these are a shadow

…all that is worth remembering of life is the poetry of it

Month: December, 2012

wild and sweet

“This is a hard saying,” they complained for probably not the first time, as Jesus invited them to feast on his flesh and blood. Is he mad? Are we? Truth is frustrating our expectations, help us to love it. We find ourselves wearied of listening. And he stoops again and slows his syllables for us, promising the Spirit for our unhelpful flesh. Wild and sweet.

There is something about grace that can not square just right with our brains, so we should stop trying to make it do so. This is the only deity who has ever said “come as you are” and “come without money” and shocks us by offering his body as our bread and wine. Wild and sweet.

Great writers who have embraced grace in all of its counter-worldly grit and grandeur seek to shock, too. Flannery O’Connor adopts the motif of the grotesque in order that the blind and deaf may be startled into the truth of their condition. Distortion, exaggeration, counter-thought (every time, I squirm.) Yet she gets grace. She gets that she doesn’t get grace, and neither do we. Grace makes us see ourselves in the lowest twistings of human nature, and that we have no claim on a good heart. Such a painful, facade-peeling revelation is necessary for joy and freedom. (We resist believing that good men are hard to find, unless we are speaking of those over there. Then, of course, “we” have all gone astray.) No, I am the one who needs restraint, who needs knowing eyes to meet mine, and the touchable, healing body and blood of the only Good Man brought to my ill lips. “Drink you, all of it. Even you, slow to hear and quick to hate. Grace is for sinners.” Wild and sweet.

Christmas bells ring the startles of grace, too, in their “old familiar carols”: And wild and sweet, the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men. Peace said that he came down from heaven, while we could only see that he entered through a birth canal to dirt poor, worshipping Mary and Joseph. But the scandal of the Christmas child is not that Israel’s royalty was born among cattle, but that Heaven’s son came to give us himself as eternal bread. Wild and sweet grace for unsteady pilgrims. Let it blow you away, as it’s meant to do.



Most eyes stay the cold distance,
seeing us ever behind those sturdy walls of towns, flesh and hearts
with the other lepers —
But there were whisperings of the master healer today, and
our rotting epidermises and atrophic tendons were lurching
for a notice that stays, that touches, that cures.
He knows our Samaritan blood,
He stands separate in his Jewish goodness,
more pure than the purest who look away,
yet somehow we dare again.
Hope shrivels, but still quivers in us,
these lumps of unrecognizablity.

“Mercy us, master Jesus. Even us.”
We see him ahead;
and we keep away, but feel a beautiful exposure –
there are no walls in his gaze.
Strange freedom, he must know us beyond this leprosy,
he must know me beyond this grave-bound body.
Do the others feel it with me, that my very heart is being pierced –
a heart diseased more by bitterness than my skin by bacterium?

“Go, appear to the priests.”
No room for questioning such a man, only hastily limping to obey.
Only with each step, we feel, and breathe, and run. Forgotten bliss.
The holy men who had only sent us back to
the uncleanness and stench of ourselves before,
now saw soundness and the glow of life in us,
in eyes that had been met by the life himself.

To thank, to praise,
I must be unfitting since he knows my deeper pollution,
yet there is none else but to run back.
“Come with me!
As sick brothers, we wailed.
As loved men, we sing.
The master has heard and healed us.”
Now, I shout deliverance through renewed lungs oxygenating
healed muscles and feeling skin, and fall when I see him.
My face bathes in the dust of his standing-place,
and my hands tremble to touch his sandaled feet.
They are touchable now. They are grace.

A glance behind finds no movement,
no stampede of eighteen other whole feet of other whole men.
No hands crowding mine to adore Jesus.
Alone, I look back to his face.
“There were ten. Only you returned to praise? A stranger to this place?
Stand and live. You have trusted me, you have found me.
Today, it is well with your soul.”