I hope with her.

As we move from Good Friday to Easter Sunday this weekend, I thought I’d repost this from 2010.
———-

Christ’s Passion

Sure we’re trained to his suffering, sure
the nine-inch nails, and so forth.
And the cross raised up invoked

the body’s weight so each wound tore,
and from his abdomen a length of gut
dangled down, longing towards earth.

He was a god, after all.
An eternal light swarmed in his rib cage
no less strong than the weaving nebulae that haul

this dirt-speck planet through its course.
Surely his flesh mattered less somehow, less
than yours to you. He hung against steel rods

with his whole being, and though the pain
was very pure, he only cried out once.
All that was writ down. But what if his flesh

felt more than ours, knew each breath
was a gift, and thus saw
beyond each instant into all others.

So a morsel of bread conjured up
the undulating field of wheat from whence it came,
and the farmer’s back muscles

growing specific under this shirt
and the sad, resigned pace of the mule
whose opinion no one sought.

Think of all we don’t see
in an instant. Cage that in one skull.
If Christ saw in each

pair of terrified eyes he met
every creature’s gauzy soul
then he must have looked down from that bare hill

and watched the tapestry teem
till that poor carcass he borrowed
wept tears of real blood before they

unhooked it and oiled it and bound it
round with linen and hid it under a stone,
to rise again or not, I can only hope.

-Mary Karr Viper Rum

(via Mama:Monk)

the image is of the cross at Taizé. Every Friday night, they do a kind of Good Friday service, at the end of which you can gather to pray around the cross, if you wish. I spent a week in Taizé in 2004, and that week, and especially that night, turned out to be a defining moment in my faith. It’s a memory I often think back to when I find it hard going, and I thought it would be an appropriate accompaniment to the poem.

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the lion lies down with the eagle

Yesterday, I picked up my brand-new, first-ever Dutch passport from city hall. Here they are, side by side, blue and red:

it was quite the momentous occasion for me. I’ve been a global citizen for years (23, to be exact), but now I have the passport to prove it. Unfortunately, the lady behind the desk did not quite enter into the spirit of the occasion, as she just handed me the passport and wished me a nice day. There’s something to be said for the American tendency to turn everything into a ceremony: when I picked up my passport at the American consulate in Amsterdam, I had to swear an oath, with my right hand raised and everything. It seemed a bit silly at the time, but I almost wished the lady today would have had me do the same. It would have marked the occasion somehow.  I guess this is all the proof I need of how different both countries regard citizenship: the one, as something almost sacred, the other, far more utilitarian. No wonder everyone says the Dutch aren’t patriotic…

The whole having two passports thing has come up recently in Dutch politics, with a newly elected statesman arguing quite vocally against people having two nationalities. (Well, he’s mostly arguing about those people whose second country isn’t in the West. But to seem politically correct, he has to include the likes of me.) I think it’s ridiculous: my two nationalities have made me a better person. I’ve learned not to take things at face value, since cultures can be so all-determining yet so slippery and therefore so easy to misunderstand. I’ve learned that no matter how different people sometimes do things, we have a shared humanity and aren’t all that different in the end. Traveling back and forth between two countries has broadened my horizons. My bilingualism comes in handy every day. And the fact that I am required to pay taxes in two countries means I have a good idea of what solidarity means. These are just a few of the things transnationalism has done for me, and I feel quite strongly that it is not a danger. It is something to be embraced.

I keep my passports side by side in my room, and they’re a daily reminder of who I am, how I got here, and what I learned along the way. Geert Wilders, eat your heart out. Me and my passports aren’t going anywhere. (Well, except to the airport, so I can actually use them. But you know what I mean.)

unexpected silence

This week, on a random Tuesday afternoon, I was in Amsterdam. After I had visited a museum and a bookstore (I’ll be posting about both things later on), I walked through Amsterdam’s generic shopping street, the Kalverstraat. And I noticed something I never had before: there’s a church smack dab in the middle of it. It’s called the Papegaai Kerk (the Parrot Church), and it’s beautiful. I only noticed it because there was a sign outside stating “Fifteen Minutes for God”. They do old-fashioned Latin masses on Sundays and everyday masses the rest of the week. And there are hundreds of small candles burning inside to add the feeling of being on holy ground you immediately get when you walk into such a hushed, contemplative space, especially when you just spent the last half hour shopping. Consumerism and religion: it’s a heady mix.

