Have questions about my life and work? Me too! I recently sat down with myself to get to reflect on some of what’s happened for me over the past year. You can read the whole text here.
I sing a lot. Sometimes with others. It sounds like this.
I was last published in 2015, in Assaracus, and then fussily abandoned the writing of formal poetry for being too isolating with too few immediate returns. I now avidly and actively seek to appreciate the poetry of others, most especially in live settings, and use that to inspire some of my other work in the pulpit, at prayer, and on stage.
I couldn’t find my passport yesterday. Technically, Nathan couldn’t find his first. We’re traveling to British Columbia this afternoon for a conference and while getting ready Nathan realized he didn’t know where his passport was. I all but rolled my eyes at him as he searched from room to room; how careless of him! Of course his searching prompted me to lay eyes on my own just to be sure, and sure enough it wasn’t where I thought it was, either. So I began discreetly looking for my own passport under the pretense of helping him find his. Which is my least favorite thing in the world, looking for something I’ve lost. Or perhaps it’s just the losing. Elizabeth Bishop called it an art, one not “hard to master.” Her poem One Art catalogues a list of things from keys to an “hour badly spent” to names and whole continents which so “seem filled with the intent/ to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” I’m not convinced. There’s nothing so disastrous to me as not being able to put my hands on something which I know must be hiding just beneath another pile of magazines or in the back of some unopened drawer. Thomas, it seems, is not convinced either. In the story we tell every year on the Sunday after Easter he can’t believe that all the other disciples have laid their eyes upon their recently deceased friend and teacher and he has not; and who can blame him? The first loss was traumatic enough, and now they would arrest his grief, also? Death is like this. Many of the familiar habits which were tied to a beloved now gone still reach out into the world like phantom limbs: picking up the phone a moment before realizing they will not, discovering mementos of their presence like detritus washing up on shore. When Thomas says, “until I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my hand into his side I will not believe,” I imagine him having a moment like this, casting about the house for something which was here just a moment ago but is now gone. All the others seem to have found it already. The other disciples have their ticket, ready to go, ready to embark on some new journey where now life is death and death is life and here’s Thomas with everything lost, about to get left behind. It seems that more than proof, Thomas only wants to touch what is real. What a relief when you finally open the right drawer and find what had been missing. All the flurry melting into foolishness, the sudden sense that of course it had been waiting there all along. The future changes suddenly from a dire one where everything goes wrong to one where maybe fate will cut you some slack after all.
Nathan’s passport happened to be in a box where I had mistakenly packed it away with some other things. Mine was only in an unkempt room. Holding it, I couldn’t help but think how made up it was, how unreal. Here was a piece of paper I’d been desperate to find because it proves to some person guarding some border that I belong somewhere. A belonging and a border and a piece of paper which are each essentially made up, agreed upon by enough people with enough power to make them somehow real. Most of us find that we are drawn to something more real than that. Many of us share community with those not so lucky as to find themselves in possession of such magical papers. When the government says, “unless I see the papers which prove it I refuse to believe these people belong here,” we say, “we know their belonging is real, it is rooted in our family, in this community, in this land, as much as anyone’s.” But that does not seem to be enough for the powers of the world. The people of the world, like Thomas, long to touch what is real, but we are sold imaginary substitutes instead: false securities, mistaken enemies, half truths. We cast about in search of some missing solution to a problem we did not invent. One side says, “love would remake the world entirely.” Another side says, “prove it.” Proof, in that case, means losing many of the things the world instructs us to hold dear. Unjust laws, dishonest wealth, arbitrary lines between us and them. In the Resurrection each disappears like misplaced keys or a name not easily remembered. What remains to be found? God, having been waiting there all along to show us.
