Pieta

“Dead Child,”Part of a Series entitled “Migrants”

Brazilian Painter, Candido Portinari (1903-1962)

          The dead child lies across his mother’s lap.  So the dead Jesus lies across his

mother’s lap in Michelangelo’s “Pieta.”

          Portinari’s mother weeps and echoes Mary’s sorrow.  The children standing around her weep.  They are poor.  They are weary.  They are hungry.  They are fleeing the unjust hardships of life in a forgotten corner of Brazil in 1944.

          But they are also Mary and Joseph fleeing the wrath of Herod and hoping to find safe asylum in Egypt.  They are also the Central American families who are fleeing the violence and injustice rampant in their homelands today.  They too are poor, weary, and hungry.  But they are following their dream, their hope of asylum, their hope of a new life of “liberty and justice for all” in the Land of the North. 

          Some of them will die along the way.  They have braced themselves and are prepared for this reality.  What they are not prepared for, however, is the reality they encounter when they reach the border of the Promised Land.  They know they are entering illegally, but they nevertheless hope their voices will be heard, their cases judged with fairness and compassion.  What they find instead is “Zero Tolerance.”  On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a Zero Tolerance program, determining that all illegal immigrants are to be referred for “criminal prosecution.”  Under this policy, children are not allowed to be with their parents, because the children are not charged with a crime, while the parents are.  About 2,000 children have to date been separated from their parents.

          The mothers weep.  The fathers weep.  The children weep.  Mary weeps. Jesus weeps, his life re-lived in the life of each child torn from her parents.

          Attorney General Sessions has used the Bible to defend this Zero Tolerance policy, quoting Romans 13, where we are admonished to be subject to the governing authorities.  He seems not to have noticed, however, that he and the administration with which he works are the governing authorities here, and that they are not carrying out an already existing law but are the very ones who have created this policy, a policy shunned by former Republican and Democratic administrations alike.  In quoting Romans 13, Mr. Sessons seems also not to have considered that, as a professing Christian, maybe he should take more seriously the directives of all of Scripture, notably Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, words or warning to all, but perhaps especially to those who are entrusted with the governance of their nations:        

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  Matthew 25:31-46.

I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”

 

 

 

Farewell to a Beloved Dogwood

 

Last night the thwack of the axe,

the whine of the power saw;

I knew the end had come.

The wind of winter storms,

the weight of sodden snows of March

had broken her back, shredded her limbs,

numbered her days. Yet, one limb

somehow still intact, she sang her final hours,

her stubborn blossoms licked

the good air one last time,

tongues of white Pentecost flames

radiating life in the face of dangling death.

Well done, you dear, sweet, faithful tree.

Cambodian Silver Napkin Ring: for my Mother

in memory of my mother, missionary to Cambodia 1927-1954

Six intricate patterns etched

into this silver napkin ring,

all alike, yet not just quite, each shaped

and poked by grizzled peasant hands

in a far away land, in a far away time;

unnamed, unknown, an artisan at work. 

*

My mother stands at his market stall,

fingering the labyrinthine motif,

mirror of her own complexities,

her apprehensions, questions, joys, all

twisting through a life she can hardly imagine

to be real; birthing daughters

as she swelters in the tropic heat,

as she wraps her tongue around

strange words—Preahyesaou sraleanh—

“Jesus loves”—a love at times elusive

in a world so crowded with beliefs and fears

as ancient, as mysterious as the royal ruins

in the jungles of Angkor Wat.

*

She bargains with the seller,

counts out piaster bills, fondles

the ring, her luxury, rare treasure 

in a life severe and spare.

*

The ring now holds my napkin;

I stroke the tarnished band, trace

the patterns, irregular, complex;

the peasant’s life?  my mother’s life?

my own?  our fingers touch,

our stories merge, a tangled,

twisted circle of life.  

 

 

Facebook and the Road to Emmaus

“The Disciples at Emmaus”

Pupil of Rembrandt van Rijn (c 1655)

*

Luke 24:13-35 (see end of post for this text)

***

          I wonder.  If Cleopas and his friend had been on Facebook the day they took their long walk to Emmaus, would they have thought to post a picture of themselves walking along the road with this stranger?  Probably not.  They were sad.  Standing still sad, Luke tells us.  Numb.  Not long ago they had been celebrating as their leader had ridden into Jerusalem.  Had been so sure that God’s kingdom had come at last.  But then.  But then!  Just three days ago they had seen all their Messiah hopes hanging limp and lifeless on a cross. 

