Gird Yourselves, Yet Be Shattered

stained glass by Trish Mayo on flickrOf Lanecia A. Rouse Tinsley’s small encaustic Advent paintings, my favorite is Meditation on the Incarnation. If food can have mouthfeel, then art has gutfeel. Meditation on the Incarnation drops and spreads into the gut holy and creepy like tequila, like subzero air that both hardens and hurts the belly.

Three blue, elongated forms more shadow or specter than human, stretch from top to bottom of the canvas’s center, a red dot like a pomegranate seed midway down the third figure. They loom, yet remain autonomous and bordered. Thin gold circles intersect atop ragged hymnal pages, the ecstatic presence of God over shattered praise of him.

For weeks, I’ve had a line from Isaiah 8:9 running through my head: “Gird yourselves, yet be shattered. Gird yourselves, yet be shattered.” [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “A Christmas Story”

oxford-snow-by-tejvan-pettinger-on-flickr

In “A Christmas Story,” Robert Cording evokes Aleksander Wat (1900-1967), a Polish poet that converted from Judaism to Christianity while imprisoned in the Soviet Union. During a brief moment out of prison walls, the poem explains that Wat was awestruck by a simple street scene: a beautiful women in a green dress, the “bell of a bicycle,” blue sky. “It was all thrilling, achingly alive, a feast/ happening right there on the street between / the prison and the government office/ nothing else mattering.” Interestingly, the Christmas story in this is poem is, in fact, the retelling of this moment at a dinner party to a know-it-all, “young professor whose field of expertise / seemed to be ironic distance.” While the weight of Wat’s revelation is amusingly lost on the guest, as a reader we are reminded to stay open to surprise. During this season of expectant waiting, I always seem to experience objects and sensations more intensely. The pearly, full moon rising, frost laden branches, the smell of wood smoke, trumpeter swans flapping overhead. For me, Advent ushers in a new kind of awareness that is both felt and known, surprising and familiar. Similar to Wat’s experience, the practice for the season is to be awake and grateful enough to receive.

—Jessica Gigot

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Keeping Vigil

the-flight-into-egyptBy Suzanne M. Wolfe

These are dark times.

Here in the northern hemisphere the sun is at its lowest point in the sky; the winter solstice is still weeks away.

I’m sitting outside on my elderly mother’s kitchen step. I’ve come to England three times this year to take care of her. I came before and after her heart operation. A few weeks after I’d been home she fell and broke her elbow and so I’m back again.

My mother does not do well in the darkness of winter; she becomes agitated and depressed.  As I look out at her garden, I see an objective correlative of her physical and mental state since the onset of her illness a year ago.

I see bare branches with a few shriveled leaves clinging to them, vibrating forlornly in the chill air sweeping south from Iceland. I see frost-burned grass and plants. The herbs I planted for her in the spring look dead.

I know that once our planet begins its ancient, slow tilt towards the sun again, all will be resurrected. I try to keep that in mind as I huddle on the steps, smoke a cigarette or two and pray for God’s mercy to my mother at the end of her life, pray that she will find peace and joy and beauty.

I pray that spring will come to a life spent mostly in deepest winter. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Advent” by Bruce Bond

Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherds via wikimedia public domainI’ve heard many people say we’ve never needed poetry more than we do now, but “Advent,” by Bruce Bond, reminds me that poetry has always been vital. The poem begins with a bombing in the Yellow Sea and smoke so thick “you cannot  see your hands,” which sets the reader up for a domino effect of disorientation. This disorientation is reinforced by clever line breaks and images that seem to lean into one another—the earth’s tilt on its axis becomes a man lost in thought, folks sleepily sitting by the fire become “cows in the crèche,” yesterday becomes tomorrow: “the farther back you go/the more it dims into a future.” A holy day becomes ordinary: “so long past / it could have been most any season.” Another dimension of this disorientation comes from lines that seem to have been written just yesterday, although the poem was published five years ago. Consider: “talk that turns bitter as it grows more national in scope.” When the swirling, otherworldly tone of the poem introduces images of Advent (“A child is born / crowned in blood”), the reader encounters an Advent story more frightening and more alluring than the one usually on display in this month of ubiquitous manger scenes. “Advent” highlights the strange beauty of this season, and reminds us that we have always, and will always, need poetry—to shake the dust off our stories and help beauty “bloom through the wound.”

—Christina Lee

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Poetry Friday: “Advent”

Watts, George Frederic; After the Deluge; Watts Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/after-the-deluge-13387

Of course you’ve heard of “El Niño.” And you know that it refers to the Pacific Ocean’s warming spells, which can cause heavy rains and even cyclones in the tropics. But did you know that El Niño (Spanish for “the boy”) is so named because it occurs around Christmas time? And did you know that there’s a sister phenomenon, “La Niña”—a cooling ocean effect that also causes major climate events? In her poem “Advent,” Ava Leavell Haymon takes these climatological facts and brilliantly conflates them with the coming of the Child which we await during the Advent season. “El Niño crawls in the manger, time runs out / El  Niño rocks himself dry on the edge of a continent.” Then “the weather channel shows us rain / Angels proclaim in vain…” This Boy’s coming will not evoke the sweet sentiments of Christmas cards. No, it brings cosmological turbulence: ”Comets snuff out in dirty skies: Lovers of chaos, / computers roll back their zero eyes  The trumpet cries…” We pray to Los Niños to “spare us,” but their answer— “We have come for the children” — has a sinister undercurrent. That “for” is intentionally ambiguous. It could mean “for the sake of,” which is the usual Christmas message. But “come for” could also mean “to take the children away,” which a killing cyclone will certainly do. Here is a poem that makes us think twice (or three times or more) about what Advent brings.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]