Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A nativity poem

Ok, this is sort of goofy--but I just encountered this poem that I loved-- and it's about the Nativity--when I was wanting to find Easter poems--

still, I loved it so much I wanted to have a record of it here. My word--I keep rereading it and rereading it and loving it more and more right now. I guess that's my prayer-- that the boy I love and that I too (and as many as want this) would have the grace to work and work on this question--"What is the world?"--and maybe to find, little by little... the "answered" experience written here...

(it's probably another illegal post. I don't know if this releases me from any guilt to say this. but i thought I would try).

Li-Young Lee

In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world?
just to hear his sister
promise, An unfinished wing of heaven,
just to hear his brother say,
A house inside a house,
but most of all to hear his mother answer,
One more song, then you go to sleep.
How could anyone in that bed guess
the question finds its beginning
in the answer long growing
inside the one who asked, that restless boy,
the night's darling?
Later, a man lying awake,
he might ask it again,
just to hear the silence
charge him, This night
arching over your sleepless wondering,
this night, the near ground
every reaching-out-to overreaches,
just to remind himself
out of what little earth and duration,
out of what immense good-bye,
each must make a safe place of his heart,
before so strange and wild a guest
as God approaches.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Same Valved Heart

Here's another Easter poem-- this one contemporary--by John Updike. I found it on this website ( which reprinted it by permission. I, however, do not have that same permission. -- no time to comment now, but I found it very helpful at challenging the softened, safe view our culture has tried to make of the resurrection (when the culture doesn't ignore or reject it outright).

Seven Stanzas at Easter
By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;

if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent; it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Telephone Poles and Other Poems © 1961 by John Updike. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House Inc.

Monday, April 13, 2009


As a girl, Easter was always my favorite holiday. Finally I could feel again the sunshine and warmer air on skin that had been so long stuffed in sweaters and heavy coats, hats, mittens, scarves. Finally we could see more green grass than dirty snow and mud.

My mom almost always made the three sisters new flowery dresses (This now is absolutely astounding to me... !) She would be finishing the hems and we would be finding the last of the pins as we drove into church. (I can't imagine how exhausted she must have been.) We had new shiny black patent-leather shoes to snappily dance around in that day as we twirled in our new dresses and bonnets and ribbons. The earth and all of us in it felt lovely and pretty again.

And church was a pagent that day-- a huge show of smoke machines billowing smoke in front of a empty tomb, the deep bass music thundering through our bones, the orchestra and choir and that massive organ all pulling out all the stops.

Then we drove through the countryside to my grandparents farm and had an Easter egg hunt with our older cousins--outside! One of the first spring days we could comfortably play outside again--and in our prettiest dresses at that! And then we all ate that wonderful country feast-- the kind that leaves you helplessly exhausted, satistfied, delighted-- ham and grandma's perfect mashed potatoes and her beautiful pickled red-beet eggs, (and all the other pickled things) and new peas in cream and angel food cake iced with strawberry ice cream and I'm sure there was pie and her homemade balogna and on and on--food that I suppose I will eat again only after the Resurrection, when she can cook for me again.

I still love Easter--even though there is no way to completely recapture that beauty and joy that I experienced in every detail as a little girl--I try. I still dress myself and my son in the best clothes I can find, make my humble and meager approximation of Grandma's feast (pickled red-beet eggs and angel-food cake iced with strawberry ice-cream of course), I still revel in the energy and joy at the church service, and delight in the flowers and beauty of the creation this time of year.

And the truth is, that though I now spend my winters in California and spring comes right around Ash Wednesday here (as far as I can tell)--I am old enough to have a little better idea of what winters we can experience in our hearts. And though I haven't tasted much of death--I have tasted a little bit--and I think I know a little bit of the taste of the relentlessness of time and the hopelessness of my own striving against time and death and my own sin.

These days, I don't want so much of the pretty clothes at Easter as I want the hope that the story of this beautiful and awful world can come out right. I say I believe this, and I do. But I also see that it takes a certain "work" to enter in to this belief. Similar to all the work my mom and Grandmother and our church did to make Easter so special for us as children, I could give myself more fully to the work of recognizing and claiming Easter's hope in my life.

In his book, Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright suggested that if we spend forty days weeding the garden for Lent, we could give that much energy to the blooming and fruiting of that garden during Eastertide. Easter historically was a 50 day season, he reminds us, and for Christians, it defines our existence--the way we view history, this universe, and our own lives within its framework. So he says,

"In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought ot be a time to take things up..... Christian holiness was never meant to be a merely negative. OF course you have to weed the garden from time to time....that's Lent. ... Easter is a time to sow new seed and to plant out a few cuttings."

He suggests that we add something during this time that is self-giving and expanding to us--even if we can only do it for this season.

I love the idea--cause it sounds a lot more fun to me than the giving-up and weeding stuff. I love this idea--but I don't know what exactly to do--what should it look like. I'm no good at the fasting/ weeding-- and people have been teaching me about that for a few years now. So what about this planting??? What about, as Wendell Berry called it "practicing resurrection." How do I do that? I imagine there would be acts of service and worship involved. I imagine joining with God's creative works of justice and of beauty and goodness in this world.

Still, I'm very weak and unformed--so, just as I only gave up a few cups of coffee this Lent, I'm only planning a little experiment this Eastertide.

I thought I would take some time during this season to celebrate Easter on this blog--I wanted to post a poem --at least weekly.

So here's the first offering--for Easter-- by John Donne--- This is absolutely beautiful. May it sing to you!


Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;

For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,

And better than thy stroke ; why swell'st thou then ?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And Death shall be no more ; Death, thou shalt die.