Sunday 15 October 2006
THE DARKNESS AROUND US IS DEEP
It is raining full on. No one is on the path. What is my usefulness here? Joel is sure to ask. Am I a contact point? An installation? A mark of surety? Or just a reminder?
Joel did come to ask, in his devilish way, "Is this fun? Are we having fun?" Smirking from under his golf umbrella. He put it to me, and not so gently, at some point I would be making a fool. Don't be a fool! Perhaps it was already too late?
After much fussing and wet-getting in my meadow, I took refuge in Sherwood Forest, desk and all. The rain comes in through the trees not quite so fiercely. My desk is covered with an olive poncho, a clamp-on umbrella. I am standing under another umbrella in a rain jacket. Pine needles on my desk. This week I must take care to weatherproof my desk somehow. Strip and varnish it.
THE GOLDEN THREAD
Wonderfully wicked. Wonderfully severe. The rain and wind. For three hours, I paced my meadow reading Stafford. I have not paced like this since high school. Those nights in the family room, past midnight, with a history book, marching to the drum of the radio.
This morning the conditions were right. The sky opened and a golden thread dangled from the sky. And now I am changed forever.
Robert Bly opens The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford with one of the most significant introductions to poetry I have read. "(Stafford) believes that whenever you set a detail down in language, it becomes the end of a thread … and every detail ― the sound of the lawn mower, the memory of your father's hands, a crack you heard in lake ice, the jogger hurtling herself past your window ― will lead you to amazing riches." Threads to riches. Threads to truth.
"If every detail can by careful handling, through association, sound, tone, language, lead us in, then we live in a sacred universe." We need only recognize them. Recognize this. Threads to morning. Threads to evening. Threads to the never-ending story.
"By following the tiny impulses through the meadow of language, the writer may find himself or herself closer to the self most centrally yours." Yet the art of living, the art of seeing, will not exalt you or change your fate, only make you more you. More pious, as he believes animals are, for obeying their limitations. "The hawk is always a hawk, even the moment before his death." But a woman, she is not always a woman? And a man not a man? A child not a child? A grandmother, a cousin…
When you know, when you hear a true thing, there is no question of its value, only recognition and embrace. Gratitude for the revelation. This is you being you. Humans being human.
Humans and their limitations, glorious or no. Disobeying. Sidestepping. Humans turning their back on what is human. Becoming birds. Boats. Stones. Rivers. Benches. Pavement.
What of the theatre? The performance? Is the stage immoral? Is their role-playing insulting? Is the parable always impious? The queen and the prince, the artiste, the teacher, writer, fool and mathematician.. is it all impious?
I am at the start of the journey, in a place more platform than search, wrapped in a Stafford blanket, sparks of light all around. I'm in a Yayoi Room, encircled by an ocean of lights.
Does being define being? By which I mean the width of my eyes. Does here define here? By which I mean colored. Does meaning define meaning? By which I mean this moment.
How should I worry? For whom? And what? Love. Communion. Surrender.
In the service of poets. In the service of readers. Reveling. Heralding. Directing us in, not in competition, not in herds, into those treasured rooms of art and truth. Thank you, Mr. Bly, for attending to Stafford. In poetry we trust. The vital dialogue. The clearest of noises. Vaster than the private discourse, to which we must one day return to spin our silks.
"I hadn't," responded the pastor, "been listening for them." Hadn't been listening? Hadn't been listening!
My bells. My opposite of quiet. My morning sheep. Afternoon sheep. Left to wander the woods alone. Where is the wolf? The darkness around us is deep.
Hadn't been listening... for the golden threads he himself was producing? Pastor, need I point out the danger in this, speaking without listening, calling without collecting, presenting with defining? This, in itself, might divide a congregation. This, alone, might shrink a doorframe.
When I turned into view of Zion Lutheran, it was 8:45am. There was a car wrapped around a light post not ten feet in front of the church. A sedan with its front end on the sidewalk, fender caved in. A police car with its curb door open, preserved the scene. Neither officer nor driver were anywhere to be seen. It looked like a stage, a set design. O, but it must have woken the congregation!
THEOLOGY OF MERCY
I will be late to the lake, late late for my poetry making, but I simply must go in and ask about the bells. The 8am bible study was assembled in the basement. A geriatric group at a faux wood table, hunched over their bibles before the pastor, a lanky powdered man.
The pastor greeted me, set me at a chair with a bible, introduced me to the group, Verona, Sharon, Wayne, asked me to share with them the details of my project. "I sit at the lake every Sunday, rain or shine. I bring a message of poetry." I registered no response in their faces. Distance. Blanks. Verona was not receiving my signals. Just a few feet away and out of range. No change in Wayne's face. Sharon, to my left, was also unmoved. And so I closed, "I came to ask about the bells because they ring out every Sunday over the lake and are such a part of the conscience of those who walk there, I wondered why they stopped and when they will be back."
DON'T LOOK AWAY
The pastor added his account of my work to the group and suggested, to me, contrasting the serenity of the lake with the troubles being faced by the store owners north along aurora.
Then he brought the discussion into focus. Clerical focus. "Turn to page 7 in your leaflet (Theology for Mercy). We are discussing the term diakonia, or service of mercy." And so I tried to place myself. I am seated in a chair, I said to myself, in a vapid building with the dregs of the congregation, before a make-believe pastor, in a dying church on a smutty avenue, opposite a dying lake. Don't look away.
