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The Lovers II

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The Lovers II, Rene Magritte (1928)

“You were once shrouded, but aren’t anymore. How?
“We’ve casted shrouds on our faces, but shrouded lips can’t kiss, you know. We’ve put a blanket over our heads, but blanketed eyes can’t see the light. And shrouded ears hear muffled sounds, covered mouths speak muffled words, laugh muffled laughs. Blind hands resort to choking and molesting. If we could truly see each other, I imagine we would scream at the ghosts around us – but I’m only guessing, as I’ve only ever stumbled in the dark. But you don’t scream at us, but with us. And you don’t laugh at us, but with us. And even as our shrouds are darkened by the carnal graffiti of those we blindly fear, your washing machine still chugs. How long are these skulls yet shrouded? Pulled tightly around my neck, the knot is too tight for me to untie. Shrouds, shrouds everywhere and yet no grave to lie down in.
And yet you have the audacity to ask, ‘Shroud or veil?'”

Revelation 19:7

THE OLDEN DAYS

“…back in the olden days,” she said. The phrase so affectionately rolls off the tongue, glimmer-eyed and cheery. These black-and-white days exist as such in more than mere photographs, but in moral, in thought and in memory. And these days past are spoken of casually, not admitting that the way of Cain was before her olden, golden, beholden days to which she clings and yet never inspires hope.

But these days, these present days are grey. And these present days are cold. And in these present days we’ve lost sight of color, of a vibrant tomorrow. These present days are a discount steak and blown fuse. Tonight we are left with piles of bones from yesterday, and no hope of sinew for the morn. Cherished are the words of those who confess “the worst the closest to,” and yet the starving artists are scoffed at and turn away. And the pig pens are full of salt and broken bulbs. These, remarked the Revelator, are the olden days and have always been.

One day I too will sit on my rocker in the pocket of his smock and speak of olden days, the grey and lonesome days. The days when we tediously dusted off the salt and reassembled glass, the bloodied hands like those of our dripping Pollock.
Dearest,
I hope you drip some paint on me to remind me of who I am and what I do. And I hope that you paint messily and ruin our favorite jeans with paint, that in our frustration we might throw some around too. 
“There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed.”
Revelation 21:4

Shaky Praise

Moltmann wrote that human life is in danger not because of death (for man has always faced death), but because life is no longer loved. Despite the fact that there are human beings in this world, at this moment, who love death more than life, who at any moment could choose to violently tear from the fabric of my life, I will not surrender my love. In the wake of violence and death, I choose to love. In the face of fear-mongers and covered faces, I choose love.

And yes, I openly confess to doubting God’s existence and goodness, and often; and yes, I openly confess my anxieties each day, my fear, my in-ability to reconcile tragedy with goodness – these bones need not a closet but a couch, not dust but sinew. For in the presence of these things I press on and find life because of them, knowing that in my doubt Christ is merciful to me (Jude 1:22), and in his mercy I have been given a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), and in this hope I have faith (Colossians 1:23), for in my faith I believe Christ when he tells me he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7), and because I trust his care I cast my anxieties and my doubt on Him (Ecclesiastes 11:10), and in casting my doubt on him I ask that he turn my confusion and cries into song. In moments of crippling emotion, I remember the God of my youth for at his table am I welcomed, a cripple. In this faith and in hope I choose love. And so I make every effort to supplement this faith with virtue, that I might walk as did my Lord; and this virtue I supplement with knowledge, that I might be ever-prepared to give an answer; and this knowledge with self-control, that I might pause to seek His face; and this self-control with steadfastness, that I might not be carried away in the wind; and this steadfastness I supplement with godliness, that each day he would make me pure; and this godliness with brotherly affection, that my table would be always open, the edges of my field ever-free; and this affection with love, that I wouldn’t give into the temptation and sin of hate, but instead that I might sing his praise.

