Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Thirteen -- The Temptation of St. Joseph

The Temptation of St. Joseph
by W.H. Auden
 
JOSEPH
My shoes were shined, my pants were cleaned and pressed,
And I was hurrying to meet
My own true Love:
But a great crowd grew and grew
Till I could not push my way through,
Because
A star had fallen down the street;
When they saw who I was,
The police tried to do their best.
CHORUS [off]
Joseph, you have heard
What Mary says occurred;
Yes, it may be so.
Is it likely? No.
JOSEPH
The bar was gay, the lighting well-designed,
And I was sitting down to wait
My own true Love:
A voice I’d heard before, I think,
Cried: “This is on the House. I drink
To him
Who does not know it is too late;”
When I asked for the time,
Everyone was very kind.
CHORUS [off]
Mary may be pure,
But, Joseph, are you sure?
How is one to tell?
Suppose, for instance. . . Well. . .
JOSEPH
Through cracks, up ladders, into waters deep,
I squeezed, I climbed, I swam to save
My own true Love:
Under a dead apple tree
I saw an ass; when it saw me
It brayed;
A hermit sat in the mouth of a cave:
When I asked him the way,
He pretended to be asleep.
CHORUS [off]
Maybe, maybe not.
But, Joseph, you know what
Your world, of course, will say
About you anyway.
JOSEPH
Where are you, Father, where?
Caught in the jealous trap
Of an empty house I hear
As I sit alone in the dark
Everything, everything,
The drip of the bathroom tap,
The creak of the sofa spring,
The wind in the air-shaft, all
Making the same remark
Stupidly, stupidly,
Over and over again.
Father, what have I done?
Answer me. Father, how
Can I answer the tactless wall
Or the pompous furniture now?
Answer them. . .
GABRIEL
No, you must.
JOSEPH
How then am I to know,
Father, that you are just?
Give me one reason.
GABRIEL
No.
JOSEPH
All I ask is one
Important and elegant proof
That what my Love had done
Was really at your will
And that your will is Love.
GABRIEL
No, you must believe;
Be silent, and sit still.

  
Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Twelve -- Chipmunk

Chipmunk

In the sheltered south corner of my doorway where the sun has kissed away the snow I hear a chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, pointed as a metronome. Ticking items off some list, a chipmunk sits up tall on the warming cement slab. I try, peanut offering in hand, to ease the latch open soundlessly, but the chipmunk jerks, spins, and vanishes down his hole.

The cement slab is sinking on the side fronting the door, thanks to this burrower. His tunnelworks clearly start at my door, but who can tell where they go from there? With forefeet half the size of paperclips, he’s dug down maybe four or five times the length of his body and out as far as a two-story house is tall—though not that straight. Up in the wide bright world this morning, he’s taking what’s apt to be his last sunbath for a while. Winter is about to settle in its cold bulk for a three-month stay, banishing the chipmunk to his basement. Unlike his cousins, squirrels at home in the trees, he would freeze above ground. Even in the insulated earth he survives only by careful calculation.

Compulsively all fall he packed his cheek pouches with nuts and seeds and sped to rooms he’d hollowed out along the sides of his tunnel—pantries holding altogether up to a bushel of winter provisions. He keeps inventory, working for variety. If one sort of seed spoils, he wants plenty of other sorts. Such a well stocked pantry, though, is a magnet for thieves in the beneath, and so above
ground he’s stored more reserves, hiding them from hungry thieves there, too.

He will keep up his gathering, storing, inventorying—above ground, below ground, relentless, never sure of enough—until, finally, the cold says: Stop. Or die. Then he’ll slip down through his tunnel to a leaf-lined sleeping chamber and ball up. His restless heart slows from 350 beats per minute to fifteen. He barely breathes. His body cools.

If a weasel should find him so, he will be dead before he knows what bit him. Awake, he can likely escape. So he sleeps in snatches—a few days, a couple of weeks—pulling himself up out of torpor to inspect the tunnel, the exits, the pantries, and to eat. If provisions seem low, he might pick a warm day and pop up briefly to raid a bird feeder or find one of his above-ground stashes. Which means risking a hawk or cat watching for dark stripes against snow. So he considers staying put and saving food by sleeping a longer stretch. But that gives the weasel better odds. Also, he has to consider how long this winter might last and how to save food for spring—whenever that comes—so he’ll be strong enough then to pursue a mate.

