Follow by Email

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pastoral Theology: The Poetry of Life

For Ordinary Time I have been reading At the Still Point by Sarah Arthur. It is a wonderful look at the quiet movements of God through literature. I found this to be an interesting angle but nonetheless an appropriate approach for devotionals during Ordinary Time. Last Friday morning, while waiting on my daughter Lydia to be born, I was reading through her work and had the pleasure of enjoying Robert Siegel's Poem, "A Song of Praises."

This poem, is a wonderful illustration of discovering the beauty of God in the every day things of this world. In captivating language he describes the morning routine so many of us go through at the start of every day. Here is the poem in its entirety as found online at The High Calling:

for the gray nudge of dawn at the window
for the chill that hangs around the bed and slips
     its cold tongue under the covers
for the cat that walks over my face purring murderously
for the warmth of the hip next to mine and sweet lethargy
for the cranking up of the will until it turns me out of bed
for the robe's caress along arm and neck
for the welcome of hot water, the dissolving of
     the night's stiff mask in the warm washcloth
for the light along the while porcelain sink
for the toothbrush's savory invasion of the tomb of the mouth
     and resurrection of the breath
for the warm lather and the clean scrape of the razor
     and the skin smooth and pink that emerges
for the steam of the shower, the apprehensive shiver and then
     its warm enfolding of the shoulders
     its falling on the head like grace
     its anointing of the whole body
     and the soap's smooth absolution
for the rough nap of the towel and its message to each skin cell
for the hairbrush's pulling and pulling,
     waking the root of each hair
for the reassuring snap of elastic
for the hug of the belt that pulls all together
for the smell of coffee rising up the stairs announcing paradise
for the glass of golden juice in which light is condensed
     and the grapefruit's sweet flesh
for the eggs like two peaks over which the sun rises
     and the jam for which the strawberries of summer have
     saved themselves
for the light whose long shaft lifts the kitchen
     into the realms of day
for Mozart elegantly measuring out the gazebos
     of heaven on the radio
and for her face, for whom the kettle sings, the coffee percs,
     and all the yellow birds in the wallpaper spread their wings.

I have read this poem now maybe a dozen times. Each time a different aspect of the morning routine jumps off the page and grabs my attention, holding it for a prolonged moment before leading me back into the next line. Several thoughts have emerged out of this poem that I think are useful for believers and non-believers alike.

The first is the joy of the present moment.  Last night, around 2.30am in an attempt to stay awake while I rocked my newborn daughter back to sleep I began to wonder how Robert Siegel would describe the darkened nursery? As my bleary eyes scanned the walls and furniture, as my hands sought to absorb the texture of the comfortable rocking chair and her soft newborn skin, and as my senses strained to truly draw in the warmth from the tiny ball nestled on my chest and my eyes worked hard to transform the small sliver of light coming in through the slightly opened door into something more useful I realized that I am quite terrible at being in the present moment. I am willing to hazard a guess that is true for so many of us. We focus on the past, either for the better or the worse, or we cast our thoughts forward to the future. While the present moment fails to gain our focused attention.

If we are to truly look at the birds of the air or consider the lillies of the field then we need to let go of what is needlessly occupying our mind and attention. Jesus urges us in the Sermon on the Mount to not worry about tomorrow but instead turn our attention to the present moment. In doing so, we recognize the magnificent provision of God and are able to face the future without anxiety about what may come and our priorities become properly focused on the Kingdom. But first, we must look at the birds of the air; the "Pentecost of finches" as Siegel describes in another poem.

Siegel's poem also reminded me of the power of the mundane. Many would be willing to testify that the morning routine is odious. Rare is the person who joyfully proclaims that they are a morning person, even rarer is the person who enjoys waking up in the morning. Yet if our senses had a tune-up and we were able to see the morning the way Siegel sees it, wouldn't we agree that it is a cause for praise? I can't remember the last time as I brushed my teeth that I was reminded of how every time I take part in such an action I am experiencing a "resurrection of the breath." Or how in the act of shaving, my skin takes on a newborn appearance. A hot shower in the morning has never caused me to consider the grace of God, my only source of complete absolution. I am incredibly skinny; belts are a reality of my every day existence. Just as my belt holds everything together, so too do God's hands hold the universe together. And on and on. God is present in the mundane events of our lives. As Jacob exclaimed after awaking from a strong dream one night, "Truly God is in this place and I did not know it! (Genesis 28.16)" And just like that, a nameless place takes on a name full of significance: the mundane becomes the house of God.

Ordinary Time is just that: ordinary time. It is the time on the church calendar in between the big events of Pentecost and Advent. It is the time when the Creasters are not found in church at all. It is the time when the rest of us, most likely, are thinking about summer vacations, days at the pool, fireworks, ice cream, corn on the cob and night excursions filled with the intent to capture lightning bugs alive. It is the time when the magnificence of creation is on display and so we are without excuse in recognizing the Artist behind the painting. Yet, we overlook the presence of God.

In his Reflection on the Psalms C.S. Lewis wrote, "Poetry too is a little incarnation, giving body to what had been before invisible and inaudible." That is where the power of a poem like Siegels can be found: it gives body and form to what had been invisible. It can remind us to keep our eyes open and to not take anything for granted. Everything is a gift, even that gray nudge of dawn first thing in the morning. Therein lies our role as followers of Christ--to look for the poems present in our life and in the lives of those around us. To give form to the randomness of their day; to point out the pattern of the Spirit whether it as easily discernible as a Petrarchan Sonnet, or as hard to pin down as free verse. And in doing so, to realize that for everyone God is present in ordinary. That the ordinary is extraordinary when seen in the right light.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The New Roman Roads

In the June issue of Christianity Today, there is an article on the new innovative strategies being taken to share the gospel by current leaders in the church. The article, The Social Network Gospel, makes some interesting points but this point especially struck me as being right on target. The author wrote, "The ancient Roman roads spanned more than 250,000 miles. The Romans started building these continent-connecting arteries in 500 B.C., enabling both their empire to grow and the gospel to advance rapidly.
Today's Roman roads are the Internet, the smartphone, the tablet, and social media, ready and waiting for innumerable journeys of faith and witness. While the ancient roads connected hundreds of towns and cities, the new ones connect millions of homes and individuals."

This passage stood out to me because last fall we had one of our missionaries come and speak at the church. He told us how the internet was the new roman road and the way to spread the gospel throughout the world. We have a duty to spread the gospel, indeed are commanded to do so in John 20.19-23. Of course we must do so in person, but we must also utilize these new Roman roads. So it is with great pleasure I announce that the church now has an active website. Two people worked very hard behind the scenes to make this possible, they know who they are, and I thank them.
Please share it with others in the hopes that many will be saved.