Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the advent series (2007)

week 1

The earth was baptized with water once,
In the ancient days when it was still young,
To wash away the crimson stains of humanity’s bloodied hands,
But those eight and the two by twos
Were saved in the ark of a rainbow covenant–
When they passed through the waters, the Lord Himself was with them.

And one day the world will be baptized with fire
To burn away the straw houses we took our refuge in,
But like the Hebrew children we’ll not be singed,
But will rise up to meet Him in the air
Like incense smoke before our God,
Like moths drawn to the beautiful flame–
When we pass through the fire, the Lord will be with us.

And in the in-between, the already-but-not-yet,
He is now with us in the flood and flame,
As He was and will be.
For He passed through the water of a virgin’s womb
When He took on our flesh and blood,
And He passed through the fire of a holy wrath
When that flesh was broken and that blood spilled.
Yes, by His Word and Spirit, by which He makes us clean,
Emmanuel is with us even now.

week 2

here’s the thing about God:
when He says, “the kingdom is near,”
we don’t expect (or want) it
to be prefaced by a “repent, for”
because we hear “kingdom”
and hear not poverty of spirit,
but flares and trumpets and glory,
the construction of an abiding city,
and, well, that’s what we get…


He builds up a city of outcasts and oddballs–
a camel-wearing, locust-eating hermit shouts aloud
the coming of a carpenter king,
the teachers of the people go mute,
old ladies have babies,
virgins tell their fiances, “honey, i’m pregnant.”

not quite what we were expecting.

and He uproots the trees of our self-righteousness,
fills in the low valleys of our self-pity,
and cuts down the mountains of self-exaltation,
to make straight His own highway,
to prepare a way into our hearts–
He builds a kingdom by tearing down.

not quite what we were thinking of.

but His ways aren’t like ours,
His thoughts are not our thoughts–
the old give birth to voice,
the young bring forth a Word,
the kingdom comes out to the wilderness.

and when it comes,
heaven opens,
the Father shines His face on us,
the Son is lit with glory,
the Spirit comes in peace like a dove.

not anything we could imagine,
but everything we need.

week 3

So we all know the song:
The one that proclaims joy to the world,
For the Lord is come,
But no one–or hardly anyone–
Sings the third verse,*
Which is a shame, because it tells us
The great and glorious truth
That the Lord also comes to make His blessings known
Far as, far as the curse is found–
Everywhere sin and satan have made their marks,
In hearts, in minds, in bodies, in matter.

So when He comes,
The blind see His face, the deaf hear His voice,
Lepers feel His touch, the lame dance to His song,
Minds are mended, lives are brought back from the grave,
Faith is given, sins are forgiven.

But what about those who live
In the dark places, in the four walls
Of their doubt and despair?
Does the kingdom come to the persecuted,
To the suffering, the dying, the mourning?
When it looks like God goes to everyone else,
It’s all too easy to take offense at Him.

But He says that the kingdom is yours,
You poor in spirit,
You persecuted for His sake;
Even if it does not seem to chase
Away the darkness of your dark night,
Know this: That the light of the world still shines on you,
If only as a flame now, then the bright sun of a day to come.
So wait for it like watchmen for the morning,
And joy will be yours indeed.

week 4
Priests and prophets, kings and paupers,

Saints and sinners, whores and adulterers,
Have sons and daughters, marry and give in marriage,
Through long and longer days of waiting in
Slavery and judgment
Until a lost son of royalty, a Nazarene carpenter,
Has visions like his namesake of old,
A young man dreams dreams of the kingdom coming,
And he, like the patriarch, suddenly sees
That what looks like evil may be God working for good.

