April 16, 2017

Every day I’m still looking for God
and I’m still finding him everywhere,
in the dust, in the flowerbeds.
Certainly in the oceans,
In the islands that lay in the distance
Continents of ice, countries of sand
Each with its own set of creatures
And God, by whatever name.
How perfect to be aboard a ship with
Maybe a hundred years still in my pocket.
But it’s late, for all of us,
And in truth the only ship there is
Is the ship we are all on
Burning the world as we go.
–Mary Oliver

Matthew 28:1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

In the Month of May   Robert Bly
In the month of May when all leaves open,
I see when I walk how well all things
lean on each other, how the bees work,
the fish make their living the first day.
Monarchs fly high; then I understand
I love you with what in me is unfinished.

I love you with what in me is still
changing, what has no head or arms
or legs, what has not found its body.
And why shouldn’t the miraculous,
caught on this earth, visit
the old man alone in his hut?

And why shouldn’t Gabriel, who loves honey,
be fed with our own radishes and walnuts?
And lovers, tough ones, how many there are
whose holy bodies are not yet born.
Along the roads, I see so many places
I would like us to spend the night.

Sara Moores Campbell
In the tomb of the soul, we carry secret yearnings, pains,
frustrations, loneliness, fears, regrets, worries.
In the tomb of the soul, we take refuge from the world and its heaviness.
In the tomb of the soul, we wrap ourselves in the security of darkness.
Sometimes this is a comfort,
sometimes it is an escape.
Sometimes it prepares us for experience.
Sometimes it insulates us from life.
Sometimes this tomb-life gives us time to feel the pain of the world
and reach out to heal others.
Sometimes it numbs us and locks us up with our own concerns.
In this season where light and dark balance the day, we seek balance for ourselves.
Grateful for the darkness that has nourished us, we push away the stone and invite the light to awaken us to the possibilities within us and among us—possibilities for new life in ourselves and in our world.

—-

One of the great novels of the early twentieth century in my view is E.M. Forester’s, Howard’s End. At one point in the novel, Margaret is contemplating Love. And she imagines Love personified.

Margaret had often wondered at the disturbance that takes place in the world’s waters, when Love, who seems so tiny a pebble, slips in. Whom does Love concern beyond the beloved and the lover? Yet [Love’s] impact deluges a hundred shores. No doubt the disturbance is really the spirit of the generations, welcoming the new generation, and chafing against the ultimate Fate, who holds all the seas in the palm of her hand. But Love cannot understand this. [Love] cannot comprehend another’s infinity; [Love] is conscious only of his own–flying sunbeam, falling rose, pebble that asks for one quiet plunge below the fretting interplay of space and time. [Love] knows that he will survive at the end of things, and be gathered by Fate as a jewel from the slime, and be handed with admiration round the assembly of the gods. “[Humanity] did produce this” they will say, and, saying, they will give [us] immortality. But meanwhile–what agitations meanwhile!

There are so many reasons I am moved by that passage. I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In the 13th chapter, Paul writes, “Love never ends.” Prophecies, tongues, knowledge, all will end. Love will not. Love, says Paul, “Endures all things.”

So Margaret imagines Love “gathered by Fate as a jewel from the slime” and being admired by the gods as they sit it in assembly to pass judgment on humanity. The gods cannot help but admire this jewel, this jewel called Love that was produced by humans. They did make this! For that, and for that alone, humankind is granted immortality.

E.M. Forster created in this poetic masterpiece a modern theology where he sought to articulate “hope before the grave.” He plays with a mix of ancient mythology with characters such as Fate and the gods assembled in court. It is modern in that Love is not another god, nor a name for God with a big G. Love is not a supernatural gift to humanity. Love is produced naturally by humanity. Love evolved with humanity.

Yes, we did this. We did not consciously produce Love. We cannot take credit that way. Love emerged from our shared evolved life and became a reality on its own. Humankind produced many things. Nation-states, economies, the internet, and war to name a few. Greed, selfishness, racism, and evil, are also sadly listed on humanity’s resume. All of that is enough to evaluate humanity as an evolutionary dead end. If we could imagine a Grand Experimenter running things, humankind would be a failed experiment.

But humanity’s saying grace, its noble achievement, crowning glory, and award-winning sonnet is Love. We did get one thing right. We did produce one thing well. E.M. Forster, ever the star-crossed optimist, says Love is enough. It is enough to erase the otherwise bad record of the last 2 million years. Love is our ticket to immortality.

