Sacred Cycles

Spring has arrived today in the Pacific Northwest of the USA.  73 degrees and sunshine lured me out to the lake to ponder the message it might have for me.  It’s astounding that such a small, seemingly inconsequential event can awaken us to the essence of life.

Connections poem

 “The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is; and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God. ”       § Meister Eckhart

Yom Ha Shoah: Holocaust Day of Remembrance

 

YomHaShoah SIX CANDLES

  Yom HaShoah

 

“You just keep living until your are alive again,” said a character in last Sunday’s BBC episode of “Call the Midwife.”  The words stir me to write on this eve of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Survivors, their families, indeed, the whole Jewish community endure, and even thrive, with a resilience I can hardly even dream of mustering.  I repent and grieve for the evil perpetrated against Jews and others in the Holocaust.  I celebrate their resilience, born from a deep well of faith.

Inaugurated in Israel in 1953, Holocaust Remembrance Day is ritualized differently throughout the world.  Common threads are the lighting of six memorial candles to represent the approximately six million victims.  The Mourners’ Kaddish is often recited to show that despite their loss, Jews still praise G-d.  At the memorial ritual in Auschwitz, school children participate in “The March of the Living,” which is a profound defiance of the Death Marches to the crematoriums.  I am reminded of the work of theologian Walter Brueggemann, who calls for a “prophetic imagination” which re-appropriates acts of injustice as positive acts of life- a way of living until we are alive again.

One Sunday I came to Hebrew class at Temple Beth El- always the only Christian student- this day, the only student.  My teacher, whose relatives did not survive the holocaust, took the opportunity to teach me some of the more obscure facts about anti-Semitism.  She said with searing pain, that in the Spanish Inquisition Jews were denied the right to recite Kaddish.  The refrain that G-d will “uproot foreign worship from the earth,” threatened the power of Christianity, I presume.

As I imagine the youth reciting Kaddish on their March of Life today at Auschwitz, I rejoice in the hope their action evokes.  In them, their ancestors live on.  Paul Celan’s poem, “Death Fugue,” draws us inside life in a death camp.  The images are shattering, but we must look.  We must remember.  After embracing the horrifying reality, I return to celebration of the resilience of a people who still chooses life.  L’Chaim!

 

Death Fugue
by Paul Celan

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden
hair Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are
flashing he whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a
grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at
sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair
Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith we dig a grave in the breezes
there one lies unconfined

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you
others sing now and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his
eyes are blue
jab deeper you lot with your spades you others play
on for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at at noon in the morning we drink you
at sundown
we drink and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith he plays with the serpents
He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master
from Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then
as smoke you will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one
lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink
and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in
the air
He plays with the serpents and daydreams death is
a master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith

Translated by Michael Hamburger

Clip Art Credits:  http://free-bitsela.com/

The Spiritual Practice of Being Attentive

stopwaitopenfor blog

 

If you want to develop a conscious way of living, this little mantra may become a helpful tool for you, as it has been for me.  It emerged when I was still working and dealing with the frantic pace of the job.  When I feel caught up in activity or verbal clutter I say the mantra and enact it.  By making this a consistent practice we can stop the intense break-neck speed of modern life.   A slower pace carves out a spare room in our souls where we wait for the Spirit to enter and work in and through us.  Practice and time develop the courage to open our minds and hearts to positive and new possibilities.

Easter Stretching

easter toddler.

While I worked as a peace activist I cared for toddlers a few hours a week.  It was such a relief to escape the darkness of nuclear weapons and attitudes of war by immersing myself in the imagination of two-year-olds for a few hours.  My favorite time was when they woke up from their nap.  Happy Easter!

 

Six somnolent toddlers
nestle in daycare cots
clutching stuffed animal amulets-
their companions into the dreamworld.

One by one they rub sandman eyes
and extend their little arms to me
as budding tree branches stretch to the sun.

We sit and rock
to the rhythm of hushed monosyllables
identifying body parts and objects.
I wonder if Jesus touched his resurrected body
exclaiming, “My eyes!”  “My nose!”  “My ear!”

My war-worn heart hungers for hope.
Who can give it?
The children.
The children teach trust.
I rub my purblind eyes,
and stretch out my arms,
Born again.

© rita h kowats 1991-2014

Photo Credit:  “Freedom” by citybreezes at  https://www.sumo.fm/#profile/p=2

Calvary Is Right Here

homeless person

 

“Palm Sunday”
Joyce Rupp

 

Three men
proclaiming the memory
of your path to Calvary.
Three men
with somber voices
making all the appropriate
pauses and inflections.

But what I remember
is the Calvary
beside me,
the man
whose body odor
invaded my space,
the man
seemingly homeless,
surely mentally
challenged.

The three men
went on and on and on
with their words
telling the history
of your suffering.

I found you
not in their stiff words
but next to me,
a man still bearing
the heavy cross
of loneliness and rejection.

