Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Author: Benjamin White (Page 1 of 19)

Pastor of Circle of Hope stationed at 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken, NJ

How does a Christian Celebrate the Fourth of July?

Happy Fourth of July? How does a Christian celebrate the beginning of a nation with such a shaky foundation? Thomas Jefferson wrote about self-evident truths that were so abstract they excluded women and black people from their universality. The land the American Revolutionaries fought for was stolen from the First Nations people. But I don’t think calling out the obvious evil at the heart of the American project is a deep enough critique. In fact, critique is not deep enough at all. We must build an alternative which allows us to love the world from an entirely different footing.

Because this is where we live. The people in my neighborhood (whom I LOVE) are having a house decorating competition seeing who can be the most red, white and blue. What am I to do? Must I boycott the fanfare entirely? Must I close my eyes and ears to the fireworks? Must I register my non-participation by draping my house in the black of mourning (I considered that). I’m thinking my “yes” to the kingdom of God is more important than my “no” to empire. I say this in part because I despair at the prospect of making a significant impact. This might just be despair, but it might be the unavoidable truth of history.

From my perspective, human history is not a grand sweep toward progress, but a cycle of violence and collapse. The near future science fiction of Octavia Butler, written in the mid-nineties, seems eerily prophetic. I think that could actually happen! Empires rise and fall. The industrial revolution was less than 150 years ago. An incredibly short period of time! Throughout history, when the state of things ushers in more and more concentration of wealth, the powerful eventually lose. This seems inevitable. How then do I engage?

I recently read Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, which is another prophetic book from the mid-nineties.  Hauerwas and Willimon argue that the church has accommodated the political concerns of the State for most of its history. We have entered into the fray in many disastrous ways. They call this “Constantinianism” after the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine, who co-opted the church for the unity of his empire. His empire fell but the arrangement between Church and State persisted and the modern Church in America has not repented even if separation of Church and State is part of the founding documents.

Hauerwas and Willimon argue that both contemporary conservative and liberal churches in the United States have basically capitulated to the State. We have surrendered our imaginations to the limited options provided to us by the myth of American progress. Our prophecy is bound by two options: 1) “America is bad” and 2) “America is good.” The locus of change is in, and by, and for the State. William Cavanaugh wrote an excellent book called Migrations of the Holy which charts this development through time. Hauerwas and Willimon say that both conservative and liberal churches have been primarily concerned with making life a little better for the world by promoting a particular social ethic. “Both assume wrongly that the American church’s primary social task is to underwrite American democracy” (31).

Their alternative resonates with me. “The church does not exist to ask what needs doing to keep the world running smoothly and then to motivate our people to go do it. The church is not to be judged by how useful we are as a ‘supportive institution’ and our clergy as members of a ‘helping profession.’ The church has its own reason for being, hid within its own mandate and not found in the world. We are not chartered by the Emperor” (39).

But when the streets flood in the middle of a pandemic with people calling for a drastic reevaluation of how we ensure public safety for all people, I am stirred. I have gone to a few marches myself. I joined up with other faith leaders in New Jersey to consider what can actually be done to reimagine policing (faithinnewjersey.org). I put a Black Lives Matter sign in my window. I have dug deeper into the personal work of understanding my own deformation by this pernicious power of white supremacy in our culture.

All of these tactics coming out of the movement have been met by some suspicion from some folks in our church. They have read Hauerwas and Willimon’s book, or they have at least adopted its posture because we have been teaching it as Anabaptists for a long time. Are we conforming to the way of the world, and in so doing are we abandoning the Church’s alternative mandate? Are we standing on a side just because of our political persuasion? I have definitely heard this from the body, and I sympathize with that concern.

However, I see in the Gospels a decided sidedness to Jesus’ Way. God has forever been on the side of the poor and the oppressed. From the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt, the inauguration of the People of God, the scripture has reminded us again and again to be a peculiar people who does not cooperate with empire. And yet we have undoubtedly cooperated with empire and must be on guard against doing so now. Jesus’ teaching made an alternative abundantly clear. He was not creating a new morality, or a new ethic, or new means of righteousness. He was himself our righteousness and his teaching aimed to awaken us to a new way of seeing the world.  He called into question the foundations of Israel’s self-understanding and practice, and he ought to do the same to every generation and every nation.

