Poetry is language made material.
It presents us with objects and the world, yes, that is part of its materiality, but it also – and perhaps fundamentally – makes our very language into a thing, rather than simply a medium. Like remembering that you exist in time, and becoming aware of your temporality, poetry takes what we are always immersed in and says, Remember; become aware.
Thus it is like all art a meditative practice. You must slow down, quiet yourself, and actively receive – a strange gesture, perhaps paradoxical, but one that is, if nothing else, prayer. And so for Holy Week, I want to present four (mostly) contemporary poems that can direct meditation without limiting it, that can engage prayer in our physical existence and the existence of the Resurrection as event, that can slow one down, that can build sensual memory of the acts we do and life we live in constant remembrance of it, of Him.
In his weeky address, President Obama said in part:
"For millions of Americans, this weekend is a time to celebrate redemption at God’s hand. Tonight, Jews will gather for a second Seder, where they will retell the story of the Exodus. And tomorrow, my family will join Christians around the world as we thank God for the all-important gift of grace through the resurrection of His son, and experience the wonder of Easter morning.
"These holidays have their roots in miracles that took place thousands of years ago. They connect us to our past and give us strength as we face the future. And they remind us of the common thread of humanity that connects us all.
"For me, and for countless other Christians, Easter weekend is a time to reflect and rejoice...."
I’ve never liked the fact that we call the day on which we remember Jesus’ crucifixion “Good Friday.” What’s so good about it anyway? Personally I find the entirety of Holy Week – save for Easter – pretty depressing. Sure, the days are getting longer and things have started to grow all around us, but until Easter, the focus of the week is the suffering and death of an innocent man.
It turns out that, although plenty of folks have their own explanations, nobody actually knows why we call it Good Friday. I think the Germans are spot-on by calling it Karfreitag, which means “Suffering Friday.”
Figures the Germans would be more content to sit with suffering than the rest of us. They’re so serious! But I digress…
President Obama hosted his third annual Easter prayer breakfast for about 150 members of the clergy from across the nation in the East Room of the White House Wednesday morning. In his six-minute address, Obama reflected on the spiritual messages of Easter -- Jesus' triumphant overcoming of his own human doubts and fears so that all of humanity might do the same.
"For like us, Jesus knew doubt," Obama said. "Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.' He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
"So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that He burdened -- that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, 'He is Risen!'"
When my grandmother died when I was 15, I wanted the world to stop. I remember looking at traffic on the road near my home and just wanting everyone to be still — to stop and ponder what we all had lost in losing my grandmother and her love.
That adolescent desire is exponentially greater this week juxtaposed with the 44th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the continuing lack of criminal charges against the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida last month.
So I grieve — and I’m not sure what to do with the grief.
There's much to contemplate this Holy Week, from Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Many artists have traveled this path, creating sonic accompaniment for the varied emotions evoked during this sacred week.
Here are a few tracks that move us, and that we’ll have in heavy rotation throughout until Easter Sunday and beyond, including one of the more unusual Resurrection Day songs you've likely ever heard from the Yeshu Bakhti band Aradhna, pictured at right.
Growing up, Easter weekend meant a giant family party at my grandparents’ house complete with a piñata, Easter egg hunt, possibly a mariachi band, and – on at least one occasion – my younger cousins dressing up to perform the Passion play.
But the best part (you know, besides celebrating Jesus resurrecting from the dead, providing salvation for the world)?
Every Christian knows the story: Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. But what did he do on Saturday?
That question has spurred centuries of debate, perplexed theologians as learned as St. Augustine and prodded some Protestants to advocate editing the Apostles' Creed, one of Christianity's oldest confessions of faith.
Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and most mainline Protestant churches teach that Jesus descended to the realm of the dead on Holy Saturday to save righteous souls, such as the Hebrew patriarchs, who died before his crucifixion.
“When religion ruled the world, they called it the Dark Ages.”
That was the bumper sticker quote I read on the tailgate of a white minivan during my morning’s commute to work. Upon reading, I had so many adverse gut-reactions to this statement.
That’s so closed minded. And, Aside from a few erroneous events, don’t you know how much good Christianity has done for the world? And, I am sure you have all the answers to all the world’s problems then don’t you, Mr. White Minivan? (Amusingly, the sticker on the opposite side of the tailgate read “I think, therefore I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh,” to which I thought, Meh, fair enough.)
Once I worked through my initial feelings of angst though, I reflected on those words a bit more. I realized maybe he has a point. When religion rules, things generally do not go well for the people practicing it, or for those who are being subjected to the religious standards.
Lots of folks love preaching about the risen Christ on Easter Sunday without talking about what he went through to get there. It’s a bad habit we Protestants have, but plenty of us skip right over Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to Easter.
