating, nothing but sitting,
praying, mourning the dead,
and our failure to stop the killing.

What have we learned
since Jesus and two others 
were hung out to die?  
 

About this poem . . . I will sit quietly in this space today.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

 

On Our Feet

 

Reflection on Holy Thursday, Year A

 

Textual Focus: Exodus 12:1-14; John 13:1-17
Click here for biblical texts
 

Moses told the Hebrews to prepare
for their journey of liberation by eating
prescribed food and marking their doors
with the blood of lamb on which they feasted.
They set off, on foot,
through desert and sea
to and throughout the land promised by God.  

The ancients  used their feet, just as we do—
dirty, calloused, twisted, arthritic, gnarled, hard or soft,
massaged with oil, too, sweet scented or not,
smelly sweaty feet common—
all sorts and conditions of human feet.
on journeys called by God.

Now here is something very strange: 
Rabbi Jesus wants to wash our feet —
even Peter’s, who, of course, objects as he always does.
Is there ever a time when there is not
at least one Peter in the group,
one long ago offended by the idea
of his Lord stooping to wash feet,
like today’s recoiling at showing
the imperfection of feet, even more
at being asked to touch others’?

Today, on Passover, Jews everywhere,
believers or not, gather to share bitter herbs,
unleavened bread, greens, haroset, and lamb or substitute.
Most Christians avoid Jesus
when it comes to feet. Strange.
So many ask, “What would Jesus do?”
How about: what he did?
Just not with feet.

A preacher said, “Jesus touched his heart
and there was healing in his hands.”
I want healed feet
for miles ahead, years, I pray,
of journeying with God. I need strong, resilient feet
empowered to support journeys from my Egypts
to new worlds promised again and again.
I want company, too, I can’t make it alone.
Let me bless yours with living water, sacred touch,
our Jesus feet guiding us all the way together.  
 

 

 

About this poem . . .Every year on Holy Thursday, I am deeply moved by the washing of feet. It is such a humble act—to allow my feet to be washed and to wash others’—so like Jesus to assume the role of servant and invite us to do the same. The invitation, I hear command, is to be agents of healing and to allow ourselves to be healed by the human touch of others.
 

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

 

Blessed Are the Ones

Reflection on Palm Sunday, Year A

 

Textual focus: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Matthew 21:1-11
Click here for biblical texts
 

We say each week in church
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.”
Who do we mean? Are we thinking of Jesus
riding on the donkey in Jerusalem
or our pastor, preacher, other spiritual leader?
Or ourselves? Could we be the ones who are blessed
to come in the name of God?

When the alarm goes off in the morning,
do we come to in the name of God?
Pee and shower in the name of God,
eat breakfast, get dressed, go to work,
lunch, the store, return home, eat dinner,
bathe the children, tuck them in,
watch television, read the paper or our book,
have sex, go to sleep, in the name of God?

The crowds acclaimed the Son of Daivd
as he rode the donkey walking on their cloaks
and branches, a peoples’ carpet—
believing he was their champion
in the face of domination by Rome
and distance from religious authorities.
Today, without fanfare, in terror
of what lies behind and perhaps ahead,
refugees flee the devastation of war,
extremism, chemicals, poverty,
maybe all of the above,
Blessed are the ones who come,
claiming in Jerusalem and elsewhere
power that resists fear,
breaks institutional barriers,
defies narrowness, all in the name
of the God of of holiness everywhere,
in everyone.

Who knows what will happen—a dead body
hanging from a tree or lying on a street or the desert
with a chest full of bullet holes,
or sex work or drug-running for a pimp,
or maybe,
just maybe, a new life, dignity,
deepening of soul connection,
new love or better job,
appreciation by others for gifts
freely shared in sacred communion.

Whatever.
Blessed are the ones
who come,
and go,
in the name of God.  
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .It is easy to read or listen to this familiar story and see Jesus, the donkey, the disciples, the crowds, and to wave our own branches (although I have not seen coats laid on the ground), and feel good. But what about today? What are we doing that might cause others to see God riding or walking or loving or speaking in and/or through us? And do we allow ourselves to see, to experience, the blessing of ordinary, as well as extraordinary, others who come in the name of God?
 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Everyone Out!

