Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

“You are about to begin the adventure of the Unicorn”

Hildegard von Bingen

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Part of being human is wanting more than one thing at the same time. Sometimes the two things we want conflict with one another. Take eating and sleeping, for instance, our most basic bodily needs. Have you ever been so tired that all you wanted to do was sleep? So tired you could hardly get out of bed? But you were hungry, too?

As a midwife, this happens to me after a very long labor and birth. As an international traveler, it happens to me when the journey is long, and the jet-lag is severe. I usually force myself to get up, eat something small, and then go back to bed. Sleep at that time feels so good, and food tastes so good, too, because I am really hungry. There is a proverb that says, “To the hungry, even what is bitter tastes sweet.”

The conflict between eating and sleeping is easily resolved, just a simple matter of doing one first and then the other. It’s a matter of timing. One thing waits on another, and the desire for both is fulfilled. Delay is minimal, thank God, because we need both sleep and nourishment to live.

It’s important to understand the role of Time in the fulfillment of our desires, especially our deepest desires — the ones that go beyond eating and sleeping — the ones that are in the heart.

When Jesus was going to the Cross, he stopped to pray in a garden. He knew he was going to suffer, and he didn’t want to suffer the agony of torture and death. So he prayed to God, the Father, and he said:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Jesus prayed, just as he had taught his disciples to pray, that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. He wanted two things at the same time, two things that were in conflict with one another: to avoid suffering and pain and, at the same time, to go through it in order to accomplish God’s will — the atonement for sin, the redemption of humanity, so that the whole world would be reconciled to God and experience salvation.

For those who put their trust in Jesus, maturing in faith means surrendering our conflicting desires — our desire to have two opposing things at the same time — to God’s will and God’s timing.

To desire God’s will above all other desires is to become like Jesus.


Look into this cup:
what do you see?
It’s the image of suffering
that saved you and me.

The Light in this wine,
never ages or fades,
but lives as a sign,
beautiful in eternity.


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Some people say that the Bible is a book of answers, but it is also a book of questions. The questions draw our hearts toward the Divine. All of the questions in the Bible are critical to spiritual formation. One of them stands out to me. In the synoptic gospels, I read that Jesus, the God-Man, asks a blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matt. 20:32, Mark 10:51, and Luke 18:41).

This is a powerful question. Why does Jesus ask it? If he knows everything already, does he need to ask? And isn’t it obvious what the blind man wants? Wouldn’t anyone want the same thing?

The blind man replies, “Teacher, I want to see.”

When Jesus asks the blind man what he wants him to do for him, the blind man only says what he wants, not what he wants Jesus to do for him. He could have said, “I want you to give me my sight,” but he leaves this implied. Was he afraid to ask Jesus to do for him what he really desired? How many of us are afraid? Do we think that Jesus cannot, or will not, do for us what we ask?

But Jesus understands the man’s desires. He doesn’t ask the man this hard question because he doesn’t know the answer, but because he does. He wants to have a conversation — a relationship — with the man that leads to true healing. Healing is never simply physical. It is spiritual, emotional, and relational. Jesus wants this man’s trust in God to grow.

In Psalm 37:4, it says, “Delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” God does give us what we want. He also creates the desires of our hearts:  he causes them to grow within our hearts as we grow in the joy and delight of relationship with him.

Jesus healed the blind man. The blind man received his sight from the Lord. Jesus did this not only so that the blind man would see, but so that we would.

“In his light, we see LIGHT” (Ps. 36:9).


Seeing in the Light

by After Death (Ari)




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“You do not realize now what I am doing,

but later, you will understand.”

~ Jesus


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 Three Marys

We decided to go to the garden
even though a giant stone blocked our way,
with spices to perfume our memories,
with tears to anoint him, with prayers to pray.

But at his tomb, we were greatly alarmed
for the stone had been rolled back from the cave,
and a strange young man was there, dressed in white,
saying, “Fear not! He is not in this grave!

He is risen! He is alive! Now go,
tell his disciples that He goes before
you to Galilee, and you will see Him
resurrected, alive forevermore!”

Trembling and astonished, we fled in fear,
but with hope and joy that Jesus was near.

The Three Marys at the Tomb by Adolphe William Bouguereau

The Angel

I will declare to you the dreams of God,
the invitations of the Almighty,
with lilies in my hands, fire in my wings,
with the Word that was and is and will be!

When the earth quakes, I will come down to you,
my face like lightning, my clothes white as snow,
and fear of me will fall on Roman guards,
who, like dead men, can neither hear nor know.