The kingdom of God is a new way of seeing and being in the world. Jesus gave us a new place to stand. Jesus created a new humanity belonging to a new kingdom which allows us to speak to the empires, like America, or the G20, or Netflix, without centering ourselves on the outcomes of their worldly projects. We have a new identity in Christ which provides us the freedom to do more than critique and repent (though Jesus calls us to that as well). We can build on a foundation that will not be shaken because our Kingdom is eternal and is not subject to the course of empire.

But the people I love, especially the poor and the oppressed – especially the descendants of Black slaves who were not considered equal by the declaration that is celebrated this weekend –  especially the descendants of the First Nations people who have been systematically impoverished and killed via government sponsored genocide and ongoing marginalization – especially the descendants of the women who are still fighting for recognition of their full humanity and unmeasurable contribution to our communal wellbeing – these people whom I love, and whom Jesus leads me to love, require my partnership. I feel compelled to submit to the movements that seem viable to change the outcomes for these people.

When I join in these movements, when I am even led by them, am I abandoning the place Jesus has given us to stand? It’s possible. There is a real tension here. And I think Circle of Hope is feeling it. We must prioritize our togetherness as we figure this out together. If we let the confusion and disorientation of our incredibly polarized national conversation divide us, I am sure we will then be abandoning our God given new humanity. The bond of peace between us must persist or we will have nothing left to offer the world. The faith, hope and love that fuels Circle of Hope’s compassion and action on behalf of the poor and the oppressed (which is considerable!) will crumble if we cannot love one another through these difficult days.

I want to have something more to offer my neighbors than my objection to their celebration, and I think it is the Church. I think Circle of Hope really does create an excellent environment for people to connect with God and act for redemption. That redemption includes our prophetic voice to the evils of the world, but it also creates a protective container of grace which makes personal transformation possible.

This grace permeates my relationships with me red, white and blue addressed neighbors. I have spent years in the spiritual gym of Circle of Hope, learning to love people who disagree with me, irritate me and even attack me at times. The Church is a place where grace muscles are grown – where we become more than the limited imaginations given to us by the world.

We grow from the certainty of a future declared to us by Jesus, inaugurated by his death on the cross, confirmed in his resurrection from the dead, and manifested daily by the power of the Holy Spirit. Strengthened by all this promise and power from God, I believe we can stand together, love one another and offer an alternative, even as we diverge in how we engage in the struggles to which we are called.   

Hey (!), White People (!), We Get to Repent!

What an extraordinary moment in American History! A bunch of my friends are getting the day off for Juneteenth. There’s talk of making it a national holiday and I don’t think that sounds far-fetched.  Confederate monuments are coming down. Christopher Columbus statues are coming down. It seems like the last vestiges of racism in America are just about done and sorted out.

Syke!

It IS an extraordinary moment in American History but there is tons of racism still hanging around. And I’m pretty sure it will stay. They might try to get us to calm down with national holidays and changing the twenty dollar bill, but racism isn’t going away just like that. You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but I need me to tell me this because I’m pretty excitable. I fall for the bells and whistles pretty hard pretty much every time. Oooh, shiny! Amazon gave me a movie for free! Oh wow! Philadelphia changed it’s police budget! Nice! Donald Trump changed his mind for once, what?! But the first thing we get to be excited about is not all these corporate and political high fives to what the powers that be are really hoping is a fad — no, not that, we get to be excited about repentance! (Which might yield the real change we are hoping for, and which, thank God, is not absent from the high-fiving, suspicious as it seems). I’m praying for as many people as possible to learn how good it feels to repent.

If this unique moment in my lifetime ends up NOT being a fad, it will be in large part because white people like me decide to love repentance. This is a tall order because we have individualized and moralized almost all of the grace and redemption out of our public dialogue. Justice, in its poor, worldly definition, is about punishment and we are still learning how to have a better imagination. But as a Christian, the best thing I have to bring to the dialogue is a familiarity with repentance. We can even bring joy to repentance. Of course repentance is often painful, but not at the root. The root of repentance is God’s kindness. And the first things fed by that wonderful root are empowerment to change — a “Yes!” we can change — and hope for transformation — Double “Yes!” We can change. Christians who grow from this root and are nurtured by its fruit can say with not a little gladness, “We get to  change!”