 

Reflection for the 5th Sunday in Lent, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11: 1-45
Click here for biblical texts

 

His bones were not yet dry
but after four days his soul-less
body needed Jesus
to breathe him back to life
just as Ezekiel records God did
for the Israelites.
How many times have you been resurrected?
Even in a good life there can be dead ends
for which holy help is the only way out.

Fleeing war zones, finding refuge in camps,
waiting for clearance to emigrate,
arriving in a strange land—
this is resurrection,
a time to hear “Unbind them, and let them go, ”
just as gay men, lesbian women, transgender siblings,
rescuing themselves from closets, breathe freer
where spirits and bodies
live in wholesome union,
no longer victims of anti-sex and gender wars .

Tombs are everywhere,
rulers building more private prisons,
hells hundreds of miles from somewhere,
Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)
freezing folks out,
police continuing urban carnage
within walls of despair and fear.
Lazarus was lucky,
love that freed his entombed body
seems in short supply today.

The Mary-Martha-Lazarus-Jesus Family home
a center where ties that bind are love,
where even when he is late, Jesus is welcomed,
freed to be himself,
to do impossible things that look easy
because he wastes no words in argument,
going right to freeing the captive,
not seeking applause
or waiting for authorization
from any ruler except the One
whose decrees are freedom,
life, love, hope.

Lazarus, come out!
Everyone else, too.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem…..It can be difficult for us, so rational in our scientifically conditioned minds, to accept the idea that dead bodies can be brought back to life—certainly after four days in a tomb, let alone an entire valley of bones. In the latter case, it may be metaphor, but even the metaphor has power. I have been down, way down, a few times, filled with despair, and I was raised up; I know others, too.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Stay Open

Reflection for the 4th Sunday in Lent, Year A

 

Textual focus: John 9:1-41
Click here for biblical texts

 

 

A person need not be born blind
to not see; it happens all the time,
those sure of Earth’s flatness,
slavery ordained by God,
women unfit to lead.
Just last week I ran a stop sign
I did not see, and before that
I knew beyond all doubt
the name of that tune
I hummed most of my life—
too bad I lost the bet.

Those born blind do not not see,
drawing on different methods  to perceive
–like butterflies and bees with acuity 
of color more nuanced than ours–
what we with working eyes often miss.
Always tempting to make fun
of Pharisees not seeing
the truth of Jesus right in front of them,
but if fast-melting Arctic ice
and destruction of Great Barrier Reefs
cannot convince us something is wrong
with the planet what good
will new glasses do?

Facts are hard to see
when we don’t want to see them,
when by the ways of the world,
some things are not seen—
white people not seeing Black lives
that matter—and others magnified
by repetition and conventional wisdom
into sacred texts—our nation right or wrong.
Everyone knows are dangerous words,
a Ph.D. does not protect us from ignorance
any more than a creed built by humans
or certainty about the truth of holy writ.
Even Jesus failed to see the woman of Canaan,
confusing her with a dog.

How many ways of seeing are there?
Stay open.
 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This familiar story is both inspiring and troubling. Pharisees are again blinded by their ideological prism and Jesus does what seems a good thing anyway. Yet, is there not also a presumption that being without the use of one’s eyes is a condition that needs correction—a burden so heavy that it must be lifted by divine agency? I admit to not wanting to lose my eyesight, and yet people without it perceive reality I never know.
 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Give Me a Drink

Reflection on the 3rd Sunday in Lent, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; John 4:5-42
Click here for biblical texts
 

 

Water is soft except when frozen;
hearts, too, locked into hate and fear,
blocked from openness by judgment,
anger, othering.  Soft walls do not exist,
hot or cold, except for Hebrews
marching between watery walls
to escape Pharaoh.

Only way to overcome hardness
of a wall is to climb over or go around,
cut a doorway through.  When people
want to keep others out they build a wall,
but it is not easy to wall up the river
that runs between them;
water still flows somewhere,
maybe even drowning those
who built the wall. Pharaoh knew about
being overwhelmed by water
and Moses followed God’s direction
to strike the rock at Horeb
so water flowed  and people drank.