When did it happen? Did he wake up in the middle of the night like an old man who has to pee and step outside his cave scratching to see through half open eyes the full moon lonely above him? Or did he become a kind of night light, himself, the dead cells of his bio body switching one by one into something more serene, already gleaming before the dawn outside arrived? Did angels see it happen or were they sleeping, too? Did a band of rebels break in to steal him so rumors could foment? Was it a surprise, even to him, the way abandonment had been surprising, too? Was there urgency? Relief? Was it like the way you wake up on a day with nothing scheduled? The story doesn’t say. The story only shows a hole where the body had been, a real absence staring back into the one these three women had already been walking around with in their hearts for three days, a gap in the expected, attended by a young man dressed in white. Any renaissance painter worth his salt has offered his own suggestions to fill it in. Piero della Francesca’s resurrected Jesus stands with one foot in the grave, one out, like a miner on his break. Paolo Veronese’s pirouettes from death while scattering a choir of soldiers to the ground. But these are not the kind of details which matter to our author. He only has the young man dressed in white tell the women that the one whom they are looking for is not there, that he is where he always said he would be: raised from death and gone ahead of them. The first women to receive this news do not know when it happened. Or how. Or even what it means. Their evidence is an absence. Their guide is trust. The one who was God with them always said it would turn out this way. Now they’re left to believe him or not. It’s the same for us. He is not here. And you get the same thing they did: a young man -youngish- dressed in white telling you that it all went down the way he said it would. That violent death was inevitable for someone like him in a world like ours and that death is not the end. Death died with him. He is raised. I do not know when or how or even why. There is no intellectual trick to trust. There is no clever story to tell or convincing argument to make. It is, however, easier to trust what one knows. The women knew Jesus intimately. I have a few friends whom I love so dearly and who seem so clearly close to the heart of God that sometimes I imagine them telling me that they cannot be contained by death, either. We know Christ communally. We’ve meet the incarnate heart of love here regularly. We’ve know Christ in the wounds and resilience of those of us who have faced sickness and addiction and divorce this year. We’ve know Christ in the honesty of those facing death. We’ve know Christ in the insistence of those who call our societal bluffs and greed. We know Christ as the one we’re always speaking with about our fear and singing to with our joy. We have learned to see Christ in the stranger who shows us pain bigger than we know how to fix and grace more rich than we could have imagined partaking in. We know what Christ Jesus said about life and death. So when did it happen? The better question may be when does it happen still? I, for one, would not know faith in God’s power for resurrection if you weren’t here to proclaim it now. Our experience to trust or leave is the steady repetition of this strange faith back and forth to one another through the centuries, a question of whether we can look into the absence and see life, an answer that beyond all reason we have. It happens in hymns which reach for the impossible with a language only the heart can understand. In happens in whispered confidence that love will have the final say. It happens every time we answer the acclamation of our faith, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!”
In the great three days that lead from Holy Week to Easter Maundy Thursday is the first, when we remember Jesus sharing a final meal with his friends and asking them to love one another as he loved them.
Wait. I’m not ready for this part of the story yet. I’m not ready for the final meal with friends. I’m not ready for the awkward intimacy of the foot washing or the mundane failure of the tired disciples to stay awake. I’m not ready for Holy Week. Not because of the practical details, mind you, people here make sure those are all taken care of. The bulletins were all printed, the music rehearsed, and the tables set for dinner a whole day early waiting empty in the sunlight for their guests the way this place waits for all of you all year long to tell this story. I’m not ready in a bigger way than that. I didn’t do good at Lent this year. The past two years when Chris asked me what I was going to do for Lent I’ve shouted something back like, “isn’t life itself enough already?” But it’s not somehow. And each year Easter comes like a wave, like the big one, and if you see it gathering on the horizon you have time to get yourself together and stand up tall and take a deep breath and wait. Or you don’t, and suddenly you’re upside down with a sinus full of seasalt. I’m not ready for this part. And maybe I never am. So much of Holy Week catches me off guard and makes me cry. It’s the kind of crying that comes when you touch something that you don’t quite have words for yet, or maybe it’s the kind of crying that comes when someone else’s words are surprisingly accurate. I cry when little kids wash the feet of strangers with absolute earnestness. I cry when the altar is bare and all the lights cut out. I cry when Jesus is distressed in the garden, when Jesus is mocked and spit on, when Jesus sees his mom. I’m a mess. But look at the other guys! There’s Jesus, clearly telling everyone at his dinner party that he’s going to die tomorrow, and there are the disciples, essentially asking, “so what’s our plan here, exactly?” There’s Jesus, asking for a few final waking moments with his three closest friends, and there they are, napping. There’s Jesus alone in prison, and there’s Peter outside saying, “I don’t know him.” In fact, one of the only people who does seem to be prepared comes before this part of the story. A woman, of course, another dinner party, per usual. Jesus saying something wise. She walks in with perfume, the kind you use on dead bodies, and just starts crying. Super awkward, my kind of people. She kneels at his feet and washes them with her hair and her tears and makes the whole house smell like an adolescent who doesn’t know how much cologne to use. Jesus is the only one unphased. The disciples squirm. But she’s ready for what’s coming. She knows. And the gift of knowing, rarely given to so many more who must endure the terrible thing, is also the gift of getting to say goodbye. How many people, this year alone, who didn’t get to say goodbye? God only knows. Maybe Jesus thinks of them, maybe Jesus mimics her, when he gets down on the floor after his last dinner and begins gingerly to hold the feet of each person who has walked with him this far. They cringe. They mince words. But ready or not, Jesus makes the round. In three days, everything will have changed. They will no longer be able to clearly follow one man who more or less stays in one place at one time. He will have become something more than that kind of earthy permanence. They will suddenly be in charge, others will look to them to lead, will watch which way their eyes are pointing when they squint to see something imperceptible a step or two ahead. But for now they are held by their friend with a love which makes their insides quiver and hurl. Love like this, he says. Are they ready? Of course not.