Sunday, April 24, 2011
for Lydia, my three-year-old
Imagine your marshmallow Peeps devoured
by your brother without one lick
of sticky sweetness, giant chocolate rabbit
melted in the sun. Even your mother and father—
those great false gods—have eaten every jelly bean.
You hold your basket, empty.
This is how Good Friday feels, waiting
to be taken to the playground all day, then
rain, wanting to wear pink but asked to don gray.
And then tears—you are scolded—
told to sit still for three minutes.
This is more than you can bear,
but be still, consider how much
you had hoped for that delicious
candy basket, how you had dreamed
to wear purple sparkle shoes
and flower prints, to savor
those puffy, yellow Peeps. Now, child,
let us rejoice—time-out is over,
see the basket overflowing, Cadbury eggs,
Reese’s pieces, pastel M&Ms, more chocolate
bunnies and sugar-coated marshmallows
than you could ever eat, sweetness you can share
with the whole starving world.
Have a Blessed Easter! He is Risen!
Thursday, April 21, 2011
“Jesus called out with a loud voice,
‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’
When he had said this, he breathed his last.”
– Luke 23:46
Here I am, my son.
Your struggle is over.
It was near impossible
to keep from turning
toward your cries.
I felt each lash,
wailed as they
drove the nails.
I blacked out the sun
so as not to see
Come to me now,
let me bandage
your wounds. Drink
from the spring
and rinse clean, rinse
until the water
runs clear. This part
of the journey
We only need
to wait a second
Probably one of the most difficult tasks for a parent is to watch her child suffer, and next in line is probably the tough love of discipline. While nothing is too difficult for God, surely watching his Son suffer and die hanging on the cross must have been anguish, even knowing the end result. I'm probably projecting my own humanity onto the God of the universe, but the God that created me and my emotions must be able to feel, as well. There are plenty of examples in the Old and New Testaments of this very God experiencing and expressing rage, joy, and grief. So why not here, too?
Unlike Mary's personal grief, which must have been coupled with bewilderment and the limitations of perspective, God the Father knew the end results of this suffering. He can see all of eternity, and this earthquake in the middle of time is a mere blip on the radar, a blip that changes history. Can you visualize the reunion of Father and Son? I imagine it would have been like the reunion of father and child when a child returns from war. Or after a car accident where one's life is spared. The child that returns is transformed by the experience - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. The father receives him, unconditionally grateful for reunion, scars and all.
The best part about the reunion of God the Father and God the Son is that Easter Sunday is right around the corner, and all that was promised to be accomplished on the cross is indeed finished and realized when Jesus returns to earth, bringing the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God with him.
Tomorrow is Good Friday. I've always thought of the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday as the darkest day in the Christian calendar. Baffled disciples of Jesus went into "what now?" mode - the man they put all of their hopes into was gone, and how do you recover from that kind of an encounter, that kind of a disappointment? Thank God it was just Saturday. Can you imagine having to hold out longer than that to find out that Jesus really is the Christ, after all? Saturday is enough. We only have to wait a second for morning.
Monday, April 18, 2011
“Later, knowing that all was now completed,
and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled,
Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’”
– John 19:28
The fount of living water
bellows drought. I want
to lift a ladle, cold and pure,
so you could be relieved.
But I’m deceived with ease.
My cup is sour, dilute
the wine from dirty
cisterns. Nothing I
can offer satisfies.
Are you glad you chose
to filter septic water,
offer your body to be
my purifier? How I love you.
Keep taking this cup:
Drink up, drink up.
This, too, was a verse that stumped me. It's a very human moment - Jesus is thirsty - and what is offered to him is a sponge soaked with wine vinegar. Commentaries talk about this drink as being one that quenches thirst, but my initial reading imagined a strong vinegar drink as being quite repulsive. Keeping with the reasons why Christ is on the cross, I imagined myself offering Jesus a drink, but I am unpure, human, and he is the source of living water - whoever drinks of him will never thirst. Jesus is the great Brita filter for the soul, the city water treatment facility. He accepts all of my waste, my contaminated life, and decontaminates it.
