Lenten Word #45: Absent

  • Poem: Sonnet 98: From you have I been absent in the spring By William Shakespeare
    From you have I been absent in the spring,
    When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
    Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
    That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
    Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
    Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
    Could make me any summer’s story tell,
    Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
    Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
    Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
    They were but sweet, but figures of delight
    Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
        Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
        As with your shadow I with these did play.

Lent Word #44: Die

  • Music video: Disturbed – Another Way To Die
  • Poem: Music when Soft Voices Die (To –) By Percy Bysshe Shelley
    Music, when soft voices die,
    Vibrates in the memory—
    Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
    Live within the sense they quicken.
    Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
    Are heaped for the belovèd’s bed;
    And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
    Love itself shall slumber on.

Lent Word #43: Remember

  • Music Video: Remember When by Alan Jackson
  • Poem: Remember By Langston Hughes
    Remember
    The days of bondage—
    And remembering—
    Do not stand still.
    Go to the highest hill
    And look down upon the town
    Where you are yet a slave.
    Look down upon any town in Carolina
    Or any town in Maine, for that matter,
    Or Africa, your homeland—
    And you will see what I mean for you to see—
                 The white hand:
                 The thieving hand.
                 The white face:
                 The lying face.
                 The white power:
                 The unscrupulous power
    That makes of you
    The hungry wretched thing you are today.

Lent Word #42: Do

  • Music Video: I Do by Musiq Soulchild
  • Music Video: I Do by Jessie James Decker
  • Poem: Do Not! By Stevie Smith 
    Do not despair of man, and do not scold him,
    Who are you that you should so lightly hold him?
    Are you not also a man, and in your heart
    Are there not warlike thoughts and fear and smart?
    Are you not also afraid and in fear cruel,
    Do you not think of yourself as usual,
    Faint for ambition, desire to be loved,
    Prick at a virtuous thought by beauty moved?
    You love your wife, you hold your children dear,
    Then say not that Man is vile, but say they are.
    But they are not. So is your judgement shown
    Presumptuous, false, quite vain, merely your own
    Sadness for failed ambition set outside,
    Made a philosophy of, prinked, beautified
    In noble dress and into the world sent out
    To run with the ill it most pretends to rout.
    Oh know your own heart, that heart’s not wholly evil,
    And from the particular judge the general,
    If judge you must, but with compassion see life,
    Or else, of yourself despairing, flee strife.

Lent Word #41: Bread

  • Poem: Bread By W. S. Merwin
    for Wendell Berry
    Each face in the street is a slice of bread
    wandering on
    searching
    somewhere in the light the true hunger
    appears to be passing them by
    they clutch
    have they forgotten the pale caves
    they dreamed of hiding in
    their own caves
    full of the waiting of their footprints
    hung with the hollow marks of their groping
    full of their sleep and their hiding
    have they forgotten the ragged tunnels
    they dreamed of following in out of the light
    to hear step after step
    the heart of bread
    to be sustained by its dark breath
    and emerge
    to find themselves alone
    before a wheat field
    raising its radiance to the moon

Lent Word #39: Gather

  • Poem: [Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way] By Juan Felipe Herrera
    Let us gather in a flourishing way

    with sunluz grains abriendo los cantos
    que cargamos cada día
    en el young pasto nuestro cuerpo
    para regalar y dar feliz perlas pearls
    of corn flowing árboles de vida en las cuatro esquinas
    let us gather in a flourishing way
    contentos llenos de fuerza to vida
    giving nacimientos to fragrant ríos
    dulces frescos verdes turquoise strong
    carne de nuestros hijos rainbows
    let us gather in a flourishing way
    en la luz y en la carne of our heart to toil
    tranquilos in fields of blossoms
    juntos to stretch los brazos
    tranquilos with the rain en la mañana
    temprana estrella on our forehead
    cielo de calor and wisdom to meet us
    where we toil siempre
    in the garden of our struggle and joy
    let us offer our hearts a saludar our águila rising
    freedom
    a celebrar woven brazos branches ramas
    piedras nopales plumas piercing bursting
    figs and aguacates
    ripe mariposa fields and mares claros
    of our face
    to breathe todos en el camino blessing
    seeds to give to grow maiztlán
    en las manos de nuestro amor

Lent Word #38: Process

  • Poem: I Sing the Body Electric 6. by Walt Whitman
    The male is not less the soul nor more, he too is in his place,
    He too is all qualities, he is action and power,
    The flush of the known universe is in him,
    Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance become him well,
    The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is utmost become him well, pride is for him,
    The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul,
    Knowledge becomes him, he likes it always, he brings every thing to the test of himself,
    Whatever the survey, whatever the sea and the sail he strikes soundings at last only here,
    (Where else does he strike soundings except here?)
    The man’s body is sacred and the woman’s body is sacred,
    No matter who it is, it is sacred—is it the meanest one in the laborers’ gang?
    Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf?
    Each belongs here or anywhere just as much as the well-off, just as much as you,
    Each has his or her place in the procession.
    (All is a procession,
    The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion.)
    Do you know so much yourself that you call the meanest ignorant?
    Do you suppose you have a right to a good sight, and he or she has no right to a sight?
    Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float, and the soil is on the surface, and water runs and vegetation sprouts,
    For you only, and not for him and her?

