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.
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?
Refugees are people who flee to something less terrifying than continuing to stay where they are or what they see coming, often giving up what was once thought comfortable, pleasant, safe, now untenable due to violence already inflicted and/or more about to be dealt, threats feeling so real you grab your clothes and run, maybe a few pictures, a crust or two of bread, your children of course, like Mary and Joseph grabbed Jesus to escape to Egypt. This first-family-to-be ran for their lives in the face of Herod’s fear disguised as anger–tyrants, elected or not, everywhere the same–to return later–tyrants die although they want us to forget– to be replaced by a fearsome son–where have we heard that before– so again this family finds another new home, in Nazareth. That is Matthew’s story, and he’s sticking to it.
Luke starts the story with a Nazorean family forced to Bethlehem for the registration who then return to Nazareth to live and grow together in peace, love, and care. Either way, a ruler, whether Emperor or lackey-King, seems to control the earthly action. It is good for us to remember in days of turmoil that those who claim mandates to do as they wish, no matter the needs of those less powerful, do not in truth control everything or in some ways much of anything. Who cares today what Herod thought or even the august emperor, footnotes to history, necessary props in the story that turns out to be not about them at all, no matter how much they strut and preen and issue a thousand tweets like a flock of angry, self-absorbed starlings?
Isaiah and others knew all this so well– tales of people pushed about by despots from afar and often their own rulers, so that they lost their way– prophets seeing God present in all things, redeeming the people in divine love and pity even when they did not know it, or denied the very God who creates us all, of whom prophets told repeated truths and angels in every sort of form sang loud hosannas echoing across the skies of slumbering yet unsteady, at risk, earth.
When will we learn, really learn and understand, it is not tyrants, blowhards, insecure rulers and small-minded puppets pretending to pull strings of the rest of of us who matter, but God, the one who refuses to treat us with other than respect and love, whose gentle power is what really runs the show? Not a puppet master, not even a taskmaster or judge, but one whose desire for us, for us to live whole lives as we are given at birth, exceeds all negativity, all hate, all puny politics and war–that is The One whom we worship, The One who touched the babe in the manger and continues to touch us, too.
About this poem . . . . . The familiar, though often forgotten story, of Herod’s mad rampage on feeling tricked and scared by challenges to his rule, is the backdrop for Joseph and the family, as it really is even today as in the midst of wonders and joys in our lives, and even our private sorrows, we continue to contend with small-minded, petty oligarchs of politics, business, militarism, etc., just to survive. But history is not really about them, any more than daily life is.
Enough is enough calls out the pastor again, again, again, and the people respond in kind, round by round energy rising, filling the sanctuary, layers of meaning from shared history, older ones remembering Jim Crow, younger ones feeling the endless string of indignities, living while Black, all knowing that the latest brother gunned while down could have been their son, their husband, their friend, brother, neighbor, co-worker, and knowing it is not done, that after seven years they are amazed the President of the United States remains alive, while still victim of hate that spreads across the web, doubting his religion, even his birth, sure that a Black man cannot be trusted to do more than loot or sit high in a hazy crack-filled den or rape bodies of women the haters claim to own.
Anger rises as tears flow, arms reach to heaven a blend of righteous indignation and sacred supplication, the preacher only pausing to catch her breath and renew the claim on anger that can be turned not inward but out in constructive action to change the world, undo old ways, stand together even with white folk who love, care, and weep in recognition of too long silence helping to create what is now the crucible of death upon death, blood, more blood flowing, urban rivers of mothers’ tears exposing like Jesus on the cross the ugliness of humanity mocking God’s creation, denying Her love that flows nonetheless with their tears. Today is the day cries the pastor, today is the day the people reply, we can do something to change this tortured world, we have in us the power, God’s power since conception in our mothers’ wombs, and it is time to use it to stop the violence, to get the guns off the streets, train the cops or remove them if they resist the simple lesson that dark skin is not the enemy but friend, neighbor, brother, sister, fellow child of the one and only God.
This has been going on a long time—whether we mean hate or resistance to hate—and the tide keeps turning for love, then falls back for hate, rolling to and fro, four hundred plus years of enslavement first of African folk and now the many descendants of slavers still chained to ugliness oozing from every pore, spittle splattering what God intends to be hope, while others use that hope to change direction, marching together across the lines for justice, mercy, love. We have had too much hate and not enough love, so the pastor calls out, Love Is Love, and the people respond in kind, in love for love, knowing, believing in their depths, that it is the only power to defeat hate. But this love must be more than sweet, this love must overturn tables too, sometimes interrupting regular worship, driving merchants of hate from sacred precincts, and back alleys and bayous, by tidal wave upon tidal wave of love rising, cleansing sin and the stain of sin from twisted white souls yearning to be free, and bringing precious divine power to the disinherited also yearning to be free. Freedom, oh freedom, freedom washing over me.
Enough is enough. Love is love. Love is enough. Freedom, oh freedom, freedom washing over all. Today. Now. Here.