Jesus was thirsty, probably still is,
not for water, but for us,
wanting more connection.
So much life flows from times spent with him,
but I forget he sits nearby,
ready for me to ask.
I wonder how often he has said
to me, give me a drink,
and I, unlike the Samaritan woman,
neither hear nor reply.
Is the wall around, or in, me
higher, harder, than the one
built by the enmity
between her people and his?
 

 

About this poem . . . We focus often on how Jesus, despite his statement about the superiority of Jewish belief, spoke so openly with the woman of Samaria, and she with him. He did, with her cooperation, cross the historical boundary erected long before. What I have often missed, however, is how that crossing came, how the wall was breached, as the result of a simple request for a drink of water.  
 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 faithfulpoetics.net

 

Commitment

 

Reflection on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year A

 

Textual Focus: John 3:1-17
Click here for biblical texts

 
Two men sit quietly,
knowing God is present,
one seeking to better understand the other,
wanting a companion on the journey into deeper truth,
beginning, building, a relationship
laden with meaning and possibility.

Sitting with Jesus can yield such gifts,
man or woman or in between makes no difference.
He loves all, especially those who seek,
yearn, remain open to the more
that lies ahead and is already deep inside
when we listen, and touch soul to soul.

One who sat was Nicodemus,
acknowledging the power of the Galilean
while unsure of his teaching or mission.
I know many like him, I am often one myself,
claiming to follow and love, at least respect,
but failing to commit.

To commit is to change, to put one thing
ahead of what was first,
God ahead of mammon,
truth over alternate fact,
love in place of hate,
rebirth replacing lazy, long dying.

Jesus wants me to nurture the seed
planted in the womb of my soul
and to help others do the same,
all sprouting and growing
into the vibrant forest of humanity
God planted in Eden long ago.

This one immortally mortal man
was and is our oak, a model forest
in himself for us, the one whose fallen,
tortured body Nicodemus blessed
with spices even if he could not
walk the walk.

God asks us for more
because there is always more from God,
but heaven rejoices no matter how large
or small is the testimony of our lives,
especially when we choose to sit quietly
and keep trying to commit.

 
About this poem . . . A Sunday School teacher told me long ago that Nicodemus is one of the “good Pharisees,” meaning, I think, that he was shown actually listening to and talking with Jesus one-on-one, not trying to trap Jesus into betraying himself or his mission. Of course, he did later advise his colleagues to give Jesus a fair hearing and then showed up with holy spices to bless Jesus’ mangled body. But he is often pictured as a foil for Jesus, a prop for Jesus’ teaching, especially the beloved phrase about God giving his only Son (is Jesus really God’s only son?). I wonder if it might be more profitable to see the humility and openness of Nicodemus as a model for us.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Wilderness

 

Reflection on Lent 1, Year A

Text focus: Genesis 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Matthew 4:1-11
Click here for biblical texts

 

I cherish wilderness camping in some way off place,
choosing to be alone to recharge,
to hear trees tell me new old things,
to learn from ducks swimming in a mountain lake.

But there is other wilderness, in the city,
in crowds at the mall, at work, at home, wherever,
when I see only myself,
my needs and desires, opinions, truths,
my rules, diet, hopes, prayers,
my God, gods, family,
none other,
when I am sure I am right or best
or scared to admit I’m not,
when I fail to hear knocking on the door
of my soul, when God is standing outside
the window waving Her arms to get my attention
and I keep playing video games, watching HGTV, drinking wine,
pretending, acting as if, temptation does not lurk
because I fail, refuse, to see it.  
Life is tough enough
without attending to messiness all around me,
even within myself.

