the theology of a 20 year old poet

We dreamed of Answers, as though they’d appease the appetite.
“I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread,” we borrowed from Langston Hughes,
and frantically we searched for morsels underneath our pillows.

The Answer came in conglomerate rock, in frozen lakes framed by peaks and valleys,
in Tchaikovsky’s Opus 35 in D minor and Rilke’s Duino Elegies,
but we had our hands so full of the question
we had no more room for anything else.

God said, “In the beginning was the Word,” but we thought
He meant, “In the beginning was the Question Mark.”
We molded our inquiries out of down feathers and waking nightmares
(“Why?” “How long?” “Don’t You care?”)
and released them into wind and sand and grass for some kind of reverberation.
Meanwhile it took all of the strength of our watches
to injure our sense of time enough for stories ending with,
“They lived happily ever after,” as if happiness could make eternity enjoyable.
In the beginning was the Word, the Statement, the Answer,
cosmic beauty in the trails beneath our feet and the laughter waltzing from our lips,
the taste of springs and the hospitality of strangers.
And after He created the Answer He challenged us
to form a Question that could possibly equate to such goodness.
But we never found it. Our hands closed around the wrong end of divine dialogue,
traded the problem of good for the problem of evil,
and created a Rosetta Stone for the skeptic.

a poem inspired by Edith Wharton and my English professor

“Presently [Archer] rose and approached the case before which [Ellen] stood. Its glass shelves were crowded with small broken objects – hardly recognizable domestic utensils, ornaments and personal trifles – made of glass, of clay, of discoloured bronze and other time-blurred substances.

 ‘It seems cruel,’ she said, ‘that after a while nothing matters any more than these little things, that used to be necessary and important to forgotten people, and now have to be guessed at under a magnifying glass and labeled: ‘Use unknown.’’”

 -Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, p.175

We will have museums for as long as we have churches.
Before altars and crosses tired of being beheld for beholder’s sake,
We confess our longing to be forgotten.
“Eat and remember,” which we interpret as, “your sins will not unbalance the already entropic universe,”
and we receive the elements of our anonymity with great thanks.
But when the church bells finish their tolling for repentance,
It is in the museums we begin part two of Sunday service.

The artifacts on dusty shelves preach better sermons than the preachers.
Never before, and with such startling clarity, did we see the facelessness
Of our own past, with its inability to read its own eulogy.
We gaze quietly at the remnants of a time too archaic to understand,
Holding our bibles in one hand and our cameras in the other,
And wage civil war while artifacts behind darkened glass keep score.

Yet somehow, in the sacred silence of our hearts,
We cannot shake off “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
A God who stepped into means a reordering of cosmic scenes,
But such a tearing of cosmic cloth comes at the cost
Of mortal coil lost to immortal toil. A foil to our foul comes down, slips through sinning space
And makes incarnation not once but continuous, throughout, self.
“The tears of God are the meaning of history,” writes one philosopher,
And we find it is almost worth our own tears to wrap our prayers around that one metaphysical truth.

a quote from the teacher

…Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke

to the ones who are invisible (a poem)

The premise is this: you have never been alone.
Loneliness itself is a metaphor,
a bridge between “In the beginning” and
“He will make all things new.”
Our lonely is a reminder of how inverted our shadows become
when we forget we are plotline and platform.

The promise is this: you will never be alone.
Your fear forgets to wait, to trust,
to write long poems in spiral notebooks and reflect
over the years – and that fear is prologue.
You will look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
There will be no more metaphors; the grapes you carry out of Canaan
on your back will burst with climactic sweetness,
and baptism will be rich and wine and resolution.

Tomorrow comes with bruises. Purple, like grapes,
but also like the memory of a gentle night
and good conversation, how it slips into your subconscious
like a mother’s hand tucking you in at night.
I once read a Word that left me wounded,
scarred by runes of yearning so deep they wrote themselves into rhymes,
and I have spent the rest of my life trying to translate the bleeding
into an alphabet I can understand.

” i can feel the armor underneath my fur” (a borrowed line and a poem)

My ribcage is the source of all beginnings. It is the place
that first, fatal bite landed after the Fall fell into Eve’s open lips;
my ribcage is someone else’s holding cell,
holding their memories in check, mystery too Edenic to be safe.

