Another Look at Psalms Past

Last year, I penned the below psalm as part of my Monday psalm writing series--a series in which I attempted to create some more liturgical poetry. It was inspired by the text of Psalm (Psalm 2), which begins with the following:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed...

As appropriate as the psalm seemed to the geopolitical climate a year ago, it seems even more appropriate now.

*****

Psalm #4

If I might impose; allow me to to suggest a reinstatement, a return, a coming like the splitting of another veil, the fission of this present from the eternal Real, so that men might tremble in the memory of their once Edenic selves.

Could there be a quickening return of the Immediate Dramatic, a natural transfiguration of clouds, from mist to Face, a thundering rising from the earth's bowells, ozone steaming, rising upwards like asphalt incense?

Were I so bold, might I request a trumpet, a white horse, an inimitable, fierce army of the once low, poor saints? Might the air be filled with all that Is, so that those who would breathe life are filled with life, and those who breathe death drink only dread?

On the mountain called expectation do the suffering poor wait for the terrifying, Vehement Beautiful.

In the deserts of war do the greater men fill their mouths with the orders of bones.

*****

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*Photo by Shawn Semmler, Creative Commons via Flickr.

America #1 (Thoughts from a Rocking Chair)

1. It is pleasant to talk of work, rest, personal spirituality, of the tragedy of old Smith's farmland untouched by tractors for near a generation, or of morning prayers and the flight of the gold finches.

2.

Here, in this pipe dream of the American free,

I saw the children running through water spouting sidewalks, dancing the hokey-pokey to radio-Disney, learning the joys of play-pretend wars, of vigilant violence between marines and jihadi militants, or cowboys and Indians, whichever;

I saw We The People dancing to death yet again, and buying news like movies, like politics, like bubblegum and Coca-Cola.

I saw this all from the porch rocker at old Smith's place, from the farmland untouched by tractors for near a generation.

3.

I could sit here, in this rocker overlooking fallow fields, prayer beads in hand, and dream pretty poems of a people's judgment.

I could watch the gold finches come, and leave, and come again, and call this contemplation.

I could name it Walden, or Eden, or the Buffalo River Valley.

These, too, are luxurious pastimes.

4.

Other-world children marshal language like missiles and speak of loosing fathers and goats with the same dry eyes;

I wonder whether they hope to work their father's fallow fields, to consider again the morning prayer of peace, to hear again the gold-finch's Spring song.

Just a few Questions

1.

A church matron, a Baptist-born, by-God saint once told me that every time a woman has sex before marriage, she gives away a tiny piece of herself. I note that she made no mention of men, but that aside, she expounded, said that if a girl gives away too many tiny pieces, she'll find herself incomplete.  I was sixteen when she said this. I am thirty-six now. I do not believe her. Is the complete self of a woman (or man) reduced to sexuality? Are we summed up by the sins of our past?

2.

A shopping-mall Santa once said that every time a child says "I don't believe," an elf or fairy dies. Platitudes and leg-pulling aside, this is cruel. [tweetherder]Can doubt be beaten back by fear and shame?[/tweetherder]

3.

Yesterday, I logged onto Facebook and saw the news of the Palestinian children who were murdered while playing on the beach. In the comment thread of one avatar's status update, a war of words ensued. As good Americans (not to say anything of Christians) we must side with Israel to the death! As humanitarian activists (not to say anything of Christians) we must call the Israelies to account! Opinions flew with the rocket's red glare. I wondered; is anyone listening anymore? Are we listening to the children, or are we just engaging in our own ideological wars?

4.

I've been watching social media girations, and the questions that these girations beg are age-old. Are we reduced to the sum of our sexuality, or the sins of our past? Can doubt (in God, politics, the market) be beaten back by fear and shame? Is anyone listening to the children anymore, or are we too wrapped up in our own ideologies?

5.

I once read that St. Francis prayed, "Most High, Glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart, and grant me... a perfect charity." Ah charity. Whatever happened to charity?

Watching the Parade

1.

On family movie night, the lot of us sat, salted popcorn in our respective bowls as we watched a bona fide, big budget B movie with a brand name hero.  The opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull found Indie in a tight spot. Cornered by a ruthless, long-legged, and red-lipsticked Cold War villainess, Indie made a daring escape only to find himself high-centered in a plastic, mid-century desert city complete with mannequin neighbors.  Puzzled, it takes our protagonist mere minutes to discover that he has stumbled into a faux town, a testing model to determine the impact of a nuclear blast.