“Palm Sunday” collected in My Soul Feels Lean:  Poems of Loss and Restoration Sorinbooks, 2013

 

 

Photo Credit:  Edited from The Homeless Epidemic at http://eng105project3.blogspot.com/?m=1

 

 

Good Friday: Belong To The Truth

michelangelo's resurrected Jesus

“….I came into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”  John 18: 37

(Note:  I have faith in Jesus as a great prophet who loved his religious tradition.  At the same time, I abhor acts of violence against Jews perpetrated by hateful and ignorant Christians who label all Jewish people as “Christ-Killers.”  This Good Friday I will be repenting the recent killing of three people at two Jewish community centers near Kansas City, Kansas USA, and I will ask for conversion of heart for all of God’s people.)

Michelangelo’s resurrected Jesus leaps out of the tomb just as he tumbled out of Mary’s womb:  a clean and unhindered human.  This Friday many will hear the evangelist John tell the story of his passion once again. Jesus stands before Pilate and Caiaphas in the eye of a storm powered by fear.  The power of truth lives in the spaces between his scant words:  “I am.”  “YOU say that I am a king.”  “Why ask?”  “I testify to the truth.”  “I thirst.”  “It is finished.”

At the end he substitutes the vulnerable silence of the manger for the strength in his few words truth.  As we read Jesus’ responses, we can feel power emanate from his truth that is contemplated and lived.  His experience is not unlike Martin Luther’s, “Here I stand, for I cannot do otherwise,” or Thomas a Becket’s “It is not given me to win you over, Henry; it is simply given me to say no.”  Jesus is the unmoved mover, speaking sparingly but powerfully from the eye of the storm:  “Here is the truth.  I know it because I live it.”  It proves to be too much for the power mongers.

And what of us?  How does the witness of Jesus speak to us from John’s gospel on this Good Friday?  Love truth. Seek it.  Preach it.  Preach it from the spaces between our eloquent words, where human traffickers and immigration officials, and yes, even legislators, will be confounded by its power.  Only when we recognize truth, live it and preach it, does it belong to us and we to it.

John 19-19:42  New Revised Standard Version: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+18%3A1-19%3A42&version=NRSV

Photo Credit:  “The Risen Christ”  Michelangelo ca. 1513 black chalk drawing Collection The British Musiem, London, England

 

Death, The Great Midwife

Meadowdale Beach County Park Eckart Tolle on Death

 

 

As we move through the rituals of Holy Week this meditation from Eckhart Tolle in Stillness Speaks is a rich companion.

“When you walk into a forest that has not been tamed and interfered with by humans, you will not only see abundant life all around you, but you will also encounter fallen trees and decaying trunks, rotting leaves and decomposing matter at every step.  Wherever you look, you will find death as well as life.

Upon closer scrutiny, however, you will discover that the decomposing tree trunk and rotting leaves not only give birth to new life, but are full of life themselves.  Microorganisms are at work.  Molecules are rearranging themselves.  So death isn’t to be found anywhere.  There is only the metamorphosis of life forms.  What can you learn from this…?

If you can learn to accept and even welcome the endings in your life, you may find that the feeling of emptiness that initially felt uncomfortable turns into a sense of spaciousness that is deeply peaceful.

By learning to die daily in this way, you open yourself to Life….

Whenever death occurs, whenever a life form dissolves, God, the formless and unmanifested, shines through the opening left by the dissolving form.  That is why the most sacred thing in life is death.  That is why the peace of God can come to you through the contemplation and acceptance of death.”

 

Photo:  Meadowlake Beach County Park, Lynnwood WA USA

 

 

“Come Forth! “

Lazarus come forth 2

“And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with grave-clothes and his face muffled with a handkerchief. “Now unbind him,” Jesus told them, “and let him go home.”   John 11:44

I sat in our humble, spirit-filled church yesterday, listening to our preacher proclaim the story of Lazarus’ return to life, all the while, the image of Antelope Canyon wafting in and out of my consciousness.  This poem was born today.  I hope it will be for you as it is for me:  food for the journey before us.

Primal and pristine
Light
plummets through the fissure
of my tomb,
Trumpeting untested life.

Vigilant Wings
nudge an expectant spirit
through the stone canal
rubbed smooth by the struggle
to unbind.

Tomb shattered
Death battered
I tumble out
Unfettered,
Transfigured.

© rita h kowats Lent 2014

 

Photo Credit:  Antelope Canyon Page, AZ Joyce Roach, O.P. used with permission.  If you would like to feast more on Joyce’s poignant images, you can reach her at 253-756-9435, 1111 Rose Lane, Tacome WA USA 98406.

 

“I Have Been To The Mountaintop” Martin Luther King Jr. R.I.P. 4-4-1968

MLK Dead 4-4-68

 

In his speech to the sanitation workers on strike in Memphis TN on April 3, 1968, Dr. King said,

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

One could ask if Dr. King should have followed his premonition and avoided his death, but because he had  seen the glory, that was not an option.  He remained the prophet until the end. I am grateful for his commitment and courage and for that of all leaders and workers of the Civil Rights movement in an era which meted out dire consequences to conscience-sayers.

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm