Poem # 38 – Loneliness

 

O the loneliness and the fear
I feel when I go into the wilderness
Where the jackals and the wolves
Howl for my soul.

Out there, I’m alone. Only God,
And even Him I’m not so sure of.
Why the wilderness? There there is
No running from fear, pain, myself.

Naked and alone I must look
At myself. A grain of sand in a
Hostile world, trying to be so important
But only hanging on to the rock
Who gave me birth.

emptychair– Dale Hartwig (1940-2012) loved the wilderness. He went to his cabin in northern Michigan whenever he could.  Poem #38 was written during advanced Parkinson’s from his room at the Care Center in Grand Rapids, MI. Dale was one of seven classmates who gather annually for reflection and the renewal of friendship. Since Dale’s death, there are six. An empty chair preserves Dale’s seat in the circle.

Verse – An Old Man and His Dog

He limps as the other clicks
along the sidewalk beside him.
Slowly, they walk together,
And loneliness falls behind a few paces.
They partake of one spirit.
They know the mystery of
growing old together.

Ah yes, there’s a world beyond them,
But now they know more
Of a priceless world between them.
One glance, and a thousand worlds
spring form the depths
Knowing a direction far beyond
the concrete way beneath them.

– Dale Hartwig (1940-2012) from the window of a care center, Grand Rapids, MI.

The Lonely Blogger and Steve Martin

It’s been lonely. Traffic is down on Views from the Edge. I ask myself why. But I suspect I know the answer. I’ve broken blogging rule #1. Blogs are mostly about entertainment, not serious stuff . People go to blogs to get away from serious stuff. Not that this one is all that serious, but it’s hardly a rendition of Steve Martin’s happy feet.

Then two comments arrive. The first is from Gary who shares the experience of being influenced early on by Ernest Becker’s seminal work, The Denial of Death.  The second comes from Jim, a former classmate. Both Gary and Jim went on to become teachers.

Gary wrote:

The book title Amusing Ourselves To Death by educator Neil Postman comes to mind. Postman believes we have reduced most values to equate with entertainment. Education he says has to be entertaining. We demand constant amusement through sports, films, travel etc. There is a constant search for entertaining experiences to make us feel alive. It is as though our existence is so fraught with escaping death that the only antidote to dying is amusement. Just as everyone uses humor to take the edge off of awkward social encounters, humor has become the background context of existence. Humor is used as a cover for what human nature really is about and that is “Real Politic” or the feeling that what needs to be done is whatever is practical to survive.

Two other books by Peter Gay and Karl Marx come to mind: Gay’s The Enlightenment: The New Paganism and Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Gay suggests the Enlightenment led to a loss of traditional religious metaphors to live by, resulting in new forms of paganism arising to supplant the old worldviews. These include everything from “consumerism” to “new age” religions like Scientology. Karl Marx says in his “Manifesto” that “capitalism will destroy all that is permanent”. I think we can say Groucho Marxism seems to be the preferred way to analyze our culture’s ills. Everything has to be couched in humor or it is considered boring. At best we can say humor functions as the sigh of the oppressed as we try to take the edge off of everyday existence that seems to be all about a belief in human society as a survival of the fittest existence. We all want something better but science has been hijacked by capitalism for its own need to constantly revolutionize production to keep novel products arriving to allow us to feel alive when we no longer can see loving people as the real antidote to a preoccupation with fending off death. That was Christ’s reason for sacrificing himself in the face of a pagan Roman Empire. We have come full circle. Hopefully the Coliseum isn’t next as we escalate the need to amuse ourselves to death.

Jim wrote:

Folks get twisted in knots over things which they have neither read nor understood. Back in the days of teaching I had students read a writer who argued that under pure capitalism if profits are to be maximised there are several alternatives: Raise prices; Lower Wages. Then you have a product your workers cannot afford to buy. Because there are more workers than capitalists they will soon suffer. They liked the argument until they learned its author was Lenin.

Thanks, Steve Martin. Thanks, Gary. Thanks, Jim. I feel better.

Loneliness and Love

Video

George Matheson wrote this hymn. Matheson (1842-1906) was one of Scotland’s great preachers. Most people didn’t know that he was blind. When the sister on whom he had depended to be his eyes and his companion was married, he was left alone to fend for himself. He wrote “O love that wilt not let me go” the night he had “celebrated” the joy of her new life. The rendition in the video captures the emotion and the faith of the hymn-writer, whose faith and poetry still encourage later generations in times of personal loss and loneliness.

A Song from the Cross?

“Before 1400 A. D., all music sung in church was in 3/4 time–the Trinity, you know…” –  OLLI class on Madrigals.

“A Song from the Cross?” – Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 22, 2012

On the cross, Jesus sang (maybe) the first words from the XXII Psalm,

(most Psalms were sung by the Jews), “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?”

