maggi dawn

Honest Thomas

 

It’s the feast of St Thomas today–July 3rd being the date Jerome chose to celebrate him.

Doubting Thomas is the uncomplimentary title that Thomas has often been tagged with, and his story is often told as a rebuke to those who doubt, or perhaps more kindly, an encouragement to have more faith.  But it would be more accurate, I think, to call him Honest Thomas. He was a man of integrity; he was the disciple that asked the awkward questions everyone else was thinking but didn’t say out loud. “We do not know where you are going, Lord, how can we know the way?” asked Thomas, at the Last Supper. And by the same token he didn’t pretend to believe things that he didn’t really; he didn’t say the words everyone else was saying just to feel part of the crowd. It’s hard to own up to being the odd one out among a group of friends, and it was brave of him, when he found he was the only one not to be convinced of the resurrection, not to go off and be by himself. For a whole week he went on meeting up with the other disciples. Their faith, their joy, their stories of visions of the resurrected Christ, must have made him feel uncomfortable and left out. But he still hung around. Eventually, Jesus came and met him in person. His integrity paid off; when faith came to him as a gift, it was his own and not someone else’s.

Doubt is not the same as unbelief. Unbelief is a determined refusal to believe, whereas doubt is an honest owning up to not being convinced, and finding that the people and the ideas we encounter in this life can knock holes in our faith. To admit to doubt is to stay alive; there is nothing more wooden than a so-called “faith” that is really a repetition of ideas through obedience, coercion, or the desire to fit in, rather than conviction.

“Dubious questioning”, wrote Coleridge, “is a much better evidence than that senseless deadness which most take for believing. People that know nothing…have no doubts. Never be afraid to doubt, if only you have the disposition to believe, and doubt in order that you may end in believing the truth.

Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks says that “In Judaism, to be without questions is not a sign of faith, but of a lack of depth.” Sacks encourages people not only to ask questions about the meaning of the faith, but to question God. We ask questions, he says, “not because we doubt, but because we believe.”

If you are looking for certainty, then I guess you want to eliminate doubt. But faith is not certainty: it’s the pursuit of truth that must inevitably include episodes of doubt. And those episodes are, in the end, what open us up to fresh revelation. So Thomas’s doubt is not a rebuke, I think, but an encouragement to us to recognize that faith is the uncomfortable space between asking the awkward questions, and waiting on the answers.

(Originally posted in 2009)

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Prayer

Some nights, when I feel lonely or disoriented for whatever reason, I listen to the shipping forecast. It reminds me of months and months of my life when it was the background music to feeding my baby son in the small hours. It reminds me of years and years of nights when it was the last thing I heard before sleep. It’s like the gentle rhythm of waves breaking on the sand, the clickety-clack of the train on the tracks, or the comforting drumming of rain on the roof; a sound that gathers up all the years of one life, and holds them in continuity with the generations that went before. It’s the comfort of the ex-pat far from home, and the prayer of the soul not quite sure of the God to whom they pray.

Carol Ann Duffy put it best:

Prayer

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

On forgiveness: feeding the doves.

Forgiving is the hardest thing to do.

Forgiving doesn’t trivialize an offence – as if to say, “It doesn’t matter – I forgive you.” It does matter. If it didn’t matter, there would be nothing to forgive.

Forgiving isn’t about deserving. If someone has offended you enough that forgiving them is a challenge or even an impossibility, then they don’t “deserve” forgiveness. They may need it, want it, ask for it, or they may not even care about it, but no-one deserves it.

Forgiving doesn’t come naturally. Natural responses to offense would be to hit back, or to withdraw and hold a grudge, or to find a surreptitious means of hurting in return. Some people are more readily forgiving than others, but find an offence deep enough, and you’ll find that there is a point at which it doesn’t come naturally.

Forgiving isn’t about trading. “I’ll forgive you if you pay” never quite works. There is restitution, of course – and if the offending party is prepared to do whatever is possible to repair an offence, then forgiveness may flow more easily. But for the offended party, there is always a level at which some cost is borne. If it was possible for the offense to be paid for completely, there would be nothing left to forgive.

Forgiving doesn’t turn the clock back – not completely. It doesn’t mean you pretend it never happened. It means that you choose not to take revenge, bear a grudge, demand an eye for an eye or worse.

Why forgive, then, if it costs so much?

Forgiving is about releasing chains that hold us.

