Meta-Reflection

I was putting the final touches to the sermon on Sunday morning in my study at Church of the Holy Cross. My brain was slowly turning to think about the children’s message – though I consider ideas through the week, the final story takes its final shape on Sunday morning.

It may not be the least anxiety-provoking method in the world, but that’s how it goes.

The usual calm of the morning suddenly vanished. Above my head, I heard the voices of the mynas suddenly rising in volume and intensity. The metal roof began to pound and thump as they beat their wings at one another, resonating like a great drum at me as I sat wondering below.

I’ve heard myna arguments before, but never anything quite this shrill, quite this loud, and frankly, quite this amplified.

Whatever the conflict was about, it seemed to involve several birds, each of them screeching with might and main. The pounding doubled and redoubled. The voices multiplied. Nobody was willing to give in, it seemed. It went on and on.

Suddenly, the source of the sound began to move. Slowly at first, and then accelerating, the screeches and pounding moved from my left to my right, sliding down the slippery slope of the aluminum roof toward the edge. I looked left in time to see the birds drop from the gutter to the sidewalk, still screaming at one another, but with the wingbeats now slowing their unplanned descent to the ground.

For a few seconds more the argument continued unabated, then abruptly ceased. Silence fell. Then the birds, as one and without a sound, took to their wings and flew off.

I promptly threw out all the ideas I’d had for a children’s message to talk about the mynas whose argument ended like this:

“Well, that’s not where I thought this argument was gonna go.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you remember what this argument was about?”

“No.”

“Maybe we should take this up later?”

“Yeah.”

“Somewhere where it isn’t quite so slippery.”

“Yeah.”

They all knew what the future was supposed to be: a winner to the argument. Instead, the future turned out to be an embarrassed group of dusty mynas.

The future, I told the children, is not always what you expect.

In reflecting on the reflection, however, I realized that the future wasn’t what I expected, either. The image of a group of fighting mynas sliding down the roof had never occurred to me until I heard them doing it.

In the midst of our work and efforts, in the midst of our dedication to service and our commitment to creativity, in the midst of our solemn self-reliance that is so common and yet so foreign to nearly every faith tradition I’ve ever learned about, the subtle (or screeching) movements of the world around us may yet become the inspiration, or the direction, or the guide for our continued journeys. For if the mynas were surprised to find themselves dumped off the roof onto the parking lot, so was I. And if the mynas were surprised to find that a change in circumstance had wiped away their argument, so was I.

The future doesn’t always hold what we think it does. Our lives of faith don’t always look like what it think it will, either. The world may, from time to time, teach us where to go. The Divine may, from time to time, give us the ingredients for our imagination.

The photo of a common myna is by Ilan Costica – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80664291

Hypothetical

So I know it’s just a hypothetical,
this woman widowed seven times,
a cynical construction built
for theological confounding, still…

Were I the seventh brother, I
would be reluctant to be wed
unto this agent of ill fortune,
no matter what her charms and grace.

And I’d be right.

A poem based on Luke 20:27-38, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year C, Proper 27. Though technically not a prayer, I’ve tagged it as a lectionprayer anyway.

The image is Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Jacek Malczewski (1912) – Own work, photo by Lestat (Jan Mehlich), 2007-05-25, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2187398.

Bless This House

“The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.” – Haggai 2:9

With Zerubbabel and with Joshua
imagination stands and weeps to see
the scattered blocks of stone once standing proud,
now scattered with the blackened ruined beams.

A few would then recall those stones erect,
those beams above, a roof embellished with
a gilded glow. No doubt they wept and wept
to see their memory cast down in ash.

Imagination, yes, but also I
have seen the ruined churches, heiau – razed
sometimes by accidental flames, sometimes
by hands’ deliberate destructive force.

I turn to Zerubbabel and I turn
to Joshua, and part of me, so up
to here with things to fix and clean and paint,
the bulbs and window glass and water spouts,

Cries out, “Do you not see how you are blessed
to have no structure to maintain, no house
exacting so much toil, so much gold,
demanding much more worship than our God?”

Then silently and softly, Haggai’s God
replies, “Take courage, child of mine, despite
the costs and worries, for these houses make
a home for those who join their hearts in prayer.

“These spirits seek a shelter from the blast
of circumstance and ill intent, and so
we raise these walls of stone and wood and glass
to make for souls a refuge and a home.”

A poem/prayer based on Haggai 1:15b-2:9, the Revised Common Lectionary First reading for Year C, Proper 27.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

On a Limb

Hi, there, Zacchaeus, come down!

Who are you, Zacchaeus, you active tree-climber?
As a child you scamper up into the branches.
All eager you rattle the leaves with your grasping.
Will you be the last and the least to see Jesus? Oh, no!

Hi, there, Zacchaeus, come down!

Who are you, Zacchaeus, you chief tax collector?
We see through the leaves your elegant clothing.
The gleam of the gold even now catches sunlight.
What need has a wealthy man of this poor prophet?

Hi, there, Zacchaeus, come down!

Who are you, Zacchaeus, returned to ground panting?
A sinner reformed, or the one we misjudged?
Shall we read your salvation as urgent repentance
or sudden reunion with those who rejected you?

Hi, there, Zacchaeus, come down!

Who are you, Zacchaeus, mystery of ages?
Can I turn your lostness to my restoration?
Can I swing from branches and catch Jesus’ eye?
Will he call to me as to you on a limb?

Hi, there, Zacchaeus, come down!

A poem/prayer based on Luke 19:1-10, the Revised Common Lectionary Second reading for Year C, Proper 26.

The image is Zachée sur le sycomore attendant le passage de Jésus by James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.189_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10904526.

I Want to Close My Eyes

Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble?
– Habakkuk 1:3a

I will stand at my watchpost…
-Habakkuk 2:1a

It’s a station at a height, O Holy One.
From my watching post, I see far.
My eyes are aided by a global net
of eyes and ears and electronic tongues.

From my watching post, I see.

I see the separated children.
I see the freedom-seekers jailed.
I see the wealthy celebrating.
I see the wicked circle the righteous.

From my watching post, I see.

I want to close my eyes.
I want to stop my ears.
I want my skin to cease its clenching.
I want to taste no more of evil.

But judgment comes forth perverted,
And so I watch and weep.

A poem/prayer based on Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, the Revised Common Lectionary First reading for Year C, Proper 26.

Self-portrait by Eric Anderson.

God, I Thank You

God, I thank you
I am not like those
who pray loud prayers in public,
proudly propping up their piety.

Oh. Er. Um.

God, I thank you
I am not like those
who so embrace their righteousness
they loudly judge the evils of the world.

Oh. Er. Um.

God, I thank you
I am not like those
who so approve their faithfulness
they leave no room for… you.

Oh. Er. Um.

God, I thank you
I am not like those
who so applaud their godliness
they ask no grace from you.

Oh. Er. Um.

Oh. Er. Um.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 18:9-14, the Revised Common Lectionary Second reading for Year C, Proper 25.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Grant to Her

She just wants a home without gunfire.
She just wants a home without force.
She just wants a home without war at the door.
She just wants a home without war beneath the roof…

Grant to her justice, O God.
Grant to her justice
with the speed of the unjust judge.
Grant to her justice, O God,
for she waits.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 18:1-8, the Revised Common Lectionary Second reading for Year C, Proper 24.

The image is a section of a 19th century composition “The Parable of the Unjust Judge” found in the Palace of Facets, Moscow. Public Domain.