Lent Word #4: Reward


As if I did something
To earn this
Whatever is being given to me

As if you did something
To deserve what you are receiving
Payback for whatever came before

As if
We cannot give it away
Soon enough
This consequence
This result
This outcome
This punishment
This grace
This reward

In the time it’s mine
I cannot ignore the weight
How this burden takes both hands to hold
How the heart cannot bear it up
Except with clenched teeth and tightened jaw
And a conscious lifting of shoulders
Shrugging upward with the whole self
Hefting it away from the ground
Before I pass it along again

Though I wish I could just drop it
Rather than putting it into someone else’s keeping
But maybe to put it down
Would create more wear and tear
Than continuing to carry it
And sharing it hand to hand

Ash Wednesday: Musings on Mercy

I tried to find a theme song for today’s word: MERCY. Listened to several, and kept wanting to interrogate the lyricists, if not the singers. What does mercy mean in our pop culture? In mainstream media, it seems to be an unequal exchange that is dangerous for the one in need of the mercy, who may lose everything and gain nothing, subjugating self to another.

This is not the sacred love that I understand as part of mercy. Wrote this as a reflection.

© Gail Doktor 2/17

I ask the pop songs
What it means to seek mercy
And learn from the best-loved
Most highly-rated lyrics
Performed by old men and mere children
And never-aging women
And here’s what they teach

They beg
They moan
They offer to sacrifice life itself
All of that
To receive it
To be given

Their words claim to be
Bent low
Humbled and knee-bent
Prostrate and pleading

But mostly their bodies are upright
Hands wide
Reaching out
Strong voices soft then loud
By God, demanding it
Importuning it
Not giving up until they get it

What does it cost those artists
Oh, they agree to give away
Well, everything

Yet I suppose that very offering
Of self
To self-less-ness
Is the heart
Of being ready
To experience mercy

That presumes
You really do it
And I cannot say I believe
They … the singers … do
Want it, I mean

You only want it
You only want mercy
When all of that
Is already gone
Or at risk of being gone

But what will you give up
Give away
Offer to exchange?
Will you trade everything
Sacrifice all
To be restored?

And what if you get back
What you gave away?

Wasn’t it easier to give it all away
Than to live inside it again?

On the other hand, perhaps mercy
Allows you to live inside
Differently than before

It seems
The pop singers cannot answer
Because they do not know
They only suppose

So I will have to lose myself
To find out
And to know myself
On the other side of such mercy

By then I won’t have to ask
Someone else
I’ll have my own song
Or nothing at all

See this post for more on MERCY.

Words for Lent #1 = Mercy


Poems about Mercy:

Lent Day 28: YIELD

The word that rises up in today’s texts is YIELD.

  • YIELD may be a verb that means to submit or surrender.
  • YIELD can also be a noun. It is the material outcome of a process, such as the result of a mathematical equation, or in more practical terms, the quantity of grain or other produce harvested at the end of a growing season.

In its active, verb form, YIELD suggests giving oneself into another’s power or authority. In daily use, we YIELD when operating a motor vehicle, giving right of way to someone who is already in in traffic.

Yet it has much deeper connotations. It implies an unequal relationship. We need to be cautious about how we read and use the word YIELD in this context.

We can YEILD when we are seeking mercy, either from the threat of death, or when we are seeking a form of forgiveness for a transgression we may have committed. It can be an act of sheer survival, or a renewing spiritual practice. The event, the experience, determines what YIELDING means to us.

surrenderYIELD may mean surrendering to a greater physical, political, or military power. This might be an authority, a person or a system, that is unjust. In this sense, to YIELD is to be coerced or forced into an act of submission that is not of our own volition. Such power, such hands, do not wish us well.

When YIELDING is done without consent, this does not mean that our human dignity is gone or our capacity for resistance is over. If we yield to an aggressor or an oppressor who will harm or damage us … then to find a way to survive and endure becomes the act of resistance, when that is possible.

Through social examples of resistance, we see that YIELDING can mean to submit to powers that overwhelm us, and yet endure. Such stories can be found in the reflections of Jews who lived through the Holocaust. And we can find it in the stories of marginalized people who have been oppressed in United States history, such as the lives of Civil Rights activitist. Yet this legacy is not limited to African Americans with histories shaped by slavery and racism. It also involves Native Americans (First Peoples) whose homes and ways of living were systematically wiped out. And this story isn’t limited to the USA, it can also be found in societies which have confronted their recent violent and oppressive histories, such as South African or Rwanda. More examples find their way to our attention survivors of regimes which continue to be oppressive, such as North Korea.

When used by people of faith in a more holistic context, YIELDING to Godself can mean to place oneself into the care and keeping of a just and compassionate Creator. In this relationship, we can expect that God hopes and works toward the best for us. Our YIELDING is a form of vulnerability and reciprocity in a relationship that leads us toward more healthy, holistic, integrated ways of being human.

YIELD, as the harvest, is the valuable outcome of our labor and nurturing over many seasons. It is the result of our efforts. And such YIELDS are ever empowered by our relationship with God, and how God blesses our lives.

yeild2Sometimes YIELD means a literal harvest. It arrives as forms of nourishment and sustenance for people’s bodies: crops from fields, picks of orchards and vineyards, herds of livestock, catches of fish.

