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Jesus is the vulnerable child, the humble preacher, the despised, rejected, and crucified Christ. But Jesus also is “the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, … [who] exists before all things and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15,17). Jesus is the King, ridiculed on the cross and reigning from his throne in the heavenly Jerusalem. He is the Lord riding into the city on a donkey, and the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is cursed by the world but blessed by God.

Let’s always look at Jesus, because in his crucified and glorified heart we will see ourselves called to share in his suffering as well as in his glory.

We walk in a “ravine as dark as death” (Psalm 23:4), and still we have nothing to fear because God is at our side: God’s staff and crook are there to soothe us (see Psalm 23:4). This is not just a consoling idea. It is an experience of the heart that we can trust.

Our lives are full of suffering, pain, disillusions, losses and grief, but they are also marked by visions of the coming of the Son of Man “like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into west” (Matthew 24:27). These moments in which we see clearly, hear loudly, and feel deeply that God is with us on the journey make us shine as a light into the darkness. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in people’s sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Some people say: “I never had an experience of the fullness of time. … I am just an ordinary person, not a mystic.” Although some people have unique experiences of God’s presence and, therefore have unique missions to announce God’s presence to the world, all of us – whether learned or uneducated, rich or poor, visible or hidden – can receive the grace of seeing God in the fullness of time. This mystical experience, is not reserved for a few exceptional people. God wants to offer that gift in one way or another to all God’s children.

But we must desire it. We must be attentive and interiorly alert. For some people the experience of the fullness of time comes in a spectacular way, as it did to St. Paul when he fell to the ground on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:3-4). But for some of us it comes like a murmuring sound or a gentle breeze touching our backs (1 Kings 19:13). God loves us all and wants us all to know this in a most personal way.

“Never argue with an idiot because passers-by won’t be able to tell you apart.”   Plato 

“If you do not believe in poetry, you cannot write it.”    Wallace Stevens 

 

Life often presents us with a series of value-judgments – with situations that can be handled more than one way with varying degrees of success and satisfaction.  In such cases, we rarely get a second chance.  What we’ve done, we’ve done, and we must live with ourselves and face our successes or failures.

            The past few weeks have been stressful at our house.  Life has proceeded at its usual, somewhat hectic pace, and then there’s the trips to the hospital where my father-in-law has been a patient since February 12.  The trip is two hours, each way.  Two surgeries and three stints in ICU take their toll on the family as well as the patient.  However, the staff has sought ways to make life easier in countless ways.

            One evening I sat with our son in the hall just outside the Intensive Care wing awaiting our portion of the twenty-minute slot that was to be divided among family members.  I commented casually to a couple nearby that lots of visitors were present that evening.  The waiting room was full.  There were other visitors in the hall – sitting in chairs and on the floor, standing in small groups, or slouching in the window-sills amid artificial plants.

            “Yes,” the man agreed. “And look who most of them are.”

            “Blacks.” he continued in a hushed tone, “They’ll take over everywhere if we let them.”

            He blew me away!  Just where did he think black people should be (if not in the waiting room) as they, too, awaited the five set times per day that they (and everyone else) were allowed to visit patients who were critically ill.  Presumably they – these intrusive black folks – were at the hospital to see family members.  But in the mind of this man, the hospital needed a “Whites Only” waiting room, I guess.  My ire was rising, and I took a deep breath.  Then I said NOTHING.

            A few seconds later a tall black man with a graying beard, dressed in a business suit, approached.  His hand was extended, and his face wore a comforting smile.  I recognized the chaplain with whom I had shared a brief conversation that afternoon.  It seems that back in the ’60’s, he had girlfriend he visited in
Winston-Salem.  Sure, he’d visited our city since, but the recollection of the trips to visit that girl evoked a hearty laugh.  Then he got serious.  After all, we were sitting there – in the hall of the hospital – because my father-in-law is critically ill (that was the day we’d received the call when he had stopped breathing.)  Chaplains are hired by hospitals to minister to people who are facing difficult situations.

            As he approached this time – at the 8:00 p.m. visiting slot –  he spoke to me briefly.  Then he continued toward the couple with whom I been speaking (apparently he hadn’t met them yet.)  Our son Victor was wearing his usual outfit – a Dallas Cowboys’ sweatshirt which soon became the focal point of the conversation.  The man, so poignant in his expression of dislike for black people a few minutes earlier, was now engaging the black chaplain in a great story-telling contest.  The obvious hero was the man’s grandson who is probably NFL material according to the emerging legend.  When it was my turn to visit Bill’s dad, I left a congenial group behind.