But you will hear my voice proclaim the truth:
“I know you seek Jesus, him Crucified,
but he is not here, for He is risen!
The Lord is no longer dead, but alive!”

Behold, the revelation from on high!
Do not be afraid, for Jesus is nigh.


The Gardener

I saw you, Beloved, standing quiet
at the foot of my cross waiting for me
to speak to your heart as you were longing
to hear my Word to you beside that tree.

I spoke seven times, but to you, nothing,
a deep silence almost too much to bear,
but, Beloved, I was waiting for this:
to meet you in the garden of your ear.

Mens tua hortus meum est, yes, your
mind is my garden, your voice is lovely!
I have heard the voice of your weeping here,
and I call you by name, by own Mary.

I love you, Beloved, I love your name;
for the love of you, my dear one, I came.

Jane Beal
Made in the Image (2009)

noli me tangere

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Was your first cradle

reflected in the rolling eye

of the blue ox?

Were your white swaddling clothes

stuck through with bits

of golden hay?

What was the first lullaby

mother Mary sang into

the garden of your ear?

When your mouth was milk-wet,

did you breathe

on her leaping heart?

Were her eyes

reflected in your eyes

so the reflections went on for eternity?

A dream under a bright star,

angels, shepherds, Persian magi –

witnesses to a carpenter who midwifed a virgin,

a girl who gave birth to an infant king:

the gray donkey prays when he brays

and kneels down under Joseph’s gentle hand

in worship of the God-made-flesh

sleeping in a stable

with an awakened heart

and a human soul.

Jane Beal

from Epiphany: Birth Poems (2011)

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In the gospel of John 9:1-38, we can read the story of the way Jesus miraculously healed the man born blind. It’s an astonishing story, really. For Lent, my RezArtists’ group was asked to respond with artwork — visual & lyrical — to this story. We did. To see the results, visit the RezBlog on the Blind Man.

“One thing I do know:

I once was blind,

but now,

I see.

John 9:25

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I discovered the Dune series, the most popular and influential ecological science-fiction books ever written, before I was eleven. I read them all, and even as a child, I wanted to meet Frank Herbert. He died in 1986, but I didn’t know until I was a teenager. Meanwhile, I went on admiring the personal psychology of his extraordinary characters — men and women in his invented universe — where memory was pivotal to being not only for invidivuals, but for cultures, for Herbert believed in the Jungian collective unconscious at the cellular level: a powerful idea!

Not only did I read Herbert’s books, I re-read them, literally dozens of times. Whenever I was sick, I would pick them up and read them again. Again and again.

I memorized the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, and I would recite it to myself (as many of Herbert’s readers have done): I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over and through me. When it has gone, I will turn the inner eye to its path. Where it has been, there will be nothing. Only I will remain. When I was afraid, I would recite these words along with scriptures from the Bible: Do not be afraid because I am with you and He has not given us a spirit of fear but of love and of power and of a sound mind and The Spirt of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him.

In addition to the Litany, Herbert’s universe had other songs and poems in it, too, intriguing ones. I was recently experiencing a relapse of tendonitis, and so, feeling unwell, wanted to re-read the Dune books. When I got to the third book, Children of Dune, I read this poem with a new interest:

Nature’s beauteous form

contains a lovely essence

called by some — decay.

By this lovely presence

new life finds its way.

Tears shed silently

are but water of the soul:

they bring new life

to the pain of being —

a separation from that seeing

which makes death whole.

I wondered why the word “death” in the final line couldn’t be the word “life.” But another poet, Herbert, wrote those words … The young Leto plays this poem as a song for his sister Ghanima on a baliset when they are overlooking the Dune desert when night is falling.

This poem got me thinking about Frank Herbert as a poet as well as a science-fiction writer. I went on GoogleBooks and read the first 150 pages of Frank Herbert’s biography, written by his son, Brian: Dreamer of Dune. I found other poems in those pages that I admired. One was a protest poem that Frank Herbert wrote when murals painted by his friend, Bernard Zakheim, were removed from the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco.

What folly to think there

is no place to receive this.

No empty place for this

painting to be.

Driven into the heart of the thing itself —

we have a relationship, this

artist and myself.

This hand and my eye have just met.

The simple phrases of this poem made me think of my own relationship to Frank Herbert as an artist. For some reason, in this season of my life, I wanted to understand his life better and how his life produced his stories — his extraordinary stories — and his meditations on the way memory works for his characters. Every time I re-read Herbert’s works, it is as if his “hand and my eye have just met.”

Another poem Frank Herbert wrote, and his son Brian published in the biography, meditates on the meaning of a life in a way powerfully relevant to this questing / questioning I’ve been feeling about the author and the man, Frank Herbert:

What is the meaning of your life?
If you live close to nature, is it hidden in—
a towering tree,
busy worker bees,
a flower bloom,
the sun piercing morning’s gloom?

Or do you live in civilization?
Does fancy people your imagination with thoughts of —
laborers, soot and grime,
youths leading lives of crime,
long hours and payday
nightlife in its heyday?

Are you but chaff from the Great Miller’s gleaning?
Or wherever you live does your life have meaning?

It’s an intense sort of metaphor to imagine God as a Great Miller and to wonder if we, ourselves, are chaff or grain in his gleaning. In this metaphor, the poem alludes to Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13). Perhaps, in its questioning, it reflects Frank Herbert’s ambivalent relationship with the Roman Catholicism of his family of origin. It’s concern with place certainly reflects the poet’s ecological concerns. But that drive, to make meaning, is the storyteller’s, the poet’s, and everyman’s motivation.

The problem is that sometimes our bodies can’t keep up with our minds. They fail, but our souls continue. Herbert’s meditations on life, death and memory in his books engages this reality.

Personally, though, I am thinking of my tendons (and the tendonitis, another kind of failure of the imperfect body, stressed by overuse) — as I type this post when I should be resting them — and I recall another of Herbert’s poems, a haiku in honor of his typewriter:

typewriter clacking

in my night-encircled room –

metal insect song

The typewriter! The keyboard! Brian Herbert calls it his father’s mistress. Well, it is at the very least an extremely valuable tool, and it’s interesting to think of it singing “a metal insect song.”

Brian Herbert has published more of his father’s Dune poems in a collection called, Songs of Maud’dib, and I recommend it to those interested.

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It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall
where the alehouse is
with its laughter and quarrels, its rows of teeth, its tears, its chiming of clocks,
and the psychotic brother-in-law, the murderer, in whose presence
everyone feels fear.

The huge explosion and the emergency crew arriving late,
boats showing off on the canals, money slipping down into pockets
— the wrong man’s —
ultimatum piled on the ultimatum,
widemouthed red flowers who sweat reminds us of approaching war.

And then straight through the wall — from there — straight into the airy studio
in the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries.
Paintings that choose the name: “The Music Lesson”
or ” A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.”
She is eight months pregnant, two hearts beating inside her.
The wall behind her holds a crinkly map of Terra Incognita.

Just breathe. An unidentifiable blue fabric has been tacked to the chairs.
Gold-headed tacks flew in with astronomical speed
and stopped smack there
as if there had always been stillness and nothing else.

The ears experience a buzz, perhaps it’s depth or perhaps height.
It’s the pressure from the other side of the wall,
the pressure that makes each fact float
and makes the brushstroke firm.

Passing through walls hurts human beings, they get sick from it,
but we have no choice.
It’s all one world. Now to the walls.
The walls are a part of you.
One either knows that, or one doesn’t; but it’s the same for everyone
except for small children. There aren’t any walls for them.

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

Tomas Tranströmer
trans. by Robert Bly
in The Winged Energy of Desire (2004)

Commentary: Jan Vermeer was a seventeenth-century, Dutch Baroque painter justly famous for his use of light in his works depicting interior scenes from middle class life. His extraordinary accomplishments have recently come to the attention of the American public because of the novel-turned-film, “The Girl with a Pearl Earring.” In addition, poet Marilyn Chandler McEntyre has written a book of ekphrastic poems on a selection of the painter’s works, In Quiet Light: Poems on Vermeer’s Women.

In our poem, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer imagines Vermeer’s studio sharing a wall with an alehouse … the chaos on the alehouse side, the light and life on the art-studio side … and the open attitude of the artist to whatever may come through the wall or from the airy sky.

As I read, I couldn’t help but remember the story from the Gospels of how Jesus appeared to his disciples, walking through a wall when the door to their hiding place was locked. C.S. Lewis has written that to Jesus in his resurrected body, the wall was as ephemeral as mist is to us when we take a walk on an autumn morning. Another human being could not have done it, because “walking through walls hurts human beings,” but Jesus did.