I didn’t stay for fifteen minutes, just long enough to add my candle to the light and say a quick prayer of thankfulness that I could experience this silence in the middle of the city. This picture really doesn’t do it justice: it was dark inside, the stained glass windows were lit, and people were praying in the pews. I’ve already mentioned the devotional candles; they were gorgeous and twinkly and a very physical reminder of community and my need to seek God in sacred spaces.

I could never be Catholic. I’m too rebellious for that, and frankly, transubstantiation is too much for me. (Objective presence in the Eucharist is more than I can deal with, sometimes.) But I do love how Catholic churches tend to be more than spaces to meet, and I make it a habit to light candles and ask for blessings for myself and those around me and say thanksgiving prayers in the churches I come across.

I may not need realis presentia, but I do need that very visible reminder of God that a lighted candle in a church gives me. And I had never expected to get it in the same street that holds three H&Ms.

working words

I’ve always been very jealous of poets. I mean, I can write. I can string words together and make a story, hopefully well enough to create a world you can get lost in, even if it’s just for a second. But I love words. I think it’s fascinating how they sound when spoken and look on a page when typed (or, even better, handwritten on beautiful lined paper). And poetry is much more conductive to that kind of scrutiny than most prose is.

But unfortunately I can’t write poetry to save my life. My efforts end up sounding trite and angstridden, much more like a teenager’s scribbling than the deep thoughts and beautiful words I was aiming for. Every once in a while I’ll come up with a good line or two, and try to build a poem around it. Inevitably, I fail. But I hug those lines to me and whisper them to myself in secret, because in some way, they represent me and I love them for that. Poetry is deeply personal and therefore very close to my soul.

All this serves as an introduction to the following anthology, edited by M.L. Liebler, that I really want to buy, put on my shelves, and flip through every so often. (I never read poetry collections straight through. The words tend to lose their power whenever I try, so I limit myself to a couple of poems I can linger over.) The anthology contains poetry and short fiction and memoirs and nonfiction – a good mix.

Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams

Apparently, one of his aims was to make poetry accessible to everyone. To that end, Walt Whitman is in there. But so are Eminem and Bob Dylan. I love that. Because poetry really isn’t as highbrow as some people seem to think. I get that Shakespeare isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If I’m honest, he’s often not my favorite. But there’s poetry out there for everyone – whether your soul is moved by powerful imagery, by rhyme, or by rock lyrics you can sing along with at the top of your lungs.

If and when I get my hands on this book, I’ll let you know what gems I find inside. Who knows, it might inspire me to pore over a few lines of my own. Those are just for me, though. I take it you don’t mind.

 

 

two minutes

I was talking to one of my classmates a while ago, and I mentioned that one time, during a family-reunion-type-thing, the obligatory grandkids photo was taken just as I went to the car to grab something I’d forgotten. Apparently, I wasn’t missed until it was printed.

We had been telling funny family stories for a couple of minutes by then, all light and easy conversations to fill the gap between theology classes. Then she told me that while my story was good, she had a better one: her dad had once forgotten her during a bombing. He grabbed her little brother and ran outside, leaving her behind.

Yeah.

She laughed about it, so I did too (besides, I am no stranger to the strategic deployment of humor in crisis situations). I asked her about her experiences in fleeing her country, we talked for a little longer. But her story stayed with me.

Today, in the Netherlands, we remember our dead. The focus used to be exclusively on WWII, but as that generation is dying out and other wars have occurred, our two minutes of silence have been extended to contain other dead of other wars, as well as those that died in peacekeeping missions.

(4meiutrecht.nl)

I know that at 8 o’clock tonight, when the city is silent and I can only hear the flag at half-mast moving in the wind, I’ll be thinking of two kinds of victims: the dead and the maimed, and those, like my classmate, who had to leave everything behind.

It seems almost unbearably cruel to say that today, life is good. But it is, and I hope it will stay that way for generations.

I hope with her.

Christ’s Passion

Sure we’re trained to his suffering, sure
the nine-inch nails, and so forth.

