Monday, December 26, 2011

Let Poets Be Our Theologians Now--continued

As we move past the winter solstice, into the increasing light, and toward the beginning of the secular new year, this poem of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado on the creative power of transformation comes to mind:

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

May we be surprised by the transforming power of life in ourselves and in our world in the coming year.

The Grace of Losing the Way

I am still and always losing the way, still and always beginning again.

Just this morning, feeling lost, I meditated.

I heard a voice say, “Walk out of the cave.”

And I saw I was hiding in a black cave, looking out through a narrow cleft. Outside was a world of light, blinding light. Inside, looking at the light, its fierce beauty, I was safe.

Again the voice commanded me, “Walk out of the cave.”

I couldn’t move. I was afraid. I wanted to stay hidden away. I didn’t want to step into that light. I would be exposed, burned, annihilated. The silly song I had sung so many times in Sunday School rang in my head:

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, Hallelujah.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel—No! I’m going to let it shine, Hallelujah.
Hide it under a bushel—No! I’m going to let it shine,
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

That song had disturbed my heart ever since I was three; I heard it calling me to do something, but what it was I had to do I did not understand. Hearing it as I stood in that dark cave of safety, trembling, looking at the light outside the narrow opening, I realized I had always been afraid of being in the light.

“Walk out of the cave.” The voice was pushing me now. I could feel it pressing me from behind. If I didn’t start moving, it would shove me outside. That would be worse than my walking out freely.
I extended my right foot and leg and set them down outside the entrance. After a moment, I extended my right hand and arm.

“Walk out of the cave.” The voice was more gentle now.

I turned my body to the left and squeezed through the opening. I was outside. But I was resting my backside against the cave behind me. I needed to touch that hardness, that narrow opening my hands and feet could reach in a moment to enter the darkness, my protection, my life.

“Walk out of the cave.”

I had to walk away from the cave. So far away I wouldn’t be able to find it again if I turned around, turned back.

I began walking, straight out from the entrance. After a few steps I realized I was walking on a path of light slowly inclining upwards. I kept walking. As I walked, I thought, This is the ladder of angels that Jacob, that conniving, thieving, ineffectual, and self-pitying father, saw in his dream. He was by no means a pure human being, no perfect body-mind-spirit he, yet he glimpsed this path of light that connects a realm of light to our world. He saw beings ascending to the realm of light and descending to our world. Not angels, but messengers, messengers of light, those who can travel between the two worlds. And these messengers included beings like himself, flawed human beings.

I kept walking up the sloping path. I came to a place where there were many beings walking about, all beings of light. It seemed to me that some lived there and some lived on earth and were visiting there. But they were all beings of light. All were free to come and go on that sloping path connecting the human world to this one. I moved through them, they moved around me, that crowd of beings walking in calmness, in beauty, all beings of light, shining, walking on light, through light, in light.

And suddenly I realized, There were beings of light walking on the earth right now. Walking among the dark crowds, hidden. I hadn’t seen them before. Will I see them now? I wondered. When I return to the ordinary world, will I recognize the beings of light walking about on the earth? Will they recognize me? I had to look for them, keep my eyes and heart open to see them. And I remembered Zora Neale Hurston’s image of human beings, mudballs that glitter. The only difference is that some of those mudballs have switched on their full light, stop covering it with mud, hiding it under a bushel, burying it in a cave. Those people are no longer balls of mud glittering with tiny specks of light here and there, sparkling in the darkness; they are shining with light. And what would our world look like if all those glittering mudballs started uncovering their light and shining.

I imagined walking on earth amidst a darkened crowd of mudballs speckled with reflected light, with a shining being slipping through the crowd now and then. And then, as those shining beings touched other mudballs, they uncovered their light and began to shine. Because the passing of the light, the spirit, is like the passing of a flame: The lit flame ignites the other without extinguishing or diminishing its fire. And slowly, as I watched in the darkness on earth, more and more darkened beings stepped out into the light and began to shine, as if their light had been ignited so they could shine on the world around them. Our darkened world grew lighter and lighter, more and more beautiful. It was glorious. And I realized that no matter how frightened I was I could never return to that cave of darkness and hide away. I had to go back down that sloping path of light and walk among all of us mudballs with my eyes and heart open to the light, everywhere it showed itself, everywhere it was flaming, setting the world on fire.

I needed this meditation to remind me, because I keep forgetting, even though this has been my daily prayer for many years:

O God of Seeing,
In Your light do we see light.
Grant me light.
Light in my heart.
Light in my tongue and lips.
Light in my ears.
Light in my eyes.
Light in my touch.
Light in my body.
You in whom there is no shadow, grant me light.
Light before me.
Light behind me.
Light on my right hand.
Light on my left hand.
Light above me.
Light below me.
Light within.
Light upon light.
Make me burn brighter
With Your wisdom, Your power, Your presence,
Your ever-flowing, ever-renewing life,
Your joy,
Your love.
Illumine me.

Even with this to keep me on course, I still keep turning away. I still keep losing the way. The grace of losing the way. The grace that turns you, again and again, to light, to joy, to the One.