On Thanksgiving

November 22, 2018 at 8:57 pm (Poetry, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , )

Over the past few years, I have found myself drawn time and again to the provision of manna and quail during the Israelite Exodus out of Egypt – a powerful parable which leads us to ask how the sacrament of Manna invites us to a new understanding of what “enough” is, in an economic context which has modelled scarcity, disparity and unjust distribution of wealth.

The story invites us to consider how a community of people, finding themselves in a barren land devoid of the conditions for life to thrive, learn what it means to not only believe that there is enough; but to demonstrate it. Six weeks into their exodus from Egypt, there’s an all too common grumble on their lips: “If only…” “If only we’d stayed in Egypt, why did you bring us here to make us die of hunger and thirst? “ Moses intercedes on their behalf and the Lord rains down supplies. But the provision doesn’t come without a proviso – Take only what you need. No more; no less.

Isn’t this profound? Each family gathers as much as they need and when they measure it out in the assembly, those who gathered much do not have too much; and those who gathered a little did not have too little. The story is so evocative that it’s told and retold by the prophets, becoming a refrain throughout the history of Israel, “Remember that time when the Lord provided bread from heaven? Remember that time when we lived and ate our daily bread together – never again having to ask for it, for 40 years until the moment our feet touched the soil of Canaan? Remember when everyone had enough. Every day. No more than enough; and no less than enough. Remember, remember…”

The refrain is picked up again in the Gospels, as John weaves the parallels together. The crowd cries, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’ What have you got?” And Jesus responds, “I… I am the true bread”. The telling comes full circle as here, embodied in our midst, is the one who offers himself to us as the bread of life. Jesus takes up this tremendous metaphor and offers his first I Am found in John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life.” Here he is then, the daily bread come to earth, as it is in heaven. The all-sufficient. The one who leaves us satiated and quenched.

But lest we disembody Jesus’ statement in this moment, let us remember when it takes place. The disciples and Jesus have just returned back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, after the feeding of the five thousand. That bizarre anecdote, in which a boy’s offering of five loaves and two fish, satisfies the hunger of a crowd of over 5000. It’s easy to lose the weight of this story in light of the acclamation Jesus makes after. “I am the bread of life”, he teaches. His words would have landed in the fertile imaginations of a people who have just received enough, and more. What is manna – sufficiency – compared to the gathering of 12 extra baskets – abundance?!

Just a few months later, this same Teacher finds himself at the feast of the Passover celebrating the Exodus from Egypt and of bread from heaven, sufficient unto each, that sustained a nation for 40 years. In the middle of the meal he calls the attention of those gathered and raising the bread, recalls to their minds that hot day on the mountainside and the 5000 men seated waiting in groups of 50. Then taking the loaf, so similar to the ones offered by the small boy, breaks it and says, “This is my body; broken for you. As often as you do this, do it as a remembrance of me.”

As often as you do this. As often. My imagination is ignited as I think of this basic dietary item, present at every meal. Could the Teacher have chosen a more fitting item to recall ourselves one to another with such regularity?

I know how the teaching proceeds. The bread of life – essential for life eternal; trivial to the physical. A metaphor for the spiritual realm, a covenant for the ethereal. Wholly concerned with the hereafter: discarnate and incorporeal. Try as I might, I cannot reconcile this with the stories that got us here. Six hundred thousand grumbling, hangry, people in the middle of no-man’s land, gathering up the tangible, corporeal substance of bread from who knows where, each as much as they needed and finding themselves in a micro-economy of absolute sufficiency. Or five thousand lethargic, hot, hangry, people on a hillside listening to an itinerate preacher, sharing together the little they had between them and finding themselves in a micro-economy of bounty.

We degrade this sacrament when we insist upon viewing it as a solely symbolic meal. We degrade the remembrance when we break the bread during the sacred moment and yet hoard our bread when our brothers are going hungry. We degrade the remembrance when we share the cup, and neglect to offer even a glass of water to the least of these. Dare I say it, we commit the sin of Sodomy, when we gorge ourselves on real bread while our neighbours starve. Woe to us who seek to absolve ourselves by holding the remembrance of what the Lord demonstrated to us in giving his body for us, above the practice of doing likewise.

Enacting Remembrance

So where does that leave me? I know only that a reading of the I Am of the Bread of Life as disembodied and immaterial leaves me feeling like I’m missing half the story. I know that I resonate with the Israelite community in the desolate nothing, with the lethargic crowds on that sultry hilltop, and with the jostling disciples scrambling around the table in those weeks following the Messiah’s resurrection. I know that the Communion that is offered by my, at times, watered-down faith tradition, detached from the physicality of real bread and real wine, from real hunger and real thirst, leaves me wanting. And I know, that the invitation to partake of the staples of our diet in recurring and regular remembrance of our Messiah, is offered not just to us as individuals but to us as a community. When we are instructed to break the bread and extend it to our neighbour, our offering is devoid of any dynamism if it is merely spirit devoid of substance. Finally, I know, if I approach the table of communion without recognizing and responding to the body of Christ in my midst, I desecrate that holy remembrance.