The offender is released – to some extent – by being forgiven. Often not scot-free, because forgiving doesn’t mean pretending something never happened. Forgiving a relative triviality might mean a total repair to relationship, but there are circumstances where even though forgiveness is offered, the offender still has to live with conscience or consequence. Not all relationships can be completely repaired, and the injury and memory of the past can’t be wiped clean even if the sting is removed.

But the offended party is released, as well as the offender, by forgiving. Carrying a grudge, a burden of anger, creates lonely souls. Unresolved, it makes some people explosive, and others depressed, and its corrosive effect produces points of isolation.

And further, forgiving draws a line under the offence, so that you don’t spread bitterness to those around you, or to the next generation. If you have unresolved grief, bitterness, resentment, it’s almost impossible not to hand it on to those around you. So it is, in a sense, a duty of care to the world to move towards forgiveness, for it stops the spread of the disease. This is true even if you are the offended party. Not to take the steps you can towards forgiveness (and sometimes it takes time and a lot of repeated baby steps to get there) is to create a further offence to others out of the one that was dealt to you.

Forgiving a deeply felt offence really doesn’t happen in an instant. Especially so if it changed the whole course of your life (although curiously it seems that sometimes people find relatively trivial offences harder to forgive than ones of gargantuan proportions). Sometimes you have to live with a repeating cycle of forgiveness – coming back to that decision every single day, until eventually it wears a deeper groove in your soul than the anger and hurt and grief.  But what’s the alternative? It’s like choosing between which of two creatures you will feed. Feed the doves, and sooner or later their peaceful cooing will float through your window. Feed the wolves, and eventually they will eat you too.

(First published February 2014)

God three angry letters in a book

One of my long -time favourite poems is The Incarnate One by Edwin Muir. Nowhere does Muir suggest that faith should be thoughtless or anti-intellectual. But he identifies the subtle difference between thought that embraces and explores the mystery of the incarnate word, and the kind of logical, syllogistic reduction that domesticates God, pulls His teeth, and keeps the Divine Mystery firmly in its place. Even the most liberal of theologies, if their detail and practice is insisted upon to the extent that those who do not (or do not appear to) conform are excluded from the holy huddle, becomes a kind of “purity code”. It isn’t only fundamentalist theologies that exclude their non-conformers; drawing a line around who is “in” is a limitation that people of all political and religious persuasions are prone to fall into.

But back to Muir. Theology, when it becomes reductionist and exclusive, takes the blood out of the faith we are offered in an incarnate God, removes love and humanity from the equation, and takes us back to a law that we must obey or suffer the consequences. “How could our race betray/ the Image, and the Incarnate One unmake…?” Sadly, all too easily.

The windless northern surge, the sea-gull’s scream,
And Calvin’s kirk crowning the barren brae.
I think of Giotto the Tuscan shepherd’s dream,
Christ, man and creature in their inner day.
How could our race betray
The Image, and the Incarnate One unmake
Who chose this form and fashion for our sake?

The Word made flesh here is made word again
A word made word in flourish and arrogant crook.
See there King Calvin with his iron pen,
And God three angry letters in a book,
And there the logical hook
On which the Mystery is impaled and bent
Into an ideological argument.

There’s better gospel in man’s natural tongue,
And truer sight was theirs outside the Law
Who saw the far side of the Cross among
The archaic peoples in their ancient awe,
In ignorant wonder saw
The wooden cross-tree on the bare hillside,
Not knowing that there a God suffered and died.

The fleshless word, growing, will bring us down,
Pagan and Christian man alike will fall,
The auguries say, the white and black and brown,
The merry and the sad, theorist, lover, all
Invisibly will fall:
Abstract calamity, save for those who can
Build their cold empire on the abstract man.

A soft breeze stirs and all my thoughts are blown
Far out to sea and lost. Yet I know well
The bloodless word will battle for its own
Invisibly in brain and nerve and cell.
The generations tell
Their personal tale: the One has far to go
Past the mirages and the murdering snow.

 

A Theology of Waiting

excerpted from Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women Bishops and the Church of England, chapter 2. 

Although it is sometimes right to wait, there is no monopoly of virtue in patient waiting. To agree to wait beyond the point of acceptability requires a passivity that is profoundly bad for the soul. And in this situation the call to wait, and wait, and wait again carries an undercurrent of immense, disempowering betrayal.