And the cross raised up invoked

the body’s weight so each wound tore,
and from his abdomen a length of gut
dangled down, longing towards earth.

He was a god, after all.
An eternal light swarmed in his rib cage

no less strong than the weaving nebulae that haul

this dirt-speck planet through its course.
Surely his flesh mattered less somehow, less
than yours to you. He hung against steel rods

with his whole being, and though the pain
was very pure, he only cried out once.
All that was writ down. But what if his flesh

felt more than ours, knew each breath
was a gift, and thus saw
beyond each instant into all others.

So a morsel of bread conjured up
the undulating field of wheat from whence it came,
and the farmer’s back muscles

growing specific under this shirt
and the sad, resigned pace of the mule
whose opinion no one sought.

Think of all we don’t see
in an instant. Cage that in one skull.
If Christ saw in each

pair of terrified eyes he met
every creature’s gauzy soul
then he must have looked down from that bare hill

and watched the tapestry teem
till that poor carcass he borrowed
wept tears of real blood before they

unhooked it and oiled it and bound it
round with linen and hid it under a stone,
to rise again or not,
I can only hope.

-Mary Karr Viper Rum

(via Mama:Monk)

the image is of the cross at Taizé. Every Friday night, they do a kind of Good Friday service, at the end of which you can gather to pray around the cross, if you wish. I spent a week in Taizé in 2004, and that week, and especially that night, turned out to be a defining moment in my faith. It’s a memory I often think back to when I find it hard going, and I thought it would be an appropriate accompaniment to the poem.

patriotic jabberwocky

istockphoto.com (notice how the kids are all carefully wearing different color shirts. Although I am missing the obligatory Asian kid in this photo)

NPR showed up on my Facebook feed with an interesting story about the pledge of allegiance. Like pretty much all American kids, I grew up reciting the pledge with my hand over my heart every morning at school. I don’t think we consciously saluted a flag or anything – although there probably was a flag somewhere in the classroom. In America, there usually is one everywhere you look. (As an aside, I make taking pictures of all the unusual places one can find flags a sport when I’m visiting the US.)

The article recounts how “pledge allegiance” is a hapax – meaning that it’s a phrase that only occurs in that one place (like “wardrobe malfunction”, another example).”Under God” is another such phenomenon – it was taken from the Gettysburg Address but it had its meaning changed slightly in the process. Actually, the meaning of the phrase isn’t at all clear – see the article for details.

What I found most interesting are the following paragraphs:

Really, the whole pledge is just one big hapax legomenon, a string of syllables that only comes to life in classrooms and school assemblies. But there’s a lesson for children in that: The attachment to flag and country is a unique bond that requires a special language of its own. In theory, the pledge could do most of the same work if we had children say it in Anglo-Saxon or Arapaho, or if we replaced it with the lyrics to “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” They’re going to turn the words into jabberwocky anyway: “I led a pigeon to the flag,” “one Asian under guard.”

So do the words matter at all? Well, yes, in a way. Reciting the pledge doesn’t teach kids anything about the meanings of its words. But learning to speak American involves something more than that — it’s knowing how to incant them, too.

First, let me say that I too have made jabberwocky out of the pledge. “indivisible with justice for all” was an especially hard phrase, and I remember making “which” into “witch” for years. Second, and this is my main point, my years in the States did teach me how to speak American. Case in point, I remember being at a lacrosse game in Boston with my Dutch classmates a couple years ago. We all stood for the national anthem, and I remember standing there with my hand over my heart, appalled that my classmates talked through the anthem. I doubt I’d have the same reaction if it were the Dutch anthem being played.

I’m not very patriotic at all, but when I’m at a baseball game, or looking at Fourth of July fireworks, or experiencing some other kind of patriotic display while the anthem is sung, I have to confess to a swell of love and patriotic feeling. Even Disney World did it to me last year – the parade on Main Street was so American I had to blink back tears. The Netherlands never does that to me. When we sing the national anthem in church on the Sunday close to the Queen’s birthday, or when a member of the royal family dies, I feel  close to the community around me (one main reason I go to church). But singing any hymn, psalm, or worship song has the same effect. No, it’s something about the American context that provokes those patriotic feelings in me.

I think it’s clear: I speak American, all right.