Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

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Top 7 Post of 2020

 

Here are the top 7 most read posts in 2020 on Today, If You Hear my Voice. I think they capture the year pretty well. Take a look back with me.

The truck that delivered the problem

7. Laughable Abundance: a story for your bouyancy

One of the best things that happened in 2020 in my life was the formation of the South Jersey Mutual Aid Compassion Team. Every week we deliver hundreds of pounds of food to our neighbors. Sometimes the joy is immense. 

Charles Alston “Man Emerging” 1969

6. Hey! White People! We Get to Repent! 

The Racial Reckoning, though very painful, is another great thing coming out of 2020. Christians were made for this moment. I only wish we had been more instrumental in making it,  and more univocal in the opportunity it presents. 

5. How Does a Christian Celebrate Memorial Day?

A video reflection in my front yard. Christians mourn the loss and death of war and pray for the death of war itself. 

4. How Does a Christian Celebrate the Fourth of July?

Similar question, a little bit more fleshed out answer in essay form with help from Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas in their book, Resident Aliens. Wrestling with how to engage politically and how to engage neighbors who see things differently. 

3. Have You Sung Together on Zoom Yet?

It’s terrible! But it’s also amazing. This year was a revolution in my thinking about what Holy Spirit can do digitally. She must, and she did! 

Me and Anita on International Women’s Day at a woman owned business

2. How do Yoga and Christianity Intersect?

I’ve learned so much about this intersection from my friend Anita Grace Brown. She is realeasing a book about her journey called Kamikaze Yogi. 

1. What if Online Church Sucks?

It sucks a lot less than I though it would, but many of my people just can’t handle it. Thank God for our cells and other means of holding on to each other. It has not been easy but God has been faithful, and God has honored our faithfulness.

Thanks for reading

I write in hopes of leading my people in South Jersey and the Philly Metro connected to Circle of Hope, but I’m glad to share far and wide. I love your comments and feedback always. Happy New Year!

On the Holy Mountain: A Christmas Story

My dad posted one of his Christmas Stories this week on his blog, Development, at circleofhope.net/rodwhite. I had at least 3/4 of a mind to do the same before he did so I took it as confirmation. My family began writing Christmas Stories together when I was seven years old. I love it. Here’s some shared love from 2014:

On the Holy Mountain

by Ben, 2014

She stood helplessly at a measured, safe distance, staring in abject despair.  How was this happening?  What had gotten into her little one?  Hadn’t she taught her better than this?  Hadn’t she consistently, unswervingly, unfailingly admonished her against behavior such as this?  It was unthinkable what her little one was doing.  How could she do this?  How!?

She was angry, frustrated, infuriated… scared.  So utterly terrified she couldn’t move.  How could she?  Everything within her, every muscle and tendon was as taut as an un-sprung hunter’s trap—ready to snap and keep her there forever, or fling her away in a twang.  Her nerves could capture her in stone terror, and she could bleed out eternity immobile as if her foreleg were crunched by an actual trap—or, and hopefully this was the case, she could bounce herself away in one bleating bound over any of the hills at the foot of this mountain.  Just as soon as It took one more step in this direction, or maybe one more.  Her body pulsed in readiness.  She was twitching  from the tension of this interminable moment.

The anchor of her heart, her baby, her final joy, her love, began to walk closer toward a danger greater than she had yet known. It was a fearsome brute the  likes of which she had never seen that had her strung so tightly—so desperately wanting to run and so paralyzed with motherly love.  How could she be doing this to me?  How?  Her initial cries of warning were now silenced in the overwhelming flood of fear.  She had never been this still and at the same time so close to something so deadly.

She had spent the springs and summers of her youth in the high meadows almost carelessly, filling her belly with sweet grasses and clover.  Winters were in the low country and sometimes there wasn’t much food but she never remembered the snow after a week or two of spring.  She did remember the wolves that first fall in the bottoms.  There among the moldering leaves of some river bend on the other side of the mountain they came nasty and snarling through the softened leaves—clever creatures that took down several of her friends that day.  She didn’t remember the friends, only the blood on the muzzles and teeth of the wolves’.  She vowed then never to bleed in a predator’s mouth.  She wouldn’t be prey.

And this thing before her now was twice the size, no three times the size, or four, of those wolves that had stalked her.  And they had stalked her.  They had stalked her even when they weren’t stalking her, every moment of her life.  And so, her promise to herself had stayed true.  She had survived for many seasons and through many dangers real and imagined.  She caught their scent on the wind and ran fast enough away.  She listened long enough to every twig cracking in the trees, shot her head to attention and stayed stiff necked in vigil every time she suspected—every time.  And it was worth it.  It was all worth it.  How many children had she brought into the world over those many seasons of survival?  Four or five?  One year there were two, she knew that for certain.  This one would be the last.  This one whom she loved and feared for with all of her would be the last one she would bear.