A dream deferred

To wait through disappointments and broken deadlines while a resolution is repeatedly deferred is damaging to individuals, relationships and institutions. Extreme cases of a deferral of hope are seen when people spend large portions of their lives waiting for inquests or judicial reviews. Even when justice is eventually done, the tragedy is not lost on us as we watch people released from lengthy prison sentences following a discovery of a miscarriage of justice, or families who have waited many years for inquests to be revisited after murder or abduction cases. The already heavy burden of a tragedy or huge error is greatly compounded by those lost years; we feel the sickening thud of injustice as we realize that ten, twenty, thirty years of someone’s life have been put on hold, and it comes home to us, as St Augustine put it, that “the drops of time are precious to me[1]”.  A recent example was the reopening of the investigation into the Hillsborough disaster. The panel, led by the [then] Bishop of Liverpool, uncovered the fact that what was already a great tragedy had been turned into a “double injustice” through the failure of the original inquest to bring the matter to its proper conclusion. Countless other stories have appeared in the press in recent years of people who having initially suffered terrible abuses, then lose years of their life through a failure of process before they find the freedom that comes from proper attention being given to their situation, and a clear, just statement is made. What these cases have in common is that a single injustice is compounded by the time that goes by, while those whose cries are unheard are simply left with no recourse to justice. The original injustice may be irreversible, but further, unnecessary harm is done by the deferral of justice in such situations…

 

Like the Wideness of the Sea was written prior to the acceptance of women as Bishops in the Church of England.It logs a history of the process up to that time, and the second Chapter, A Theology of Waiting, has application to any situation where decisions are deferred unreasonably.

Available from these sources and more:

Kindle UK

Paperback UK

Kindle USA

Paperback USA

Paperback NZ

[1]  Augustine, Confessions 11:2

Ordinary Time

 

What’s so ordinary about Ordinary Time?

After the anticipation of Advent, the spectacle of Christmas, the revelation of Epiphany and the blessing of all those lights at Candlemas, isn’t ‘ordinary’ a bit of a let-down? Who wants to be ordinary?

It has to be said, in the current climate, ordinary seems appealing and far from us. We seem to be living through the ‘interesting times’ of the apocryphal curse, and it seems a long time since the pleasantly dull days when one could show up at work and find everyone sipping their coffee with nothing but village gossip to talk about. Oh, for a return to ordinary.

In the context of church seasons, however, it’s a misconception that ‘ordinary’ means ‘not unusual’ or ‘not special’. Ordinary time isn’t plain, or unexceptional. The word comes from the Latin ordinalis, which has to do with putting things in the right order. Ticking the weeks off one by one. Numbering them, or naming them, so that you know where you are. When you put things in a numbered series – first, second, third, etc. – those are called ordinal numbers (in the linguistic use of the term, not the same thing as the set theory usage). Ordinal, ordo, and the Ordinary (bishop or office holder) all come from ordinalis, and they are all about either putting things in order, or arranging them in sequence.

The really big slab of ordinary time comes after the Easter season – more than twenty weeks leading back to Advent when the church year starts all over again. But this little slip of ordinary time between Candlemas and Lent, which can be as short as a week, doesn’t have to be insignificant.* You might be quite glad for something low key, to catch your breath before the next big thing – after all, endless feasts lose their sparkle if there is nothing to contrast them with. But even if they are quiet and unremarkable, that doesn’t mean the days don’t count for anything. It just means we count them as they happen.

*There is debate in some quarters as to whether Ordinary Time starts right after Epiphany, or after Candlemas. In the UK, it was always my habit to take the decorations down at Epiphany. But now I live in a part of the world that is regularly under snow for a good while after Christmas, I am much in favor of remaining in celebratory mode for as long as possible.

Candlemas. Presentation. Nunc Dimittis.

Today if you go to a church that celebrates seasonally you are likely to come across some mention of the infant Jesus being presented in the Temple. It was, I suppose, the first century equivalent of a baby dedication. The configuration was different, but the same themes were there: something – animals, poultry or other food  – got prepared and taken to the celebrations, gifts were brought and presented, and at the center of it all is the baby, focusing the attention on thanksgiving for the wonder of new life, relief that life has prevailed through the trauma of birth, and good wishes for the future life of the child.