Beginning on Thanksgiving and ending on Christmas Eve, part of our Advent journey is the Anderson-tradition of “Eucharisteo”. Each day we give thanks; an active remembering of the grace we have received, receive and will receive. But it’s more than just giving thanks. In doing so we affirm the sacrament of communion as a binding narrative for all our relationships. On the mountain before the 5000 and again in a small room with his closest community, Jesus enacts the four sovereign verbs of the Eucharist: he takes, gives thanks, breaks, and shares. So as we prepare ourselves “for that which we are about to receive”, we are reminded daily not to desecrate this family meal by neglecting the four decisive verbs of our sacramental existence: to take, to give thanks, to break and to share. Communion is not only to be remembered; but practiced.

This is how I want to take communion. In homes and before fires, on beaches before waves, on mountains before open skies, in fields before sunsets. Around tables and around friends. In crowded rooms filled with laughter and in quiet corners filled with tears. And even in churches.

This is how I want to take communion. With loaves of bread that fill me, not wafer thin crackers that remind me I am empty. With glasses of remembrance, not sips of observance. I want it to be abundant, not scarce. I want it to fill my being, not dissolve on my tongue before I can even taste its goodness. I want it to satisfy my thirst, not wet my tongue leaving me desiring more. I want it to be sacramental, not sentimental. I want it in sacred spaces and profane, but not in abstracted places. I want it to be intimate and accessible, not isolated and exclusionary.

This is how I want it to be when I remember. This is how I want it to be when I sit with that sacrifice. This is how I want to know those words. This conspiring; this breathing-together. This community; this gift-together. This communion; this sharing-together. This covenant; this coming-together. 

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On meeting again

February 13, 2017 at 10:14 pm (Poetry) ()

God, petulant,

Berates me this morning,

Where’ve you been? What took you so

Long? I’ve been waiting for

HOUUUUUUUUUURS!

Look how tall I’ve grown in your absence

I

Almost

Reach

The sky

Blue-ombre tunic twirls

– The master is proved right,

Whirls like a Golden Compass

Beyond all that is Rational –

I cleared the room

So it would just be

Us

When we met

Again

(See the faces peering out from behind

Bannister-mountains, whispering, Is that her?)

– Everything in Existence

Does point

to God –

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On gold

July 21, 2015 at 5:33 am (Poetry) (, , )

Someone

got into the special paints this morning.

(The ones kept on top of the fridge, behind the cereal and last week’s mail)

Stood on tippy-toes and

stretched her hand

up up up

til

she was impossibly tall.

As guilty fingers touched eternity – teetered, overbalanced –

light splattered

across the kitchen floor.

Everyone knows who did it;

The Creator’s fingertips are still stained

gold.

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on new hobbies

July 21, 2015 at 5:22 am (Poetry) (, , )

It seems while I was away

God took up a new hobby

leaving love letters I read while driving to work.

(Perhaps if I look under the bed, I’ll find a shoebox filled with them

and be shocked that He’s been doing it for years.

What a conversation that would be!)

I guess He was secretly spying on me

that time I sat on a bench in MOMA

captivated by iridescence.

So the Creator asked Monet to teach Him how to paint a sunrise.

I think He’s feeling quite pleased with His technique.

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NaPoWriMo Day 8 – Calligram

April 12, 2015 at 12:03 pm (Poetry) ()

And now for something completely different…

Our prompt for the day (optional, as always) plays of our resources. Today, I challenge you to write a visual poem. If that’s not specific enough, perhaps you can try your hand at a calligram? That’s a poem or other text in which the words are arranged into a specific shape or image. You might find inspiration in the famous calligrams written by Guillaume Apollinaire. And a word to the wise — the best way to cope with today’s exercise may well be to abandon your keyboard, and sit down with paper and pen (and maybe crayons or colored pencils or markers!)

SLOWS

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NaPoWriMo Day 7 – Palinode

April 11, 2015 at 4:31 am (Poetry) (, )

Today I challenge you to write a palinode. And what’s that? It’s a poem in which the poet retracts a statement made in an earlier poem. You could take that route or, if you don’t have an actual poetically-expressed statement you want to retract, maybe you could write a poem in which you explain your reasons for changing your mind about something. It could be anything from how you decided that you like anchovies after all to how you decided that annoying girl was actually cool enough that you married her.