My hands are Echo and Narcissus,
self and other, sin and salvation,
every dream I have ever clung to and every shame I have ever
tried desperately to shed.

My mouth is the David upon which thousands of eyes peer
for a glimpse of the heroic and come away with a feeling of marble
too muddled to be sculpted. “There is nothing so mute as a God’s mouth,”
writes Rilke, and I think someone once told me that I was made in His image.

My eyes are the heavier-than-you-remembered door that you open
into a home that is at once startlingly familiar and heartbreakingly foreign.
They are the carpet well worn beneath your feet, the cold air filtering through
your poorly made window, the squeaky hinges
you always told yourself you would oil.

My veins are roadmaps to a self easier to understand than my own.
They are signpost and highway, the exit you should have taken but that the darkness
kept you from seeing. They are the Mississippi river
upon which sail Samuel Clemens’ and all of our doubt
drifting the wrong way to freedom.

Please, God.

I am exhausted and afraid and Beloved and Wounded and I do not know. I do not know. I do not know.

You care. I am clinging to a truth I cannot feel and maybe cannot fully believe. But I cling to it because what else have I to cling to? The care of people is well-intended but so weak, so inconsistent, so tremulous a thing. Yours is the only care that goes deep into the soul of who I am and speaks life into my desert. And I need You. Jesus, I need You.

Sometimes courage is having nothing and trusting that you have everything. Sometimes courage is feeling everything and trusting that none of it is true. That it is real in the sense that you are feeling it, but that it is not true, that it is not grounded in reality, that it is not possible when Jesus is real and good and beautiful.

Sometimes courage is the “Yes” when you do not know what the word means.

i want to limp like jacob (word to myself)

You said it yourself, Rachel. Yesterday, while you were talking to a friend. She asked you the biggest thing you were learning and you told her the quote. You know which quote, Rachel?

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us. We are wondering just how painful that best will turn out to be.” – C.S. Lewis

And you told her that you didn’t understand those words when you were younger. They just didn’t make sense to you. But now, somewhere around ten years and a mountain of experiences later, now you are beginning to understand. You know that God will do the best for you. That is promised in Scripture, you have tasted His goodness in your life, and you know you can trust Him to do for you what He desires. You are wondering, however, just how hard and how painful His will is going to turn out to be. Because you have learned that anesthesia was never part of the promise. He does not desire you to feel pain, but neither does He remove it from your life.

You have felt enough of the hurt to be wary. To be slow to trust, to clench your fists in your pocket and only occasionally hold them out in front of you as open palms.

But perhaps you have also felt enough of the hurt to be weaned. To be carefully lifted out of your tiny world that is measured solely by how much discomfort something causes and to be placed into the much larger and richer world that is measured more by how much of Christ you taste in your experiences. Through every bruise you have felt, every cut, you have also felt the care of a God who never let you go.

And so here you are again, Rachel, not for the first time and not for the last, being called to trust God. Not to trust Him that life will be easy. Not to trust even necessarily that He will meet all of your needs, though that is true. And not to trust Him with the precondition that your life will take a certain expected form and shape. But to trust Him that He is enough, and to trust Him not because you are “supposed” to but because you truly believe He is that good. And because you know that the poverty of this life – the weakness and the loneliness and the exile that sometimes comes with following Christ – is worth the richness of the next.

You don’t know what God will call you to, Rachel. You do not know what He wants to do with you, how He wants to mold you, what He wants to use your life to do. But that is not the point. The point is to be able to see His beauty in a way where You trust Him for whatever will come. And whatever may be exactly what you imagine for yourself, or it may be something completely different. Either way, you want Christ to be your treasure – and if you have Him, you can follow wherever He leads.

At the moment, you have no idea how you will ever reach this point of trust. And you have learned that promising yourself and committing to things for the rest of your life is not always the best way to act. Instead of saying, “God I trust You forever,” maybe you can start with the simple, “I don’t know if I will always trust You, but for now, I do. For now, I believe You are enough. For now, I believe You are that good.” Tomorrow it may be different, but that does not nullify today’s faithfulness, and each day is a wrestling unto itself. There is a saying, Rachel, that says, “Do not borrow tomorrow’s troubles.” I think it also means, “Do not borrow tomorrow’s wrestling.” You wrestle with what God has placed before you today. Tomorrow is not even guaranteed. We take it one day at a time. That is all we know how to do.