And her disappearing joy now skipped gleefully toward a monstrous peril.  Though she had never seen one like it before she knew it would redden its lips with her lamb’s blood.  Its teeth must be bigger than a wolf’s, because it was much, much bigger than a wolf. She saw its huge claws, black in blond paws with dark pads underneath.  Oh God, she was close enough to see the pads underneath its feet!  Why was she still there?  The hulk had lay down in the grass in front of her baby.  It flicked its long tufted tail and flopped its ridiculously shaggy head over its foreleg.  And then the moment she had been fearing came.  As her lamb stepped confidently within swiping distance of those mighty limbs. It opened wide its mouth to reveal teeth which were indeed larger than any wolf’s.  She stood unflinching, now completely numbed by the impossibility of her circumstance.  But instead of biting, the animal closed its mouth and licked her lamb on the head as she nuzzled into the shagginess below its chin.

Her lamb had done this so many times with her.  She loved how her little one had always loved sitting right under her head.  And she loved the peace of those common moments- sharing each other’s warmth in the cold of the early spring mornings.  Occasionally she would let her own head rest upon her lamb for a minute.  It was nice, but such luxuries of comfort were too lavish for the reality they lived in.  She thought better of too much rest and comfort.  Vigilance had proven a better friend than any other.

She had tried, as with any of the other little ones, to teach this one,  the secrets of her vigilance.

Listen.  Listen hard.  Never stop listening.

It doesn’t matter what it might be because it could be danger.

Anything can be danger.

Some things you have seen before or heard before, although they were not dangerous before, could be dangerous a second time.  Do not trust your previous experience.  Nothing is certain.  If you have not seen something or smelled something before it is most likely danger.  Assume danger. And smell too.  Many dangers come silently but they cannot escape the wind.  Wolves sometimes know the winds, though, so you must look, and listen and smell, always.  “Never not on guard” this was her motto.  This was her survival.

All these lessons crumbled now before her in a broken heap.  Her lamb was lying with this lying beast as if that monster and not she herself were the mother—as if life were not as she had known it.

“That was a yawn” she thought.  “It yawned and then it licked my baby. ”

The lamb nibbled the whiskers coming from the predator’s face.  After some minor snarls it gently, yes gently, nibbled her lamb’s ear.  It bared its giant teeth and, probably more with its black lips than with those daggers for teeth, quietly corrected her baby and went back to its repose.  What had happened to the world?

She no longer felt like she herself would certainly die.  Her body was safe for the moment, but she could not let her instincts go.  She could not believe even for a moment that what was happening was anything but the delay of her lamb’s death.  She had failed as a mother.  Her last viable progeny would wait patiently to be eaten by something bigger and fiercer than any menace this sheep had ever encountered.

Her muscles flexed and released, and into their softness spread the ache of rigid attention’s strain.  It felt like safety.  The burn of lactic acid reminded her of all she had known in her many seasons.  Her body knew what was good more than she could shape a thought of it in her mind.  She could trust that pain.  And yet the scene before her undermined that faith.  Could the lamb know more than her about this resting brute?  It was obviously a killer.  It could swallow her lamb in two bites.  But it hadn’t done that.  The two lay together in peace.

The serenity she saw gave her courage to reinitiate her calls.  She bleated her most desperate cry of urgency.  “Come!  Come quick!  Come away!”

The lamb perked her ears and bleated back in her tiny voice a sound so content it burned her mother’s ears.  It seemed her lamb was falling asleep.  The sides of the giant heaved in steady rhythm as well.  The immediate threat was definitively over.  Despite this, she could not, and this was her greatest shame, force her feet to fall any closer.  Her lamb was just as lost now as if it were devoured.  It might have well been eaten because where the lamb had gone she could not follow.  As much as she wanted to rescue her lamb she could not approach their slumber.

Instead she slowly turned and fixed her eyes on the hills to which she had so desperately desired to leap.  The mortal panic was gone but her heart’s direction hadn’t changed.  She trudged away sadder than she had ever been.  She managed a few sideways glances over her haunches and saw the same serenity.  It confounded her.  It troubled her.  It cut her to the heart.  How can this be?  She lost herself in these mysteries for a time as she plodded up the hill and into a stand of trees.  A twig snapped to her right.  She bolted upright and stood perfectly still.  Another crack!  A human child emerged from behind a tree with a pack of wolves behind him.  She flew left as if she were still a young sheep and disappeared from their sight.

__________________

The lion stirred and looked up to the hill with half opened eyelids.  He saw the boy descending the hill with his pack.  “Hmm, what good could come of this?” he asked.