          So what now?  Then, too, what to make of the tale some of their women-folk were spreading?  An empty tomb and angels saying Jesus was alive again.  All too much.  A gray mist of doubts and questions shrouded their lives.  Nothing made any sense.  And then this intrusive stranger.  This intrusive stranger who seemed oblivious of all that was happening.  Not welcome.  Most certainly not a good time to post a FB picture.

          Most of our posts on FB are posts of fun, joy, beauty, and abundance in our lives.  Nothing wrong with this, but I worry sometimes that FB posting can be deceptive.  Deceptive, because it can project—not only to our friends, but to ourselves as well, the sense that our lives are, or at least are supposed to be, always carefree, beautiful, exciting.  Nothing amiss.  The sun forever shining on us.  Our cups always filled to the brim.  Evidence, we tend to think, though we’d never admit to this, that we are favored and blessed.

          Of course that’s not the way things are.  We all walk that dark road to Emmaus over and over and over again in our lives.  Hopes dashed.  Difficulties overwhelming.  Circumstances paralyzing.  Questions without answers.  Mists and doubts clouding our paths. 

          I’m most certainly not advocating we post these dark times on Facebook.  They are moments far too intimate to share on social media.  But I do want to urge myself and all of us to be fully present to these murky times.  To accept them, difficult as they may be.  To ponder them.  To pray through them.  Perhaps even to post these dark times on the facebook walls of our souls.  To re-visit them from time to time.  Let them help to keep us grounded in reality.  Let them remind us that life is forever filled with both abundance and emptiness.  “Abundance and destitution,” says Christian Wiman in My Bright Abyss, “are two facets of the one face of God, and to be spiritually alive in the fullest sense is to recall one when we are standing squarely in the midst of the other.”    

          To be spiritually alive in the fullest sense is also to remember that in every dark time, as well as in every bright time, the Stranger of Emmaus who “came near and went with them” also comes near and walks with us.  We may not always recognize him.  We may at times, like those Emmaus disciples, wish he would just leave us alone.  But always he walks with us.  Always he listens to us.  Always he blesses us with his very real presence.    

***

Luke 24:13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”


 

 

Riding to Death: a Palm Sunday Poem

“Ride on, ride on, in majesty!

In lowly pomp ride on to die.”

Henry H. Milman

He knew what was coming, but that did not

stop him; he relished the palms swishing

their homage in the gentle spring breeze,

accepted the accolades, the jeers as well,

knowing deep within that the very stones

upon the roughened ground would cry out

if they could, to shout their joyous affirmation

of his life, even though he rode now to his death,

jolting along on the back of a silly animal, ears

flapping in the wind, hoofs trampling

brightly colored robes of adoration.

*

To his death he rode, a death with arms spread

wide to lift God’s love beneath a hiding sun,

patterning for us how we might face our final

ride to bid farewell to this good earth;

teaching us, when that long journey comes,

to welcome accolade of voices, those within

and those nearby, embalming us in love

and singing the importance of our dust soon

to return to dust; to hear the growing silence

on our donkey-legged beds become the very stones

beneath the Savior’s feet, crying out  

the worth of every minute of our falling to the earth;

to see again those cross-wide-open arms,

that stone unhinged, that open door,

a promised rising from these fusty winding sheets.

Gray Days: a Lenten Poem

Disheartening, unsettling, dark,

the drabness of these backyard winter days;

my world is weeping, weeping

for the spindly shrubs befuddled

by the warming climate’s ups and downs,

for Monarch wings that used to flit

across my deck as they journeyed

to a home now vanishing,

as other homes are vanishing

amidst the storms of nature, war,

and words that label and demean.

*

I want to turn away from this abyss,

but the drabness pulls at me;

something in the air within

this hostile gray, a tenderness,

faint echo of a song sung long ago

by Spirit as she moved across

the murky waters of the deep;

grace notes, scattered in the ashes

of last summer’s grass, spill across

the stones, reaching to the spindly

shrubs now shrouded in the mist,

hushed music of the spheres

enclosed within the silence of eternity.