Another poem for you: God, by Kahlil Gibran.
Even for a poet, it takes tremendous boldness to title a poem, ‘God’.
Yet, look closely, the poem moves slowly. So humbly. In 1000 year segments of time. The poet acknowledges that this poem has literally taken him 1000’s of years to write. The poet is bold but also humble. And when it comes to matters ‘God’, one must be both.
Insight spoken, is met with Silence. Repeatedly. A Silence that invites further wrestling and deeper knowing. A Silence that creates space for unlearning, the most difficult learning of all…
In the ancient days, when the first quiver of speech came to my lips,
I ascended the holy mountain and spoke unto God, saying, “Master,
I am thy slave. Thy hidden will is my law and I shall obey thee
for ever more.”
But God made no answer, and like a mighty tempest passed away.
And after a thousand years I ascended the holy mountain and again
spoke unto God, saying, “Creator, I am thy creation. Out of clay
hast thou fashioned me and to thee I owe mine all.”
And God made no answer, but like a thousand swift wings passed
And after a thousand years I climbed the holy mountain and spoke
unto God again, saying, “Father, I am thy son. In pity and love
thou hast given me birth, and through love and worship I shall
inherit thy kingdom.”
And God made no answer, and like the mist that veils the distant
hills he passed away.
And after a thousand years I climbed the sacred mountain and again
spoke unto God, saying, “My God, my aim and my fulfillment; I am
thy yesterday and thou are my tomorrow. I am thy root in the earth
and thou art my flower in the sky, and together we grow before the
face of the sun.”
Then God leaned over me, and in my ears whispered words of sweetness,
and even as the sea that enfoldeth a brook that runneth down to
her, he enfolded me.
And when I descended to the valleys and the plains God was there
When our own words feel so thin and brittle that we fear they may break for lack of meaning the moment we speak them, then it may be wise to turn to the poets. The poets are the brave ones, unafraid to pen their hearts down to paper for the world to poke and prod, looking for signs of life and searching line by line for love. The poets whose imaginations forever outsmart the intimidations of the “this is how it will be, because this is how it has always been” brigade. The poets who so beautifully voice our questions that we are no longer tempted to have a quick fling with an answer. The poets who so intricately and intimately describe our wounds, that we are healed by their understanding of them, and are able to wait less anxiously for a cure, or even surrender to there being no cure.
Here are four poems for you. The first poem makes a case for poems (well, “certain poems”). I hope the others prove the case.
“Not many of them, it’s true” ~ by Gregory Orr
Not many of them, it’s true,
But certain poems
In an uncertain world—
The ones we cling to:
They bring us back
Always to the beloved
Whom we thought we’d lost.
As surely as if the words
Led her by the hand,
Brought him before us.
In an uncertain world.
A Blessing for one who is exhausted ~ by John O’Donohue
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laboursome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out,
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the rush of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have travelled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of colour
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit,
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
The World Has Need of You ~ by Ellen Bass
seems to need us ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and the twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much.
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple as well.
The Eye ~ by Kahlil Gibran
Said the Eye one day, “I see beyond these valleys a mountain veiled with blue mist. Is it not beautiful?”
The Ear listened, and after listening intently awhile, said, “But where is any mountain? I do not hear it.”
Then the Hand spoke and said, “I am trying in vain to feel it or touch it, and I can find no mountain.”
And the Nose said, “There is no mountain, I cannot smell it.”
Then the Eye turned the other way, and they all began to talk together about the Eye’s strange delusion. And they said, “Something must be the matter with the Eye.”
It was Henri Nouwen who said: “Our greatest fulfilment lies in giving ourselves to others … beyond all our desires to be appreciated, rewarded and acknowledged, there lies a simple and pure desire – to give.”
This should not surprise us. Our faith invites us to trust that humanity is born in the image of a lovingly generous and generously loving God. In other words, we are born to be lovingly generous and generously loving. Is this not why we feel more in love with life when we choose to be generous and why we feel shrunken within ourselves when we decide against being generous? The generous choice is commonly motivated by love, and its opposite by fear. Deciding to pay someone the most we can afford tastes different to paying someone as little as we can get away with. Love is sweet on the tongue and nourishing for the body, while fear tastes sour in the mouth and fails to fill the stomach.
If there is any truth in what I’ve just written, then we would be wise not to leave our generosity up to “chance”, but rather do some planning. We make plans to earn money so why not make plans when we give money? Planned generosity actively searches for opportunities to be generous. Where our passions meet the pain of the world is a good place to start. And once we know where we want to give then we can set out to grow our generosity. For some, 10% of income is a good place to start, for others 10% of income is a good goal to aim for.
CMM as a community sets aside 10% of all offerings received. Over the years even when we did not actually have the cash in the bank, we kept the tithe amount on the books to remind us that 10% of everything that comes in, must flow out for it simply does not belong to us. The giving plan of CMM works as follows: 80% of CMM’s tithe go to the following 6 areas: HIV/Aids; Education; Informal Settlements; Violence/Peacemaking; Poverty/Unemployment; Youth. 20% goes to miscellaneous concerns or emergencies. We also favour local (Western Cape) versus not local on a 70 – 30% split.
