Moses: dialogue with God, Madeleine L’Engle-April, National Poetry Month

At the end of December I wrote a blog post stating my reading aims for this year; one being to concentrate on specific authors and their work. As I started organizing these projects I found many of the authors, along with their fiction and nonfiction, also wrote poetry.

Since April is National Poetry Month, I will share some of what I find. I was surprised that many of the authors I am reading this year (including CS Lewis, LM Montgomery) wrote poems. I am not sure why?…

This poem by L’Engle comes from her collection, Cry Like a Bell, published in 1987. It is a collection of Biblical personalities talking to us illustrating, explaining, complaining, in gratitude, in joy and wonder their perspectives of life with God.

Moses was such an unlikely prophet, which she captures so well!
_________________

Come.

When?

Now. This way. I will guide you.

Wait! Not so fast.

Hurry. You. I said you.

Who am I?

Certainly I will be with thee.

Is nothing, then, what it is? I had rather the rod had
stayed a rod and not become a serpent.

Come. Quickly. While the blast of my breath opens the sea.

Stop. I’m thirsty.

Drink water from this rock.

But the rock moves on before us.

Go with it and drink.

I’m tired. Can’t you stop for a while?

You have already tarried too long.

But if I am to follow you I must know your name.

I will be that I will be.

You have set the mountain on fire.

Come. Climb.

I will be lost in the terror of your cloud.

You are stiff-necked and of a stiff-necked people.

YOUR people, Lord.

Indubitably.

Your wrath waxes hot. I burn.

Thus to become great.

Show me, then, thy glory.

No man may see my face and live. But I will cover you with my hand while I pass by.

My people will turn away and cry because the skin of my face shines.

Did you not expect this?

I cannot enter the tent of the congregation while your cloud covers it and your
glory fills the tabernacle. Look. It moves before us again. Can you not stay still?

Come. Follow.

But this river is death. The waters are dark and deep.

Swim.

Now will I see your face? Where are you taking me now?

Up the mountain with me before I die.

But death

bursts into light.

The death is

what it will be.

These men: they want to keep us here in three tabernacles. But the cloud
moves. The water springs from a rock that journeys on.

You are contained in me.

But how can we contain you in ark or tabernacle or—

You cannot.

Where, then?

In your heart. Come.

Still?

I will be with thee.

Who am I?

You are that I will be. Come.

 

 

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I don’t have a Name for God…Why I call myself a Pagan

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In Wildness is the preservation of the world. Thoreau

 

I say the word God. I thank God. I get mad at God. I question God.

But I don’t have an image of what or to whom I am talking. No image forms in my mind’s eye. I don’t see Jesus or an old bearded man. I don’t see a God or Goddess. God, for me, is an experience or a feeling of connection to the generative force in the Universe. It’s that present something that continually creates and moves forward all life.

Growing up in an interfaith secular home meant holidays were celebrated in their commercial forms: the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Hanukkah gelt. God didn’t enter into it. As a young adult, I tried to understand or reconcile my multifaith background through rites and rituals, through behaviors so that I might “feel Him.” I was mystified by others in pews and classrooms who totally got this, felt this and for whom through all the tenets and dogma, God was real. I wanted that, too. I wanted that so much I lied to them and myself hoping that the saying, “fake it till you make it” might actually work.img_5320

But the moment I stepped on a trail or looked up into a blue cloudless sky at a hawk soaring elegantly on thermals or noticed the scent of pine—God made sense to me.

I fought this desire to find God in Nature for a long time. It seemed trite, “I find God in Nature!” I wasn’t a hippie or a mountain man. I was just a gal in the city who couldn’t seem to get God the way my peers did.

For several years after discovering Wicca and other Pagan paths, I joined groups still trying hard to feel what other folks were feeling, this time about Gods, moon phases, the seasons and what was expressed in the holidays of the Wiccan year. I loved the ceremonies marking the equinoxes and solstices and the celebrations of the full moon. But finding a pantheon eluded me and the philosophies seemed complicated. Maybe I was just too lazy to commit to the beliefs of any religion if all I needed in order to find and experience God was to lie on a boulder in the sun with a lizard.

What do you call this?

