It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop, very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say, it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time. ~Marie Howe “Part of Eve’s Discussion”
We all know how vulnerable we are to temptation; we know our failings and weaknesses yet how quickly we can go from knowing to forgetting.
There is a stillness, a suspension of time, in that moment of knowing – there is constant internal debate about the choices we face and what to do with that knowledge.
How many of us, knowing well the consequences, still do what we ought not to do? How many of us, having been previously told, having learned from history, having already experienced our own banishment, still make the wrong decision?
All of us, all the time, that’s how many. We are helpless despite our knowledge of good and evil. We forget, over and over.
Thank God for His grace in the face of our poor memories. Thank God He still feeds us wholly from His loving hands.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote: “The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.” No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller. ~Flannery O’Connor from “Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose”
But a dragon lies in ambush for the traveler; take care he does not bite you and inject you his poison of unbelief. Seeing this numerous company winning salvation, he selects and stalks his prey. In your journey to the Father of souls, your way lies past that dragon. How shall you pass him? You must have “your feet stoutly with the gospel of peace,” so that, even if he does bite you, he may not hurt you. ~St. Cyril of Jerusalem
…withyour feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15
<Here there be dragons> was any place on the ancient maps that was unknown and unexplored- a place to avoid at all costs~ or for the daring and carefree, pointing to exactly the place to explore.
Here there be dragons marks the remainder of our days that dwell at the edge of life’s roadmap ~ unknown and unexplored ~ and often full of peril.
So many dragons to pass ready to swallow us whole if we make a wrong turn, or singe our britches if we stray beyond the known borders of the map.
So many dark valleys to pass through so many mysteries remain unsolved, so many stories of fateful journeys told.
We pull on our stoutest shoes, ready to trek where ever we are sent, not straying from the well-worn path of the faithful who have stayed out of the jaws of the dragons to tell the story.
Praise the wet snow falling early. Praise the shadow my neighbor’s chimney casts on the tile roof even this gray October day that should, they say, have been golden. Praise the invisible sun burning beyond the white cold sky, giving us light and the chimney’s shadow. Praise god or the gods, the unknown, that which imagined us, which stays our hand, our murderous hand, and gives us still, in the shadow of death, our daily life, and the dream still of goodwill, of peace on earth. Praise flow and change, night and the pulse of day. ~Denise Levertov from “Gloria”, an excerpt from Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus
Yes. It is true.
Our murderous hand
is not stayed nearly enough.
We continue to witness the deaths of innocents,
so many homeless cast aside,
and what to do for refugees seeking sanctuary
who may not believe as we do,
who do not look or talk or act like
We are not them. They are not us.
But all image bearers.
Yet shadows are cast on the grayest of days
only because there is light still there,
hidden though it may be.
Be illuminated by mercy without the shadow cast.
Be stilled by the pulse of life in others who are not us.
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. ~Jeremiah 31:15
We live in a time where the groaning need and dividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized. Countless people are subjected to hatred, violence and oppression which go unchecked. The injustice and corruption which exist today are causing many voices to be raised to protest and cry out that something be done. Many men and women are being moved to sacrifice much in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace. There is a movement afoot in our time, a movement which is growing, awakening.
Yet this terrific human need and burden of the times causes us to see how weak and powerless we are to change this. Then we must see that if we are to advocate change, we must start with ourselves. We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for social injustice, oppression, and the downgrading of others, whether personal or on a broader plane. We must see that a revolution must take place against all that destroys life. This revolution must become a revolution different from any the world has ever seen. God must intervene and lead such a revolution with his Spirit and his justice and his truth. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw on to itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means, chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom. ~N.T. Wright from The Crown and the Fire
Inundated by more news of deaths of innocents,
unending violence and division and blood-letting,
we have groaning need for transformation:
We cling to the mystery of His magnetism
for our weaknesses and flaws.
He willingly pulls our evil onto Himself and out of us.
Hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness
disappear into the vortex of His love and beauty as
the grungiest corners of our hearts are vacuumed spotless.
We are let in on a secret,
His mystery revealed:
He is not sullied by absorbing the dirty messes
we’ve made of our lives
so that our hatred is nullified.
Instead, by His Spirit
we are forever changed
and will groan no more.
The ghosts swarm. They speak as one person. Each loves you. Each has left something undone.
Today’s edges are so sharp
they might cut anything that moved. ~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are… Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner in “Wishful Thinking and later” in Beyond Words
Seventeen years ago
a day started with bright sun above
and ended in tears and bloodshed below.
It is a day for recollection;
we live out remembrance
with weeping eyes open,
yet close our eyelids
to the red that flowed that day.
The day’s edges were so sharp
we all bled and still bear the scars.
The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side. ~G. K. Chesterton
…our hands have always been able to heal as much as harm. …since the dawn of humanity, each of us contains three people— the angel, the demon, and the one who decides which we will obey.
It shouldn’t take plunging into a profound darkness,
swallowed in a pit of sadness and sorrow
to experience God’s immense capacity for love and compassion,
but that is when our need for light and forgiveness is greatest.
It should not take sin and suffering to remind us
life is precious and worthy of our protection,
no matter how tempted we are to choose otherwise.
We are created,
from the beginning,
in the beginning,
with the capacity to choose sides between darkness and light
and we choose too often to be cloaked in darkness.