A tiny master of risk assessment, he calculates and recalculates all winter long. There’s no formula, no group-think to fall back on. Flexibility is all. Each chipmunk must, for and by himself, consider which of several choices will most likely bring him through the cold dark days to the other side of winter, strong. He must do this continually, with no guarantees. Today, heart beating fast, he makes today’s choice.

by Gayle Boss
illustrations by David G. Klein

From: All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings (used with permission of Paraclete Press).

To read my review of All Creation Waits, just click here.

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Eleven

The Christmas Star in the night sky, the shining of the Christmas light in the night – all this is the sign that light breaks into the darkness. Though we see about us the darkness of unrest, of family discord, of class struggle, of competitive jealousy and of national hatred, the light shall shine and drive it out.…Wherever the Christmas Child is born in a heart, wherever Jesus begins his earthly life anew – that is where the life of God’s love and of God’s peace dawns again.

Emmy Arnold
Source: Watch for the Light

*****************

When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Ten

Advent
by Mary Jo Salter


Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think
nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins
it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.
We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable
we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,
the last one in the house

we're making of gingerbread.
We'll have to improvise:
prop the two halves forward

like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.

Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.
When she peers into the cold

interior we've exposed,
she half-expects to find
three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read
on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning
inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel
and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap

under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,
Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene
of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary's downcast eyes.
Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young

child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof
with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck
to lug the shutter in,

a page torn from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.

from Open Shutters. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Nine

Guarding the World at Advent – And Other Times

Though Quakers aren't known for celebrating liturgical seasons, it's hard not to be aware that the season of Advent has begun. Especially since Nancy is playing Christmas music and decorating the farm for the holidays. And Advent angels are everywhere. The latter reminded me of a a short story by Alan Gurganus. Title “It Had Wings,” Gurganus tells the story of a woman pushing eighty, dressed in a robe and slippers, doing the dishes, who finds an angel in her backyard. The angel is lying in the grass and the woman stretches out an arthritic hand to touch it – and that hand is healed. “A practical person,” Gurganus writes, “she quickly cures her other hand. The angel grunts, but sounds pleased.” She continues to touch him and as she does “a thirty eight year pain leaves her,” “liver sports are lightening,” and “all stiffness leaves hear.” “Bolder,” Gurganus relates, “she whispers private woes… those woes seem ended.” She feels limber now, as limber as a twenty year old – but she is frightened. She’s afraid he’s about to take her to heaven. “The house is finally paid off,” she tells the angel. “Not just yet.” And then the angel zooms into heaven. As she heads inside, she notices her slippers and thinks, Got to wash these next week. And then she muses, Can a person who’s just sighted her first angel already be mulling about laundry? Yes, the world is like that.

By suppertime her aches and pains return. Still, there is something new and different about her. Gurganus asks, “Can you guess why this old woman’s chin is lifted? Why does she breathe as if to show exactly how it’s done. Why should both her shoulders, usually quite bent, brace so square just now?”

“She is guarding the world. Only, nobody knows.”

When I read that story at this time of the year, I am reminded of the shepherds of the Christmas story. They were the first to hear the news of the baby savior’s birth. And like the old woman of Gurganus’ story, their lives are changed while they remain the same – one of the paradoxes of faith.

Like the woman in the story, the shepherds weren’t the sort of men whom the general populace expected would receive angelic announcements. God, perhaps as a way of showing that faith is best grounded in real life, sends the heavenly singers to the shepherds – men who consult no books, study the skies for nothing except clues to the weather, and have no social standing.
These men, huddled on the foresty hillsides of Palestine, warm beneath their ramskins, eyes vigilant, on guard against roaming wolves, were of low station. Shepherds of that ime were considered generally untrustworthy (which makes Jesus’ later stories centering around the shepherd’s role in the life of faith all the more remarkable).

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”

The shepherds are amazed – and afraid. Who wouldn’t be? To be witness to an angelic herald is a wonderful thing – but is frightening, too. Perhaps like Gurganus’ old woman, they are awed by their angel, but they’re not quite ready to go up into heaven.