One more thing to note, Rachel. You hear people say things like, “Pray that you will have a faith like Moses.” Or, “Pray that you will have integrity like Joseph.” Or, “Try to have the courage of Daniel.” There is even a song made completely out of those kinds of lyrics. But never once have you heard anyone say, “Pray that you will have a limp like Jacob.” But this is what you want, Rachel – of all the holy examples in Scripture, maybe this is the one most relevant to your life. Pray that you will have a limp like Jacob. Because when you limp, you lean on something. Lean on Christ. And as you limp your way into Heaven, you will know Christ because you will have clung to Him for every step. And He will know you – by the familiar gait of your walk, by the sound of your voice, by the shape of your tears, by the trust you have wrestled for and offered up to HIm. Rest in that. You will not just know Him. He will know you.

a creed for myself

I believe in the theology of story – of every person living in a grand meta-narrative whose beginning is comedic tragedy, whose middle is tragic comedy, and whose ending is the eucatastrophe of every story we’ve ever bled to belong in.

I believe in a God who is so beautiful that somehow – inexplicably, illogically – dying to myself becomes the deepest kind of life.

I believe in grace. Not just the once-and-for-all kind that went to work while Jesus was on the cross, but grace that daily infiltrates my life, that offers me forgiveness when I inevitably sin, that offers me present and future redemption.

I believe in the goodness of Christ that enables me to live out truths I can’t yet understand, because I know one day I will understand and it will be beautiful – or maybe more accurately, I won’t need to understand because He will be so beautiful.

I believe in the kind of God who calls me, of all possible things, his poiema.

I believe.

There is more than just this believing. There is deep pain here too. There is an exile that seems to resurrect more often than my joy, and a weariness right now that I can’t even understand. I could fill up pages with the turmoil inside of me. But for now, it is enough to say this. To wrestle and to weep and to choose to claim within my heart that in and through everything, I still believe.

“In me it is dark, but with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not desert me;
My courage fails me, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace;
in me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience,
I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

a list, a poem, and a song (or, a triangle of honesty)

  • One day I’ll write a book and every page will be blank – an ode to all the empty spaces that make up my family’s conversations with each other.
  • God made me tension and tightrope and slow to trust. If my mind was elastic, it would be continually at its breaking point.
  • I believe in truth. I believe in grace. I believe in a forgiveness that makes everything like 4 AM sunrise and in a Gospel that is the climactic, hope unlooked-for ending to every fairytale we’ve ever died to believe in – but I still wake up mornings and wonder what the point is.
  • I love people far more deeply than I trust them.
  • “This could be all about just letting go / Or it could be all about just holding on”
  • It takes a guitar in my hands for me to know I am alive. In the ten o’clock darkness that swallows you whole, I sit with my guitar and I play. Notes and chords in no particular order, one at a time I pluck the nylon and the music rings out, dissonance that is not dangerous, and melody that for once is not memory. It takes a guitar in my hands for me to know I am alive.
  • Sometimes I do not want to know if I am alive.
  • Scripture still moves me. Even after all these years, all these doubts, all the repetition. They haunt me and they heal me, those words.
  • “It’s just that some voices remind me / I’m not strong enough
    To put all my demons behind me / And carry this love”
  • I would tell you the truth if I wasn’t so afraid it would melt in your hands. 

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far off,
as if in the heavens distant gardens withered;
they fall with gestures that say “no.”

And in the nights the heavy earth falls
from all the stars into aloneness.

We are all falling. The hand is falling.
And look at the others: it is in them all.

And yet there is One who holds this falling
with infinite softness in his hands.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Images

“an anatomy of doubt”

I could
hold a little tighter
to faith if I wasn’t
so afraid of
And with every push, Love splinters into a stained glass wound.
Carpenter fingers carve hope in my hands and somewhere someone bleeds.
steel string
and iron nail,
like D minor
and wooden
quiet, silent,
silence, His face
turned away;
My face,
turned away;
our faces
in the pre-dawn