In light of what Jesus does for me, what baffles me are the same words of Paul, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing... What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:19, 24). In spite of what I know to be true in Christ, my offerings to him continue to look suspiciously like chocolate milk. But, "Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 7:25-8:2).
I don't want Jesus to have to keep taking this cup of mine. But I am grateful that he did indeed take the cup back on that dark day, that God did not let the cup be taken from him, like he prayed in the garden. And his cleansing and purifying continues in our lives every day, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I taste the juice of forbidden fruit
dripping from Adam’s mouth.
And in my hand, the dagger
that killed Cain’s brother. My arms
are sore from building Babel.
Abraham’s fear rolls in my gut.
I cling to Sodom as it burns, connive
for the birthright at Isaac’s bedside,
stand by as my sons slaughter a city,
hear the roar of weeping women
whose husbands die by the blade
of my knife. I go into a prostitute
and father two sons by my daughter-in-law.
A slave now free, I wander the desert
longing for Egypt under my feet.
I take the vow of a Nazirite and eat
from the carcass of a dead animal,
kill thirty men for unraveling a riddle.
The men I’ve murdered to marry their women.
The cold shoulder I’ve given to collapse a kingdom.
All of this and more,
borne upon my spirit, every crime
a hornet in my chest. I ask and know
the answer, groan the question anyway,
out of this agony, “My God, my God,
why hast thou forsaken me?”
Ever since I can remember, the words of Jesus on the cross, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" have confused me. This was probably the hardest of the verses for me to imagine or write about, because it is Jesus, Son of God, who feels abandoned by God. I can understand any other normal human crying out to God about being abandoned, but this is Jesus. In that dark moment, God the Father had to stand by and allow all of the wrongdoing of mankind to rest on Jesus. He had to carry that massive burden.
In writing this poem, I needed to find out where "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" came from, because Jesus is actually quoting scripture here. If you have some time to read Psalm 22, it's worth it. This psalm expounds on what Jesus must have been feeling, beyond that single sentence. If the Son of God is the epitome of faith, then this moment on the cross embodies the opposite extreme - fear. Here, every dark thought, word and deed buzz, stinging and sapping strength. This is what we are spared.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Worry and anxiety manifest themselves in two forms for me: what could happen to me and what is happening to other people right now. These scenarios have two things in common - both are almost totally out of my control. I say "almost" because there is one thing I can do in the face of worry and anxiety, and it's spelled out for me in Scripture.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." I love this passage from Philippians 4:5-7. What it doesn't say is pray about this and surely God will change your circumstances. What it does say is pray about this and surely God will make it possible for you to cope with your circumstances.
When circumstances seem beyond our control, they probably are. They probably need to be turned over to God. We can always pray for God to change our circumstances, or pray for the best possible outcome, or pray for miracles, and I think God hears those prayers. But when those requests are not answered the way we hope and we're faced with a difficult person, an unchanging job situation, a health complication, or some other anxiety-producing life circumstance, the one thing we can do is share our anxieties with God. Give it over to him. Let go of whatever silly notions we have of controlling the situation or changing the person and invite God to change us and how we are responding to the situation.
So much in this world is beyond our control, but we are able to control our reactions and our attitudes. When the weight of anxiety, fear, and worry press down on us, God invites us to lift the burden off and hand it over to the one who spun the universe into existence in the first place. He replaces that weight with peace and his strength to carry us through. On the other side of the storm, God's work isn't just holding us together but refining us, and the suffering that produced perseverance that produced character also produced hope. It's a tough road, weathering the storm, but with Christ, it's worth it.
Friday, April 8, 2011
I am not old. A bewildered mother
since conception who stored up
each moment. Now I will recall
the way you reached for me, a babe,
and only see your outstretched arms.
Son, do not abandon me—every hour
has been mystery, how my Lord suckled
at my breast, relied on me to learn
the ways of men. Standing here watching
you die is my own death. I am afraid.
Yet even now, you look down and know
my thoughts—who will lead me through this,
on whom can I depend? By the power
of locked knees and women I stand,
resigned and resolute. I will soon be without
my son, my Lord. Dear woman, here is your son.
