Bottomless Cup Press presents “A Complaint Before the Court of Coronavirus Justice”

Please download the PDF version of the prayer/poem that includes commentary for use in worship or group settings.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Keeper of the Universe.
You have thus far kept us alive and preserved us.
Though Sister Death arrives with swiftness now into our circles of care,
We praise You and remember that You alone
are keeper of the Book of Life.
It is You who sends Your Angel Death into the world dressed as a broom;
You who fashioned us from earth, mixing straw and mud with Your own breath.
You blew Time into our nostrils, making our days like fruitful herbs,
which green up in morning, flower and flourish at noon, then fade by close of day.
In humility and grief, we stand before You now, mindful of all we have not loved.
We acknowledge through tears and fears, through our grief, sharp or dulled,
that You alone are God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
We, though many, are not gods. And now, small and frightened, we stand
before the power of viral death that sweeps through the corners of our world.
We are small and afraid of the media’s measuring stick of dead and infected.
We are small and afraid before the needs of our family, neighbors, and congregations.
We are small and afraid listening to tales told by rulers who are full of sound and fury.
We are small and afraid in the face of scarcity and those who demand to be paid.
We are small and afraid before our isolated, individual selves—
self-quarantined, sheltering in place, locked down—and we long for the casual
affections of others.

Yet,
though our sins flow behind us for all the world to see,
we bring, like the Prophet Jeremiah, a complaint before Your court of
coronavirus justice:
If we have taken to heart your command to honor our fathers and mothers,
why must they succumb so quickly to death?
If rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, why are the unjust given an umbrella?
If you promise care for the poor, why are these deprived of work, denied
adequate health care, prevented from accessing Covid-19 tests?
If we train our children for school, why must they now study mourning instead of math?
Why must the best and bravest among us—medical teams, chaplains, ambulance
drivers, grocery clerks—be repaid so harshly for their service?
Why must those with power abuse it through selfishness, hoarding, and greed?
Why, when our nation spends billions on defense, have we been left so defenseless?
Lord, Our God, Death arrives among all like the sound like a shoe with no foot
in it, like a suit with no man in it
.
We protest and demand justice. What are we to do?
And the Lord God said to them:
“O Mortal One, O Empty Suit, O Shoe with No Foot, listen to what I have to say:
You have sacrificed my poor ones at the altar of your stock market.
You have wasted my good Creation, the gift I gave you for your delight and healing.
You have treated sacred life as something to be bought and sold.
You have driven me from your hearts and trapped me in memorials to false pasts.
You have enslaved my people in your profit prisons,
separated me from my families with your harsh policies,
and put your trust in gods of metal, weapons of war, and handguns of fake
heroism.
O Mortal One, like riotous purple wildflowers in an afternoon field have I loved you.
I put my own heart beating within you and wrote there my wedding vow.
You are my beloved. Return to me with all your heart.”

From the mercy seat, a Great Silence went out across the earth.
Then the people said:

[Insert individual or communal responses here.]

Rose Marie Berger, author of Bending the Arch: Poems, is senior editor at Sojourners magazine in Washington, D.C.

My Lai Massacre in Vietnam: 50 Years Later

I was five years old when the people of a set of small villages in the My Lai region of Vietnam were massacred by U.S. soldiers. I don’t remember hearing about it or understanding what it meant until much later. However, I do remember driving with my parents to San Francisco to pick up my cousin who was returning from Vietnam where he served as a medic. He was not the same cousin I remembered from before. He was traumatized.

I am of the era where my older cousins and my high school teachers were veterans of the U.S. war in Vietnam. It colored everything they thought, did, felt. It set them apart from other Americans. In subdued desperation, all around us, the fought for their sanity and to make sense of hell. An impossible task.

Fifty years later, our U.S. wars are removed, sanitized. We don’t do “body counts.” We’ve outlawed frontline reporting. We have drones to kill for us. But the frontline soldiers still come back traumatized — and the killing of the innocent and guilty enemy is no less hellish.

