Poetry Friday: “For Whom the Resurrection Is the Full Moon Rising” by Mark Wagenaar

15312920273_04562aa7c5_o-e1456334680521This is a poem to stretch the mind. It begins by stretching our imagination to a cosmic event: a “moondog,” which is a rare bright spot in the moon’s halo. It’s formed by a “mirage of light & cloud & ice”—an image which then brings the speaker down to earth, into his own life. But this life, as he sees it, is stretched among mind-bending options: for instance, he’s “not willing to lose / that which I cannot keep/ for that which I cannot lose.” Then comes what for me is the poem’s core image: “Crumb by crumb the self is whittled down.” It’s the self of the Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing, the self that must dissolve into “a leash of longing” for God’s very being. The “leash” then leads the poet into a metaphor of himself as “stray dog,” from which more mind-bending apparent opposites follow. All are playing with the self’s “dissolutions,” until the poem’s final line: the diminishment into a mere parenthesis filled with absences.

—Peggy Rosenthal
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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…]

A Dancing Christ

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On Holy Saturday, I woke up at my sister’s house in northern Minnesota with a visual migraine, an aura with no consequent pain. They happen occasionally, and mine are always pretty textbook: wavy sparkling spirals and shimmering crystalline lamellae. The aura is technically termed a scintillating scotoma, a result of a sudden tidal wave of neurochemicals and sudden neuronal silence in the occipital cortex. It’s both a terrifying and a benign experience, due to the fact that it’s a “positive” vision: something has been added to what’s seen rather than lost to darkness, internal electrical modulation piling atop the maps of the world the occipital region is continually building.

Easter has a hint of this duality, this feeling of things being both or all at once, a discomfort in overlapping edges, things unseen, things seen and mistrusted. A whole faith turns on the one thing people desire above anything else and can’t have: a friend returned, seeking rewarded, loss reversed. Though I have to wonder: would anything have mattered, would God have changed or hope for any future been snuffed if the resurrection had not occurred, if Christ hadn’t separated himself from our fates and our greatest suffering—the loss of who we love—at the last minute?

I’ve been reading the apocryphal Acts of John in small pieces a lot lately. To call it a book would be to ignore that it is in pieces; the puzzle of its fullness can never be solved and also can be solved in multiple ways. It was likely written down in the second century and tells the story of the Apostle John’s journey to and life in Ephesus. But I’ve been reading it for the dancing Christ John gives us after the Last Supper, the moving man of flesh approaching the arch of his life’s trajectory. [Read more…]

I Sing the Body Eclectic

No doubt Walt Whitman would have sounded his barbaric yawp from the steaming rooftop pool of Spa Castle in Queens, had the multi-level Korean day spa been around the corner from his Brooklyn stomping grounds as it is today.

I’m not saying he would have retitled “Song of Myself” to “Song of Ourselves,” but I like to think that he might have been so inclined upon entering the ground-level indoor spa for the first time, onto a wondrous tiled cavern of heated pools, a sauna, steam room and cold plunge, open showers, a dousing shower, and sitting stations to shave or brush one’s teeth—with all manner of naked men roaming from one rite to the next.

(Women have their own identical spa on the ground level, the rest of the floors are unisex and require the oversized, undersexy shirt-and-shorts uniform found in the locker rooms.)

The first time I entered, before I even dipped my toe in the jasmine pool to test the temperature, I was already refreshed by the raw physical diversity that meets the eyes like a democratic antidote to the idolatrous fetishization of body type in today’s culture. Here was every shape and size, from tall to short and skinny to fat, from the comparatively hairless to bearlike monstrosities with throw rugs on their backs and big bushels of pubic hair; from those genetically endowed with a windsock for a penis, to those with a cigar stub.

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Saint Death and Easter

Guest Post
By Chris Hoke

I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. The voice was low, lifeless. He just got out of jail, and the guys in there told him to call me.

I function as a volunteer chaplain in Washington State’s Skagit County Jail, and I’m the closest thing to a pastor most gang members in my valley have known. Jail-tier referrals like these are how my tiny congregation grows.

The next day, I picked this new guy up and we sat at my kitchen table.

Danny was a quiet young man. He grabbed a coffee cup with a hand that had skeleton bones tattooed over his fingers, up over his wrist. A ghastly ink mural of a wide-mouthed skull poured out from his throat, darkening most of his neck.

He wanted help getting off heroin, he said. He heard we at Tierra Nueva Ministries help guys get a job sometimes, and that we do a spiritual drug recovery program. He wanted…”I don’t know…prayer, I guess. Right?”

So we prayed. I held his skull hands in mine. It wasn’t much of a leap: I asked if he’d ever given himself over to the power of Death.

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