In a suprisingly egalitarian clip in the gospels, two elderly prophets were present. One woman and one man: Anna, and Simeon. We don’t really know much about these two, except that they spent their lives contemplatively watching and waiting, paying attention to the signs of the times, seeing people come and go. People watchers often become astute readers of faces. All those times observing the wrinkling of a nose, the furrowing of a brow, the cracking of a smile, the shedding of tears. Like learning to read words on a page, you have to pay attention to faces to learn to read them.

Anna and Simeon read the three faces of mother, father, child. They looked into the hazy gaze of those infant eyes that as yet could hardly focus, and his unlined, unknowing baby face. They saw the meagre gifts the couple brought, and read the narrative of poverty; they looked at the gnarled and scarred hands of the man who carried the gifts, and read the story of hard physical work. And they looked at the young, spirited mother, so recently  over the threshold of womanhood, and in her face they read a half-written poem of joy and wonder, a good measure of defiance, and a little apprehension. She knew, yet she didn’t quite know, the significance of the child in her arms.

And they knew too. They saw something. Was it the baby’s face, the untold story in his mother’s eyes, or the unpronounceable secrets that his father had seen in his dreams?  Or was it all three of their faces that spoke of potential, promise, prophecy?

Thank God, said Anna. Thank God. This is what we’ve waited to see.
Now, Lord, said Simeon. Now I can die a happy man, for mine eyes have seen.


First published February 2nd 2014

Added note: The story ends with Anna immediately turning around and speaking publicly to those gathered in the Temple. On this day, the prophet and preacher in the Temple was a woman. People often say that Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist, and if you are counting from the resurrection, I guess that’s true. But don’t forget that Jesus’ mother had already pronounced the Magnificat, a poetic praise-prophecy any preacher would be glad to deliver. And here, although we don’t know what she said, it was Anna, not Simeon, who took the platform. Worth thinking about.

Brigid’s Lake of Beer

St. Brigid's Well

St Brigid of Ireland, the Abbess of Kildare (c. 450-52

St Brigid’s day is a time for purification and the rediscovery of creativity–an interesting juxtaposition in itself, as sometimes it’s in the midst of clearing out the clutter that I find new creative ideas begin to gestate.

Most of Brigid’s miracles had a maternal quality, often involving milk.  But she is also known for the poem attributed to her longing for a lake of beer to share with women, men and God. One should, perhaps, bear in mind that ale, in Brigid’s time, was far weaker than it is today, and that as water was not always safe for drinking ale, for those who could afford it, was the drink of choice. So her prayer is not so much a Dionysian dream, more a vision of safe food and nurture for all. Still, an eternal party without a hangover is a pretty nice image of church.

Jest apart, there is something that strikes home this year in Bridgid’s poem: her wish for a united human family is expressed with the recognition that unity can only be achieved when repentance, peace, charity, mercy and cheerfulness are given and received. She envisions these things as gifts of substance, to be given in physical quantity. Not wafty ideas, theories, or orders from on high, but “things”. Vats of peace, vessels of charity, caves of mercy, and drinkable cheerfulness. The current climate is one of the most socially divided I have ever lived through; finding ways to make peace, love, mercy, repentance and joy both tangible and share-able seems to me the best acct of resistance we can engage in.

I wish I had a great lake of ale for the King of kings,
and the family of heaven to drink it through time eternal.

I wish I had the meats of belief and genuine piety,
the flails of repentance, and the men of heaven in my house.
I would like vats of peace to be at their disposal,
vessels of charity for distribution,
caves of mercy for their company,
and cheerfulness to be in their drinking.

I would want Jesus also to be in their midst,
together with the three Marys of illustrious renown,
and the people of heaven from all parts.
I would like to be a tenant to the Lord,
so if I should suffer distress,
he would confer on me a blessing. Amen.

For the sake of my community and my companions…

I asked a number of different people if they would like to preach this week. I live in a community of people who are rarely reluctant to preach. Mostly they love to step up and say something. This week, no-one wanted to preach, so being the Dean of Chapel and the backstop for everything, the honor fell to me. It was difficult to figure out what to say on this strange week, caught between MLK Day and the inauguration.

But, eventually I came up with what needed to be said, and so many lovely people have asked to read the script that I post it here. I make no boast. It is just a sermon, not brilliant, but somehow it turned out to be pertinent to my own little community on this day. I post it here for them. If anyone else finds it useful, God bless you.