"Why is everyone plastic, daddy?" Ian asked, but before I could answer a flash whited-out the screen, and the movie cut to a scene of the plastic people turning to ash and blowing away on the nuclear wind. The screen showed houses disintegrating, refrigerators propelled miles in the air (don't ask), and cars being crushed by the tremendous force of the atomic bomb.

Ian curled into himself and flushed white. Mouth agape, he said, "that's terrifying." Isaac, eight years old and first born through-and-through, turned to console him.

"Don't worry; no one would ever actually use a weapon like that," he said. Unsure of his reassurance, Isaac turned to me.  "Would they daddy?"

There is no good way to tell your sons that, in fact, folks would use that kind of weapon, and that, in fact, we are the only nation in history to ever deploy the weaponized atom. I paused, considered fudging, but then I decided that I'd rather my children learn the nuanced facts of life from me rather than from some wild-eyed peacenik on the playground of activism.

"In August of 1945, we used just this kind of weapon on the Japanese," I said, waiting to see their reaction.  Ian turned, face blank, and asked whether the Japanese were bad people. "It's complicated," I said. "We were at war, and that kind of bomb ended the whole shebang. Many folks say that the Japanese were so scared, they surrendered, which may have saved a lot of American lives."

Ian turned back to the movie, body clinched. A minute passed. He turned back to me.

"Did the Japanese turn good because of the bomb?" He asked.

"Well, mostly I suppose the folks near the bomb site just turned to ash, or worse yet, got pretty sick and passed on. But later, both sides learned to forgive one another and we both just moved on. These days, I suppose you could call us friends."

"Good," he said. "Because I sure don't want the Japanese to drop a bomb like that on my school. Does anyone else have a reason to use that kind of weapon on us?" he asked.

"You don't have to worry about that, son."

That was the best I could muster.

2.

Last night, after the obligatory and dead-horse-beating analysis of Miley Cyrus performing sex acts on overstuffed teddy bears and middle-aged men, the news spun hard, flashed a series of chemical warfare photos. The commentator said, "the White House has indicated it could begin launching missiles as early as Thursday, but how will the president sell this to the American people?"

I have thought about this comment since last night, and I have concluded that "sell" is not the appropriate verb.  "Sell," I think, contemplates that there is a buyer in the marketplace of ideas. From what I've seen, there aren't too many American buyers of another war these days. I've been searching for a better verb. "Convince?" Too soft. "Foist?" Maybe. "Bamboozle?" In a manner of speaking. "Swindle?" Now we're getting somewhere.

The salesmen, advocates, foisters, bamboozlers, and swindlers are in full swing, there is no doubt. "There's nothing to see here, nothing too shocking," they say as the parade of dancing teddy bears and cruise missiles passes by in a blithe processional. They are moral contortionists; they peddle the notion that certain lines are blurred while others are not. They have the corner on the moral high ground, they say. War is the least repugnant, most righteous option. (And be ye not mistaken; launching missiles is an act of war, brief and limited though it may be.)

I've been watching this parade, though, and here's what I think: getting it on with teddy bears is creepy. No less creepy is the thought of a first strike against Damascus. 

3.

I'm no Indiana Jones, and I'm not in search of a lost ark, a crystal skull, or a Golden Age. I reckon things have been this unraveled for a while, and if you can point to a time where it was not so, I'll argue that nostalgia has robbed you of your better scruples.

No, I'm not looking for a golden age. But an age of reason? I suppose I'll hold out hope that one of those will roll across the calendar of history sometime soon.

Until then, I'll hold out hope that my boys will retain their childhood sensibilities, that they will see through this parade of horribles, and that they'll be one-day witnesses to the great Kingdom Come.

 

Lamentation #1--Oh Syria! Oh Syria!

In times of conflict, should we mourn beyond mere rhetoric?

*****

Where once my nephew, the child of my eastern brother,

ran,

where his laugh rose light like a lark song, there is now only the endless

procession of

magpies.

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!*

Where once he knelt to pet a street dog--a mongrel mutt, my brother said-- only to have child cheeks

lapped

and affections loosed, now there are only

small, innocent

shrouds.

How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!

The raging nations rush to take the high ground

occupied,

they say, by their gods, or their war birds, or

the last, most

nuanced tribes. Rhetorical sleight of tongue, they have forgotten the way of

mourning for

children.

She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

*****

*All italicized words from the biblical book of Lamentations, Chapter 1.