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”
“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..
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
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
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.
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 ….”
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
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.
While proofing a 1989 article in Sojourners by Daniel Berrigan, I came across this poem by Cesar Vallejo. Berrigan referenced it in relation to Isaiah 49.
Vallejo was a Peruvian poet. He was born in 1892 and published his first collection of poems – Los Heraldos Negros – in 1918. This translation of “Dios” is by Robert Bly.
by César Vallejo
I feel that God is traveling
so much in me, with the dusk and the sea.
With him we go along together. It is getting dark.
With him we get dark. All orphans . . .
But I feel God. And it even seems
that he sets aside some good color for me.
He is kind and sad, like those that care for the sick;
he whispers with sweet contempt like a lover’s:
his heart must give him great pain.
Oh, my God, I’ve only just come to you,
today I love so much in this twilight; today
that in the false balance of some breasts
I weigh and weep for a frail Creation.
And you, what do you weep for . . . you, in love
with such an immense and whirling breast. . . .
I consecrate you, God, because you love so much;
because you never smile; because your heart
must all the time give you great pain.
I wrote this strange little poem a few years ago. It wasn’t prompted by anything happening in the Middle East, but as I revisit it now, there is some element of lament that resonates with my current lament for the people in Gaza and Israel.
Some Songs Required Psalm 137
by Rose Marie Berger
Down the river from Babylon
there was a city of Dales,
not quite like Zion. In Nutdale,
Elmdale, and Oakdale people sat
two by two in boxes neatly stacked
where they wept without knowing why.
Upriver, Babylon heard only their singing
in a special language of clicks and snaps;
not in the stringed language of the lyre,
that riffled and flowed over the feet
of the Stored Ones. True too that the Dale-dwellers
babbled in a tongue fewer and fewer of them
could understand. Instead they stared:
at each other, at the river, pointing out the little
heads of children, afloat like golden boats
on the current. While Babylon, teeth sharp
from gnawing on its platinum
bedpost at night, reached down its
right hand to touch the flag hanging
limp between its legs. A single gold tear