Paul warns us in Romans 2 not to show “contempt for the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience” For we must realize “that God’s kindness is intended to lead [us] to repentance.” White Christians run the risk of demanding grace and redemption  instead of STANDING ON grace and redemption to face down the power of white supremacy in their lives. Paul’s whole argument in Romans 1 through 8 is a crescendo-ing symphonic plea to believe in and behave from Christ’s love. He is begging us to stand on Christ’s love. Paul’s argument climaxes at the end of chapter 8:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Racism and white supremacy are demons that shall not separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. But Paul does not say the demons aren’t real. He does not say the past does not threaten the present. We need this swelling song in our hearts all day long — 24/7, 365 — because we “face death all day long”! The lies we have believed consciously and otherwise are real threats. The reality of racism in the United States is undeniable and it’s pretty great that so many people are agreeing to do something about that right now. The thing I have to offer to what’s happening as one who has spent some time learning to repent is to bring a non-anxious presence to the process of exposing my own internalized white supremacy. Yes, it hurts.  I confess that I have been confused and uncomfortable often in the past few weeks. I haven’t figured it all out, and I really like to figure it all out. The discomfort is real, but I am letting it burn rather than snuffing it out. It feels like it is the  consuming fire of God.

This process of repentance will last my whole life, and the prospect of that would wear me down if I hadn’t already tasted the fruit of that tree whose root is God’s kindness. Repentance can feel good. I am revealing who am in Christ. I am putting to death what was already made dead when Christ died for me on the cross. I am uprooting the sin that entangles the kindness which was planted at the heart of me. My wounding will definitely be touched again and again, both the way I have been wounded and the way I have wounded others. Hopefully, my livelihood will be affected again and again. For our repentance ought to be actual and not relegated to some spiritual sentimentality. Surely, my relationships will be impacted again and again.  For I will need to change my behavior in demonstrable ways. This is all difficult to do, but if I can trust through the pain of all that exposure, I am confident that God will meet me with kindness and lead me through to the repentance which I was made for. I am convinced of this. We get to do this.

This moment in history is an opportunity for repentance to rise. We can get out from under the tininess of our super-individualized understandings of ourselves. We can escape the captivity of our definitions of a counterfeit justice rooted in punishment and experience some more imaginative prophecy for another possible world and another possible self for each of us. We can face the music of our complicity and cooperation with the lie of racism, confess it and be free to sing the new song of the New Jerusalem. We know where history is heading, and there are parts of us that are not going to make it to the end of time — THANK GOD! This is who we are as Christians. Let’s bring our best to it. We get to repent!

Happy Juneteenth, friends. I love you.

A Friday Poem (and an endorsement for the Comfort Retreat)

Some context

I wrote this poem at the Comfort Retreat last year. We spent a good part of the day groping inthe spiritual dark for something to hold on to. We found it in each others hands and our own hearts. we found it in shared songs and stories. We found it in showing the tenderest parts of ourselves to the Light and expecting the healing that is promised there.

The original draft had the word “pinkening” in it. As in “turning pink” but I decided not to be so bold as Billy Shakespeare and invent another word. My first audiences, couldn’t get the context of the vision of a lake at dusk, unleashing its vapors as the temperature changed. I hope you can fit this poem into your context, and that you sign up for the Comfort Retreat on June 6, at circleofhope.net/shop. Our friends, Angie and Jordan, have ways to lead us through a morning together. We won’t be on zoom the whole time, of course. They will help us choose and create a space for time alone with return to the larger group online.

Learning What I Don’t Know
(At the Comfort Retreat)

This evening pond now pink with eyes aloft
Pours whispers up from dreams I had put down
Like days disappearing into soft, soft
Uncreased sheets of darkest blue from which sounds
Don’t come but in which presence whispers true.
Now rising endless up above the trees,
Unmaking what I see and hear and do,
And showing more than eyes and ears perceive —
A wafting more than anything. Unsaid,
Unheard and yet the truth of you and me;
Somewhere between the living and the dead,
Someone repeating sweet things on his knees
I look at more than could be rightly here,
I feel at what I love and hope and fear.