I stop feeling pain that trails my brother
roaming Baltimore fearing he will be next in a pool of blood,
or fear in the Palestinian child
whose home is demolished by the IDF while he sits
in a school without supplies hearing ugly things
about Jews, or dread stalking the raped woman
not sure anyone will believe her or if they do
they also will believe she asked for it and tell her
she is a murderer if she chooses to abort,
or terror of the undocumented mother
who waits for ICE to pry her from her U.S.-born toddler—
when I cannot see these faces and many like them,
because it seems they are in wilderness,
it is me, I am lost. I am in wilderness,
I am the one who has forgotten
who and where God is
who God expects me to be,
where God asks me to be.
I have given in to the tempter,
I do whatever I want without God,
I think I can fix anything all by myself,
I am the one who lives, who worships, my way,
my country’s way, my party’s way, my company’s way,
even my church’s way,
more than God’s.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . It is reassuring to focus on Jesus in the wilderness and how he overcame temptation, and perhaps to think he was only there once, but I suspect he was tempted more than this one time recounted in the Gospels.  And when I only pay attention to Jesus’ wilderness time I can forget mine.  But when I am honest, I know I spend a lot of time in wilderness  of my own making, aided by the world around me which lulls me into thinking it is only others who wander there.  Perhaps that is the ultimate temptation.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

More than Sightseeing

Reflection for Ash Wednesday, Year A
An unpolished poem for a day of ash and glitter

 

Textual Focus: Joel 2; Isaiah 58; Matthew 6
Click here for biblical texts
 

The Ash Wednesday readings seem an odd collection,
especially Matthew, for the day on which we mark our foreheads
with faith for all the world to see;  maybe that is why Matthew 6 is chosen,
to remind us that bearing ash marks is not intended
to be an advertisement, not putting our name on a hotel
or other grand building or taking out a full-page ad
in The New York Times, but a pledge, a promise,
to be faithful no matter who is watching or not,
knowing the only one watching who really counts
is God, the One who wants us not to rend our clothes
but our hearts, who calls priests not to exalt but to weep,
so aware of their own failings and those of their neighbors,
who reminds us that the real fast is doing justice,
taking in the homeless, feeding the hungry,
freeing the oppressed, to admit our shortcomings,
our iniquities, to endure whatever hardships
come our way in service to God and God’s people.

And then there is the verse that I remember
every Sunday from early childhood on,
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,”
knowing it was the moment to pull out my dime, or dollar,
or check, or look sheepish and hope no one noticed
as I passed the plate in a swift motion without
adding to it—whether giving or not these words
seemed to carry guilt, sensing that no matter what I added
to the plate it was an inadequate response to what God
gives me.  But the plate is only one measure of where my heart is;
how much time do I spend with God? When was the last time
I listened to Jesus, not just talked to him but waited to hear him?
When was the last time I invested myself in being all
God wants me to be?

I saw an Ash Wednesday drive-by yesterday, a church advertising getting
ashes on your forehead when you drive into their parking lot—
no need to come to service, no need to join in community
prayer. At first, I was repelled, maybe still am, but also I
know that it might help some, who would not otherwise bother,
to pause to consider their lives, even for just a few moments.

And glitter. I like glitter, and am glad that some churches
are combining ash and glitter,
acknowledging that I, and everyone else,
is a complex mixture of saint and sinner.
I remember the year I gave up Lent for Lent.
I was tired of beating myself up for my failings
and decided to spend forty days focusing
on my good qualities. I wanted to put my best foot
forward for Jesus, to be all I could be with him
on the journey to the cross. I did that only once,
but I am glad I did, because it has helped me
ever since have a fuller view of me and my relationship
with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with God the Parent.

So, here I am, here we are, another Ash Wednesday,
another Lent—again invited to walk
the often dusty and bumpy, sometimes crowded and busy,
at other times quiet and lonely,
even on occasion beautiful and merry, roads of life.
I’m a pilgrim, maybe you, too, with few if any answers,
and I’m here for more than sightseeing.
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . I generally approach Ash Wednesday with mixed feelings, aware certainly of my shortcomings, but also not sure how much it helps to focus on them without also seeing my positive qualities, indeed doing that with everyone I encounter and/or care about. I decided that I would not pore over this poem with revision after revision as I often do but let it stand pretty much as it came out—a way of exposing myself for the still being formed person I am.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net