I
said I couldn’t run
The last time I tried
I was 9
and by the time I crossed the finish
line
adults were packing up the hotdogs.
Today I ran 5 kilometers.

I
said I couldn’t grow things
The last time I tried
I killed 2
cactus’s. You know the kind they say
can’t die?
I drowned them.
Today I ate kale from my garden.

I
said I couldn’t write regularly
As if words could flow on demand.
As if I were 3.
All it takes is a little
discipline.
Today I celebrate a week of poems.

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NaPoWriMo Day 5 – Heaven has different signs

April 6, 2015 at 7:00 am (Poetry) (, )

Find an Emily Dickinson poem – preferably one you’ve never previously read – and take out all the dashes and line breaks. Make it just one big block of prose. Now, rebreak the lines. Add words where you want. Take out some words. Make your own poem out of it!

Heaven” has different signs to me
Sometimes, I think that earth
Is but a sidebar to the Place
But when again, in Sorrow,

A mighty sigh runs round the World
And settles in my stomach
A Resentment, As if creation groaning
should be a stagewhisper like that

Upon the Ignomy steals a Thought
That when the promise of the hereafter is a Triumph
When death together becomes cause for Victory
And makes Some rejoice for the promise of Eternity

When the Rapture of an (un)finished Day
And Turning away from this now-unrest
All for the promise of the place
That Men call “paradise”

When “Heaven” Itself is fairer, preferable, to this present darkness
I prefer that Kingdom-come should not be Adored,
And held for a Superior Grace
Than Thy Kingdom come on earth

As it is In heaven.
Even the Not yet, Our eyes can see

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NaPoWriMo Day 4 – Love

April 5, 2015 at 2:49 pm (Poetry) (, , )

I suppose it might
Smell less like roses and more
Like mowing the lawn.

I suppose it might
Sound less like poems and more
Like please, thanks, sorry.

I suppose it might
Taste less like champagne and more
Like warm morning breath.

I suppose it might
Be less inevitable
Than we imagined.

I suppose.

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on words before time

March 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm (Poetry) (, , , , , )

I.

I (*pause, inhale deeply, sigh it out*) am in love.

These words?

Ignited me.

Burned in me before I’d ever heard them uttered..

These words?

Isolated me.

Marooned me till I, woman, became an island, impossible and glorious.

Their cadence?

Tore through my soul and re-introduced me to myself.

Spoke my humanity.

Sung my desire.

Whispered my heartache.

Shouted my fury.

Caressed my soul.

These words breathed me into being.

From words I was formed and to words I return.

I love their all in all.

Power conveyed to nothing-me

to grasp the intangible,

to describe the invisible,

to fold into myself the inevitable,

and lay at your feet the indescribable.

Oh, but how I hate.

I hate that these immutable words preempt my every thought.

I hate that these interminable words spoke me before I ever uttered them.

I hate that these words were before me and before all time.

I hate how they have been spun and caressed,

wooed and seduced,

breathed out and breathed in a billion times before my first.

Every word.

Every line.

Every intimation of intimacy

Sucked out of them til I.

I am left breathless,

Speechless.

Wordless.

Powerless.

Each expansive, enigmatic, enticing utterance leaves me

envious, embittered, and empty

Words, promised me, cheated on me,  failed me

Words, leave me panting, anticlimatic

As all the passion seeps from my soul, my marrow, my lips

Until I am silent and still.

Mellifluous and cacophonous.

Ellipses to the eternal noise

of words, words, words

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on cherry blossoms

February 20, 2014 at 2:02 pm (Poetry) (, , , , )

Why do cherry blossoms in this neighborhood surprise me?

As if grace is insufficient

As if hope is impotent

As if love is insipient

As if mercy cannot triumph over judgment

As if dancers cannot dance upon injustice

As if redemption is a lie; restoration a myth

As if the dividing wall of hostility were never torn down

As if sorrow will last beyond the night

and joy is stifled by the morning

As if we are not truly being changed from glory to Glory

As if only some things are brought together under Him

As if the rocks do not shout out

and the trees no longer clap their hands

As if death never lost its sting

As if the grave was victorious

As if darkness dispels light

As if the oil of gladness slips over and past these rivers of mourning

As if the fullness of Him who fills all things, leaves these streets dry and empty

As if there is no freedom for these oppressions

and the cords of these yokes cannot be loosened

As if these chains cannot be broken

As if there is no reconciliation for these divides

As if there is no provision for these griefs

As if there is no garment to cloak these despairs

As if beauty cannot replace even these ashes

 

As if roots cannot push their way up through this concrete

As if life cannot break forth unexpectedly

And be magnificantly, phenomenally, shockingly unsurprising

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