Bull-Dancing

We are linked to them, the old ones
Who walked the intricate path of preparation,
Moving in graceful arcs, approaching and receding,
Weaving the pattern of eagerness and reluctance
Toward the Encounter with Death and the Goddess.

And in the center the Dance, ecstasy and fear intermingled,
The youths and maidens leaping over the gilded horns,
The bull tossing his head and stamping at the agile figures
Weaving the pattern of joy and death over and around him.
Was the Lady pleased?  Did she delight in the dance,
Mourn her children who fell, or glory in the ecstasy
Of those who went dancing into death?

Oh, Christ, my dangerous one,
Desire of my heart and pattern of my soul,
I walk this labyrinth, my aged joints aching
Along the smooth arcs, the clear pattern,
And I am one with those children who went
Gaily or solemnly toward the potent beast.

When I reach that center,
The flowered heart of the labyrinth,
Shall I dance with you there?
Will you lift me up in joy,
Or shall I pour out my heart’s blood
On the impervious stone?
To you, oh my life and my death,
Are they not the same?

 

 

Note:  The myth of the Minotaur is thought to be founded on a ritual of ancient Crete in which youths and maidens performed acrobatic feats with a bull in honor of the Great Goddess.  This bull-dance was performed underground and accessed through a labyrinth, which provided a ceremonial path to the central dancing floor.  The word labyrinth comes from labrys, the double-bladed axe that was the holiest symbol of the Goddess in Minoan civilization.  Today, walking the labyrinth is used as a contemplative tool in Christian spirituality.

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In the Shadow of the Cross

What do we do with the mystery of the cross?  Do we try to make sense of it, arguing over whatever we think God was doing on that dark day and the golden morning that followed on the third day?  Do we fold the mystery away in some mental storage compartment and promise to think about it some day — or promise ourselves that we’ll ask God about it when we get to heaven?  Or do we live into the mystery, letting what our minds can’t encompass fill our hearts?

 

The King of Calvary

He wasn’t much of a king.
He was dusty, and the dust
Was streaked with sweat.
He stank of mortality.
Dried blood clotted his beard and striped his face,
And his hair was tangled where thorns had caught it.
When we went to place the nails,
His feet were dirty and calloused in our hands.
His eyes were tired, red with tears;
His shoulders slumped with pain and weariness.
His garment was damp with sweat
When we took it from him.
But it was a good one, woven all in one piece,
A little coarse, but serviceable.
We had a right to it, to share it.
But it would have been a shame to divide it,
So we settled it with dice.
I have it still, folded away.
Somehow I couldn’t wear it.

 

Pain and Promise on Good Friday

What must the death of Jesus been like for his followers?  Easter was ahead of them, but they didn’t know that.  What happens to us when we suffer great loss must have happened to them.  Yet somehow the mystery of the cross encompasses both the suffering of loss and the joy of Easter morning.  And somehow God uses our suffering to bring us to joy.

 

A Dark Day

A dark day.
On the hilltop, a body hanging on a cross,
The sound of weeping,
And the smell of death in the air.
Where now is power and glory?
What has become of the water turned to wine,
The lepers healed, the dead raised?

Lord, life was so rich with promise!
We had such hopes, such plans!
Now we’re bereft, left alone,
Afraid, and numb with despair.
Where shall we turn?
What do we do next?
How can we survive in this diminished world?

Will we crumble into dust,
Blown away by the winds of destruction?
Was it all for nothing?

In our grief, we cry out to you.
Are you there, Lord?

Thinking about William Blake

It’s been a long time – over two weeks – since I posted anything on this blog.  I’ve been sick with what was probably a nasty virus.  I want to go on writing about the inward journey, and that takes more energy than I’ve had.  And then I got thinking about William Blake . . . .  If you’ve never read Blake’ poems or seen his images – engravings and watercolors, mostly – take a few minutes online to explore his work.  I used to think he was just a strange mystic, not especially interesting.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see the depth in his art and in his thinking.  He’s a mystic, all right, one who sees the connections in the universe, the oneness of God, and the unity of light and dark.

 

The Professor Thinks of Death

What consolation is it to William Blake
that I should read his poems, mark his words?
What satisfaction that I see his paintings,
trace his engraved lines on the page?

Does Shakespeare know the new Globe plays his works
to the wide world?  Does Chaucer see the Reformation
spread to Africa and Asia?  Does Yeats approve
the peace that flowers (slowly) in his land?

God of Blake and my heart, why is it so hard
to think that death’s an end to thought and self,
when all of life cries out, “I am the center!
Surely I will live forever, know forever, even though . . .”

The essence of the self is wonderfully changed!
A few sparse leaves hang on the winter branch.
They will fall, rot into humus, feed the tree
as tender new leaves burst forth and sing.