The words showed his humanity:

doubt, fear, loneliness.  That he (perhaps) sang, showed divinity.

These words being in the Bible at all are one more reason we can trust

the Bible to tell us what happened:  if this was made up, it would

have been Psalm XXIII put in his mouth, “The Lord is my shepherd…”

If Jesus sang then, why does the Gospel writer not tell us he did?

I propose because everybody knew then that most Psalms were sung.

And music surrounded Jesus:  angel choirs at his birth, and the

disciples singing a hymn with him at the last supper…

Before my mother died four months ago at (almost) 91, we sang together

old church songs for kids:  “Jesus Loves Me,” “Jesus Loves the Little

Children, All the Children of the World.”

It comforts me to think that Jesus might also have sung before he died…

The stones are singing

Sometimes things just seem to come together all of a sudden. This was one of those moments.

This sermon created itself when four texts converged. “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Gospel of John 19:34).  “She has done a beautiful thing to me. … Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Gospel of Matthew 26:10, 13). “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Gospel of Luke 19:40). And, last but by no means least, the piece that pulled them all together: “Elle Chante, Pere” (Dennis Aubrey, Via Lucis Photography), used with permission of Dennis Aubrey. Yesterday, Good Friday, Via Lucis re-posted the sermon. CLICK HERE for Denniis’s comments and those of others on Via Lucis.

Click the title to hear and see

 “THE STONES ARE SINGING

Albert Camus once said that your life is “the slow trek to recover the two or three simple images in whose presence [your] heart first moved.”

Sebastian Moore recovered one of those images after he had wandered into church at vespers on the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

In his book, The Inner Loneliness, he describes that moment of awakening. It came one evening after lots of pasta, a lot of spaghetti, and a lot of wine. “As I entered the church, I heard the familiar words [in Latin] ‘One of the soldiers opened his side with a spear, and immediately there came forth blood and water.’ And I had what can only describe as a sense of fullness of truth. Somehow, everything that was to be said about life and its renewing was in those words. Somehow my life, my destiny, was in those words.”

The image that moved his heart became one to which he returns daily, as do I. For the piercing of the side of the helpless man hanging on the cross happened not just then and there at Golgotha; it happens here and there and everywhere that torture own souls and the souls of others because we, or they, have failed to measure up to what we expected.  Strangely, it is in the piercing that brings blood that we are cleansed by the living water that pours from his side.

Do you see your life in the words and in the image of the spearing of his side, in the blood, but also the water that heals, restores and renews, flowing from his pierced side?

A second image came to me this week on a photography blog of religious architecture by Dennis Aubrey.

“There are sights impossible to forget,” writes a blogger I’ve been following, a photographer. His name is Dennis Aubrey. He takes magnificent photographs of great church architecture and accompanies his images with equally spell-binding words describing his experience sitting in those sacred spaces.

Dennis Aubrey tells the story of walking into a basilica. It’s the Basilica of the Magdalene – dedicated to Mary Magdalene, who is thought to be the woman in the Gospel stories who poured out the expensive ointment on Jesus and then wiped his feet with her hair. The scene for the photograph and the writing that describes his experience is the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Vézelay, France.

”There are sights impossible to forget,” he writes, “the first glimpse of your child, or the look on the face of a your beloved at a moment of perfect happiness. My first sight of Vézelay[i] was such a moment of perfection for me, a small medieval town clustered on a steep hill with a single narrow road winding its way to the top of the rise where stands the Basilica of Mary Magdalene.

“To appreciate Vézelay is to watch sunlight move like a living thing across walls of stone, then suddenly create a vision of indescribable, aching beauty. It is to watch shadows deepen around a priest sitting solitary in a side chapel waiting patiently for a penitent to come for confession. It is to hear the songs of nuns echo off the vaulted ceiling and ring like bells in the human soul. David sang in the Psalms, ‘You, O Lord, will be my light; by you, my God, the dark will be made bright for me,’ and in Vézelay this is palpable.

“So many days PJ and I have brought camera equipment into the church and have seen and captured images that make me wonder if it is even us taking the pictures. It is enough to sit and watch and wait, and suddenly the shot appears, as if summoned by the Magdalene herself. It has never failed to occur, and I don’t imagine that it ever will. In September 2008, at the end of two full days of shooting in the church, I sat on the stone wall leading down to the crypt where Mary’s relics have been kept for so long, venerated by so many. The originals were destroyed in the paroxysm of the French Revolution, but new ones have been placed in this crypt and are visited to this day. I was quiet and trying to remain inconspicuous because the priest was in the side chapel of Saint Teresa of Ávila hearing confession. Every once in a while, a young man or an elderly woman would come and sit next to him on a small wooden stool. With heads huddled together they would murmur quiet words of repentance and forgiveness. At the end, a sign of blessing and then footsteps echoed on the flagstones. It seemed to me, sitting near, the church was silent and reverent, fulfilling its very purpose even if it was only a single person seeking the expiation of sins.