He liked this fuzzy white thing that had come to take a nap with him.  This mountain was colder than his home and he appreciated the warmth that it produced.  It was so pleasant to sit at peace.  He had a foggy recollection of some other pleasure that may have dominated a moment like this in his past.  Something like hunger used to prick holes in any peace, but now he felt nothing but satisfaction.  It seemed that everything that came to him was a gift — this fuzzy white thing, the perpetual fullness of his belly, the warmth of the sunlight on his face, and now these wolves led by a little child, yes “child”, he was previously aware of the small humans.   He welcomed the one who was coming to him now and his wolf brethren.

Isaiah 11:1-9

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea

Have you sung together on Zoom yet?

Worship Woes

Have you sung together on Zoom yet?

It’s terrible, impossible, and I love it. I don’t know all the techy bits to tell you why, but Zoom only transmits one audio channel at a time. So if you try to sing together it frenetically bounces from one voice to another trying to figure out who’s speaking. I kind of feel bad for the poor little algorithm or whatever it is that does that math every time we sing on Circle of Hope’s Prayer Team’s meetings for Common Prayer on Tuesday mornings and Saturday afternoons.

Christians sing. It’s what we do. Not everyone has as many opportunities to sing as people who are part of a church. I mean, there’s the shower and the car when you’re by yourself maybe, but singing together all the time is a particularly Christian thing (not exclusively Christian of course, just very Christian in my experience). My mom and dad took my kids and their cousins on vacation together at their place in the Poconos and they wrote two different songs to sing. Charles Wesley wrote 6,500 hymns. I recently saw this lampoon of popular Christian worship music on YouTube and immediately wrote to the Circle of Hope Design Team leaders in gratitude for their innovation and creativity.

Grieving our very real loss

I have been particularly bereft by our inability to sing together very much. I love singing. We unite our whole beings in worship. That is we unite our own, body mind and soul — heart synced up with head through the bond of music and lyrics — body synced up with soul in our very breath. We get lined up in worship, even just in ourselves. But then we also get lined up with each other. A really good worship song, in my opinion, gets you to take a breath at the same time as everyone around you. (A good sound technician for a worship space mixes the sound so you can hear each other breathe). When I was 10 or 11 years old I attended a traditional hymn sing at the Ringgold Meeting House (this year’s event is cancelled but hope with me for Sunday, August 29, 2021, at 5:00 pm) and I will never forget the surreal feeling of sining an old hymn with each line punctuated by a very audible inhale in unison. We smiled at each other as we noticed it. It was so very lovely. Our bodies were completely in sync with each other and with the song which was directed toward God. I’ve read that in such circumstances even heart beats can synchronize!

But of course that might have been your nightmare last night. Singing together is a a great way to endanger a lot of people and yourself in the season of covid-19. Singing together on the  Prayer Call on Tuesdays at 7:15 am could be the upside down version of the Ringgold Meeting House hymn sing. We are painfully out of sync. It really is close to impossible. It’s more of a defiant trudge than a harmonious togetherness. But in that struggle to line up with one another, to follow the ill defined beat and unite with my brothers and sisters across the zoom lines has another kind of power to it. Without the benefit of actual somatic unity we are left with faith, hope and love alone. Faith that this prayer and song matters — to the ways of the world and the people with whom we are connecting, hope that we will be able to sing together again — that we will survive this mess and our community will endure, and love — love which is the easiest to imagine transcending all these barriers.

Resolve to adapt

Worship across the screen is difficult — certainly on the zoom call with our mics unmuted, and also singing along on YouTube live at circleofhope.net/onlinemeeting. I hope you will join me in moving beyond the lament of the loss and embrace the challenge of the new way of being together. It definitely takes more faith, hope and love from you, or directly channeled to you from God. The intangible power of tangible togetherness is no longer on our side. Worship might be becoming more of a discipline, accept it. Accept the challenge to praise. How many of the Psalms, our original worship book, follow the formula of defiant hope after all? We must start with the obstacles, that’s just how we are, but we must move beyond them as well. Let the strong conclusion of Psalm 27 encourage your bones (imagine courage sheathing your bones):

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

— Psalm 27:13-14 (they put it to music in France)

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

 

Master, where are you staying?

If Unseen

Man turning around on the street,

What did you forget?

Unaware I’m watching,

You skip

The show that lets us know

You aren’t a lunatic.

 

No finger to your temple,

No shoulders shrugged,

Or arms outstretched,

No palm to the forehead,

Or even an expression.

You just turn around

To get your keys,

Or find your government ID.

No one’s watching you but me

And you can’t see I see —

Or maybe you don’t care?

 

And if that’s the case,

Master, where are you staying?

 

You can listen to me read it here