This past weekend, millions of Americans crossed their fingers and tuned into the Mega Millions drawing, hoping that they would beat the odds and strike it rich. At my office, a pool was formed; I was the only one who opted out. Although it is good to dream, I did not want to waste my money on the slim odds. After the money was collected for the tickets, we went around the lunch table, and chatted about how we would all spend our Mega Millions. Nearly everyone mentioned giving away a significant chunk to charity.Of course, this is only the right thing to do, when one has so much money (their thought processes went).
This got me thinking ... Does it take $640 million to make a difference? What does it say about us, Americans, who live in the world's richest country – that we view radical generosity as a “rich person thing” for a later time?
Holy Week and Jesus’ Ways for Peace
Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday and the week that follows — Holy Week — are times for Christians to remember and share the biblical stories of Jesus’ teachings and actions for peace. These stories encourage us to pray and work for peace, especially in light of those who are now threatening a new war with Iran. “Nine Years of War in Iraq: A Sojourners Retrospective” is a powerful reminder that churches need to do more.
Last year Sojourners posted a new hymn for Palm Sunday with peace themes, “Lord, What a Parade!” by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.
This year the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in North Carolina commissioned Carolyn to write a new hymn about Jesus’ nonviolent actions and compassion at the time of his arrest.
“Easter? Isn’t that over?” I’m already gearing up to hear this, just as I launch into trying to trying to actually make something spiritually of Lent’s remaining weeks, after my feeble efforts, while also anticipating the Feast of Feasts that awaits in a little more than two weeks.
At work, hunched over my vegetarian lunch of channa dal and naan (Orthodox Lent is all about carbs!), I furtively scan florist websites for vibrant bouquets, and think about ordering that grass-fed leg of lamb from the small farmer who sells meat at our local market. I wonder if I get the cute bouquet of bright pink roses with the foam Easter eggs and the fuzzy bunny for my daughter, will the flowers hang on for another seven days to grace our Pascha table?
I have heard it said that people of Christian faith should be more about Easter and less about Christmas. Easter is a powerful hope but it deals with things beyond this life. It is a sure and certain hope but one that eludes my imagination, confounds my concrete mind.
The crucifixion is something I can wrap my mind around. We have only to open our eyes and our hearts to the realities of the world and we recognize the darkness of Good Friday. When the season is upon us I will dwell with great gratitude at the foot of the cross.
But, Lord God, I want to stay for a while in Christmas where hope is something I can cradle to my chest. I want to dwell here where music sings the promise of love, reminding me of those Mary moments in my life when it seems truth and love are about to burst forth from within and change the world.
Let me hearken to Mary’s song and hear it as a radical claim awakening me for the sake of revolution, to grab hold of the Kingdom of God already present amongst us.
Last week, Rollins posted the introduction and first chapter of Insurrection on his website, and I devoured it. He really is one of the most challenging thinkers in the Christian world today.
I prefer my revolutions to be simple: A corrupt dictator/tyrant, an oppressed population, inspired reformers who risk their lives, calls for democracy, waves of marchers in the streets, background music from Les Misérables. The stories from Tunis and Cairo were epochal. The Arab spring was in full bloom as calls for participatory government could be heard from every corner of the Middle East.
Then there was Syria. The Assad government has been infamous in its intolerance to dissent. It is a military regime whose 30-year leadership under Hafez al-Assad (1930-2000) established it as one of the most severe in the region. In 2,000, after the death of Hafez, the world was intrigued to see his second son -- Bashar al-Assad -- ascend the throne. Bashar was an ophthalmologist who had studied in London, but because of his older brother's death in a car accident in 1994, he was called to follow his father. Bashar speaks English and French fluently and has been as critical of the U.S. as he has been of Israel.
Anthony Shadid of the New York Times reports that a song, "Come on Bashar, Leave," is spreading across Syria, boldly calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. (Bryan Farrell also wrote about it at the Waging Nonviolence blog.) The article suggests that a young cement layer who chanted it in demonstrations was pulled from the Orontes River this month, his throat having been cut, and, according to residents of the city of Hama, his vocal chords torn out. Hama is where, in 1982, then-president Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president named in the song, gave orders to the army to massacre more than 10,000 in putting down an Islamist upheaval. Today, boys 6-years-old and older vocalize their own rendition of the original warbler's song instead. As the song has sped across Syria, demonstrators have adopted it for themselves.
Ten days after 9/11, Rais Bhuiyan, an immigrant from Bangladesh, was working at a gas station in Dallas, Texas when a man walked in with a gun. Thinking the store was being robbed, Bhuiyan opened the cash register