Our own perspective molds our lives and thoughts.
I am nothing to Blake, though he is much to me.
What does it matter if the future reads these lines?
Death is God’s affair.  I give it up.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, 2013

What becomes of them, the wise, the visionary, the passionate,
After they have been made legend, source of tales for schoolchildren,
Cause of national holidays?
What becomes of their passions, their faith, their beliefs?
Where do their dreams go to fade into public speeches?
Where do those who shared their dreams find strength to move?

Are we not still bound, still subject –
Not to kings but to political and corporate power,
Decisions that can ruin lives made far above us
In the mists of wealth and brute strength?
Are we not still terrorized by angry forces
Mangled in the pits that power creates?
Are we not still bigots, afraid of what we cannot understand?
Are we not still slaves to forces that we dimly see and cannot resist?
Are we not still devoted to self-defense, rejection, aggression, hatred?

Where are the dreams we had – freedom, equality, justice, love?

I still remember that black day of a dark April in a dreadful year of destruction,
Remember endless waves of shock and horror and despair.
Most of all fear.  Who were we, that such death could happen?

We are who we are, corrupt, self-serving, frightened.

On this particular day and others like it, we speak of heroes and martyrs,
People who lifted us to our higher selves for a moment.
We make them legends, forgetting who they were.
We speak of them as from a distance, safe from the fire of their dreams,
Safe from their righteous anger, their all-consuming love.
We are diminished from vision to revision to television.

We are who we are, divided, self-centered, judgmental, afraid.

On this particular day, we watched a half-African man –
Fit symbol of our contentious melting-pot of a nation –
Celebrate his second inauguration,
Knowing that his dreams, too, are thwarted and defeated
By powers beyond his control, or ours.

Those powers are us, writ large.
We are who we are, suspicious, angry, uncertain, terrified.

And yet we remember hope, and love, and dreams, if distantly.
We remember passions spurred by generosity and grace,
Indignation and anger fuelled by thoughts of justice,
Purpose without defense.

We are who we are.
Perhaps the buried dreams will rise again.

The Griefs and Gifts of Being Alone

Family-oriented holidays are difficult times for people who are alone.  Anyone who has lost a close family member or a dear friend knows how hard the first holidays are without that person’s presence.  Fortunately, most people have other family members to help them through those times of remembering and grieving.

People who are now single through death or divorce, but who have children and grandchildren, still have family and a strong connection to coming generations.  But that connection is much weaker for those who are widowed or divorced and childless, and those who have never married.  People who don’t have close family members to be with in those times of loss carry an extra burden of grief.

This came home to me with special poignance recently, when an older friend died.  She and her family had generously shared many special holiday times with me.  Of all the friends we had in common, I’m the only one who has no children and grandchildren.  Our friends’ primary relationships are with their families.  My primary relationships are with my friends.  The loss of such a close friend is hard.

For those who are alone, daily life is quite different from the lives of people with family.  We have work to do and friends to see, but many of our hours are passed in silence.  No one shares the burdens and tasks of everyday life; if we don’t cook or clean or shop or pay bills, it doesn’t get done.

We may have learned how to be alone without being lonely, but we still can feel the lack of intimate companionship.  We feel the lack of physical touch, and the lack of the warmth of another presence in our lives.  If we are sick, there is no one to bring us a glass of water or take us to the doctor.  If we are unhappy, there is no one to share our thoughts or cheer us up.  If we are joyful, there is no one to laugh with us.

The blessing in being alone is the room it can make for God.  In stillness, the presence of God is easier to feel.  People with families may have to work much harder than we do to find that stillness.  When there is no human person to share joys and sorrows, it can become very natural and simple to share them openly with God.  God is with us all, all of the time, but it may be easier for those who are alone to be conscious of that presence.

What we need in our aloneness is complex and difficult to define.  Some of us need support and encouragement in dealing with health problems or the burdens of financial problems or even poverty, problems that are especially hard for people without families.  Some of us need fellowship in doing things that people with partners take for granted – going to movies and concerts, eating out, social gatherings, hiking in the woods.

Some of us are hungry for spiritual growth in directions that are more difficult for persons with family responsibilities to take.  We may not be as interested in building intimate relationships with human beings as we are in building intimate relationships with God.

When we find one another, we are blessed by a feeling that we are not so peculiar, after all.  When we find one another, we have a lot to share.  We need better ways to find one another.

Enough

I’m not here, now –
I’m somewhere in the whirling dance
of atoms in God’s hand, somewhere out
beyond the inward boundaries,
among the stars and in the photons
crashing into light,
rejoicing with the planets in their songs,
dancing with the shifting quarks,
elusive and free, floating
on the breath of God.
And I am lost among the tiniest grains
in the molten core of the earth,
melting with them into the richest darkness
of elemental reality, linked in the planet’s pulse
to every particle of being God ever breathed.

Don’t mourn for me, remember me,
or look for evidence of my existence.
I am gone, transformed,
become something entirely different.
I am not here, or there, or anywhere –
and I am everywhere,
everything, and nothing.
It is enough.