So this day I sit in silence as did Job, and turn, willingly and forcefully turn, to the empty tomb and not the whip. This day I am thankful that the sun rose and burst through my window, to remind me that the light will never die. I am thankful that I awoke to my wife sleeping peacefully beside me, a reminder of the reality and presence, the certainty of love. Today I am thankful for the enjoyment of an espresso and a donut, for music during a ride with my mother-in-law, for the brisk and beautiful morning because in the Spirit these temporal signposts turn my senses to Christ; because in the cafes and schoolrooms and marketplaces, in the presence rubble and the broken glass, in the sunlit kitchen, there too is Christ. I am thankful this day for my friends, for my co-workers, for those that I minister to and by whom I am ministered to in his name. I am thankful for his word and for prayer, that today he hears me, he hears my complaint, my shaky praise, my belief. And yes, though I at times fear for these things and for these people, though at times I feel as if everything pulls me away from him, my bones confess his praise. I give not the reaper the privilege or victory of stealing my love for life, for in these things is Christ, and before him the reaper bends the knee and is crushed.

 


“Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

 

                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
– Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1892)

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Hear her quivering voice as the words painfully escape her lips, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Feel the gravity of the pause on the road to Emmaus: “And they stood still, looking sad.” Having just watched the blood of their beloved drip at the feet of his executioners, the disciples were suddenly thrust into the experience of painful separation, of hopelessness. They with the tragic Prince of Denmark proclaim, “I have that within that passeth show; These but the trapping and the suits of woe.” Stumbling in a colorless cloud of mourning, their minds were numbed and forgetful of the words of their Lord as he addressed the Sadducees some time before, that God is the God of the living! In the midst of grief a scarred hand beckons us come! and heed the call to “see the place where he lay”; come! and let again the inquiry shock you, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”; come! and feel the warmth of a coal fire in the emerging light of day.

The Dying of the Light

Mort[1]

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” [2]

A scythe neared the door. A cold, sickly hand approached the knob. Blackened sockets met eyes vibrant and fearful with a profound sense of a reality quickly approaching. He slid from his bed and thrust open the curtains to let in the light. Met with a second layer of cloth, the room stayed dark. With all his might he continually tore the cloth away only to be met again and again with more dark drapery. This went on for some time. All the while, he felt the presence of the Other watching behind him; it not did breathe, it did not move, it merely watched. Exhausted and hopeless, he looked to the floor, covered with piles of ruffled, black curtain. His eyes turned upward at the sound of a voice.

“Clothe yourself,” moaned the hollow Other, “for the light has died.”

He picked up the layers of dark cloth and stared at the figure as he draped them over his head and shoulders. He could feel his face sinking inward, his eyes becoming the hollow sockets which stared at him. Fear gripped him. The rags which weighed heavy upon his shoulders seemed to swallow him so completely that he no longer felt like himself. He felt more like the Other than like a man.

Taking a deep breath, he turned toward his night stand. He pulled open the drawer and found a box of matches. He struck one and he lit himself on fire.

“…the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” [3]

The handle turns though the door is locked,

And the avenues are overgrown;

The light is dim and the Reaper knocks.

Polite of a knuckle that it should mock

The close of day, for with a gentle groan

The handle turns though the door is locked.

Wrists bear the heart’s clock,

And the masses touched, the flame blown;

The light is dim and the Reaper knocks.

Visions of the aged had power and shock,

And tears were loosely sewn;

The handle turns though the door is locked.

And you my siblings for so long have been stalked,

I too have been preyed on by him, feared and known;

The light is dim and the Reaper knocks.

Fear not the rags that moan as they walk,

Again the pulse will meet the bone;

The light is dim and the Reaper knocks.

The handle turns though the door is locked.


[1] Public Domain – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/98/Mort.jpg

[2] Do not go gentle into that good night -Dylan Thomas

[3] Matthew 4:16, English Standard Version

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I am admittedly scatterbrained, as I’ve just finished a paper. However, before the immediate thoughts escape my mind, I wanted to post them.