Our God chooses to shine the light of His Creation,
to conquer our darkness through illuminating grace,
dispersing our shadows,
suffering the deepest darkness on our behalf
to guarantee we are eternally worthy of His loving protection.
How then shall we choose when He so clearly chooses us?
The snow is melting and the village is flooded with children. ~Kobayashi Issa (translated by Robert Haas)
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:15
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple, Or cosy in a crib beside the font, But he is with a million displaced people| On the long road of weariness and want. For even as we sing our final carol His family is up and on that road, Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel, Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,| The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power, And death squads spread their curse across the world. But every Herod dies, and comes alone To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.
~Malcolm Guite from Waiting on the Word
And the slaughter of innocents and weary road for refugees continues unabated- In observance of The Feast Day of the Holy Innocents:
There is no consolation for the families of those lost:
Their arms ache with emptiness tonight,
beds and pillows lie cold and unused,
blankets and cuddlies await all night hugs
that never come again.
There can be no consolation;
only mourning and great weeping,
sobbing that wrings dry
every human cell,
leaving dust behind,
dust, only dust
which is beginning
He came to us
for times such as this,
the dust of woman and
the breath of Spirit,
God who bent down to
lie in manger dust,
walk on roads of dust,
die and be laid to rest as dust
in order to conquer
such evil as this
that could displace masses
and massacre innocents.
He became dust to be
He began a mere speck in a womb
so often washed away from life
His heart beat
breathing each breath
until a fearful fallen world
and our breath
He shines through
the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
His tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.
He hears our cries
as He cried too.
He knows our tears
as He wept too.
He knows our mourning
as He mourned too.
He knows our dying
as He died too.
as this happened.
Evil comes not from God
yet humankind embraces it.
Sin is a choice
we made from the beginning,
a choice we continue to make.
Only God can glue together
what evil has shattered.
He just asks us to hand Him
the pieces of our broken hearts.
We will know His peace
when He comes
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried,
our cells no longer
never only dust
as we are glued together
by the breath of God
the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1: 78-79
…deeds are done which appear so evil to us and people suffer such terrible evils that it does not seem as though any good will ever come of them; and we consider this, sorrowing and grieving over it
so that we cannot find peace in the blessed contemplation of God as we should do; and this is why:
our reasoning powers are so blind now, so humble and so simple, that we cannot know the high, marvelous wisdom, the might and the goodness of the Holy Trinity.
And this is what he means where he says, “You shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well”, as if he said, “Pay attention to this now, faithfully and confidently, and at the end of time you will truly see it in the fullness of joy.
Today in the newspaper a whole page is devoted to the photos, names and ages of those cut down a week ago in the latest mass shooting, all victims of an unexplainable evil.
I cannot find peace in their deaths. If I were their family member, there could be no peace for me in the ongoing anguish and despair of untimely senseless loss. Only the intervention of the Holy Spirit can possibly change anger and grief to the fullness of joy. It can come as slow and imperceptibly as the still small voice.
I pray that those who have been hurt, who may never fully recover from their physical and emotional injury, may come to understand how such evil may be used for good. It is the hardest of all for our simple blind human reasoning to accept.
All manner of things shall be well – even as we weep until we are dry.
…And I think They know my strength, Can gauge The danger of their work: One blow could crush them And their nest; and I am not their friend.
And yet they seem Too deeply and too fiercely occupied To bother to attend. Perhaps they sense I’ll never deal the blow, For, though I am not in nor of them, Still I think I know What it is like to live In an alien and gigantic universe, a stranger, Building the fragile citadels of love On the edge of danger. ~James Rosenberg from “The Wasps’ Nest”
Anger is as a stone cast into a wasp’s nest. ~Pope Paul VI
The nest was hanging like the richest fruit against the sun. I took the nest
and with it came the heart, and in my hand
the kingdom and the queen, frail surfaces, rested for a moment. Then the drones
awoke and did their painful business.
It hung undisturbed the past few months as its busy citizens visited our picnics, greedily buzzed our compost bin, shot bullet-like out of the garbage can when I lifted the lid. In short, their threat of using their weaponry controlled all our moves this summer.
This nest is their nighttime respite for a few more weeks before a freeze renders them weak and paralyzed in slow motion. A thing of beauty outside harbors danger inside. I must not touch this tissue paper football nest with its beating buzzing hornet heart.
Let winter deal the devastating blow. As I am not in or of them, I cannot cast the first stone.
In a few short weeks, as they sleep, the north winds will tear it free from its tight hold,
bear it aloft in its lightness of being, and it will fall, crushed, broken, its secret heart revealed and all that stings will be let go.
It is Margaret you mourn for. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Spring and Fall”
This morning we weep and know why.
It is not simply the sorrowful loss
of the perfection of spring and childhood
giving way to the dying of the fall,
the last gasp coloring of leaves and skies.It is the loss of innocence, of sense of reverence for life,
this blight man was born for,
this bleeding out for no reason.
What must drive one man’s selfish rage, loneliness and despair to compel him to deprive innocent others of their blood and life?
What unexplained evil overtakes one heart that he seeks to stop the beating hearts of others before his own is stopped?
When will there ever be safe havens again in society?
Not schools, not churches, not hospitals, not concerts, not any place people gather.
This is a day for lament, for tears, and for prayers to God that we cry out and bleed out the spiritual sickness that is infecting us all.