Poetry Friday: “Onesimus”

onesimus2In this month of painful national and international news, Tania Runyan’s poem “Onesimus” offers a gut-deep breath of brotherhood. The poem recounts the story of Philemon, a new Christian Paul addresses on behalf of Onesimus, both Philemon’s fugitive slave and also a new convert. In “Onesimus,” Runyan singles out, perhaps, the most marginalized and voiceless in the ancient Greco-Roman world: the slave. Allowing him to directly address Philemon in a voice as ridged with humanity as a fingerprint, Onesimus focuses on images that establish the paradox the poem builds on. Gnashing lions who love “blood sweet with freedom’s fleeting breath,” flesh-splitting lashings, and even a branding are all, within the context of the narrative, lawful punishments for Onesimus’s failed escape. But the poem uses the raw imagery not to merely implicate Onesimus but to tether the reader to Onesimus’s plight much the way it tethers Onesimus to Philemon. In the last lines, the poem completes its shift from Onesimus’s plight and toward his humanity in his use of the powerful and symbolic “I am.” Onesimus cannot escape Philemon nor can Philemon escape Onesimus—either his suffering or his humanity. This revelation lodges itself into both the reader’s chest and into Philemon’s life to “pump forgiveness and prayer through your veins /…make you / see Christ in every jangling harlot….” It’s the image of both men being bound to one another that moves the poem toward a radical brotherhood that makes them both equally “a slave to God’s bidding.”   

-Jill Reid [Read more…]

Risen

risen finalIn a well-written and well-acted scene from Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello’s recent film, Risen, the Roman tribune, Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes), questions one of the guards left to watch the tomb of the crucified Jesus.

The guard, drunk in his cups, has been pardoned by the prefect, Pontius Pilate. Clavius knows that the guard was only pardoned from such a dire offense—falling asleep while on duty—because he has sworn to a purchased tale: Jesus’s followers fell upon the hapless Romans, overcame them, and stole the body.

Clavius then threatens the man to get the truth and in return is given the real story—that the stone blew away from the sepulcher, the ropes and chains exploded, and a new light filled the world. But instead of awe and peace, what the guard witnessed has driven him nearly mad. He clutches at the tribune and whispers, beseechingly, a request:

“Explain it to me.” [Read more…]

The Prophet of Uninterrupted Complaint

Morning IvyI am grateful for deadlines, even when I have little time, or only brief windows of it, which I often manage to fill with reading the Internet. I know my cannons will fire, because they must, but lately I’ve experienced a sort of brain-fatigue, or perhaps it’s peace (I don’t really know the difference), that’s brought me back to this position, sitting, waiting for the words to visit me.

I’ll be generous with myself and call it peace, which would be a paradigm-shift for me, not only because if it weren’t for deadlines, I wouldn’t be writing at all right now, but also because I spent many years “writing to survive.”

One of my favorite leisure activities from adolescence to young adulthood, was passionately leaving my house to take long brooding walks whilst listening to emo-pop music and imagining that I was God’s deep well of spiritual wisdom.

It was how I signaled to the cruel world (mostly my antagonistic siblings), that I had an interior life that was enjoyable to me: Yes, there’s something within me that I like and cherish and want to spend time with, and also, you’re not invited. [Read more…]

Thin Places, Part 1

DSC_0176A few summers ago, my husband Tom and I were in Dublin for a week, and one day, we took a tour bus to two ancient holy places—thin places, the Celts would have called them: spots where heaven and earth are very close to one another, where the ordinary distance between the two collapses.

When I was an evangelical teenager, I thought the idea of thin places was sort of cool, another way to describe that feeling I got when I sat on the beach during vacation and saw an especially vibrant sunset, or stood on top of a mountain and spun slowly to take in the vista. The world was transformed in a moment of extraordinary beauty, and so was I, for a little while.

I felt close to God, closer than I felt singing hymns or listening to sermons. Church, in its very weekly-ness, wasn’t extraordinary like that. I’d never been one of those “on fire for Jesus” types, like my friends who raised their hands in worship, but when I felt that spark, I thought maybe for a while I was like them. [Read more…]

The Wounds of Resurrection

Doubting ThomasAs my husband prepared for an Easter sermon a few weeks ago, our dinnertime conversations during Lent turned to Jesus’s appearance to the disciples after his resurrection, to the episode where poor Thomas is saddled with his unfortunate moniker. Carravaggio painted a terribly potent picture of Thomas probing Jesus’s wounds, his lord’s flesh curving over the doubter’s finger.

With its emphasis on suffering, broken bodies, deprivation, and wounds, Lent’s focus isn’t far from the realities since my father’s cancer diagnosis a year ago: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, the failure of his natural killer cells.

When you have a loved one with cancer, you enter the cloud of unknowing, or perhaps it’s a club of unknowing, a society of those wedged in the grief and emotional confusion that a non-linear illness brings to all who are involved. In this club you might become more familiar with the less famed side effects of chemo like neuropathy and a sensitivity to hot or cold, with the comments people make in an effort at sympathy, or with the ebb and flow of sadness, guilt, and normal life.

Lent puts us in mind of those wounds and scars, of bodies failing, of death. But when Easter comes, and we celebrate resurrection, it sometimes feels like those wounds are mended too quickly. Or perhaps they were never really healed. [Read more…]