Sunday, July 26, 2009

More 'For the Time Being'...

So apparently Auden's oratorio runs some 50-something pages. We'll have to get the book. That said, here's another snippet:

ADVENT

Chorus

Darkness and snow descend;
The clock on the mantlepiece
Has nothing to recommend,
Nor does the face in the glass
Appear nobler than our own
As darkness and snow descend
On all personality.
Huge crowds mumble -”Alas,
Our angers do not increase,
Love is not what she used to be”;
Portly Caesar yawns – “I know”;
He falls asleep on his throne,
They shuffle off through the snow:
Darkness and snow descend.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Auden and the Untamed Kingdom

We Christians find regular (if unsolicited) reminders that the Kingdom of God is an untamed Kingdom. Think Lewis' "not-a-tame" lion; and, if you're an Episcopalian, think hymns 463 and 464 in the 1982 Hymnal (don't worry, they are both versions of the final poem at the end of this blog entry--you can read them here). (The latter has been put to a contemporary setting that I pray will soon be shared by good friend and musician Bryce Boddie.) I have found unspeakable grace in the words of these hymns since my CPE days, but I have only recently discovered the hymn in light of the preceding poem from the oratorio for which WH Auden originally wrote the verses. Here they are (both parts of the larger poem), if slightly out of season, and never totally out of season, by virtue of the ordinary time to which the whole is pointed.


III
Well, so that is that.
Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes -
Some have got broken – and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week -
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully -
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
“Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake.”
They will come, all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God’s Will will be done,
That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

IV
CHORUS

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

(W H Auden – 1907-1973)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

experiment #2: books are for binding

Books record the voices of the saints throughout their many times. Books also, as good Episcopalians know, unite a people of one time. And while good friends share good books almost as a matter of instinct, good books can be difficult to find. All of this is my rambling rationale for experiment #2 (sequel to the WILDLY successful free lunch gig :P ): 'BOOKS ARE FOR BINDING'. The gist is this:

1) I am committed to cataloging my own library over time (give me a while) on the hugely cool website librarything.com.

2) Folks nearby (and especially St. Helena's folks!) need to know that this library is open -- these books are yours to check-out! -- and you can even search through them from the net.

3) Individuals with similarly helpful Christian resources are invited (indeed, encouraged) to likewise catalog your books on librarything.com, and, if you're willing, to form a multi-site, common library (remember Acts 2!). Let me know when you do, and we'll arrange to link our resources on the web.

Of course this is a small, scrape the surface reminder that the gifts of God are for the glory of God and the up-building of the Church -- but it is a first chapter!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wednesday's Meditation: "being for another the story of Christ"

Matthew 10:1-7

10Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”

When I think of apostles, I think of those closest to Jesus, which of course is to forget what the word means altogether: 'apostle' means 'sent'. Today, in our gospel, Jesus gives the ones to whom he's closest the privilege of being sent.

I think of Jesus, I think of this gospel, and I'm reminded of the words to an old country song: "How can I miss you if you won't go away?"

It is a strange thing that the ones closest to Jesus would be sent farthest away, but then it's also strange that the one who would be greatest must be like one who serves. That is, it's a strangeness we've come to expect from this Jesus.

A slight aside: I often hear folks remark that they need more quiet time, time spent close with God--and sure this is a good thing! a true and right instinct--but I seldom hear folks say, "I've spent my time with God, now show me some strangers!"

In fact, a small group of us, a small group from church, meeting on Wednesdays, had been hoping to enter into conversation with folks outside of the Church--non-Christians--we wanted their insights--we longed to hear their stories--when we were suddenly humbled to realize two things:

One: we didn't have many non-Christian friends, even between us,

Two: the non-Christians we did know weren't at all interested in being guinea pigs for a small group in our church.

How can I miss you if you won't go away?

We are called--all of us--to go away.

The theologian and teacher Stanley Hauerwas writes this about apostles and sending:

"Christianity is not a philosophy that can be learned separate from those who embody it. If the truth that is Christ were a truth that could be known 'in principle' then we would not need apostles. But the way the gospel is known is by one person being for another the story of Christ. Jesus summons the disciples to him, and, so summoned, they become for us the witnesses who make it possible for us to be messengers of the kingdom. The disciples are not impressive people, but then, neither are we. Their mission, as well as our own, is not to call attention to ourselves but to Jesus and the kingdom."

To call attention to Jesus and the kingdom--to be sent out--yes, to come--and to be sent out again--this is our calling.

Who was it, I wonder, in your life, who first embodied the story of Jesus for you?

To whom might you embody--to whom might we embody--the story of Jesus still?