Sometimes YIELD is the metaphorical harvest of our beliefs and practices: the virtues and characteristics we cultivate in our lives. We call these the fruits of the spirit, such as kindness, patience, wisdom, mercy, and hope.

At its best, to YIELD is to be in relationship. And YIELD is also the tangible benefit from how we live our lives as people of faith.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages from the Bible:

  • Psalm 53: 6 — O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
  • Leviticus 25: 3 — You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.
  • Leviticus 25: 6 — You may eat what the land yields during its Sabbath.
  • Revelation 19: 10a —  Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus.”

Day 10 of Lent: ENEMIES

How do I write about today’s word? Enemies. I’m so uncomfortable with it. It exists due to extreme conflict or tension. It draws lines, and puts me on the opposite side of that boundary from other people, or from aspects of myself.

Today is an invitation to wonder, are our ‘enemies’ other people, or sometimes, ourselves? And how do we reconcile ourselves with these ‘enemies’?

I cannot be enemy of myself: One photo from the #jewsandarabsrefusetobeenemies campaign at twitter.com

In some of these texts, the word ‘enemies’ is used with the military context of those who win and lose, those who conquer or submit, those who live and die. In current times, since our nation is engaged in many armed conflicts, and our culture is steeped with fear, the concept of ‘enemies’ is hauntingly close to us.

In other texts, such as the letter from Paul, ‘enemies’ are those who live apart from the way of Christ. Again, this might imply parts of ourselves as well as other people. Often enough, we find ourselves living in ways that are not allowing us to be connected to Godself. I understand that when the text discusses Jesus’ way, it means, in part, his way of living in the world … his ethical way of engaging issues of mercy, justice, faith, healing and human connection … his ways of engaged living in the political and social environment of his day. It also means Jesus way of  healing us by recognizing and restoring our integrity as members of God’s body, God’s kingdom.

Today is also an invitation to consider fear. And find another way to respond to the conditions that develop ‘enemies.’ To walk God’s path, to turn to God as stronghold. In countering fear, we seek responses rooted in love, versus fear.

Maybe we are invited, by walking the way of Christ, to reconsider those parts of ourselves, or other people we have labeled as enemies, from a different perspective. Perhaps we cannot become friends with our ‘enemies’ or  reconcile ourselves to our adversaries. Yet perhaps we can find some clarity, some empathy. Or some way of letting go. One example comes from deeply-wounded societies such as Rwanda or South Africa (see the the Forgiveness Challenge developed by Desmond Tutu). Through the arduous process of forgiveness, we can work toward the capacity to relinquish the internal emotions such as fear, loathing or hatred, that allow our ‘enemies’ to maintain their presence and power in our lives.

  • Psalm 27: 1 — The Lord is my light and my salvation;whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
  • Psalm 27: 11-12a — Teach me your way, O Lord,and lead me on a level path, because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries …
  • Genesis 14:20 — And blessed be God Most High,who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
  • Phillipians 13: 17-18 — Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

Day 6 of Lent: HAND

day6_Lent_open-handsOne of the words that rises up out of today’s texts, when placed side by side, is HAND. These are the parts of the body into which we entrust ourselves, when we turn ourselves over, when we release ourselves into someone else’s care and keeping, or into the potential safety and refuge of a reciprocal relationship.

We place ourselves in someone’s hands.

In a prayer from David, seeking deliverance, he places himself and his people into God’s keeping: into God’s hands. Later the writer of John claims Jesus Christ as our advocate, the one to whom we turn.

We are partners in this process of becoming vulnerable. When we extend our hands, and hold them open, sometimes we catch and uphold, as much as we release and receive. We are called to move toward God, and risk all, by making ourselves available, just as God moves toward us.

A relationship occurs when our hands are involved. We hope it is one of tenderness and compassion, and also of justice and service.

Consider that we are God’s hands in the world. We walk, as the writer says, as Emmanuel walked. By using our hands as Christ used his hands, we are called to be in relationship with others in a way that models that ethical engagement: forgiving, truth-telling, healing, community-building, educating, feeding, washing, rescuing, pouring, fishing, mending, holding, transforming, carrying, praying, yielding, and so many more acts of connection.

I should note that these scriptures are excerpted from Biblical passages that also include images of violence and vengeance, sometimes done with hands holding weapons. So let’s acknowledge that hands can also inflict harm, and bodies can be landscapes that experience hurt.

Yet in his deepest need, David, one of the greatest kings of our sacred texts, cries out to be in the shelter of God’s merciful hands. Rather than focusing on what David may wish to happen to his adversaries and enemies, I pay attention to what he hopes for himself and his people. David’s human, after all, and there’s a limit to what he imagines God’s grace can accomplish. From our perspective, we can also hope that what God can provide for us is also possible for ‘others’ too, so that ‘others’ can become more than enemies and oppressors.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 17: 7 — Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
  • 1 Chronicles 21: 13a — David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great.”
  • 1 John 21: 1b — But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
  • 1 John 21: 5b-6 — By this we may be sure that we are in him:whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.