            Walking from the hospital to the car, I expressed my anger toward the overt racism that I had encountered that night.  My mother-in-law (who knows well my stated position) couldn’t believe that I hadn’t spoken up – that I had merely remained silent in light of the opinion that had been expressed.  My husband could.  Two people, two reactions.

            I will probably never see that couple again.  I will probably not have another chance to speak up and set the record straight, so far as my commitment is concerned.  I had my chance, and I chose not to use it.  Should I (in that less-than-two-minute encounter before the chaplain arrived) have spoken clearly to the issue of racism?  If white people don’t educate ignorant, bigoted white people, who will?  Black people have been speaking for centuries –  their words falling on deaf ears.  It’s time white people said something.  Is it not?  Should I have scolded them for their hatred?  Should I have highlighted what seems so obvious to me?

 Am I a coward because I chose to remain silent?  Did I succumb to pressure?  Was it because I lacked adequate time to develop my idea?  Was I embarrassed to speak out as the black chaplain came near?  Or did I do the right thing as I heeded the warning:  be careful about “casting pearls before swine”?  These thoughts have trampled upon the wrinkles of my mind, goading me now and then since the incident occurred some three weeks ago.  I made my decision, and now I must go on with my life.

Was I right?  Was I wrong?  (You be the judge.)  Why is it we often falsely believe that everything is black or white when clearly it just isn’t so?

first published March 27, 1997 “One Step Byond” in the Winston-Salem Chronicle (now called The Chronicle)

UPDATE:  Please notice that that this true incident happened in 1997.

At some moments we experience complete unity within us and around us. This may happen when we stand on a mountaintop and are captivated by the view. It may happen when we witness the birth of a child or the death of a friend. It may happen when we have an intimate conversation or a family meal. It may happen in church during a service or in a quiet room during prayer. But whenever and however it happens we say to ourselves: “This is it … everything fits … all I ever hoped for is here.”

This is the experience that Peter, James, and John had on the top of Mount Tabor when they saw the aspect of Jesus’ face change and his clothing become sparkling white. They wanted that moment to last forever (see Luke 9:28-36). This is the experience of the fullness of time. These moments are given to us so that we can remember them when God seems far away and everything appears empty and useless. These experiences are true moments of grace.

 

My smile matched the bright morning –

sunlight flooded

my kitchen.  Content with my coffee,

reading the newspaper,

living the ordinary,serving in little ways –

God and family and friends –

safe and right,

 

a superficial glance at

the headlines, I lingered

on a book review.  “AIDS,”

said Arthur Ashe,

“not the heaviest burden.

As you can see – I am black.” *

 

Clamoring to change

the world, I left fading colors

as they were.  Striving to destroy hatred,

I repainted

invisible boundaries.

This is not

what I meant to do.  Am I still

living the ordinary, servingin little ways –

God and familyand friends –

 

safe . . . ?  Why would God say I can

move a mountain,

if it is not so?  I will not

be content to live the ordinary – 

to sit

 

in white sunshine.

 

 

* For an autobiographical account of this incident, see Arthur Ashe and Arnold

Rampersad, Days Of Grace, New York: Ballantine Books, 1993, p.139.

Jesus came in the fullness of time. He will come again in the fullness of time. Wherever Jesus, the Christ, is the time is brought to its fullness.

We often experience our time as empty. We hope that tomorrow, next week, next month or next year the real things will happen. But sometimes we experience the fullness of time. That is when it seems that time stands still, that past, present, and future become one; that everything is present where we are; and that God, we, and all that is have come together in total unity. This is the experience of God’s time. “When the completion of the time came [that is: in the fullness of time], God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), and in the fullness of time God will “bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). It is in the fullness of time that we meet God.

I have a new poem, “Better With Friends,” in the December issue of Southern Hum.  The poem is taken from Windows Toward the World, the working title of my book.

1.
I sat on the concrete wall near a pile of leaves,
raked to Third Street’s edge. Pam’s in
her poodle skirt. We are sisters.
With our childhood frolic over, we are
left to name what’s happened since.
As the moon grows cold deep in the night,
watermelon vines wind themselves,
where there is nothing to wind themselves
around or to. They look tangled and brown,
even before the birth of young melons.
Singing words may tease the senses,
and we could cackle among ourselves,
but we won’t forget a single sparrow,
for no one flies with broken wings.


