“To Pull Forever at the Latch of Freedom’s Gate”

What Maya Angelou and many other elders of Womanism taught (teach) me:

Do not advise faith
and call it “life.”

Do not share God
and call it “food.”

Do not preach compliance
and say it is “love.”

Do not shout the good news of peace
without studying protest.

Do not sing praises to uplift the soul
while striking down the body.

Do not coax your sister to join your hymns
and neglect to accompany her lament.

Do not idolize God’s covenant
and bar someone from the table.

Do not herald God’s divine judgment
and ignore the world’s injustice.

Do not proclaim the Word Made Flesh
and disapprove of God in flesh.

Do not encourage spiritual growth
at the cost of leaving the world behind.

Into the crashing sound,
into wickedness, she cried,
No one, no, nor no one million
ones dare deny me God. I go forth
alone, and stand as ten thousand.
The Divine upon my right
impels me to pull forever
at the latch of Freedom’s gate.
The Holy Spirit upon my left leads my
feet without ceasing into the camp of the
righteous and into the tents of the free.

From Maya Angelou’s “Our Grandmothers,” in My Soul Is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality, edited by Gloria Wade-Gayles (Beacon Press 1995).

Ascension Day: Heaven Is A Ghost Town

Ascension Day. Acts 1:1-11. Jesus has been enjoying a few extra days of hanging out with his friends and disciples since that beautiful Easter morning in the garden, but now his time on earth is coming to an end — for real this time. Jesus gathers his followers, gives his final reassurances and instructions, then floats his merry way up through the clouds to heaven.

But what if, upon returning to the glories of heaven on that day of ascension, Jesus found the streets of gold completely silent and still, with no one at the pearly gates to greet him and no one throughout the city of God to herald his return? What if heaven was/is a ghost town?

A fabulous and humorous music video suggests that we Christians have lost our way in our preoccupation with who gets to kick it in glory with Jesus. Canadian music duo Ash & Bloom sing their testimony with a merry tune that belies the seriousness of their theological question: if God is a God who loves the whole world desperately but, at the same time, has set heaven to be out-of-reach for all but a few out of the whole world … isn’t God lonely for all of those folks who don’t make it?

I can’t get enough of the animation in this video! The visual impact of watching as God plays both sides of the chess table, as God peers at those in line for the pearly gates and prays for someone to make it past Peter, as God throws a fit because there’s no one to play dolls with — it’s brilliant! (The only thing missing, perhaps, is Morgan Freeman as God.) The combination of playfulness and truthfulness reflects the best of a rich and curious spiritual life, imho. Ash & Bloom’s lyrics affirm, “We don’t really know what happens at the pearly gates, but we know that we’re all human and we’re all sinners.” Their music video’s animation professes something more, something deeper, not just about our human condition but about God’s holy condition: that God lives to be in relationship with the world, and that God is not willing to wait for us to become saints who qualify for heaven before meeting us and being among us.

Check out Ash & Bloom’s “Heaven Is A Ghost Town,” and watch for God crowd-surfing in a barn near you!

Many thanks to Micah who recommended this song to me!

Monday Muse: Priming Pentecost

It’s Memorial Day in the US, but now that the parade has passed me by (literally), I need to plan Pentecost — that great holy day on the Christian liturgical calendar when we try to be surprised by the Spirit (“What??! Tongues of fire?! We haven’t heard of such things…since last year on Pentecost Sunday!”) … just like we try to be surprised by the unconventional form taken by God in Jesus and celebrated at Christmas (“No. Way. God as the out-of-wedlock son of a Jewish couple living under Roman occupation??! I can’t believe that God is being born into such circumstances…again!”).

How to be surprised once again this Pentecost? How to make room in worship for the Spirit to startle us? How to increase our knowledge and understanding of a familiar faith story?

I am tempted, as I reread Acts 2:1-21, to suggest that our Pentecost worship services include disorienting elements to unsettle our Sunday spiritual routines — oscillating fans blowing loudly (“the rush of violent wind” in 2:2), multiple languages spoken in simultaneous cacophony (2:4) — but the liturgiophile within me cannot quite bear the thought of completely chaotic worship.

So instead, as I plan and prepare for several Pentecost services on my own calendar, I am leaning toward to the activities and images of chaos that appear in the Revised Common Lectionary readings themselves:

– the eclipsed sun and the blood-red moon that accompany seasons rich with prophesy and a poured-out Spirit (Acts 2:17-21, quoting Joel 2:28-32), and what may be dissonant to us: that these dire images are signs of good news;

– the less-familiar story of Numbers 11:24-30, and the truer-than-we-admit actions of Joshua who wishes to control the message and the movement of the LORD’s spirit;

– the monsters of the sea, both small and great in Psalm 104:24-35, cavorting through the waters and responding to the Creator like lap dogs who play and whine and rejoice and beg from their companion-owners;

– the manifestation of the Spirit — not just the gifts of the Spirit to make us all feel special, but the full demonstration of the Spirit within each and every one for the sake of the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7) — which compels us into the worst and most complex chaos of all: community.

Somewhere within this jumble of Spirit-inklings and Spirit-stories, I’m praying for a sermon, a liturgical script and some prayers to emerge. How are your Pentecost plans shaping up for Sunday, June 8th?

Sunday Prayer

You who do not need anything,
you who are our everything:
with humility we grope for you in prayer.

We search for you amidst all that is unknown.
We reach for you amidst all that we love.
We dare to keep faith in you through suffering and loss.

Hear our prayers, O faithful God, as we lament
the violence and warring of this world (ourselves included),
especially as it causes havoc and terror
in the lives of women and children,
schoolgirls and university students.

Hold us close to your heart as we remember with an ache
those who have died — both known and unknown to us —
including those brothers, sisters, friends and ancestors
who died in military service.

Though tears are often bitter on our tongues,
O God our strength,
still we lift our voices in praise to know that you
do not reject us or leave us alone,
no matter the raging of the world.
You are in us and we are in you;
for this we bless you and sing your name.

This is our prayer — across the generations, throughout
the ups and downs, in tears and in laughter — O God,
our ceaseless prayer that your love may overflow
more and more upon us and through us.

In Jesus’ name and to your glory. Amen.

A pastoral prayer loosely based on the Revised Common and Narrative Lectionary texts, cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.

To An Unknown God

To an unknown God, I give all of my wonderings:

the delight of thin clouds, rippled perfectly
across the blue sky like a bed sheet;

the awe of cosmic dust, sparking and dancing,
adorning the rich darkness of night;

the restlessness and fullness and solitude
all knotted together within me and crying
like the seagull’s longing call;

the despair over violence near and far,
and over the lies we tell ourselves
to deny our participation in it;

the suspicion — the truth — that like a blade of grass
I will wither, that life finally lacks significance;

the ache of loving life and connection and
experience, no matter how fleeting;

the deep hope that, no matter how unknown,
the mystery of Your work unfolding is still
greater, wilder, more satisfying
than this flesh and dust.