Thinking about air

Every Sunday evening at my church, we have a gathering called “Living in Grace” — a chance to meet for dessert and faith-related conversation bookended by Holden Evening Prayer. Lately, we’ve been watching a series of videos by Animate Faith; this last Sunday, we watched one about the purpose of the church. The speaker asserted that one of the reasons the church struggles is that we see it as many things — social club, hospital, spiritual retreat, etc. — things that are centered around us and our needs, rather than centered around God. We noted that, ironically, after making this point, the speaker quickly wandered off of it to other things.

It’s difficult to be centered around God. We are told that God is close, but that God’s ways are not our ways, that God’s ways are higher than our ways. We glimpsed God in a frail human frame — alive as we are alive, loving, suffering, dying — but then we are told that before time was, God is, that even this aspect of God that took on flesh is the vessel through whom and for whom all things were made. How can you focus on the source of all creation without getting sidetracked just thinking about that creation? How can we conceive of God without understanding God in our own, limited, mortal terms?

It occurred to me that trying to hold onto our slippery concepts of God is a little like trying to think about air. Air is something we’re rarely conscious of — it’s invisible and all around us everywhere we go, every second of every moment of every day. We count spaces filled with air as empty spaces, forgetting that air *is* there — a composition of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other stuff that very much exists. Even when we take a breath or feel the wind on our faces, we think only about the sensation, and not about the mixture of atmospheric gases entering our lungs. Yet it gives us life, and without it, we can’t survive more than a few minutes.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with keeping God at the center of my life, and it helps to remember that, like the air, God is there, giving me life, whether I am conscious of it or not. In that vein, I wrote the following poem, which I wanted to share:

think about the air
the quiet invitation
quickly gets lost
lost in color
and light and
feeling and sound
all in the air
filling my lungs
it’s always there
giving me life

I cannot run
without the wind
across my face
and the air ragged
in my nostrils
nor can I
give my breath
to lonely sighs
without the same air
parting my lips
it’s always there
outside my skin

let it in
the quiet invitation
let the light
and the color
and the feeling
and the sound
give you insight
breathe in the air
it’s always there
giving you life

think about the air
across your face
tangling your hair
parting your lips
filling your lungs
giving you life
it’s always there
think about the air

On poetry and property committees

poemLast Wednesday was a test day in the family literacy class I co-teach to refugees and other immigrants, so I had the better part of two hours to sit and ruminate on some things that have been on my mind for quite a while now.  I began scratching some ideas out on a sheet of notebook paper, and soon the ideas just began to flow.

This, unedited, is what I wrote:

polished wood and the lingering smoke of extinguished candles
the fragmented, multicolored glory of daylight spilling through stained glass
echoes that chase themselves through the ceiling’s lofty vault above
the richly ornate altar, resplendent in its finely embroidered paraments
I love the feel and the scent and the sight of it all
steeped as it is in centuries of ancient tradition
and still, I remember that it’s all window-dressing
for what has always been a simple mystery
the true temple is the one built of living stones
the temple not built by human hands
and soon, the day may come, the lean days, the pilgrim days
when it will all stand empty, dusty, unused
when the trappings of tradition will fall by the wayside
all this and more has already begun
but on that day, we will remember who we are
we ARE a pilgrim people, and always have been
we were never meant for the gilt and the linen and the polished wood
we were never meant to grow comfortable and complacent
we were never taught to expect that the world would come to us
we must GO out to the world.  we must GO!
we are heirs to a boundless, limitless, reckless love
a love that even death could not restrain
our inheritance is not this dust-dry, hidebound morality
the world ascribes to us, cloistered and close-minded
it isn’t the windows or the walls or the well-loved spaces
we are a living, breathing, loving body
the words on our lips and in our hearts are God’s words
lush and life-giving as an April rain
no earthly building can contain them
forget the mortar and the bricks, the paraments, the candlesticks
the glass and the altar and the finely polished wood
forget the echoes and the arches and the aging roof tiles
GO out to the world.
go outside and let it rain.

This is the poem that sparked the idea of doing a blog.  It pretty well sums up my thoughts on where the church is headed and where it needs to go.  I joked that such sentiments would make me very unpopular with the property committee at my church, but to characterize this as a dour reflection on the church’s future could not be further from the truth. Continue reading