Archive for April, 2006
Jesus has had a busy day as Luke tells it. First there’s the rising thing—whatever that was like—then a seven mile hike-cum-bible-study to Emmaus, a brief pause to break bread, and back to Jerusalem and this strange encounter with its awkward mood and fish supper, before another trek, this time out to Bethany to part from his friends in an act of blessing.
The only private moment Luke gives Jesus is his rising – all the rest of the day is spent on foot, on the move. In Acts, Luke spins out the single day into a full forty and gives Jesus time to do and say many things. But here in the Gospel it’s all go. Jesus has just the one day to say it all, do it all, and that pressure makes his choices count. Out of all he could have done – confounding Caiaphas, perturbing Pilate, conferring the secrets of the universe, or whatever – Jesus chooses two simple acts: he goes for a walk and he eats a meal, and both with friends.
Luke makes it sound like he asked for something to eat just to prove he was no ghost but I suspect all that walking on a stomach three-day’s empty had something to do with it. But Jesus is proving something to them. Peace he says. Yes, he doesn’t want them to be afraid, or agitated, or doubtful. Yes, he wants them to understand him and to understand the scriptures. But beyond all that he wants to make them into something, into witnesses. Witnesses of resurrection. Witnesses of peace. Witnesses of forgiveness. From that everything can follow; without it nothing.
Our presence here suggests he managed it, managed to make them witnesses. As with them so with us: he wants to make us witnesses – of resurrection, of peace, of forgiveness. From that everything might follow; without it nothing.
April 30th, 2006
Today I hit 48. I’ve decided four dozen sounds better or 40 (base 12). Come to think of it in our digital age a much more natural base is 16 which makes me 30 (in hexadecimal). Of course I dread to think what age I’ve just reached in binary! 110,000 — about what I feel.
April 30th, 2006
St George, patron saint of England, gets buried under bigger beasts today, overshadowed by the Resurrection, Thomas’ affirmation of faith, and the forgiving breath of God.
I thought the least I could do was uncover a 7 year old homily for St. George, though in truth I think it’s more in praise of dragons … and Ursula LeGuin.
April 23rd, 2006
A Letter from Brooklyn
An old lady writes me in a spidery style,
Each character trembling, and I see a veined hand
Pellucid as paper, travelling on a skein
Of such frail thoughts its thread is often broken;
Or else the filament from which a phrase is hung
Dims to my sense, but caught, it shines like steel,
As touch a line and the whole web will feel.
She describes my father, yet I forget her face
More easily than my father’s yearly dying;
Of her I remember small, buttoned boots and the place
She kept in our wooden church on those Sundays
Whenever her strength allowed;
Grey-haired, thin-voiced, perpetually bowed.
“I am Mable Rawlins,” she writes, “and know both your parents”;
He is dead, Miss Rawlins, but God bless your tense:
“Your father was a dutiful, honest,
Faithful, and useful person.”
For such plain praise what fame is recompense?
“A horn-painter, he painted delicately on horn,
He used to sit around the table and paint pictures.”
The peace of God needs nothing to adorn
It, nor glory nor ambition.
“He is twenty-eight years buried,” she writes, “he was called home,
And is, I am sure, doing greater work.”
The strength of one frail hand in a dim room
Somewhere in Brooklyn, patient and assured,
Restores my sacred duty to the Word.
“Home, home,” she can write, with such short time to live,
Alone as she spins the blessings of her years;
Not withered of beauty if she can bring such tears,
Nor withdrawn from the world that breaks its lovers so;
Heaven is to her the place where painters go,
All who bring beauty on frail shell or horn,
There was all made, thence their lux-mundi drawn,
Drawn, drawn, till the thread is resilient steel,
Lost though it seems in darkening periods,
And there they return to do work that is God’s.
So this old lady writes, and again I believe.
I believe it all, and for no man’s death I grieve.
April 23rd, 2006
Everything is Going to be All Right
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling.
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The lines flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
April 22nd, 2006
O Taste and See
The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see
the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,
grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform
into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being
hungry, and plucking
April 21st, 2006
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
April 20th, 2006
Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
April 19th, 2006
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.
And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.
No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.
It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
April 18th, 2006
His grace is no longer called for
before meals: farmed fish multiply
without His intercession.
Bread production rises through
disease-resistant grains devised
scientifically to mitigate his faults.
Yet, though we rebelled against Him
like adolescents, uplifted to see
an oppressive father banished –
a bearded hermit – to the desert,
we confess to missing Him at times.
Miss Him during the civil wedding
when, at the blossomy altar
of the registrar’s desk, we wait in vain
to be fed a line containing words
like ‘everlasting’ and ‘divine’.
Miss Him when the TV scientist
explains the cosmos through equations,
leaving our planet to revolve on its axis
aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.
Miss Him when the radio catches a snatch
of plainchant from some echoey priory:
when the gospel choir raises its collective voice
to ask Shall We Gather at the River?
or the forces of the oratorio converge
on I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
and our contracted hearts lose a beat.
Miss Him when a choked voice
at the crematorium recites the poem
about fearing no more the heat of the sun.
Miss Him when we stand in judgment
on a lank Crucifixion in an art museum,
its stripe-like ribs testifying to rank.
Miss Him when the gamma-rays
recorded on a satellite graph
seem arranged into a celestial score,
the music of the spheres,
the Ave Verum Corpus of the observatory lab.
Miss Him when we stumble on the breast lump
for the first time and an involuntary prayer
escapes our lips; when a shadow crosses
our bodies on an x-ray screen; when we receive
a transfusion of foaming blood
sacrificed anonymously to save life.
Miss Him when we call out His name
spontaneously in awe or anger
as a woman in the birth ward bawls
her long-dead mother’s name.
Miss Him when the linen-covered
dining table holds warm bread rolls,
shiny glasses of red wine.
Miss Him when a dove swoops
from the orange grove in a tourist village
just as the monastery bell begins to take its toll.
Miss Him when our journey leads us
under leaves of Gothic tracery, an arch
of overlapping branches that meet
like hands in Michelangelo’s creation.
Miss Him when, trudging past a church,
we catch a residual blast of incense
a perfume on par with the fresh-baked loaf
which Milosz compared to happiness.
Miss Him when our newly-decorated kitchen
comes in Shaker-style and we order
a matching set of Mother Ann Lee chairs.
Miss Him when we listen to the prophecy
of astronomers that the visible galaxies
will recede as the universe expands.
Miss Him the way an uncoupled glider
riding the evening thermals misses its tug.
Miss Him, as the lovers shrugging
shoulders outside the cheap hotel
ponder what their next move should be.
Even feel nostalgic, odd days,
for His Second Coming,
like standing in the brick
dome of a dovecote
after the birds have flown.
April 17th, 2006