 

You can listen to me read it here

The Mental Health Benefits of Circle of Hope

It seems to me that it is common to separate the mental health benefits of participation in our church from the other things we do to gain and maintain our mental health. We go to therapy, we practice mindfulness, we exercise, we do yoga, we journal… oh! and I guess there’s church, too. I don’t think most of my incredible partners would ever say, “Circle of Hope is not a benefit to my mental health.” By no means! They would say the opposite if asked. But I don’t think we are always asking. Church is not part of the mainstream conversation about good mental health regimens. This blog post aims to make what is implicit and fairly obvious, explicit and very obvious.

by Chloe Cushman

Why don’t we think of church as part of our mental health?

  1. Church is less marketable – It’s not like people haven’t tried (and succeeded) at making a lucrative business out of the Gospel. But true discipleship doesn’t really sell that well. Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, share everything in common, discipline your appetites. These are not blockbuster sentiments. It’s hard to sell a free gift. And really, it’s things that are bought and sold that get the world’s first attention. If the church is not on the open market it must not be important. I don’t think it will be too hard for us to resist this temptation, but we must accept that ours is a quiet revolution — unlikely to be televised and trumpeted by those whose eyes are trained on the big money.
  2. Because it is not a technique – One way “Self-Help” and other beneficial practices like mindfulness and yoga have gotten onto the tips of our tongues when we think about our mental health is that they are techniques that can be mastered and practiced, and they have been marketed as such. There is great appeal to learning the moves, and conditioning our minds. These are good things to do, but they center the individual as the master of their fate. Take your life back. That sounds like winning! The messy, and often difficult, way of living and loving in Christian community doesn’t seem nearly as easy — and it’s kind of all over the place. There might be a thing or two we can learn form the clear paths that have been made by folks who teach these techniques, but maybe not. Our question is “How can the most excellent way of Love, as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13, be lifted up as the most excellent way to mental health?” I think love in Christian Coimmunity definitely leads to mental health, but it is a way of life, not a technique; and it can be somewhat unwieldy.
  3. The cure is communal and cannot be done in isolation – It’s being together that really has the biggest impact on our mental health. We are part of a community that cares about us. Our cells and congregations are sized so that you can be known face to face.  You can find acceptance for who you are right now. But, of course, that requires the risk of being with others. You could have any number of reasons why that is hard for you. I say it’s worth the effort and the risk, and the faith it takes to trust others is the same faith it takes to trust God. The community is a proving ground for our trusting and a place for healing hearts that have experienced a lot of broken trust.
  4. Mutuality is required and requirements are hard when you are hurting – In Circle of Hope we help one another process the inevitable conflict that comes with being closely related. We are taught to relate in ways that help us recover from trauma. And if you are hurting, the mutuality that can be such a source of healing can seem like an impossible demand. It’s hard. I can’t say it isn’t, but I will vouch for its efficacy.

  5. Somewhere along the lines church and psychology got in a fight – I don’t know enough about it to expound upon it, but somehow a significant number of Christians decided that psychology was against God. I still meet people who have been told that to seek the help of a professional therapist is a faithless act. Ugh. We are doing our best to de-stigmatize professional counseling and we dedicate a significant portion of our budget to subsidize counseling at the counseling center founded by one of our pastors. Circle Counseling is amazing!

So if you are working on gaining or maintaining your mental health (especially in quarantine)…

Invest in the church! Invest in your relationship with God! Of course Jesus can heal you in supernatural ways, but the simplicity of life together ought not to be overlooked. The Church is  a great source of mental health resources. I am particularly glad that Circle of Hope is trying to be a psychologically healthy church. And to that end we have compiled a list of resources for you and our community wayofjesus.circleofhope.net/wind/mentalhealth.  May we find our way together through this mess and beyond.

How Does a Christian Celebrate Memorial Day?

During the Covid 19 pandemic should we hit the boardwalk or stay at home? Are the CDC and the government our only authorities? What does Jesus say? And in any Memorial Day, how do we relate to those who died in war and their families while also resolving to decry the existence of war? Jesus makes our purpose more clear when it comes to war than when it comes to the pandemic, but it all requires resolve and dialogue — and above all, LOVE.

 

Forcing It – a Friday sonnet

My poet’s pen is a bit dried up of late. Not sure why.  This poem form last year gets at some of the feelings of trying to make something happen that isn’t happening. I like the suggested submission to the concrete shards on the urban beach most. Something about smoothed over brokenness seems to be needed right now, at least in me.

