Liturgical Poem: http://carbaminohemoglobin.tumblr.com/post/4177721234/a-poem-by-mary-oliver
Lectionary Texts: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=88
“Peace be with you…”
Have you ever?
Have you ever sat by yourself
on the beach at the ocean
or walked along its foaming boundary
or stood sentry on a cliff
overlooking its broiling brine?
When you were there
at the ocean,
up close or distant,
did you ever embrace the sound of eternity?
You know, waves of sound
rushing over the curvatures of your ear
your head now a conch shell
holding the echo of those waves upon recall
all these miles and years later?
Have you been embraced by the ocean?
Have you ever,
ever walked through a dawn meadow
robed in its dew
wet with its freshness all over you,
gleaming in the new sun?
Or maybe it was daybreak in the forest
dripping down moisture of a new day,
a freshly hung spider’s web
glistening in the light of a single ray
piercing the canopy above?
Have you ever been robed like that?
Have you ever,
ever laid flat on your back in the grass
under an awning of lights
in the night sky,
gawking up at the endlessness of time?
mouth gaping at time that began
so far behind you…
that you lay there suspended
between two endless-nesses?
Have you ever fallen into that timelessness?
Witnessed your own infinitesimal self
as a dust mite of nothingness
within the dome above?
Have you ever been small like that?
Have you ever,
ever sat in the arms of a big easy chair
with your eyes closed
holding the soft downy crown of an infant
beneath your nose,
that scent of fresh skin
filling your head with awe and gratitude?
Have you ever dozed off like that
cradled in the power of an infant
breathing the aroma of sweetness
engulfed in dreams of exquisite joy?
Have you ever been held like that
while holding another?
I use the phrase, “whispers of God”
quite a lot
and it comes from those kinds of moments
that swarm with whispers;
by an air force of lightening bugs
filling the stillness around us
with secret voices
that seem to know us by name.
That’s just one of the reasons
I love that Mary Oliver poem,
“the sleek, amazing
humdrum of nature’s design –
blood’s heaven, spirits haven…”
Clearly the window on eternity
is not limited to the four panes
through which I have just invited us to peek –
you have your own portals;
and put them all together
and we might have hundreds of them,
times and places and sensations
that wrap us ever so briefly
in a place beyond our own body
and beyond our own time
and beyond our own mind.
“…oh, have you
looked wistfully into
the flushed bodies of the flowers? have you stood
staring out over the swamps, the swirling rivers
where the birds like tossing fires
flash through the trees, their bodies
exchanging a certain happiness…” (Mary Oliver)
What I’m trying to evoke right here
is the opening of a portal
that looks into a dimension
that is actually present
all the time
but that we rarely enjoin.
I am absolutely certain
you know the kind of moment I mean –
and know what it is like
to fall into such an opening –
then re-emerge just as quickly
only to wonder how long we were there.
But we pass by such moments
all the time.
We walk the beach
looking for shells
and pass by eternity
and never know it.
We walk through the morning dew
trying to stay dry
and miss eternity infused in it.
We look up into the night sky
trying to figure out which stars
form what constellations
and never fall into the timelessness
just waiting there for us.
“Peace be with you.”
You and I will never know,
at least not in the body we now inhabit,
if resurrection was a historical moment
as Luke attempts to describe.
Narrative can never do justice to experience
any more than a movie can capture
the experience the mind creates
when reading a book.
But we do know,
in the miraculousness of our own lives,
is a mystical moment.
You and I have fallen into such moments
and out of them again
in the blink of an eye.
Strain as you might
you can never give me
or anyone else
the mystical moments
you have experienced.
They are yours
and yours alone.
and mine alone.
The best we can do
is tell each other what it was like
and what we imagine we learned from it –
of our Alice In Wonderland nanoseconds.
That is what Luke
try to do.
They take a particular momenta
experienced by people they did not know,
in a place they may never have been,
and try to describe what happened,
what it was like,
what it meant.
They’re not up to though,
any more than any of us are up to it.
That, I believe,
is why Mark never tries.
Mark’s gospel leaves us at the empty tomb.
For him, that was enough.
The stranger at the empty tomb
telling Jesus’ closest friends
not to count him out,
that was enough.
Some moments cannot be shared.
Some of us will try
some of us will not.
Both are fine.
Once, when I was in seminary
flying home for vacation,
I got stuck in the Detroit airport
for longer than expected.
Somehow I struck up conversation
with a fellow traveler my age
who was an Evangelical Christian
in a seminary as conservative
as mine was progressive.
He kept pressing me to answer questions
I could not answer
or for which I had no answer.
The more I pleaded the poetic awe of mystery
the more he tried to pin me down.
“But what if someone had had a movie camera
right there as they rolled away the stone?”
(This was before video). “What would the camera capture?”
He had me now.
Now he would find out
whether or not I was a true believer;
meaning of course,
if I believed what he believed.
“It wouldn’t matter,” I answered.
“What do you mean, ‘it wouldn’t matter?’
Of course it would matter!”
His voice was impassioned.
“No,” I continued,
“it would not matter because
even if it was on film
we would both see different things
in the film;
we would both experience
the images before us differently.
No two people see the same thing
any more than two people
have the same experience
of the same thing.
Why is it so important to you
for me to have your experience?”
But we were two ships
passing in the night
and the best we could do
was wave at each other.
Now just because that young man
clung to the precise denotation
of every word of the narrative
the mystical nature of resurrection
as I do,
doesn’t make his understanding
or somehow unchristian.
And guess what?
Because I cling
to the mystical nature of resurrection
rather than devotion
to the precise words of the story,
doesn’t make me lesser either.
The entire history of Christianity
will teach us nothing
if we are unable to see
that from the beginning
we have all been like those fabled
blind men around the elephant
each describing the creature
in grand but different detail.
None of us owns the truth.
There is not one, single truth to be owned;
no one truth available to any one human being
or group of human beings.
That is our limitation,
that is our smallness,
that is our reality,
even though we are always
trying to make it different somehow.
Coming to peace with that limitation is…
So whether you are devoted to the narrative –
to the exact and literal words
of the biblical text –
or like me,
you a share reasoned skepticism
about the denotation of the text
but have an unshakable faith
in the mystical nature of resurrection…peace be with you.