Then he said, “Peace be with you … receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19, 22)

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Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone,
And the interrogation will not die
For there is no eternal city
And there is no pity
And there is nothing underneath the sky
No rainbow and no guarantee –
There is no covenant between your God and me.
It is superb in the air.
Suffering is everywhere
And each man wears his suffering like a skin.
My history is proud.
Mine is not allowed.
This is the cistern where all wars begin,
The laughter from the armoured car.
This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.
This is your fault.
This is a crusader vault.
The Brook of Kidron flows from Mea She’arim.
I will pray for you.
I will tell you what to do.
I’ll stone you. I shall break your every limb.
Oh, I am not afraid of you,
But maybe I should fear the things you make me do.
This is not Golgotha.
This is the Holy Sepulchre,
The Emperor Hadrian’s temple to a love
Which he did not much share.
Golgotha could be anywhere.
Jerusalem itself is on the move.
It leaps and leaps from hill to hill
And as it makes its way it also makes its will.
The city was sacked.
Jordan was driven back.
The pious Christians burned the Jews alive.
This is a minaret.
I’m not finished yet.
We’re waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
What was your mother’s real name?
Would it be safe today to go to Bethlehem?
This is the Garden Tomb.
No, this is the Garden Tomb.
I’m an Armenian. I am a Copt.
This is Utopia.
I came here from Ethiopia.
This hole is where the flying carpet dropped
The Prophet off to pray one night
And from here one hour later he resumed his flight.
Who packed your bag?
I packed my bag.
Where was your uncle’s mother’s sister born?
Have you ever met an Arab?
Yes, I am a scarab.
I am a worm. I am a thing of scorn.
I cry Impure from street to street
And see my degradation in the eyes I meet.
I am your enemy.
This is Gethsemane.
The broken graves look to the Temple Mount.
Tell me now, tell me when
When shall we all rise again?
Shall I be first in that great body count?
When shall the tribes be gathered in?
When, tell me, when shall the Last Things begin?
You are in error.
This is terror.
This is your banishment. This land is mine.
This is what you earn.
This is the Law of No Return.
This is the sour dough, this the sweet wine.
This is my history, this my race
And this unhappy man threw acid in my face.
Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone.
These are the warrior archaeologists.
This is us and that is them.
This is Jerusalem.
These are dying men with tattooed wrists.
Do this and I’ll destroy your home.
I have destroyed your home.  You have destroyed my home.

James Fenton
New Selected Poems (2006)

Commentary:  Tomorrow, I am going to Jerusalem.  I first heard of Jerusalem when I was in my mother’s womb, listening to charismatic sermons in my amniotic sack and dreaming dreams about Jesus before I was even born.  There has never been a day in my entire life when I was not aware of the city of Jerusalem.  I have imagined it.  It has become a metaphor for my heart, for the the center of my soul.  But it is a real place.  I have no idea what it will really be like for me to walk on the walls and the streets of Jerusalem.

I have read other people’s gospels and stories and poems about Jerusalem.  I have imagined what they were imagining.  I have sung songs about Jerusalem.  I have studied medieval maps that place Jerusalem in the center and call it the umbilicus terrae, the navel of the world.  I have translated the word, Jerusalem, from Spanish, French, Latin, and Hebrew into English in dozens of translation exercises over the past twelve years or more. 

It is impossible to go to Jerusalem without preconceived notions, without ideas and pictures, other voices, other languages, other words.  I read James Fenton’s poem, and that is one vision.  There are other visions.

Claudia told me what it was like to drive up from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at sunset.  Onnaca told me she hated the pressing of the mob of tourists at the holy sites … and she took a day just to look at the sky over Jerusalem … and the experience was more deeply spiritual for her than kissing any reliquaries.  I have listened to testimonials from other tourists on radio programs, in pulpits and classrooms, at the dinner table and on the internet.     

Today, I read half a dozen poems about Jerusalem.  William Blake turned Jerusalem into a metaphor for England’s religious triumphalism.  Yehuda Amichai complained, justifiably, about tourists only interested in the monuments of Jerusalem and not its citizens, its people.

My memories are full of Jerusalem, and I have never been there.

In fact, I have precious momentos from Jerusalem:  a bookmark my pastor gave me when I was in elementary school after he returned from his once-in-a-lifetime journey, a stylized print of the old city on purple cloth that my step-father gave me for Christmas one year.  

But tomorrow Jerusalem will be real to me in a way that has never been possible before.

What will Jerusalem be like for me?  I know everyone sees it differently; certainly that is what James Fenton is saying in his poem.  But even knowing my perceptions have already been shaped by the pilgrimages of other people — like Egeria and Margery Kempe and Birgitta of Sweden — my desire to see Jerusalem is still an intense passion:  a passion for Jerusalem.


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