But this idea that what I am experiencing is God, still doesn’t feel right. I don’t know what I am participating in if I don’t feel it’s the God of Judeo-Christianity or the Gods of the Witches. My experiences in Nature sunning myself on a boulder on a mountain in the San Gabriel’s with a lizard as a companion seem bigger than religion and God as I understand them. Turning my head, eye to eye with Lizzy basking together in the heat of the day is a connection that is so profound to me and greater than a similar experience with a human being. It is two very different species meeting and having the same experience with the life-giving rays of the sun. The word God feels too small here and religion doesn’t have room for this. Except, it should….

We are “starstuff”

cosmosI am old enough to remember Carl Sagan, the American astronomer, scientist, author and miniseries star. When “Cosmos” came out most people I knew were riveted. No one had ever explained the universe and the night sky to regular folks in lay terms before. Sagan was personable, easy to understand, not patronizing and above all made us feel closer to the sky, as if it was part of our neighborhood.

One of his most famous concepts had a big effect, “we are starstuff.” We are part of the beginning of the Universe when it exploded into bits, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” Further, he said, “if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” And that means when we look up into the night sky we see our relatives.

The Genesis account of Creation is, to me, right there with it. God as the Big Bang calling all Creation into being, breathing life into the first human means we are all related as well. In both cases we were created/have a Creator who connects us past, present, future. Whether we look across the sky to the bounty of stars or across a room full of people we are looking at our cousins, because all life is the incarnation of our Creator. Therefore, it is not a stretch or a fantasy to feel connected to God in Nature any less than we do with blood relatives.

From starstuff we get mountains, the sea, trees and bugs and coyotes; we get the planet Jupiter, a kitten and Grandma Sadie. When we bask in the healing rays of the sun oimg_4741 - copyr watch the tides forming from the pull of the moon we feel our kin. Genesis gives us this same connection. We are not separate to do with the Earth as we please without repercussions. Modern Pagans get it. Indigenous peoples get it. This perspective is fundamental to the way we treat our non-human relatives, including this planet, so it is ironic that the Judeo-Christian establishment condemns this as Nature-worship, as if worshiping, loving, respecting, seeing Nature as holy and sacred should be considered blasphemy!

Being Pagan gives me a perspective of myself in the Universe that traditional religions are blind to. They have turned animals, plants and the land of the Garden into resources; they have turned them into something to USE, instead of seeing them existing for their OWN sakes. But….it IS in their holy books to see Nature as sacred. And when that happens it will heal the rupture that separates ‘man’ from Creation. Then the land, the animals, the very air will breathe, literally, a sigh of relief.

**********

This is a very personal post. I am sharing these thoughts, because if you follow me on my Instagram and other social media I often post poems and quotations with my photos that describe or evoke my relationship with the natural world. As a book blogger, obviously words move me. When reading the classics I am sometimes stuck on a beautiful phrase that stays with me. So too in the way poets and other writers capture a feeling that describes Nature and helps me to feel connected. These are meaningful moments for me and so I share….

 

National Poetry Month, James Weldon Johnson’s, The Creation (1927)

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I inherited my grandparent’s library. Many of the books have their signatures and a date and in a few volumes one has gifted it to the other with “Love, Eli” or “Love, Lorraine.” I cherish these.

Every once in a while when I am looking for something to read or rearranging shelves aIMG_5087 title strikes me that I missed or hadn’t felt a pull to in the past. As I looked for something to end National Poetry Month I found this book and a piece that made me pause. I read it all the way through and frankly was sobbing at the end.

In the Hebrew Bible, I love the first chapter of Genesis and the way God is described making the world. Johnson takes those first verses and amplifies the personification of God, of God’s love for his Creation and the care and consideration of what he made and how he exclaimed, “That’s good!”

Johnson’s words affect me specifically because I have always seen Nature as God Incarnate. And in modern America we are killing off Nature, God’s Creation,…well, that’s a post for another time…I am sure these feelings of mine contributed to my reaction.

When you find someone else’s words that speak so deeply and directly to you it is a joy. This is long. Skim if you want, but it’s worth reading all the way through.

 
newport.jepg

 

 

The Creation

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!

Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen.      Amen.

jwjohnson

To learn more about James Weldon Johnson, you can read his biography at the Poetry Foundation website.

 

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The Book of American Negro Poetry. Edited by James Weldon Johnson. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922, 117.