I’m grateful to Ken Sehested for inviting me to submit a poem-prayer to this collection of worship resources produced for the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee to remember and repent what our war looked like on March 16, 1968. I invite you to use them in your personal Lenten reflections and with your community and Veteran’s groups.–Rose Berger

>>Those of us who worked on the My Lai Massacre 50th Anniversary resources share a belief that truth is found in many faith traditions. A list of relevant quotes from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is included. What we believe we all share in common is the longing and struggle for a world characterized by mercy, in turn mediating the demands of justice and the prerequisites of peace.

Those who planned the sample liturgy are Christians, and we write from our own experience; we do not presume the ability to leap from our context to construct a service incorporating the insights from other spiritual traditions. We recognize that honest interfaith engagement does not include abandoning our own confessional expressions, though it does mean holding such convictions with humility. Among other things, humility requires listening, the most penitential posture when approaching God, who always—always—calls to us from beyond borders and boundaries.

We trust that those who gather with us from other traditions, or of no particular religious affiliation, will participate as fully as vision and conscience allow. Even more, we hope that you may find some useful material in these resources (from which you are free to borrow and edit or adapt as seems appropriate) to develop a “Penitential Opportunity” service appropriate to your own tradition.

Included in addition to the liturgy are several supplemental resources: suggestions for additional music, litanies, and other readings; a meditation on the meaning of penitence, a theme integral to many religious traditions; a brief collection of historical facts to help in understanding the context of the My Lai massacre; a collection of quotes to guide deeper reflection and seasoned conviction; and a testimony from a volunteer in My Lai.

We recognize the pastoral challenge of getting local communities of faith to devote focused attention on an episode of brutality, 50 years past, in a place thousands of miles away, where few U.S. citizens have ventured to visit. This is particularly true in a culture in which communicating God’s promise, purpose, and provision is often confused with a desire to accentuate the positive.

The writing and compiling of these liturgical resources was done in anticipation of the Christian season of Lent, when penitence is a key theme, culminating in Easter’s hopeful promise of a redemptive future. This year the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is April 4, only three days after the church’s buoyant proclamation of death’s coming annulment. We seek prayers from every quarter to assist us in knowing how to seek the Beloved Community he proclaimed, and to live animated by Resurrection’s promise, in the face of the world’s seemingly endless confidence in what theologian Walter Wink called “the myth of redemptive violence.”<<–Ken Sehested, author and editor of prayerandpolitiks.org and coordinator of these worship resources

Fourth Sunday in Advent

“Come Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; From our sins and fears release us; let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”

“Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.“—Romans 1:5-7

We light the fourth Advent candle to remind us that things are not always as they seem, and that hope springs forward at the sound of its name.

In William Blake’s poem “Jerusalem” he wrote:

I give you the end of a gold string.
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
built in Jerusalem’s wall.

The followers of The Way in the early church wove together a “gold string” that reached back to the creation of light in the Genesis story and forward to this very Sunday in Advent. There is a golden thread that sews us together as students of Jesus. Paul calls this thread the “grace of apostleship.” It is passed, hand to hand, from one generation to the next. Like kindergartners on a field trip through the big world, we are given a rope and told to hold on. We know that the rope reaches all the way back to the teacher, the anchor, the shepherd.

Advent is a time to marvel at the golden thread and to make sure that we have not become separated from it. If, by chance, you have become separated from it, do not be afraid. Jesus extends the end of the string to you again. What glistens in your life? What sweetens your days? Your answer is the beginning of the thread. “Only wind it into a ball,” my friend and “it will lead you in at Heaven’s Gate.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab: The Messiah After the Crucifixion

Iraqi Christians demonstrate for peace and against ISIS in Mosul, 2015.

The Messiah After the Crucifixion

After I was brought down, I heard the winds
Whip the palm trees with wild laments;
Footsteps receded into infinity. Wounds
And the cross I was nailed to all afternoon
Didn’t kill me. I listened. A cry of grief
Crossed the plain between me and the city
Like a hawser pulling a ship
Destined to sink. The cry
Was a thread of light between morning
And night in a sad winter sky.
Despite all this, the city fell asleep. …

Excerpted from Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s poem “The Messiah After the Crucifixion”

Advent Poem: The Rim by Rose Marie Berger

silver-rim

The Rim
The meaning is in the waiting. —R.S. Thomas

Like a silver goblet, Advent
slips round again      passing through heat

and the End of Days      a darkness
too searing for the lip. Smiths

engrave the old year beneath
the rim.      Tradition keeps memory

gradual. The pedestal base round
as the new year      full of what lies

ahead. Is it hope? Or simply
the exodus of this generation
into the flames of the one coming.