2.
The echo of loon-calls infiltrated
low-dragging branches. While white patrollers
with their guns and their bloodhounds
were fighting tangled trees, their canoes fought
the waters of the swamp-jungle,
beside the alligator-shadows, where abandoned
human bones lay undisturbed, unquestioned in
the grayness of the gnarls of the maze
of the Spanish Moss. And when the sky grew darker
and search parties turned back,
the tired runaway did not.
Having drunk deeply from the pot lying
on its side and the “song of the gourd” held
captive within—Jacob ceased from
his hiding and started his wading
into the black, troubled water.
He turned north, following a guiding star.
“There is a Presence” there in that swamp,
as there always has been.


3.
I dare not follow
too closely behind
(no matter what
I have already sworn).
I am unworthy,
and I forget to breathe,
when I see myself
through Other Eyes.
When the truth pushes
at the floodgates,
I cry out in ignorance,
“What is truth?”


4.
“Explain everything clearly,” said the blogger.
“Don’t contradict yourself. Never
change your mind. And don’t even
think about anything that isn’t obvious—
anything you’d have to study to know.
Don’t object, when others put words in
your mouth or challenge your word choice.
You really have said nothing. You are so
unclear. You really have nothing to say.”
And “your education educated you to think
what I say you think.” I, the professional,
whose job matters more than self.


5.
A rainbow is visible through the clouds.
But multitudes stand like sheep,
while the rain comes stroking the air. The rain
cleans the water and the firmament.
The people don’t know, of course,
that they are sheep, forsaking what matters most—
they have forgotten to dream.
And as the pond and the lake fill with water,
small puddles form on the land,
and the sheep relive their false memories.
They think they are thinking, choosing,
watching for wolves. They “know about”
wolves, because they are sheep. They don’t
know wolves. The sheep bow their heads,
while raindrops fall into a small pond
in the openness of meadow. But other drops
became lodged in the trees—where they hang
in fine slivers of hope, ’til the sun penetrates the dense
forest, once again, shining as brightly as ever,
which is somewhat like speaking the truth in love.
(I call this visual the Prayer Window.) And soon
silvery prisms beat on the lake like sticks
on a drum. So surely, there are some among
the flock, who will see their flashes of light
and obey them as a call to prayer.


6.
The frost has killed the summer flowers.
They hang their brownish heads
from spindly stems. The present sky
is gray and looks like ice.
November rain brought down the leaves.
Now they cover most of the ground.
But the hour is not yet come for
the feast that will usher in
the Best Holiday of them all. Yet I am
wary as a turkey before the sun
and have forgotten the word that
was on my mind that night,
the one that destroyed all categories
into which everyone must neatly fit.
I know there were natives present.
But everywhere one goes, it seems,
there are natives. What was I thinking
that has “broken barriers down”?
Is there a word that transcends all difference
and sets me on God’s ground, unafraid
yet unable to forget those people I was
filing away? Was it in a dream?


7.
When I try thinking—taking notes
about the blurring of false boundaries—
so that memories and dreams become parts of my prayer,
God, Who is, perhaps, saner than we like to
pretend, doesn’t seem to mind.
If I hadn’t heard that a poem is meant to be spoken—
to be shared—I wouldn’t have opened my mouth.
And just because I did, doesn’t mean it isn’t
sometimes as though I didn’t.
Bright leaves once swayed beneath
the grayness of sky: some yellow, some red.
When they floated toward us in your car,
we stopped, turned off the motor, stepped outside
into the redeeming moment. We tried
to picture ourselves as we were—in other places,
happier times. Perhaps, outdoors in autumnal
cascade. The fog and the wind were coming quickly,
and as sure as my pain. Then suddenly, raindrops
were falling over us. And just so you know—
that afternoon, as we sat on the back of your car,
drenched as the leaves, when you suggested
how close we’d re-grown
during the preceding hour, I decided to forgive you.


8.
A single leaf falls in visual music.
The same leaf falls into crystals of ice.
A black branch is the only silence present,
the only happiness. The other night
as music over-shadowed the meaning of what
I was trying to say, I realized that I have no
power over form. When you hear a leaf fall,
you need not ask about love,
for if silence is darkness, then music is
light enough to utterly sustain.

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