So this righteous son of David marries a
Daughter of Zion who carries now
Not David’s son but David’s Lord–
A new Adam to bring paradise,
A new Abraham to make sacrifice,
A new Moses to give and keep the law,
A new Joshua to conquer for us all–
The generations of Jacob’s children finding their
Fulfillment in one who now rests inside Mary’s womb.


and forty days would cease the drowning gates of heaven
pouring out the weight of glory on the grass and dust,
to cover the earth like the seas of forgetfulness,
to remember us sinners no more
(have mercy on us, he said, have mercy)

for thorns and thistles we have borne
and choked the garden You had planted,
thorns grown from the serpent’s seed,
weeds to spring up from the stony ground
the water of Your word won’t penetrate,
and we’re left wandering the desert of our own decrees,
blind to the blinding light of truth that leads us through the night
(miserere nobis, Domine, miserere nobis)

and we have stumbled like the blind following the blind
and listened for Your whisper in a hurricane but
You were not there
(what are we doing here, You ask,
and we confess an ignorant zeal),
so You blow against our tidings of things you already knew,
burn like wrath and a lover’s passion
to light up the deep down things in us
(have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy)

a brief meditation on ash wednesday

I will not walk into work in the morning
With a forehead stained with burnt and stale hosannas;
No priest I know will bless me before sunrise
With the reminder of my frailty.

No, I will wear my ashes on knees that hate bending,
On hands that hate wounding–
In other words, the places you won’t see
Because they rub off where I’ve been

And you will only know my repentance by
The quiet trail I leave behind
While covered in red and sand as I go
Follow Him into the desert for a while.

one-word song title sestina #2

It’s Tuesday night and I’m fifteen minutes late for rehearsal
Again, same as the last five weeks. Maybe I can be forgiven–
Stuck in the daily pushing of paper and red tape at work,
I left an hour ago, got stuck in traffic–so my bandmates rejoice,
At least, at my being able to make it at all, their desire
To have me with them playing bass trumping something

Like impatience. I’m here; that has to count for something,
Right? Right. We have a gig Saturday, so rehearsal
Feels less like something born of our old youthful desires
(For which we had to be perpetually forgiven
By homework and obligation, in which we didn’t rejoice)
And more like the reality of sweaty, calloused work–

“Ben, I told you once, you’ve really got to work
On keeping the beat–” “You want to know something?
“What?” “I freaking hate this song.” (And inwardly we rejoice
At the tics, the friction, because it leads to the desire
To be better, to love more, and because it’s easily forgiven
By our comrades in war and fiction). We rehearse

Andrew’s new number–”Did you guys go over this last rehearsal
Without me?” “Yeah, we tried to work
On the chorus a little–Ginny comes in on the ‘Forgive
The old and new things’, we decided it needed something
There.” “Oh, and then Eddie holds out that long ‘Desiiiiiiiiire’
In the bridge, right?” “Right, yeah.” “Rejoice,

Brothers, the club in San Diego called–” And rejoice
We do, another justification for all this rehearsal
In Ginny and Eddie’s garage, for the desire
To make some freaking noise, for having to work
Two jobs to support our music habit, the something
Inside us that makes us want to forgive

The whole world for what they couldn’t forgive
Us of, the passion and need to rejoice
In the sheer sound of it, the need to do something
Beautiful in the world–but my mind snaps back to rehearsal,
My fingers thump the bass’s neck, and we get to the work
Of tuning and listening and fulfilling desire…

It’s just rehearsal; it feels like something
More important than work, than even desire–
With each note, I forgive, and then I rejoice.


I am the cat which curiosity killed,
But discontent to spill my blood into its veins
The earth will let me rise, and I am born again
(So to speak)
So I can speak that which I have seen right before
The silver cord broke

(Ah, sons and daughters, don’t you know
That if you know the truth, the truth will set you free?
But as for me and mine we will intertwine
Ourselves with the promise of the fire next time to come)

Let the muses of innocence speak again

We are the priests and the prophets
The fools and wise men
Seeking stars from the east that lead us to salvation
But also to death and doubt, says Thomas
For we do not know where the road is taking us, he says again
And yet all shall be well, says the prioress
And truth be told, I am inclined to believe her
And to all of them I say my amen and amen

Because I can see that sphere rising just north of here
In the rocks and hills of Bethlehem
And I can now rejoice with great joy
But it has been a long and weary road to get here
On my calloused feet and too-tender knees (says Aaron)

So it goes. So it goes. Amen.