The conversation turned to the ways in which Zion Lutheran exhibits diakonia and where. "Tsunamis, earthquakes, tens of thousands dying in civil wars in Africa." Pardon, I thought, remembering the sermons of my youth, pardon, oh please please, pardon. He went on, "serving people in need, within the church entities… one-on-one, individually giving." Pardon, pastor, pardon. I thought, pardon.
THIS ROOM RIGHT NOW
If we are looking to build community, reach out to our neighbor… there's been a car accident today. Just outside our door. Perhaps we could help somehow? Extend ourselves in some real way… now, here, today… by means of, dare I suggest it, hot tea? Flowers? Pears? I presented this to the pastor. "Have we thought to…" He shrank and zip-locked my offer at once, "The police have it under control. I don't know if they are permitted to give out information. These days HIPAA prevents it." But, Sharon, I noticed a spark from her direction. Sharon, who every so often pointed to her book and tilted her flower head up, looking for her light, which the pastor sometimes permitted and other times shielded. Sharon spoke out, and not just once, on the issue. "But Pastor, maybe flowers are a good idea?"
No mention of the accident in the pastor's litany of giving. No mention of the poor, the homeless or the wayward, except to say that the church and community were vulnerable, one's valuables should be guarded.
"It's fine with me, pastor. They can have my bike. It only cost $50. I don’t even like it. I never lock that bike." They will take what you don't lock up. They ruined our sign and sprayed graffiti on our door. "That's fine pastor."
"Where the church loses sight of its activity in the community, it loses the very motivation for diakonic work (the gospel)!" The gospel has been lost here. Lost for fear of the criminal. For fear of the thief. Fear of the ubiquitous brown bottle. The spray paint can. Here the wrist has lost its strength. Here the hugging muscle's broke.
If not for a pastor, who will love the criminal? If not for the church, who will house the homeless? And who value the prostitute?
No, this here is a dwelling for the dust. These bells, they make an obsolete architecture, sound out an injured optimism, present not threads but residue of a compassion past.
In Topics for Discussion on the back of the leaflet, I read question 5: Describe some ways in which the Church's work of mercy "extends beyond its own borders." I would like to respond, please pastor, to question 5. I have something to say. I feel the most significant way in which Zion Lutheran reaches out to the community is through its bells, which ring in celebration of the seventh day and all that means and might mean and has meant and will never mean and can't mean and shouldn't mean. The bells that call out noon and 5pm, that justify a community, that defeat us and foretell our death.
But, sir, the bells have ceased, we have been four weeks silent… I am lost again.
In all fairness and to your credit, pastor, you do extend in compassion, beyond your borders in a way, for instance, by providing within the triangular church marquee, simple shelter for two stray cats that would otherwise have to crouch in the groundcover all night. In all fairness. But for the homeless individuals who happen along, there is a sign: "No Trespassing." There are two telephone numbers for civic organizations which may offer assistance. Translation: Not here, not now, not this.
Is this ample effort on behalf of those who call themselves, "corporate citizens of God's "left hand kingdom?" I propose, for this church and others that have lost their sheep, a door stretching ceremony, a resurrection and re-assignment of their spaces to multi-use community shares, so those in need might have the room and space they need. Aurora needs an open door, a listening place, a healing space. Perhaps The Zone on Aurora beneath Queen Anne, the greenbelt where the homeless sleep, is the real open door, the green church?
How do you begin to recognize the community beyond your borders, connect your organization to the public at large? You must think like a birch, bend away from your roots, refuse your limits, shiver and shed your coat. Mingle with the grass. You must shorten your mission as the days shorten. A day for "reaching out in love to Lutheran partner churches," must become a day for "reaching out in love." It might then become a solstice, an occasion for candlelight.
By failing to see real needs, we fail at the opportunity to connect. A fine mission is easily lost to the winds of oration. Preaching lost missions expresses the chasm. Perpetuating lost missions articulates the glass cage.
I cannot help but consider the alternative "corporate citizen" on Aurora, two blocks north. The natural food market at Green Lake begins their mission statement, "Everyone is welcome at PCC!" It goes on, "The only qualification is a love of fresh, naturally delicious foods. In addition, we're an organization you can feel good about. Here are some of our goals and beliefs." Belief, good, goals affirmed by love and nature.
One only need look into a store and talk to the congregation to sense the results of the PCC faith. Healthy people working towards healthy communities. Bright natural spaces. Committed consumers. Responsible marketing. Here is an organization engaging the community, providing employment and society, gifts, classes, healthy food for local food banks. Can there be any question as to which serves the community, which engages in dialog, which solves problems?
Were I not privy to the association of bells to clock and calendar, to order and ownership, I might propose a brass bell for PCC. But I suppose when wartime came, PCC would melt it down, not for a cannon but for thousands of hand bells so each citizens could ring out in protest. No, instead of bells, I propose a terribly long pennant on a pole, made of every hue of silk, from dusk to dawn, fluttering over the lake in honor of the community.
A bright flush. A storm.
A boy on his tricycle with a wide smile stomps his feet in a puddle, "I'm soaking!" His eyes meet my eyes, my only contact today. The others move in a hurry. Only the children, whom the rain somehow misses, wear no jackets, look around in wonder.
11:06 A bracelet of bells. Only this. And I was listening intensely. Nothing more. Nothing more.
until Joel came with chocolates
and Casey with tea
and Jenny with a thermos
and Kate with more tea
and the tea
and the tea
and the oranges and chocolates
and the warm pear pie
the porcelain filling with pine needles
forks quivering with raindrops
hats upon folding chairs
hats and pies
forks passing hands
Bev to Jenny
Casey to Kate
everyone ate some
of the warm little pies