Recently we have been privileged to give R200k to pre-school education (including schools within informal settlements and the city). Another R50k will soon be going to pre-schools in Namaqualand. A remarkable organisation working to alleviate poverty and unemployment in the city received R50k on top of the R60k that they already receive annually from CMM. An organisation that has responded quite miraculously to the hunger crisis as a result of COVID-19 also received R50k. We continue to offer sustainable finance to city traders in the vicinity of the Church office. We foresee that these instalments of around R10k will need to be repeated a few more times to help traders keep their stores open until the passing foot traffic increases once again.
At CMM we are not taught to give to the church per se, as if funding a church equals “giving to God” (this teaching at best forgets that God so loved the world – not the church – and at worst it can be a manipulative disguise for personal and institutional greed). Instead, we are simply taught to be generous and to grow in a generosity that is good news to the poor. We do not give in order to get, but there is a definite reward in giving. The reward: We come alive when we give. We come alive because we honour the image of God at our core of who we are, and we honour our neighbour with whom we are one. The preacher’s task is to constantly invite us to come alive through generosity rather than determine the destination of our generosity.
I trust that every act of generosity that is good news for the poor and vulnerable is an act of life-giving partnership with the Lover-of-the-world-God. Writing out a cheque to care for vulnerable children; putting food into hungry bellies through Gift of the Givers; supporting an anti-gender-based-violence campaign; enabling reforestation to take root or for investigative journalists to continue to courageously expose death-creating corruption are all holy acts. As holy as any Sunday offering.
For this reason, I am aware that CMM is just one avenue for the gift of your generosity and therefore I write with gratitude to you. Your giving enables CMM to give. We do so with the hope of touching some of the pain of this world that God so loves with a loving generosity that heals.
Please continue to practice the COVID Trinity:  wear a mask  regularly wash hands  keep physical distance. As the 3rd wave surges to dangerous and deadly levels, please take this seriously. Attached is a letter from the Bishop (Synod COVID task team).
Please note that the safest way to attend CMM’s Sunday service is via zoom (Zoom link available via firstname.lastname@example.org).
Those of us doing the online Manna and Mercy course at the moment have been reminded that the Bible was not written into an empty void, but rather to contest an already existing and prevalent theology. This existing theology endorsed a hierarchy of human worth as God’s natural order. Starting at the top with the king. The only proof needed that the king was God’s favoured one was that he was the king. (The king demands you just ignore the circular argument of the last sentence.) The king alone had God’s ear as well as a military on tap, to pour out state-sponsored and spirit-sanctioned violence (a proxy for God’s wrath) on any and all who dared question the structured hierarchy of society – after all (so the theology proclaimed) it is God’s ordained ordering of the world and must not be challenged or changed. Those in power generously supported the seminaries that promoted this theology and therefore not surprisingly it dominated the religious market … and still does … be it in different ways.
The Bible on the other hand, introduces a God who has ears for the oppressed. A God who sides with slaves in their struggle for redemption*, demanding that the king let them go. A God who chooses the so-called “least” as partners, forever whispering to them: “you were born to be free … you were born to be free”. Called and convicted by God to freedom, they begin their long walk to salvation*. Bravely and imaginatively continuing to walk despite oceans of impossibility that lay before them. And oppressed people throughout history continue to respond to the whisperings of this liberating God while singing of God’s ordained ordering of the world as one of justice and equity for all.
Salvation used to mean ‘life before death’, and for that reason the Pharaohs of the world feared it, because it meant giving up their undue privilege and power. Then they co-opted the word … literally kicking the promise of life down the road into the next life. Now that it means, ‘life after death’ the Pharaohs smile and say ‘Amen’ and then remind us to read Romans 13:1-7 before we go to sleep at night so that we can wake up obedient to them in the morning.
This week’s psalm boldly declares:
“The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed…” Psalm 9:9.
For this reason, James H. Cone correctly states:
It is my contention that Christianity is essentially a religion of liberation. The function of theology is that of analyzing the meaning of that liberation for the oppressed so they can know that their struggle for political, social, and economic justice is consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor in a society is not Christ’s message. Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology.
In view of the biblical emphasis on liberation, it seems not only appropriate but necessary to define the Christian community as the community of the oppressed which joins Jesus Christ in his fight for the liberation of humankind. The task of theology, then, is to explicate the meaning of God’s liberating activity so that those who labor under enslaving powers will see that the forces of liberation are the very activity of God. Christian theology is never just a rational study of the being of God. Rather it is a study of God’s liberating activity in the world, God’s activity on behalf of the oppressed.
Theology can never be neutral or fail to take sides on issues related to the plight of the oppressed. For this reason it can never engage in conversation about the nature of God without confronting those elements of human existence which threaten anyone’s existence as a person. Whatever theology says about God and the world must arise out of its sole reason for existence as a discipline: to assist the oppressed in their liberation. Its language is always language about human liberation, proclaiming the end of bondage and interpreting the religious dimensions of revolutionary struggle.
~James Cone: A Black Theology of Liberation – Fortieth Anniversary Edition.
A question to guide our biblical and societal interpretations is simply: “Who benefits?” Who benefits from this interpretation? From this narrative? From this proposed action? Those in power or those oppressed by power? If it is not benefiting the oppressed, then it is not of God, for let us not forget that whatever we do to the oppressed we do to Jesus.
*NOTE: Before the words redemption and salvation became “religious” words, they were political words for freedom.