Readings:
Psalm 122, a song of ascents.
Excerpts from Mr Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, and his Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem… For the sake of my community and my companions, I will say, “Peace be within you.” (Psalm 122, 6, 8)

It is good to come back to Marquand at the beginning of this new semester, and find you all here ready to sing and pray and worship together. As the Psalmist wrote, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go up to the house of God.”

We come in here, day after day, week after week, to gather for worship. And we gather around a particular narrative of worship: we aim to be interdenominational, welcoming and hospitable, attentive to many different voices, inclusive of many variations of belief and practice, and to weave all of this together into one thread of worship in which different voices remain distinct, and yet inform each other.

I hear myself telling people this narrative so often: to prospective students, to returning alumni, and in places where I travel to lecture or consult on worship. People all over the place have heard about Marquand, and are intrigued. They ask how we make our worship so varied, so vital, so inclusive, so creative.

It’s a good narrative that we tell. It’s a good vision. And I know, from the testimony of a huge number of alumni, that its often only after people leave here that they discover the effect Marquand has had on them; they tell me that this diverse, idiosyncratic, and sometimes slightly chaotic mix of traditions has served to shape their own spiritual growth at a depth they didn’t even realize was happening while they were actually here.

All of that is good. But it would be dishonest not to admit that in the everyday, there are times when—in the moment—people find Marquand frustrating and too much to deal with. One person’s inclusive language is, to someone else, an offensive rewriting of their tradition. One person’s exciting revelation can be bewildering or alarming to other people. Some people sense sincerity in an extempore prayer, while for others anything less than a carefully and artfully pre-written prayer lacks seriousness.

We are—a bit like ancient Jerusalem, perhaps—a great combination of people from up and down the land, and all around the globe, coming in to God’s house, and there discovering that our local habits are by no means universal. We tell the story of inclusion and embrace. But we have also made the surprising discovery that we are so diverse that any one of us can, at times, feel quite alien.

*** ***

One of the things that has been writ large in public life over recent months is the negative effect of deceptive narratives. People are sick of being lied to; tired of finding that while some facts were spun, others were concealed, and what they were given was nothing like the truth. People are angry to find that they have been promised one thing, only to have the promise whipped away from under their feet. It’s happened countless times around the world in recent years, and the cumulative effect of spin and lies is coming home to roost. The feeling of betrayal that has crept across Europe and America in the past couple of years is palpable.

Now I’m talking today about worship, not politics. But the political stage is the backdrop to absolutely everything else at the moment. And so I’ve been thinking lately about how we frame our narratives: about what it means to tell the truth; about what it means to be both truthful and inspiring.

Everyone knows that when you are dealing with information, you can produce quite different results depending on the way you present the facts—and that is not necessarily sinister. Read your classmates’ papers, and you will see the same facts presented in quite different ways, because the facts are marshaled to forward an argument: we do that all the time in our books and articles and papers. But the more you hone those skills, the more you become aware that, given a degree of power and a willingness to sacrifice ethics, it wouldn’t be that hard to learn how to manipulate the facts, spinning some and concealing others, in order to maximize power and control outcomes.

But there are modes of speech where another kind of spinning takes place: this time not unethical, but inspirational. A way of setting out the stall not merely as a set of facts, but as possibilities that spark the imagination, that draw the creative mind into play, that inspire a series of unpredictable but positive reactions. These modes of speech are called aspirational narratives, and they spin the facts, not to maintain or hold on to power; but to invest power in others.

An aspirational narrative is a story about how the world could be, told in order to bring that story into reality. It can be found in a work of fiction, a poem or a speech, it can be in a sermon, or a private correspondence. It can appear in a mission statement—or even in a strategic plan. It’s what an author gives to their reader, what a good mentor presents to a student, a parent to a child, a coach to an athlete, a pastor to her flock. Aspirational narratives are not merely candid about how things are, and they are certainly not cynical (because that shuts down the imagination). They are delivered in the optative mood—and you have to pay attention to spot that in the English language because we don’t have a conjugated form of the optative; it’s created by the way the words are arranged for a hopeful, positive effect. It gives us the best reading of how things are, and hints at the promise of how things could be.