Forcing it

I threw a rotting catfish from the shore
Beneath Tacony and Palmyra Bridge
Because I didn’t want the fly and gore
Assault on my contriving hermitage —
Of rivershine views from my driftwood seat
With bright sun strobing off rippling peaks.

My pen is poised on journal page to mete
Out ev’ry chance sublimity I seek.

The rounded concrete shards, a pebble beach
Below me, listen for a word from God,
But they are better chosen for the speech –
My thoughts are gravely too, but broke for laud.

This poem cannot make the river wide,
And that flung fish will come back with the tide.

September 2019

 

 

Poem and image by Ben White

What if online church sucks?

This is objectively not the same

What if online church sucks? I don’t think there is any question that this sucks. I know, I probably shouldn’t say “sucks”, but if you just want to suck your teeth at the prospect of your next zoom cell meeting, or live stream Sunday meeting, trust me; you are not alone. I think a lot of my friends are feeling the suck, the sap, the drain of church in the Quarantimes.

Quarantimes Church Timeline

The past 50+ days have gone something like this for me:

  1. What, the church is going to meet on YouTube live?! Ew, gross! That goes against the whole point of being the church. How can we be face to face through a screen?
  2. Whoa, that wasn’t as bad as I thought. I actually felt something when we prayed/worshiped/chatted in the comments. I wasn’t expecting that.
    2b. But also whoa, what am I supposed to do with my kids when this thing is happening?
  3.  [Raising fist to the sky defiantly] I ain’t gonna let no virus separate me from my community. How many apps can I download? What is Marco Polo? Oh, this is cool. Hi friends!
  4. It’s Holy Week! Yes! We’re actually doing this thing. #sacredspot is really cool and I am actually doing this breath prayer thing. I feel connected.
  5. Resurrection! Missing out on Easter traditions is a major loss, but Jesus IS still alive, I’m holding on to that.
  6. Ok… now what? This isn’t over yet? Dang.
  7. “Zoom Fatigue,” “The Great Disruption,” “#Classof2020”
  8. I haven’t really “done church” for a while. And I don’t want to.  Lemme just hunker down.

I think there was a flurry of enthusiasm at the beginning (or was that just me and my pastor friends who were animated to meet the challenge?) And now the reality of another month of shelter in place, and maybe going through the end of the year without meeting in large gatherings — this is hitting hard. How can we make it through this?

Let’s just name it and trust God

You don’t really have to overcome your fears. Not everyone is David slaying a giant. You don’t have to become a hero and triumph over all these icky feelings. The way you feel is the way you feel. There is, however, a kind of subtle shift that can happen when we name those feelings and hold them with Jesus. Taking the pause to reflect and describe the feelings clearly makes space between our selves and the feelings themselves. That little gap is big enough for the Holy Spirit to get into. The feelings don’t go away, but the presence of Jesus gets in there, and then — the subtle shift. Then comes the ability to persevere, the extra well of gentleness and kindness for yourself and others, the joy despite your consideration of all the facts, the peace that surpasses all understanding. The Holy Spirit is like a dandelion, only needing that small crack to grow roots in and eventually spread on the wind to ever greener plot of grass on which you cast your eyes.

Because, again, this does suck

I’ve said for years that the pilgrimage we take to show up at our cell meetings, and Sunday meetings is so significant. “You made it!” is such a shout of victory sometimes. That embodied togetherness does so much for us, and those who are part of a church have come to rely on it. I give my one friend a hard time because she always answers my “How ya doing?” with “I’m here.” I always wanted more of an answer — more than just her presence. but now, in the Quarantimes, I am elevating her former “here-ness” for sheer lack of it. In our collective absence from one another, “I’m here” would be great — and not just for me and my need for connection, but for her and all the unconscious ways our togetherness buoys her and her faith.

