Poetry Sundays: Descending Theology: The Crucifixion

Art by William BouguereauIt is increasingly difficult for me to separate the miracle of Christ’s birth from the sorrow of His death. Maybe age does that to us as we move from the first half to the second half of life. Maybe it’s something about Mary. No doubt, on its deepest level, the message of the atonement offers joy–ultimate, celebratory joy. I believe we will all be freed from the effects of sin and sorrow in the eternities. Yet, in a mortal world of violence and heartbreak, that joy often seems far off.

Some of us struggle to believe in a God who would allow the unspeakable cruelty that exists in this world. I imagine everyone who ever lived will at some point find herself wondering how to hold on to faith when a child is lost to disease, a friend is killed in an act of senseless violence, or even when a good soul is taken home at the end of a long life.

I chose today’s poem because Mary Karr is not shy about telling the truth. She speaks our fear that perhaps, “some less than loving watcher watches us.” She is not afraid to visit the darkest places each of us will visit some day, or to say Christ was not a only God, but also a man when he hung there. I chose this poem because, for me, one of the greatest gifts Christ gave us was the comfort of His last words on the cross: His testimony that a kind and nurturing parent waits to receive us home.

 

Descending Theology: The Crucifixion

To be crucified is first to lie down on a shaved tree, and then to have oafs stretch you out on a crossbar as if for flight, then thick spikes fix you into place.

Once the cross pops up and the pole stob sinks vertically in an earth hole, perhaps at an awkward list, what then can you blame for hurt but your own self's burden?

You're not the figurehead on a ship. You're not flying anywhere, and no one's coming to hug you. You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard trinity of nails holding you into place.

Thus hung, your ribcage struggles up to breathe until you suffocate. If God permits this, one wonders if some less than loving watcher

watches us. The man on the cross under massed thunderheads feels his soul leak away, then surge. Some wind         sucks him into the light stream

in the rent sky, and he's snatched back, held close.

An earlier version of this poem may be read here.  Mary Karr’s “Sinners Welcome” the volume from which the poem was selected can be found here.

 

 

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Sacred Music: Simple Song

I had the opportunity to sing in the chorus for a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS when I was a senior in high school. As a young person I had no idea what a big deal this was–Bernstein’s MASS is hugely controversial and rarely performed because of its enormity. And while this was all lost on me, I found that the music spoke to a part of me that I could not articulate. This piece of music and theater is joyful in its celebration of life and God. But MASS does not shy away from the cognitive dissonance of an ostensibly loving God and the reality human anguish. Indeed, one of the more controversial aspects of MASS is its unapologetic confrontation of God.

As a good Mormon girl, both the music and text were mind blowing to me, I had no idea that you could approach God with such dissonance. But MASS also spoke truth to my soul. Somehow I knew that any god worth worshipping was also vital enough to withstand my questions and sometimes anger.

The piece which I have highlighted here, Simple Song, is at the very beginning of the MASS. It is sung by the celebrant who begins the piece with a simple and pure faith but struggles to maintain his faith as he becomes more aware of the suffering, corruption and evil around him. I feel like my own testimony has taken a similar journey. When I performed the MASS as a young woman my faith was also simple but since that time I have gone through a long dark night of the soul. It has been difficult to reconcile my early faith and spiritual experiences with the perceived absence of God from my life. I have spent years being angry that despite my efforts, God was silent.

I have found recently, however, that my simple faith is returning. I am not blind to the hardships of mortality but I also feel as though my decade long  struggle with God has softened, not scarred, my heart. In that place of rawness a feeling of gratitude has sprouted. I may never have the powerful faith that we as Mormons are expected to have but I am finding joy in lifting up my eyes to the God.

For the Lord is my shade.

All of my days.

