Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ON REMEMBERING

Of what do I need to be reminded today?
Reminding and remembering

comes before learning.
In being reminded, we discover new
and see through;
things overlooked come to light
so we might understand and
embrace knowing.

It occurs to me that remembering
is powerfully selective.
Why do I recall this now and
that only later, as if it were
a gift recalled in the nick of time?

We tend to stay with and
live in what is
familiar and close,
though we know better
and much more.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

IS GRACE TOO BIG A WORD?

Grace keeps breaking my rules...and I'm okay with that.

I’ve been mulling over the nature of grace as it forms in the minds and is articulated in the mouths of a wide range of folks with whom I rub elbows.  What do we mean when we say “grace?”  Philip Yancy and Brennan Manning probably moved me forward in my understanding of grace.  More lately, Rob Bell and Donald Miller explore grace in the direction I have been going.   Still, I keep being surprised by grace.  It keeps cropping up in odd places.  It still breaks my rules.  Part of me wishes there were more words for grace and part of me is satisfied to let grace bear the weight we all put upon it.  Thus, the following lines, penned in 2002:

Is grace too big a word
for its own good?
Certainly it is not too big
for mine.

Some say grace takes in too much,
indiscriminately dispensing mercy,
caressing saint and sinner alike--
absolving pride, condoning shame.

Some say grace takes in too little,
sparingly dispersing forgiveness and
seeding it with innumerable conditions,
distinguishing saint from sinner--
condemning sinner, suspecting saint.

If grace is a catch-all,
pray that it catches us all.

Breathtakingly broad in its reach
astonishingly precise in its intimacy,
it opens to enfold us all,
yet holds one at a time--
just in the nick of time.

Grace seems not dependent on our
recognition or articulation.
It seems even to surround those who
have been inoculated against it.

Yet those who recognize grace,
who turn receptively into its rays,
respond with gratitude,
live in its joy, and
return reverence for life.

No wonder we say grace
is amazing.


Friday, March 18, 2011

DO NOT GO GENTLE

I quoted from this iconic Dylan Thomas poem in an earlier post

By Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
 
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

MY DEMISE?

For the first time, I connected my grandmother's condition with my own future.

My children with my grandma Hay in 1996
The Wednesday morning group I meet with at Unleavened Bread Cafe has been discussing Walter Wink's book The Powers That Be. It's a wonderful and challenging read. Not hard to grasp, but its implications call us out. Wink lays a burden on us to name, engage, and unmask--and then free--the fallen "principalities and powers" embedded in institutions, ideologies, and images (to use William Stringfellow's terms). The chapter on prayer is, to me, the most profound statement on the efficacy of prayer written in this generation. It rips prayer from singular quietude and places it--and us--on the firing line in today's sharpest conflicts and confrontations.

Before beginning the book, our group read a recent interview with Wink, who is now 76 and dealing with the impacts of Alzheimer's. The scholar whose perception into the nature of institutional evil challenged people across the faith and secular terrain is experiencing progressive levels of dementia. It is hard for me to imagine this bright man becoming forgetful of the bright principles and liberating experiences that have called out to so many of us. The link to the article is at the end of this post.

This week, anticipating the wrap-up of the book, I suddenly recalled that my grandma Hay (pictured with my four children in 1996) suffered from Alzheimer's in her latter days. I visited her in her 80s in a nursing home. She careened backward, self-propelled, through the halls in her wheelchair, never sitting still. I tried to get her to recognize me. "I'm Johnnie Hay," I'd say. "You're not Johnnie Hay," she'd retort. "I'm your son Johnnie Hay's son," I'd reply. I never got through to her. By the time she died, she recognized none of the four of her six children who now survive her.

Thinking of this as if out of the blue, for the first time I made the connection that her condition may well forebode my own latter years. I am Lola Hay's genetic heir, so, if nothing else waylays me before then, there is some significant possibility that Alzheimer's may directly impact me.

There's nothing I could do to prevent this, should it occur, though some therapies are showing significant promise to delay its onset and reduce its development. If and when this happens to me, I may be compelled to simply go along with it. Knowing myself, though, like Dylan Thomas suggests, I will likely "rage, rage against the dying of the light!"

I surmise that this remembrance and personalized past-future connective flash was somehow nudging me to to grapple with my mortality. Nothing morbid, nothing to obsess about. Just, there it is: I'm not immune to fallen life's tough stuff. I'm no exception.