Lent Day 45: ANSWER (revised)

In the Lenten season, today is sometimes called Good Friday or Holy Friday. It’s also known as the Day of Anunciation of our Lord. Today many faith communities hold vigil through the long hours we believe Jesus hung on the cross during his execution, dying. He called out to God from the cross. And then for a few days, his human voice was silenced by death and entombment.

How ironic that the word rising up in today’s texts is ANSWER. God is dying today. God is being silenced today. Like those first followers, we hold vigil through the emptiness and absence, where presence was once available. We are keeping watch through the hours when God couldn’t stand with us and answer us, not in the way we expected.

How often have we felt that same isolation and sense of abandonment? Of being left alone in the middle of chaos, without any calm or clarity, without any sense of support or solidarity? This feeling of being left behind, being left alone, to fend for ourselves and mourn and hurt and try to find a way to go on, is part of the Holy Week experience. It is part of the human experience.

On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate the truth that emptiness and absence are good news. That a tomb, once filled with a corpse, is empty. That God isn’t in the tomb anymore, but God’s love and grace are vital, real, palpable and returning to us.

On Good and Holy Friday, when we call out, it seems as if God isn’t answering. And while that may not be true, it feels like our lived reality. I’ve met plenty of people, in the hospital or in their own homes or even in the church sanctuary, who feel abandoned by God.

In the Book of Esther, Hebrew scholars point out that the name of God isn’t mentioned even once, yet a Jewish woman becomes a heroine, saving her people at risk of her own life. Looking at the text, the rabbis say that this is a metaphor for the times when God has been absent from the reality of Jewish lives, such as when they were in exile. And yet the people remained faithful to their covenant with God, worshipping and considering themselves chosen, trusting that God’s hand would move, that God’s power and presence would be revealed, and that their side of the relationship could be upheld, even when God wasn’t evident in the events of that story and the oppression they were experiencing. They found God in their deliverance.

During our Lenten explorations, we have considered praying as an act of dialogue with Godself. Yesterday I affirmed, again, my belief that God listens and ANSWERS.

We believe, in our faith tradition, that God continues to share revelations with people today. God’s answers didn’t end in the times recorded in the Bible. God listens and answers now, too. God speaks into our lives in this era, just as God spoke thousands of years ago.

Some of my colleagues hear God’s voice or God’s messengers, either as audible voices, internal leadings, or a dream or other form of message. Personally I often experience God’s influence through life events, and have to look backwards over the past, to identify the pattern of God’s response. I often recognize God’s tangible answer in hindsight.

Listening, and being in dialogue with God, takes practice. Like any form of spiritual exercise, it needs repetition and regular use to be most available to us.

On the other hand, God can hear our most desperate cries, even when we’re not usually in the habit of calling out to God. Anyone can pray. Any words will do. And no words are necessary. Prayer is also a bodily act. It’s an incarnate practice.  Just scream. Just hum. Just sigh. Just walk or dance or rock or hug or kneel or lay down or weep or laugh.

pray_for_others_shutterstock_92688232_1The other side of this ANSWER is that when God calls, we are asked to ANSWER. To respond.

So another question we may want consider is, when God calls out to us, do we answer, too? Are we even listening? Trust me, that’s a question I pose to myself regularly, as I discern my way in ministry.

Our relationship is reciprocal, at its best. God seeks us, we seek God. God listens, we listen back. We cry out, God responds. God calls, we answer.

Of course, we always have the choice. We can ignore the call. We can turn away, opting not to answer. Or we can turn toward the call, and say, YES.

Sometimes, like the Friday when we remember Jesus’ death, we are asked to persist through the silence. Raise our voices. Reach out. Seek connection with God. We may feel as if we’re being ignored or forgotten. We may not hear the reply right away. Yet assuredly, God is listening, and God will answer.

Selections from today’s lectionary:

  • Isaiah 52:15 — So he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
  • Isaiah 53:1 — Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
  • Isaiah 53:8 — All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way,
    and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
  • Psalm 22: 2 — O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
  • Psalm 22: 8 —  “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
  • Psalm 22: 24 —  For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
  • Hebrews 10: 8a — Then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.”
  • Hebrews 10: 16-17 — “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:
    I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”  he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
  • Hebrews 10: 23  — Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
  • John 18:4-5 — Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”
  • John 18:23 —  Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
  • John 18:37 —  Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”