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Stages of Grief

Andrassy_Kurta_Janos-GriefElisabeth Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist whose work focused on terminally ill and elderly patients. In her landmark book, On Death and Dying, she lays the 5 stages of grief. These stages have become part of the general consciousness and Dr. Kubler-Ross’ ideas have been applied to all kinds of human loss. The stages are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These can happen in any order, and not every one experiences them all. One can also jump from stage to stage. The goal, however, is to process each one and eventually end up at acceptance.

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Visiting Teaching Message July 2014: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Advocate

Visiting Teaching Message July 2014: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Advocate

EstherThe term “advocate,” when used in an LDS context, in my experience, usually means a) Christ is advocating for my forgiveness, because I am an unworthy sinner, and b) social and political advocates are outspoken about good things, but in an unruly and distasteful way, which is unbecoming of a “good Mormon girl.”

 

Neither of this things is really all that positive or inspirational. And yet…. This message isn’t about either of these things. As complicated as it is to be a woman in the church, this message, for the first time in my church life, breathed hope in regard to the term “advocate.”

 

Consider the use of the story of Esther in the From The Scriptures section:

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Leaving Eden

 

"Two Souls" by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

“Two Souls” by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

I have a secret to tell: I mourn not being able to be the Mormon woman I was always taught to be, that I was always told I would be, that I was always patted on the head for my righteous desires to be as a young woman. I wanted to have the lovely home, the quiver full of children, homeschooling, every meal homemade with love. I would lie awake at night when I was engaged to my husband, envisioning a life of fresh muffins in the morning and a constantly clean bathroom (admittedly, this one is still on my wish list).

I know the dream is idyllic and was completely unattainable from the start, but I still mourn the possibility. I never asked for my faith to take a dramatic shift, held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope rather than anchored in certainty. I never asked for my mind to be so thirsty for more knowledge and information that the easy answers stopped working. I never asked for the postpartum depression that followed my births, making motherhood an excruciating tumble into the abyss of despair rather than a joyous journey in those first months and years. These are not the things we simply pick out of a lineup of potential experiments like cans on supermarket shelves. These experiences choose us and we learn how to stumble our way through as gracefully as possible.

But every day as I work to reason and share my heart with others about the experiences that have brought me to Mormon feminism, I am confronted with the woman that I once thought I would be: the woman who believes so easily, who finds joy and fulfillment where she’s told she would, the woman who is that Mormon woman. I mourn her despite the fact that my life experiences have caused me to cry out, “Please stop defining me by a biological process that, while bringing light and life, also brought utter darkness! Please stop telling me that I ‘just don’t understand,’ when my mind spends countless hours of every.single.day mulling over, praying over, writing over, and pondering over these things! Please stop telling me that I just need to have more faith when I’ve exercised all that I have in me and still, somehow, try to keep my faith together.

I mourn her because her life had a well-laid path and straight-forward answers. When belief was easy, she didn’t have to spend so much of her energy finding footholds. I mourn her because her life was not conflicted: read, pray, follow the prophet, endure to the end. Check, check, check, check.

One night as I shared the profound sadness in my loss of innocence with a friend, the picture became clear. Much of the time when we speak of the story of Adam and Eve, we forget how radical the underlying message is–in order to truly live and progress, we must choose knowledge. We must choose a life of paradox and pain. We must choose to have our eyes opened. We must leave the Garden. We must leave what we thought was the ideal, the simple and well-laid path, in favour of life.

I wonder if Eve, in those moments of toil in the lone and dreary world, ever looked back on Eden in the way that I look back on the woman I was always told I should want to be. I wonder if she thought, “what if my eyes had never been opened? What if I could have continued on peacefully without having to struggle, without being removed from the certainty of God’s presence? What if I had just done what I was supposed to do? Why did I seek out this knowledge?”

But like Eve, we go forward. This is the work of women. Forward, ever forward, eyes constantly lifted to heaven for more understanding, a space in our hearts for that piece of us that could have been continuously content but chose choice, uncertainty, and the height and depth of human emotions.

Forward, ever forward, with faith held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope.

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