#BloggingTheSpirit

Connecting Post for #BloggingtheSpirit

paradise

 

Hello! Welcome to Blogging the Spirit.

Here is the connecting post. You can use the comment section below to submit the url of your offering. And I encourage you to use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter and Instagram so we can find you, too.

Thank you for participating!

~Laurie

Connecting Post for #BloggingTheSpirit

paradise

 

Hello! Welcome to Blogging the Spirit.

Here is the connecting post. You can use the comment section below to submit the url of your offering. And I encourage you to use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter and Instagram so we can find you, too.

Thank you for participating!

~Laurie

The First Sunday of the Month: Blogging the Spirit

Blogging the Spirit: Adventures in Spirituality on the First Sunday of the Month

 

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jewish3celticcross hinduatheism - Copyompentagramisisdarmawheelnorsemyth2totempoleflyingspaghettimonster

 

How do you connect to God? Are there practices or pieces of art or music or liturgy that evoke this relationship?

Is there a book or poem that ‘gets you’ every time, or a writer who sparks you in those hard moments?

Do you find this connection through trees, the changing of seasons, the cycle of the moon?

In my desire to expand my mostly classic literature blog to reflect the variety of books I read, a brief exchange with fellow bloggers regarding religion and spirituality has prompted me to create an informal monthly event shared across social media.


Books, Art, Photography, Music, Poetry, Liturgy, Creativity

Some suggestions: a book review, a personal post on a particular practice, share a photo or piece of art. Is there a word or phrase or passage from your liturgy or spiritual books that you find beautiful? Does a particular melody or a song connect you to God every time you hear it?

If you don’t believe in God or religion but you are inspired by life share, too.

Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Pagans, Heathens, Druids, Wiccans, Tree-Huggers, Mother Nature Lovers, Those-Inspired-by-Life. Everyone is welcome!

The Mechanics

We can find each other with the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit to use on Twitter and Instagram and other social media. And you can put a link to your post in the comments of my first Sunday post.

Thank you for contributing!
~Laurie

Questions: therelevantobscurity@gmail.com

Penguins and Golden Calves, Madeleine L’Engle (1996) #BloggingTheSpirit

An icon should give us glimpses of our God who is both immanent and transcendent, knowable and unknowable. If an icon becomes more important to us than what it reveals of God, then it becomes a golden calf….

 

pengguinsPenguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places describes L’Engle’s trip to Antarctica when she was 74 years old and the encounters she had with the small, crested Rock Hopper Penguins. She uses the image of the golden calf and her experience with the penguins to illustrate the difference between idols and icons. Like the Israelites, who turned the golden calf into idol worship instead of the worship of God, the penguins became to her an icon that opened her up to experience of God; an icon is the window to that connection.

Madeleine L’Engle, who died in 2007, was a well-known believer in Christ, who often ran afoul of ‘establishment’ Christianity by continuing to question and to seek that which made her uncomfortable in her faith. But her nonfiction has always struck a chord in me, as I am attracted to believers of all kinds who struggle to make sense of their tradition and especially, like L’Engle, see a bigger picture. Books like this mirror my own questions and struggles with spirituality, religion and belief.

It is not flippant for me to say that a penguin is an icon for me, because the penguin invited me to look through its odd little self and on to a God who demands of us that we be vulnerable…Whatever is an open door to God is, for me, an icon.

Because L’Engle uses penguins (penguins?!) as an icon to God, I was intrigued from the beginning and it articulated for me why I find it so easy to connect to God in nature and not in a building. I am never so connected to the experience, love and beauty of the Creator than when I am walking the bluffs overlooking the ocean, hiking the trails of the nearby mountains or when watching a lizard slither across a huge rock in the desert.

There are parts of liturgical services that in the words and rituals, I do see beauty and sincerity. I love getting caught up in words, in turns of phrase, of ideas written just so. And in a moment of public prayer or thanksgiving, I am often caught up in a sea of emotions. But once I leave the building, they are gone. And once I glimpse a hummingbird flitting over a flower or a flock of birds in v-formation it is only then that I can sincerely praise God.

I think we have totally complicated God and what it means to worship. The first thing God did, according to the Bible, was to create the world. Pagans stopped there, while the rest went on to create golden calves, complicated and alienating ways of worship, erecting walls of concrete to hold services, and sadly, making theologies with a total disregard for the Creator’s creation. How ironic!