We have to do everything on purpose now

Much of what happened before our separation could happen implicitly. A gentle shoulder squeeze as I passed by could communicate more than a million zoom calls. Being together on a screen, either at the Sunday meeting or in a cell meeting, now requires a lot of will. We are still creating a new habit, for one, but we are also relating in an environment that demands cognition almost exclusively. We are talking, and listening mostly — tasks which are harder in this context. All of our energy is getting sucked out by the mental processes of this foreign form of communication. Don’t they say that body language is more than half of communication? Well, we’re only half talking then. We’re only half together. Overcoming that limitation is really demanding. if you’re feeling it, I’m feeling it with you. Our bodies aren’t breathing together. Our spirits aren’t feeling each other. There is so much that happens when humans are in the same room.  And now we are not in the same room with anyone but our families. And for those of us who live alone, it’s no one, EVER.

We have to do our relating on purpose. We have to focus so much on just being present when we are relating on a screen. We can’t depend on our physical presence to communicate our love to others. We can’t enjoy the power of just showing up to communicate something about our faith to ourselves.

But it’s worth it. Do it with me, please

I want to have a church when this is over. I am almost positive we will, but the threat is real. Falling out of practice, is falling out of faith. Practice and faith — the two go hand in hand. The new habits required to be the church require a lot from all of us. In the grand scheme of things, though 50 days feels like forever, it is a relatively short period of time. We have not been able to adjust to this way of relating. For most of this thing, we have held out hope that it would soon be over.  For the past few weeks at least, I have been settling into the fact that it will not soon be over. Restrictions may ease, but I do not foresee Circle of Hope meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike for several more months if not through to the beginning of next year. With that immediate future stretching out before us (and praying for the shorter end of the prognosis), we must learn these new ways of being the body. Yes, they are not as good. No, I do not like them either.

Let’s name the problems and get practical about solving them. Let’s lament the loss and allow the Holy Spirit to get between us and our sorrow to make something new. Let’s tune into the joy of our community’s creativity and perseverance. Let’s do our purpose on purpose, because that’s how we have to do it now. There are so many ways we are being the church in spite of this separation. Tell me a story in the comments or email me. How are you seeing the church be the church in the Quarantimes?

 

Holy Geese

Revisitation

Our breath prayer in Circle of Hope this week has been “Holy Sprit/Open our hearts.” It reminded me of this poem and reflection from a few years back.  I’ve now recorded it and added it to my soundcloud.

From 2016:

I don’t think I can tell people enough that in Celtic iconography the Holy Spirit is often represented as a wild goose. To the Celts of ancient Ireland and Scotland, Ah Geadh-Glas (Wild Goose) was a more apt description of their experience of the Holy Spirit. How caged and docile is your experience with the Holy Spirit, how unlike a dove?

I’m sure if I studied the mourning doves that come to the feeder in my back yard I could find the appropriate mystery and wildness in them too, but geese have just spoken to me more in my life.

I started my early rising prayer life at Eastern University with the Canada Geese on the pond there. I trained the ducks to eat out of my hand, but the geese would have nothing to do with me. Only the nesting mothers would allow me near them and they scared me with their violent hisses. I’ve come back to the morning geese this fall because, again, I live by a pond (though this one calls itself a lake).

The geese are there waiting for me when I rise and then I wait for them to leave the water, which they do every morning in the fall.  Watching and waiting for them to go is the most wondrous part of them. It’s the thing about them that makes them best in my opinion to tell the Holy Spirit’s story. The geese talk about leaving for a while and the interval of conversation is not always the same. At first I thought it must be the angle of the sun–they usually leave soon after the sun crests whatever treeline it rises over, but as I paid attention I could tell that it wasn’t nearly so exact.

The fun of it is I can tell when they are leaving but I’m never sure of the moment they will go. They flick their heads and grunt at each other, seemingly consulting one another about the every day revelation that it is time to fly to the best grass nearby. Scientists have studied this phenomenon and measured it. One study reported that this period of consultation lasted anywhere from nine to twenty-two minutes.

The wild goose then is a perfect symbol for the Holy Spirit because they are common enough (At least in Ireland and Scotland and Haddon Township, NJ where I live ), but they are also unpredictable and elusive. They can even bite you. Following the Holy Spirit can feel like an actual wild goose chase, yes, but if we give up trying to catch Her and instead be contented in watching and listening when She happens to be there in the morning (and who knows for how long?), we will love Her and She will shape us. And in many, many mornings She will still be wild but we may just be tamed.

Here’s a poem I wrote for Her.