And neither are you. We none of us are.

Until then, until whatever is to become of us becomes of us, let us live "life to the full," as Jesus of Nazareth commended his followers. Let us seize these moments and days to embody the principles and practices of the fulfilled future we anticipate--to recognize, welcome, embrace and live it.

And let us never yield a moment to death's lies and delusions. Though Alzheimer's may affect my mind and some other condition take my fallen life, these are not the final words. Death shall be destroyed. A deeper magic is at work (C.S. Lewis).
Read the Sojourners interview with Walter Wink here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

FROM BRENDAN THE NAVIGATOR

These phrases are attributed to Brendan (c. 486-575), a monk whose faith voyages are legendary in Ireland

Lord, I will trust you,
help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.

Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, can I trust you
to be stronger than each storm in me?

Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten on me?

I will show others the care You've given me.

I determine amidst all uncertainty
always to trust.

I choose to live beyond regret,
and let You recreate my life.

I believe You will make a way for me
and provide for me,
if only I trust You
and obey.

I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times are in Your hand.

I will believe You for my future,
chapter by chapter, until all the story is written.

Focus my mind and my heart upon You,
my attention always on You without alteration.

Strengthen me with Your blessing
and appoint me to the task.

Teach me to live with eternity in view.

Tune my spirit to the music of heaven.

Feed me,
and, somehow,
make my obedience count for You.

From Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community

Sunday, March 13, 2011

ANCIENT GAME

Vonnegut might say, "And so it goes."

Junior ROTC cadets with
faces too smooth to shave
march to ancient paces
in the high school parking lot.
Across the way, football linesmen
drive heavy sleds forward--
preparing for gladiatorial glory.

Antiquity lives in these open spaces.
Here, history readies itself to be repeated.
We follow rutted ways which
only this generation believes are
untrodden and promising.

Fresh meat, we are, in a grinder
too large and slow for us
to see without insight, and
without foresight these young lives
shall be swallowed up in toil,
not for ideals, but for small gains
amid dominators' veiled schemes.

Pretending cadets and the varsity players
who now mock them will together
be in uniform under fire from
young pawns like themselves who
do the bidding of rival gang leaders.

And so it goes.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

SMALL SACRIFICES

Jesus' call encompasses--and transcends--our symbolic sacrifices in Lent

Lent is not native to me.
I’m not conditioned to give up things
at the sound of Ash Wednesday
incantations.

Forty days of abstinence
from minor indulgences seems
far too trite in the face of
Calvary’s calling,

As if a season of self-denial
should suffice to reckon with my soul
the depth and breadth
of such Love.

Giving up chocolates or a meal a day
while a suffering Jesus lays down his life
doesn't appear to be a fitting
equation.

I know this is not fasting's intent,
but I wonder if my smaller sacrifices
wind up merely trivializing Lenten
foregoings?

I commend all who make this sojourn,
who translate the pang of denied appetites
into thanksgiving for a greater
Offering.

I walk alongside Lenten travelers
with empathy and a bit of jealousy
for the simplicity of heart-felt
choices.

As we journey to Jerusalem, I ponder
Jesus' daily counsel: "Deny yourself,
take up your cross daily and
follow me.”

Surely Lenten disciplines are included
in his bidding, and when this leg is
complete shall we embrace his
deeper path?

“Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life,
my all.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

FASTING THAT CHANGES LIVES

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?

Monday, March 7, 2011

LAUNCHING INTO LENT

An original poem

Obediently,
We sauntered into
Ash Wednesday's service.
Kneeling,
We were marked--
as much a sign of
obligation as mild
intention.

Lent launched
as we straggled up the
gangplank.
Though winded,
we're on board--
a bit bewildered about
where this journey ends,
somewhat unsure of
the purpose of this
passage.

When inspiration flags
discipline and duty
carry us.
Where vision is obscured,
the immediate horizon a fog,
soundings resonate
direction.

Others seem more
certain of this voyage--
Sails are trimmed and
crew busy themselves.
But we aren't sure
whether we should
settle in to rest
or keep watch
at the bow.

We're asked to
give up something--
to lighten the load?
Have we not already
given up home and land
for this untethered vessel
churning thru
inhospitable seas
to an undisclosed
location?

After a few days at sea
we notice atop the mast
flies a flag--are those
cross bones?
What were we thinking
when we bought the ticket
marked "Destination Port:
Calvary"?