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

The Fast to Which We Are Called

Reflection on the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

Textual Focus: Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20
Click here for biblical texts

 

Being salt of the earth is not easy
nor is it simple to be the light of the world.
But Jesus told disciples that is what they are,
what we are, too, if we take our vocation seriously.
Salt enhances the flavor of our faith,
perhaps the faith of others because ours is so tasty,
helps preserve faith when times are tough.
Light can help us see, but what Jesus really means
is our light is meant to help others see.

Faith needs pepper too, black for sure, maybe cayenne,
surely garlic and oregano, even paprika
if it is to be strong, resilient and ready to upend us
from our lethargy and acquiescence
to the way things have always been.
We need  full-bodied faith, richly textured,
deeply flavored, pungent to attract attention
not to us but to God working in us.  
The prophet says shout loudly, don’t hold back,
lift every volce and sing,
and I say people need not only to hear our faith but also
to smell it, to be drawn from spiritual emptiness,
aromas reminding them how hungry they are
for the more they know exists but cannot
seem to find in the usual holy places, showing them
there is a source, a spiritual diner, cafeteria,
just waiting to feed them
with love and glory of God all their lives.
This the fast to which we are called:
to open our repast to the hungry,
to bring scents of heaven to the outcast,
to feed the lost with the succulent,
never-ending feast of God.

There needs to be more than light, too.  
To see the stars we must be in the dark,
heavens more visible at night,
often a time when divine stillness settles in,
and souls brood in their native habitat,
primordial darkness from which God made, makes, light.
We need to be more than the light,
others need us to share
luminous darkness of our souls
buried deep in first threads of life
where we were created
and in whom we move and have our being.
We need to bring the dark night of our souls
Into the temple, freely, fully, offering ourselves,
letting go of our attachments to things
and places, turning all over to God,
falling in love again with God,
not so much for our sake but for God’s sake.
This the fast to which we are called:
to go to our deepest, darkest places
and know how lovable we are,
how lovable all are,
stars shining in darkest heaven
right here on earth, world without end.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem: Sometimes it feels that Jesus’ words have become such spiritual clichés that if we really want to get into them, or for them to get inside us, we have entertain the opposite, or at least the opposite of what we have been taught, pushing against conventional wisdom (just as he so often did). As someone who enjoys cooking, I know the importance of salt, but I also know it is rarely enough to make a savory dish. And light is only half of God’s story, so we need to welcome the dark, not only in nature but also ourselves.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net