“In this silence, a new thought entered my consciousness, something never expressed before. With this thought came a tumult of emotions, a release of waves of images and thoughts and feelings. I suddenly understood the need for God; even if I did not acknowledge that need for myself, I knew with certainty that it existed. It was a terrifying moment, unsettling and disturbing. I struggled to lock this transient understanding firmly in my mind so as not to forget, so that it did not turn into a mere anecdote. After some time a sound entered my consciousness, emanating from the pillars, the walls, arches, from the blocks
of granite themselves. I don’t know how long I sat there, rapt, listening, as the flow coursed through me in a flood that grew in intensity. And all the while, this faint sound of music.

“Eventually, I became aware of being watched, of not being alone in my thoughts. I turned to see a strong young priest standing next to me, with a small and knowing smile.

“’Elle chante, Pere,’ I said, ‘elle chante aujourd ’hui‘(‘She sings, Father, she sings today.’) His smile broadened, he nodded, and he went off down the aisle, leaving me with my thoughts. And on this day, Magdalene was singing, her very stones ringing with song.”

On this day – on the way to his death –  when they told him to silence his disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones will sing out” – and they still do!


[i} After Note: A bit of history from Dennis Aubrey: “On Easter Sunday 1146, on the great open hillside to the north of the basilica, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preached the Second Crusade to an enormous multitude gathered to hear him — King Louis VII, princes and peasants, clergy and laity. A few years later, two kings, Phillipe Augustus of France and Richard the Lion-hearted of England, assembled their forces here to begin the Third Crusade.

“Vézelay was also the site of a violent century-long social and political struggle among several parties — the monks and abbots of the abbey of Vézelay, the great abbots of Cluny, the Count of Nevers, and the merchants of Vézelay. The disputes over control of the fees and the rights of the various parties escalated to such heights that in 1106 the Abbot Artaud of Vézelay was murdered by townspeople. Three popes and two French kings tried to mediate a settlement, but the forces of history were in opposition, not just the rights of the nobility, the Church, or an emerging mercantile class.

“Eventually the power of the abbey waned, the legitimacy of the relics of Mary Magdalene was disputed by monks in Provence, and a pope eventually denied their authenticity. The pilgrims stopped visiting and the economy suffered. With the Renaissance, things human replaced things divine, and Vézelay sank into oblivion, a silent monument to the glories of the Romanesque revival in France.”

The Surrogate Voice

Some moments last a lifetime.

Chicago Seven - Dale Hartwig in red shirt

My friend Dale has Parkinson’s. He has boarded a train in Michigan (he’s now in a long-term care center there) to be with “The Chicago Seven” – the seven former classmates who gather annually at McCormick Theological Seminary. This year, Dale’s speech is hard to comprehend. He is reduced to listening. Death and dying are sitting at the table.At the morning reflection and round-table sharing, Dale is sitting to my right. When his turn comes, we look at Dale. There is an awkward silence. He hands me something. He wants me to read aloud what he’s written. I read his words aloud.

Gordon C. Stewart  – written in thanksgiving for the Chicago Gathering, 2004:

“THE SURROGATE VOICE”

The surrogate voice reads on,

the author sits and sobs

wrenching tears from primal depth:

from some abyss of joy or nothingness…or both.

The author’s sighs and piercing sobs

arrest routine,

invoke a hush,

dumb-found the wordy room.

He cannot speak,

his Parkinsons’ tongue tied,

his voice is mute, in solitude confined,

all but sobs too deep for words.

Another now becomes his  voice

offering aloud in a dummy’s voice

the muted contribution

in poetic verse the ventriloquist’s voice has penned.

The abyss of muted isolation ope’d,

his words, re-voiced aloud,

hush the seven to sacred silence,  all…

except from him, their author.

Whence comes this primal cry:

From depths of deep despair and death,

from loneliness, or depths of joy

We do not know.

The surrogate voice reads on

through author’s signs and sobs,

through his uncertain gasps for air

and our uncertain care.

The iron prison gates – the guards

of his despair – unlock and open out

to turn his tears from prison’s hole

to tears of comrade joy.

His word is spoken, his voice is heard,

a word expressed

in depth and Primal Blessing,

pardoned from the voiceless hell.

The stone rolls back,

rolls back, rolls back,

from the brother’s prison’s tomb,

the chains of sadness snap and break!

At one, at one, we Seven stand,

in Primal Silence before the open tomb,

as tears of loss, of gain, of tongues released

re-Voice unbroken chords of brotherhood.

 All moments are sacred. Some last a lifetime.