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After the rain fell
into the graveyard,
I heard the hidden wings of an owl
in the lonely, country grove.
wet, brown, & curled—
covered the hallowed ground
and the tombstones nearby.
Jittery shadows blew—
in the cooling evening breeze, beneath
the indelible slit: October moon.
The once-trapped raindrops
began descending from moving branches
in silver-bullet cascades,
refurbishing foot-shaped puddles—
carelessly left by the living—
next to a freshly opened grave.
Under the heavy brush and behind
a picket fence, the loosened water
pounded a black, ’30s sedan
in a setting fertile for resplendent legend—
like the one concerning Bonnie & Clyde—
complete with an accent of goldenrod, of rust.
first published in Spillway Review
“Reading a poem is an act of faith and that involves abandoning oneself to something irresolvable.” Carl Phillips
The most honored parts of the body are not the head or the hands, which lead and control. The most important parts are the least presentable parts. That’s the mystery of the Church. As a people called out of oppression to freedom, we must recognize that it is the weakest among us – the elderly, the small children, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the hungry and sick – who form the real center. Paul says, “It is the parts of the body which we consider least dignified, that we surround with the greatest dignity” (1 Corinthians 12:23).
The Church as the people of God can truly embody of the living Christ among us only when the poor remain its most treasured part. Care for the poor, therefore, is much more than Christian charity. It is the essence of being the body of Christ.
[P]sychologists have had some pretty rough things to say about the immaturity and narcissism of love in our marketing society, in which it is reduced to a purely egotistical need that cries out for immediate satisfaction or manipulates others more or less cleverly in order to get what it wants. But the plain truth is this: love is not a matter of getting what you want. Quite the contrary. The insistence on always having what you want, on always being satisfied, on always being fulfilled, makes love impossible. To love you have to climb out of the cradle, where everything is “getting,” and grow up to the maturity of giving, without concern for getting anything special in return. Love is not a deal, it is a sacrifice. It is not marketing, it is a form of worship.
In reality, love is a positive force, a transcendent spiritual power. It is, in fact, the deepest creative power in human nature. Rooted in the biological riches of our inheritance, love flowers spiritually as freedom and as a creature response to life in a perfect encounter with another person. It is a living appreciation of live as value and as gift. It responds to the full richness, the variety, the fecundity of living experience itself: it “knows” the inner mystery of life. It enjoys life as an inexhaustible fortune. Love estimates this fortune in a way that knowledge could never do. Love has its own wisdom, its own science, its own way of exploring the inner depths of life in the mystery of the loved person. Love knows, understands and meets the demands of life insofar as it responds with warmth, abandon and surrender.
Thomas Merton. “Love and Need” in Love and Living. Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart, editors. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979: 30-31
The Church is one body. Paul writes, “We were baptised into one body in a single Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). But this one body has many parts. As Paul says, “If they were all the same part, how could it be a body? As it is, the parts are many but the body is one” (1 Corinthians 12:19). Not everyone can be everything. Often we expect one member of the body to fulfill a task that belongs to others. But the hand cannot be asked to see nor the eye to hear.
Together we are Christ’s body, each of us with a part to play in the whole (see 1 Corinthians 12:27). Let’s be grateful for our limited but real part in the body.
Okay, so no one is out mathematically.
And we don’t want Jeffy or Jimmie to win!
The Church as the body of Christ has many faces. The Church prays and worships. It speaks words of instruction and healing, cleanses us from our sins, invites us to the table of the Lord, binds us together in a covenant of love, sends us out to minister, anoints us when we are sick or dying, and accompanies us in our search for meaning and our daily need for support. All these faces might not come to us from those we look up to as our leaders. But when we live our lives with a simple trust that Jesus comes to us in our Church, we will see the Church’s ministry in places and in faces where we least expect it.
If we truly love Jesus, Jesus will send us the people to give us what we most need. And they are our spiritual leaders.
When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,” we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.
It is important to think about the Church not as “over there” but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.
The Church often wounds us deeply. People with religious authority often wound us by their words, attitudes, and demands. Precisely because our religion brings us in touch with the questions of life and death, our religious sensibilities can get hurt most easily. Ministers and priests seldom fully realize how a critical remark, a gesture of rejection, or an act of impatience can be remembered for life by those to whom it is directed.
There is such an enormous hunger for meaning in life, for comfort and consolation, for forgiveness and reconciliation, for restoration and healing, that anyone who has any authority in the Church should constantly be reminded that the best word to characterize religious authority is compassion. Let’s keep looking at Jesus whose authority was expressed in compassion.
“Loving the Church does not require romantic emotions. It requires the will to see the living Christ among his people and to love them as we want to love Christ himself. This is true not only for the “little” people – the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten – but also for the “big” people who exercise authority in the Church.
To love the Church means to be willing to meet Jesus wherever we go in the Church. This love doesn’t mean agreeing with or approving of everyone’s ideas or behavior. On the contrary, it can call us to confront those who hide Christ from us.* But whether we confront or affirm, criticize or praise, we can only become fruitful when our words and actions come from hearts that love the Church.” Henri Nouwen, “Meeting Christ In the Church,” Bread For the Journey (See henrinouwen.org)
* Sadly this sometimes means confronting our pastors, who are in positions of authority, but whose stands are unbalanced or just plain wrong. I once did just this (well, more than once), and when the pastor left the church for another job (also in the church), he told me to keep on saying what I had been saying – that it was a ministry given to me by God.
So, once again, I say: Racism is not gone. It is also not a problem most churches recognize as their turf (read, most ignore it); most churches follow society rather than leading. I will not be silent, but none of this means I don’t “meet Christ” in those whose emphasis is different from mine. It just means I must insist that theirs is not the only valid interpretation of Jesus’ “ministry of reconciliation.”
God wants equality on this earth and the church is His first choice to usher it in. Are you a part of the “church within the church” that is trying to do so?
” Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jai with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.” Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963
O Lord, “Do not pass by your servant.” (Genesis 18:1) The struggle is not yet over. The “church within the church” still holds your sweet kernel of hope. May a small but fervent fragment speak faithfully to all of Your eternal kingdom. May we speak boldly in Your name, having been touched gently by Your hand. May we challenge leaders to lead where You want us to go. You are our strength and our motivation. You are the Savior.