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”

Awestruck, amazed, mystified and more, the shepherds go in search of this babe. After encountering the child in the manger, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the thing they had heard and seen.” The shepherds are not transported into some new place and increased social standing. No, they go back to their sheep and their jobs. Like the old woman who notices her slippers need washing, they return to normalcy.

Except that they are different. I dare say that people seeing them, like people seeing Gurganus’s woman, noticed their chins lifted, their breathing precise and their shoulders braced so square now. And that’s because, for all their return to outward normalcy, they, like her, were “guarding the world. Only, nobody knows.”

Therein, I think, is a lesson for us this Advent season. Not that angels are going to appear on hillsides or in backyards seen through kitchen windows – though they might. No, the lesson is that any of our encounters with the Divine do not necessarily lift us out of the everyday workaday world. We will find ourselves changed, but changed on the inside, not the outside. An encounter with God is not like winning some celestial lottery where riches untold fall upon us, erasing all pain and sorrow and sadness forever.

There may be times that we are so in touch with the life of the Spirit that this life seems to fade away. We forget our aches and pains, spiritual and physical. We feel transported into the very presence of God. We feel made new and renewed. We see things with a clarity of thought and heart that we wish we had all the time. And are slightly scared by that feeling. But we do not seem to be able to sustain that experience. Which is not to downplay the experience, but rather acknowledges that we are not quite ready to live in that other world. We are human – flesh and blood and spirit and mind and soul. We are not, not yet anyway, quite ready to live completely in the spiritual realm. Like the shepherds, like the woman in the story, we return to constantly to our everyday lives.

The lesson for us from the shepherds and the old woman is to treasure those things in our hearts. And to live life with chins lifted, breathing to show exactly how it’s done, and shoulders no longer bent, but "braced so square just now.” For we, like all people who have encountered the Divine in this Advent, or any other season, are guarding the world. Whether or not anybody knows.

--Brent

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Friday, December 08, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Eight

"O Simplicatas"
by Madeleine L’Engle


An angel came to me
and I was unprepared
to be what God was using.
Mother I was to be.
A moment I despaired,
thought briefly of refusing.
The angel knew I heard.
According to God’s Word
I bowed to this strange choosing.

A palace should have been
the birthplace of a king
(I had no way of knowing).
We went to Bethlehem;
it was so strange a thing.
The wind was cold, and blowing,
my cloak was old, and thin.
They turned us from the inn;
the town was overflowing.

God’s Word, a child so small
who still must learn to speak
lay in humiliation.
Joseph stood, strong and tall.
The beasts were warm and meek
and moved with hesitation.
The Child born in a stall?
I understood it: all.
Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd;
a stable set apart,
the sleepy cattle lowing;
and the incarnate Word
resting against my heart.
My joy was overflowing.
The shepherds came, adored
the folly of the Lord,
wiser than all men’s knowing.

********************
"The Canticle of Mary"

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever



Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).  

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Seven

"The Annunciation"
by Edwin Muir

The angel and the girl are met.
Earth was the only meeting place.
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.

The eternal spirits in freedom go.
See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other’s face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there. He’s come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
Of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.

Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way.
Sound’s perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.

But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.

*************************

“The House of Christmas”
by G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

“The House of Christmas”


Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life). 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Six

"Mary's Poem"
by Mary Wakefield

When she heard infinity
whispered in her ear, did the flashing
scissors in her fingers fall
to the wooden floor and the spool unravel,
the spider's sly cradle
tremble with love? Imagine

How the dry fields leaned
toward the news and she heard, for a moment,
the households of crickets –
When she answered, all things shifted, the moon
in its river of milk.

And when she wanted to pluck
her heart from her breast, did she remember
a commotion of wings, or the stirring
of dust?


"Mary's Poem" by Kathleen Wakefield from Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry

 ***********************

The direction to which our wills must be put is, like Mary, in obedience to God’s will. Then something decisive happens for this earth. In place of the confusion of injustice, strife, open war, and treachery, there is revealed a path of the most lively unity and clarity. We are released from the servitude of our own wants and desires, our selfish hopes and fears – we are redeemed, we become free.

Philip Britts
Source: Watch for the Light


Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).