The universe, however it changes, and however life evolves, whatever will come must acknowledge and admire Love produced by humankind. Love has made an impact, a pebble in a pond that results in a deluge upon a hundred shores. Love is the jewel amidst the slime of our otherwise shallow achievements.

But, as Margaret says, “But meanwhile—what agitations meanwhile!”

Today we celebrate the journey from cross to resurrection. In another setting, another time, another language, we could be celebrating the quest of Gilgamesh for immortality, or Arjuna’s encounter with Krishna, or Moses crossing the sea from slavery to freedom, or Buddha’s awakening from illusion to clarity, or Mohammad’s reception and recital of divine truth.

What will endure? What will last? What is worth holding onto as in the words of Mary Oliver in her poem, “On traveling to beautiful places,” where she says,

“But it’s late, for all of us,
And in truth the only ship there is
Is the ship we are all on
Burning the world as we go.”

She writes this as she looks for and finds God everywhere.

I agree with Mary Oliver. It is late. We have been burning this world for some time now and in every category worth calculating, we have nearly burned it up. From species extinction to global warming, humankind has left its legacy. We have done a number on Earth and on all the other Earthlings who would shudder at our next marvelous invention if they had the consciousness to do so.

At the end of humanity’s time, will nuclear weapons and oil rigs be handed around the assembly of the gods with admiration? Humankind did produce these, they will say. I have a difficult time imagining that technology will be our glorification. Although, it is uniquely us.

But so is Love uniquely us. We can’t take all the credit, for sure. Love seems to have arisen in our mammalian ancestors before us. But through humans, Love blossomed. Love found her voice, her song, her muse, her prophet, her poet, her activist, her artist, her saint.

In this grand wrestling match between Love and Knowledge, who will rise?

Robert Bly reminds us that we were thrown into this world before we were ready. We should have matured a bit first so that we might have been able to control our appetites for material things and our obsession with destructive toys. We cannot change what has been. Robert Bly’s last line in the first stanza of his poem, “In the Month of May” caught my eye:

“I love you with what in me is unfinished.”

Yes, we don’t get to grow up before we must live, drive cars, make love, be fruitful and multiply. We are unfinished. in reality, there is no such thing as finishing school. We are thrust into life unaware of our own purpose. We have to make it as we go. But Bly is hopeful.

“I love you with what in me is unfinished.”

He goes on to say,

I love you with what in me is still
Changing, what has not head or arms
or legs, what has not found its body.
and why shouldn’t the miraculous,
caught on this earth, visit
the old man alone in his hut?

So we come to another Easter, an Easter that finds us perilously closer to disaster and we know that because those who make decisions for our fate try desperately and more brazenly to convince us that it isn’t so, that their plan is great, that we should trust them, trust these makers of war and destruction. Put everything in their hands, privatize it all, and they will rule us with beneficence.

Yet Love rises. Love rolls away the stone of the tomb of the soul. Sara Moores Campbell invites us to push away the stone even as the dark tomb has protected us and insulated us, comforted us, and given us escape from this world that we are burning.

Awaken, roll away the stone! We need you.

The Christian stories of Easter have an earthy and political tone to them. It isn’t about Jesus rising from the dead. The cross was an instrument of state-sanctioned terror. Strategically placed along the entrance to the city, the crosses with the unfortunates hanging from them served as a clear message. Do not let Love rise or this will happen to you. “We are law and order and peace through strength,” said Rome. Put away your silly dreams of independence and justice. Accept what we give you. Stay in line.

The story of resurrection is not about Jesus alone. The story of resurrection is for those who would follow this criminal—and that is how Rome saw him, a criminal worthy of nothing more than humiliation and elimination. The story of resurrection is trusting that he told and lived a truth worth living. The story of resurrection is the story of Love rising and rolling away stones that entomb our spirit, our souls, and our bodies.

The story of resurrection is nothing more than a fable unless the Love to which it points rises in us. Unless Love inspires us to resist the lies and hear the truth spoken by those who have been beaten down, it is nothing more than sentiment.

Love is fierce. Love takes risks. Love hears truth, even as that truth convicts. Love knows that the truth it tells is liberating, that binds us together, that shows us what we have in common, that brings us together in embrace, through tears, and then wipes away those tears, and summons us to rise together.

This is the love that will survive at the end of things and be lifted up by Fate as a jewel from the slime and will be passed around the assembly of the gods. They will say, “This is what humans are made of. This is what they have given to the universe. This is their legacy.”

Yes, it is late. But it is not too late for Love. Let Love Rise. Amen.