So, even if we understand that praying through icons is not idolatry, why do we mortals need icons? Icons are not adequate, nor are sunset and moonrise and star-filled skies, though they are icons of God’s creation. Perhaps we need icons because of the very inadequacy of our ability to understand God….

______________________

My Edition
Title: Penguins and Golden Calves
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
Device: Hardcover
Year: 2003
Pages: 271
Plot summary

#BloggingTheSpirit

The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare (1961)

My Edition:bronzebow
Title: The Bronze Bow
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 1961
Pages: 254
Plot summary

 

“—He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”

 

When I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond last year, Elizabeth George Speare drew me into 17th century colonial Connecticut by her attention to historical detail and engaging writing style. I would say Speare surpassed herself in The Bronze Bow set during the time of Jesus in 1st century Palestine. This is the story of tormented Daniel bar Jamin, a young renegade blacksmith whose hatred for the Roman occupation of his ancestral land fuels his every waking moment. Sold to an abusive blacksmith at age 13 when there wasn’t enough food for the family, he fled to the mountains above his town 5 years later and joined a group of like-minded warriors. He is now 18 and he and the other young men are restless to fight, but the leader of the group, Rosh, keeps putting them off sending them out only to raid the fields of their Jewish neighbors telling the young fighters they need to gather more men before they can take action against the Romans.

When word comes to Daniel that his grandmother is dying leaving his sister alone, he puts his warrior plans on hold and moves back into the city to take care of Leah. It has been five years since Daniel saw his sister and grandmother. When he knocks on the door Leah is cowering in a corner and he realizes at 15, she is still traumatized over the unbearable experience of watching their father die by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Daniel’s mother stayed with him on the hill and later died of exposure. Five-year old Leah escaped from a neighbor’s house and was found at the crosses for an undetermined length of time. But it was long enough to give her nightmares and a fear of all people.

The town’s blacksmith Simon, called the Zealot, tells Daniel he wants to leave his business and follow a new preacher named Jesus. He is not sure how long he will be gone, but tells Daniel he can use his shop, the tools and materials as his own and move into the house connected to it. After much persuasion and the kindness of neighbors who build her a litter, Leah is carried like a queen to her new home. Daniel attracts a wide clientele with the skills he perfected on the mountain and is able to provide good food and clothing for Leah for the first time in her life. He also begins recruiting a band of youth who are itching to fight the Romans who he hopes will strengthen Rosh’s group.

Meanwhile, Daniel has renewed a friendship with a boy he knew from school. When Joel and his sister Malthace hear about the warrior group they, too, want to fight. Boy, girl it doesn’t matter, they all want the Romans out! However, their family is moving to Capernaum and Joel is supposed to go away for rabbinical studies.

It is against this backdrop of violence and hatred that Daniel first hears Jesus speak. He is confused when Jesus addresses the crowd and talks about building the Kingdom of God, which is what he wants, but Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t seem to come with a war, so how would it get built? And Joel is confused because Jesus says things that don’t sound like a rabbi, “He practically said it was alright to eat without washing our hands. Perhaps it’s dangerous to even listen to him. And yet—.”

And yet, against everything Daniel and Joel have lived for, the righteous actions against the oppressor and the righteousness of the Law, they are at once drawn then repelled over and over by what Jesus says. The first crack in Daniel’s emotional armor comes when his friend Simon the Zealot, the former fighter for Israel has decided to give up his shop and everything else about his past life and follow Jesus. He tries to explain to Daniel what has changed, but Daniel is incensed.

“Supposed they put chains on all of you and drag you off to prison.”

“He [Jesus] says that the only chains that matter are fear and hate, because they chain our souls. If we do not hate anyone and do not fear anyone, then we are free.”

In the end, Daniel’s hate could not be sustained…

This novel is so rich in the details of 1st century daily life and Jewish ritual during the time of the Temple. Food, clothing, commerce and the different ways in which people react to the Roman occupation make this novel very realistic. Speare treats the complexity of feelings that Jesus’ words bring to the various characters with depth and honesty as they struggle to make sense of their long-held beliefs.

Speare won the 1962 Newbery Medal for The Bronze Bow, a young adult novel suitable for adults 🙂

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