Ah Geadh-Glas

O Holy Sprit, Ah Geadh-Glas,
I am familiar with your leavings,
Though uncertain of your path.

I could tire of the finding–
Leave your joy here in the grass,
But I’ll marvel at your going,
Water-walking noisy splash!

And I’ll wonder at your flying.
Flocked with kin above me, pass!
Make me happy, wild and singing,
O Holy Spirit, Ah Geadh-Glas!

 

You can listen to me read it here

Poem and image by Ben White

Turning to Before and Behind — A Friday Sonnet

Proper Labyrinth Care

On my parents’ property in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, we built a labyrinth with demarcating stones in a clearing by the gravel road that encircles the lake called Hallowood above which the house sits. I use the possessive personal generously to include myself, for I only helped a little. It was definitely a group project, even if my mom and dad were the main contributors of sweat. There is no sweat contribution needed now, but the project is ongoing. The labyrinth needs to be walked. The labyrinth needs to be prayed. The labyrinth needs to be physically tended by grass-treading feet, stone-replacing hands and stick-removing eyes. The labyrinth will be swallowed by the woods if it is not walked, prayed and tended — all of which are simply done by doing.

The added attention the walking requires in early Spring amplified my prayer as I walked it yesterday. The moss had covered a rock or two. Something had displaced or shifted several of the line stones from their guidance. It was most likely the grandchildren of the labyrinth who walked the way with me, trouncing over the lines as if it didn’t matter (It doesn’t, really; it’s the walking that matters). But it seemed that Winter might have been the culprit somehow, or maybe even emerging Spring. I crouched to uncover hidden stones, and nudged as many drifting ones back into place as I could, placing my feet between their glistening faces on the carpet of moss that was sponging up the Spring snow shower in which I walked. I crouched less often to remove the many sticks that had fallen along the path. I only stooped for the most obnoxious trespassers because there were many and my plodding progress was required for this meditation.

There was power in the walking and the making. Maintaining the physical space added a concreteness to my prayer. This is the main feature of walking a labyrinth in the first place, but it was even better to make the way for future me and future loved ones to walk it, especially for the grandchildren of the labyrinth (my children) who mostly miss what I am doing when I take this journey to the center. One day, I pray they know the power that can be met person-to-person using this walking tool along with many others. Until that day, and for that future — and toward it — in me and them, — I’ll walk it every time I’m here.

I wrote a poem from this moment. I took the photo above in anticipation of what might be said in this sonnet.

Turning Before and Behind

for Ernest Hilbert, a Philly/South Jersey boy like me

Walking the labyrinth and tending the stones,
Tossing the sticks to the side in a crouch.
A bend here, careful mossy step there,
Turning corners with my real flesh and bones —
Making way for making ways to vouch
Safe for Thee my heart. For I’ve none to spare.
Wending in, then unwinding out around —
Deeper, further; wider, nearer; then and now,
Watching step and stone, caring not to miss
A moment or a misplaced line I’ve found,
And knowing as I do it’s walking how
We make the way upon our Way. It’s this:
This wending and tending. Winding to find
In the turning You’re before and behind.

 

As always, you can listen to me read it here

Tumbled Open Good Friday Prayer

It’s Good Friday. I wrote us a poem that’s also a prayer. Hope on a death day. Jesus was the first one, but now they are all that for those who are in Christ. One of Circle of Hope’s blogs celebrates death days of those who have gone before — Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body  . Today, April 10th, we remember Howard Thurman. Join me in this prayer, you can hear me read it below.

Tumbled Open Good Friday Prayer

Graves tumbled open the day that you died,
And darkness fell down where noon used to shine.
The temple shook and all were welcome inside.
Erased, cracked or broken you made every line,
Between death and life, between dark and light;
Between in-and-out, between right and might.

You reversed our reversals; gave us much more  —
So much more than we hoped for. What had you done?
How could we see that your death was a door?
And how can we follow where your victory’s won?
We could die even now, here as we breathe,
And then again, out beyond our own breath’s reprieve.

We will see what it’s like to live on forever,
We will know what we look like with you in our eyes;
We too will tumble and darkness will never
Bring sorrow and sadness, loud angry cries,
But not without now, not some not-here place,
No escape yet from sorrow, no exit but grace.

 

Poetry and images by Ben White

 

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