Mr Thomas Jefferson’s words—among the most inspiring ones of the Founders—are by definition aspirational narratives. They ring with hope and dignity. You don’t have to read very much history to discover that he was certainly not writing about a state of affairs that he had already brought into being—either in the nation, or in his own household—and right to the end of his life he grappled with the serious contradictions between idea and reality. But the gap between his words and the degree of progress he made towards realizing them doesn’t make them dishonest words. We recognize them even now as aspirational narratives: words to live into; visions to stretch towards.   Mr Jefferson was brilliant, and deeply thoughtful; I think you can construe from elsewhere in his writings that he knew very well the world might never perfectly realize this vision of an equal society. But that’s no reason not to state the ideal, and no reason not to strive towards it. As Oscar Wilde said a century and a half later, in one of his famous one-liners: “Shoot for the moon: you may miss, but at least you will land among the stars.”

Thousands of years earlier, King David* wrote: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” an aspirational narrative if ever there was one. The heart of the world lies in the divided mess of Jerusalem, and in the long and fractured history of that beautiful city, peace has mostly eluded her. King David—like Mr Jefferson—was not afraid to speak of what could be, and, in fact, he states candidly both the aspiration and the call to action that is needed to realize the vision. “Pray,” he says, “for the peace of Jerusalem,” and then he adds: For the sake of my community and my companions, I will say, “Peace be within you.”

Older translations say ‘for the sake of my brothers and my companions,” and most newer translations, aiming for gender inclusivity, render this as “for the sake of my family and friends.” But that seems to imply that David is concerned only with the people who matter to him—his circle of special people. ‘Family’, of course, can cover a great many relationships, not all of them joyous. Nonetheless, ‘family and friends’ denotes the group of people you include in your life events—holidays, weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, and so on. But that is not quite what David is talking about. By companions he means the people he hangs out with, the people he chooses to be with. But by brothers, he means the people in his wider community that he can’t get away from, but doesn’t necessarily find easy on a personal level. It might perhaps be better rendered with this phrase:

“For the sake of my community, and my companions, I will say “Peace be within you, Jerusalem.”

Your companions are the people you hang out with, and perhaps a wider circle of people you feel at ease with, and are happy to see. Your community includes the rest of the people—the ones you don’t understand, the ones you don’t get or who don’t get you, the ones who make you feel threatened or anxious, the classmates who so irritatingly disagree with you, the chapel- or church-goers whose prayer style or doctrinal statements make you feel awkward or uncomfortable.

David prayed, not just for the sake of his companions, but for the sake of the whole community. The ones he liked and the ones he didn’t. The ones he agreed with and the ones he didn’t. “For the sake of my community, and my companions, I will say, “Peace be within you.” David’s vision was not only hopeful for peace in his own private life. All truly aspirational narratives extend far beyond your own little circle: they hope for the wellbeing of the world beyond—which means that they always end up being costly as well as inspiring.

*** ***

There was never going to be a complete and permanent peace in Jerusalem, but he prayed for it anyway. Not just for himself and his friends, but because the community needs peace.

There is not too much peace in America right now. But we should pray for it anyway. Because the community needs peace.

There is not always peace in Marquand Chapel. But we should pray for it anyway. We should keep talking our aspirational narrative; keep telling ourselves that we can worship together and find fellowship with people who are not like us. Because if we can’t do it here, how are we going to make peace in the streets of New Haven, and New York, and Chicago, and D.C., and Houston, and every other town and city across this land?  Our narrative is really about something far bigger than a program of Divinity School worship. It’s about forming ourselves as people who can take the lead in the big wide world—who can confidently say that we know a religiously diverse community is possible, because we’ve been there; who can say that the richness of an inter-faith community is a genuine alternative possibility to a world that keeps blowing itself up, because we’ve been inside a microcosm of that very thing. Our aspirational narrative has a far bigger embrace than just our little community. It’s a vision to live into for the sake of the world, and it is fueled by those little shafts of light that shine through on the days when we are at our best.

So pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

And pray for the peace of America.

Pray for the peace of New Haven, and Yale Divinity School, and Marquand Chapel—for the sake of your companions, and for your community too.

And shoot for the moon. Because we will miss it, I’m sure. But we may just end up among the stars.

notes:

*King David is traditionally the figure to whom the Psalms are attributed, but was not necessarily the  author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Jerusalem”

I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.

Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddle: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Later his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.

Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.
A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.

Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head just slightly
it’s ridiculous.

There’s a place in my brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.

It’s late but everything comes next.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Jerusalem” from Red Suitcase.