–Rose Marie Berger (for Lydia Wylie Kellermann, 2016)

Thank you to Radical Discipleship where this poem first appeared.

Poem: A Psalm For Probating an Estate

Zab_love your enemies
Elizabeth Palmberg

A Psalm For Probating an Estate
for Zab Palmberg

O God, Thou art Creator and Destroyer.
You exhale and we are made to live;

You inhale and we are returned to You.
You plant us like a seed

in good, fat soil.
You tend us and bring the rain and sun.

You delight in our roots and our branches
and our fruits.

Then we ripen —
into beauty and fullness —

falling softly to Your ground.
Our bodies are wiped clean

with the oil of gladness.
Our soul-seeds are wrapped

in prayers of thanksgiving.
Our wordy flesh, our bulky wealth

are dispersed
to the least, the lost, the lonely.

Our sisters snatch back
our brief and glorious labor

from the blunt teeth of the enemy.
Then we are spread —

like bread upon the waters.
You and us, too,

watch the little fish rise up
to feed.

Blessed are Thou, O Beloved,
Thou art our Destroyer and Creator.

Rose Marie Berger, a Catholic peace activist and poet, is a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine.

Note: Our outgoing interns led worship this week at Sojourners. They invited us to write a psalm to share. I had just returned from D.C. Probate Court where I filed the final papers for my friend and co-worker Elizabeth Palmberg’s estate. Zab died on June 23, 2014. This is the psalm that came out.

Frank O’Hara: ‘To You I Offer My Hull’

77f03b81525c329cf418a4c357baa421“To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel ….”
–Frank O’Hara

(Excerpt from To The Harbor Master from Meditations in an Emergency, 1957)

Valentine’s Day Poem: “Positioning” by Rose Marie Berger

Artist Kypros Kypros

Positioning

I didn’t count the rings
on the oak we took down

—crane and all—but think
there must have been a hundred

or more.   I’d rather,
I’m sure, count the hairs

on your head
or finger the span

of your spine, my hand
on your smooth skin,

until we are old enough
to have limbs

that can no longer bear
the weight of a high wind

or surprise snow.

Rose Marie Berger is a Catholic peace activist and poet. This poem is part of an unpublished collection.

Poetry: ‘News reach of the women dead in them sleep’

I studied with Shara McCallum in the MFA poetry program at the University of Southern Maine. Her new book This Strange Land has just been published and includes her series of “Miss Sally” poems in Jamaican dialect. Based loosely on conversations with her grandmother, McCallum’s poetry here is stunning and clear.

Miss Sally on the Grandmother Fires
by Shara McCallum

Hear what I tell yu: God promised Noah,
No more water. The fire next time.
That evening, mi sit down on the verandah
teking in a lickle fresh air when news reach
of the women dead in them sleep.
Lickle by lickle, the rest of the storey come out:
two young boys acting like men, like God himself.
153 dead—and fi what? Fi win election?

Mi dear, in all mi years I never imagine
is so low we would stoop.
For a people who know
what it is to be the lamb,
how we go lead our own
to slaughter?

Shara McCallum is the author of This Strange Land, just out from Alice James Press. Her two previous collections of poetry are Song of Thieves (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003) and The Water Between Us (University of Pittsburgh Press). Born of Afro-Jamaican and Venezuelan parents in Kingston, Jamaica, she lives with her husband and two young daughters in central Pennsylvania, where she directs the Stadler Center for Poetry and teaches creative writing and literature at Bucknell University.

“We Astronomers” by Rebecca Elson

Orion Nebula from Hubble
Orion Nebula from Hubble

We Astronomers
by Rebecca Elson

We astronomers are nomads,
Merchants, circus people,
All the earth our tent.
We are industrious.
We breed enthusiasms,
Honour our responsibility to awe.

But the universe has moved a long way off.
Sometimes, I confess,
Starlight seems too sharp,

And like the moon
I bend my face to the ground,
To the small patch where each foot falls,

Before it falls,
And I forget to ask questions,
And only count things.

From A Responsibility to Awe by Rebecca Elson (Oxford Poets, 2001)