     A scarred hand calmly guides another towards a hole in the flesh. The owner of the quivering, inquisitive hand looks in unbelief as he nears the opening. After the events of the past few days, and the claims that have been made since, one resonates with the look on his face: the tired eyes, his raised eyebrows, his nearing the flesh for a closer look, his wrinkled forehead. This hole in the flesh, though, isn’t an open wound, but a healed one, bearing the marks of cruelty and injustice, yet now standing as a symbol of their submission, their defeat. And this man (we shall call him the Doubter, as he has been historically made known) is being guided by another into these wounds, into this victory. Two others accompany the Doubter, also looking with raised eyebrows at the scene before them. It is Christ who bears the wounds, Saint Thomas who reaches forth, and Caravaggio who provides the image. Painted in the early 1600s, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas stands as a symbol to the doubter, to the skeptic, to the unsure that even today he invites us into himself that we may believe; we are invited to become contemporaries. [2]

Any image of the resurrection, however, is a constant reminder of the events prior and the severe offense of that which Caravaggio paints. We see before Thomas Christ’s resurrected flesh: his pierced side, his scarred hands. Being a contemporary in glory seems initially an easy, comfortable task, but we are suddenly forced to ask, “How did he get them?” At this moment the doors of our mind are opened and images of that cruel Good Friday are ushered in, images of suffering. We shudder. We hesitate. We are then forced to ask, “How did he get there, on that cross?” We think of Christ’s works, of his words, his drawing in the sand, his touching diseased skin, the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine, his confrontations with the religious leaders, his claims of divinity, his lowliness. We’re angered. We’re confused. And yet, behold, the bloodied body of the dying Christ. It is at this moment, with this recognition of abasement, that we are forced to decide: shall we believe or be offended?

This is the central question asked in Kierkegaard’s Practice in Christianity, to believe or be offended.  Today I speak to the Christian who, choosing belief, is to live as a contemporary with Christ, even today. Below are two prayers for today rooted in my reading of his work. I had attempted to give a more lengthy historical synopsis of the work and my thoughts on it, but I decided not to, because I would rather have something simple here that motivates you to read it as well.

I

     My prayer for the Christian is that disagreement and confrontation lead them into the presence of God collectively and to the Scriptures that they might remember who they are before the Lord, before each other, and the before the Church; that we might be humbled and spurred into that which builds up as opposed to tears down and to be sure of our uncertainty even in that which we are certain.

II

     My prayer for the Christian is that they live before God in this moment, as His contemporary, seeking always to imitate Him rather than to merely admire, to partake in his wounds, as did the Doubter, even as they gather their own, to know that the eyes looking back in the mirror must first be thrust upward before those which look on do the same.

 

Each individual in quiet inwardness before God is to humble himself under what it means in the strictest sense to be a Christian, is to confess honestly before God where he is so that he still might worthily accept the grace that is offered to every imperfect person – that is to everyone. And then nothing further; then, as for the rest, let him do his work and rejoice in it, love is wife and rejoice in her, joyfully bring up his children, love his fellow beings, rejoice in life.[2]

 


 

[1] By Neils Christian Kierkegaard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[2] http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

[3] S. Kierkegaard (edited by Hong and Hong), Practice in Christianity (Princeton: 1991) 67.

I Awoke once in the Garden of Calvary,

I knew not the hour when I had fallen asleep,

Only that I soon found myself among broken pottery.

The ground upon which my head had lain,

Cold, yet warm and eerily alive,

Was deep, deep red, most clearly a stain;

Above me stood a towering tree.

Though quite a difficult task,

I’ve written below His conversation with me.

I don’t like that you’ve bled on me.

Your branches, they sway,

Your roots, they bleed.

And I stood there with crimson fingers.

You asked me to stay

Your voice still lingers;

Fresh it remains in the depths of my ears,

Full of Joy, Sorrow,

Full of Laughter, Tears;

Contrasts in you, I said, find reconciliation:

Man and tree are interwoven,

Pride marries humiliation.

My bark, you said, is worse than my bite.

I laughed.

Yet neglect of either will only worsen your plight.

So listen closely, O Son of Macbeth:

My Bark brings fullness of life,

My Bite beckons most dreadful death.

You, most pitiful, cannot wash your hands;

You can neither breathe nor think

Nor look on distant lands,

For no other exists but here and now.

Beneath this tree thousands sleep,

You have the same choice as they: shall you stand or bow?

Should you stand, you will find no rest,

For to stand is only to be bitten,

And you shall I forever painfully detest.

Yet to bow is to receive both bite and bark;

It will kill you, as it did the others,

But gazing into the light is far worse than the dark.

You may rest at my roots,

Or wander the earth alone,

To your right is your spade, the left, your boots.

So choose, O Son, city or slum?

You were sweet and fierce all in the same moment.

Choose, O Son, for your dying hour has come.