Just like he did with the criminal on the cross, Jesus keeps on looking out for the needs of others, even while he's dying on a cross. Seriously, is this guy the Son of God, or what?
In this poem, I wanted to receive the words from Jesus as he gives her John as her son, to take care of her and minister to her needs now that he's dying. This puzzles me because Mary has other children. I don't know if it is because the others are much younger or because Jesus wanted to entrust Mary to his brother-from-another-mother, John, because he knew that John would be a spiritual rock for his mother once he died. It really doesn't matter in the bigger picture. Jesus - suffering, bleeding, sweating, aching, dying Jesus - looks down from the cross and sees his confused and grief-stricken mother and meets her needs.
As a mom, I can imagine the temptation to say to my son, look, just stop with all of this high-minded Son of Man stuff, deny it and live out a happy, quiet life. I wonder if Mary, who treasured so much of her early memories in her heart, worried about the direction Jesus's life had taken in his teens and twenties. Was this rebellious, revolutionary, peace-speaking, Pharisee-scolding son of hers always going to be getting into trouble? Did he embarrass her by not meeting her expectations, like many of the others who met Jesus while he was alive?
And now she's standing at the foot of the cross with a few other women and the only disciple that hadn't completely abandoned Jesus, staring at her son. Her SON. This isn't just the Savior of the World. It's her son. I'm taken back to those early days of our son's life, when he laid in an incubator, intubated and limp, his very breath mechanically administered, and how unimaginably helpless we felt. Of course we loved him already, before he was born, but now he's almost four years old, and we know him. How much harder it is to imagine him suffering now, after this relationship has evolved so far. What must it have been like for Mary, who loved Jesus for every second of his 33 years, to know him the way a mother knows a son, to watch him die?
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
You are wondering why I am
up here with you, why
our blood is mixing together
in the dirt, why our lungs
heave out as if we have
the same spirit
begging to be set free,
why we keep
All I want to do
is breathe out
a final time. You, a criminal, exhale.
Do you feel the weight of it
off your chest even now,
before your final sigh?
You wonder why
For this breathing—
and grace—and yet
I assure you,
you will be with me
This poem relies on what Jesus says to one of the criminals next to him on the cross ("I assure you, today, you will be with me in Paradise"). When writing this poem, I wanted to evoke the physical strain of breathing when suffering, and I also wanted the process of breathing to be that exchange between guilt and grace - salvation at work. I was also thinking of the "breath of life," breathed into Adam by God back in Genesis, and how Jesus's breathing on the cross could serve as a second wind, so to speak.
It is phenomenal that Jesus can look over at this confessed criminal and declare that he will join Jesus in paradise that very day. In the face of suffering and grief, the last place I tend to look is at other people's suffering-- my focus is on my own pain and troubles-- but Jesus extends mercy, even with his hands and feet nailed through to the cross, even with the weight of the earth pulling at him. Take a deep breath - inhale that mercy. It's awesome, isn't it?
Friday, April 1, 2011
Brandon and I had a good laugh last night about "The Sigh" - you know, the one that takes place right after the lights go out and it's quiet in your bedroom, but there's still something unsettled between you and your husband, so you initiate "The Sigh" instead of addressing whatever is bothering you. I am an expert sigher, well-seasoned from early on in our marriage. Unable to work up the courage to actually talk about how angry I was about ________ or sad I was about _______ or disappointed about ________, I waited and sighed, sighed and waited, until one very pissed husband would ask, "Is there something wrong?" in his best restrained voice.
And I bet you know my answer:
Brandon said everytime he hears me sigh, his toes curl.
This morning I am still smiling about this, grateful that we seem to be beyond "The Sigh," at least for this season, and can laugh at our younger selves. There's a reason we're not supposed to go to bed angry, and it's because of "The Sigh", the toe-curling, teeth-clenching, unresolved frustrations of the day building up between you and your spouse, collecting in the crevices of the sheets and puddling on the pillows. Lately, my sighs have little to do with my husband (other than the budding new life we've created together), but it's funny how those deep inhalations can spark memories of our own early growth as a couple. And look where we are now: sighing and laughing our way through our 7th year of marriage.