We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, April 21, 2022

“How is it that the Lamb of God bears the sins of the world?”


Poet Denise Levertov


Agnus Dei
by Denise Levertov


Given that lambs
are infant sheep,
that sheep are afraid and foolish, and lack
the means of self-protection, having
neither rage nor claws,
venom nor cunning,
what then
is this ‘Lamb of God’?

This pretty creature, vigorous
to nuzzle at milky dugs,
woolbearer, bleater,
leaper in air for delight of being, who finds in astonishment
four legs to land on, the grass
all it knows of the world?
With whom we would like to play,
whom we’d lead with ribbons, but may not bring
into our houses because
it would spoil the floor with its droppings?

What terror lies concealed
in strangest words, O lamb
of God that taketh away
the Sins of the World: an innocence
smelling of ignorance,
born in bloody snowdrifts,
licked by forebearing
dogs more intelligent than its entire flock put together?

God then,
encompassing all things, is
defenseless? Omnipotence
has been tossed away,
reduced to a wisp of damp wool?

And we
frightened, bored, wanting
only to sleep ‘til catastrophe
has raged, clashed, seethed and gone by without us,
wanting then
to awaken in quietude without remembrance of agony,

we who in shamefaced private hope
had looked to be plucked from fire and given
a bliss we deserved for having imagined it,

is it implied that we
must protect this perversely weak
animal, whose muzzle’s nudgings

suppose there is milk to be found in us?
Must hold in our icy hearts
a shivering God?

So be it.
Come, rag of pungent
quiverings,
dim star.
Let’s try
if something human still
can shield you,
spark
of remote light.


* * * * * * * *


Mosaic of Doubting Thomas, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, 500-520 AD.


The Disciple of Doubt
by Dan Clendenin

For Sunday April 3, 2015
Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year C)

Acts 5:27–32
Psalm 118:14–29 or Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4–8
John 20:19–31

On Easter Sunday, we Christians condensed our confession
down to three words: "Christ is risen!" 

Those three words are a game changer.

Without the resurrection, Jesus is just another interesting teacher. But with it, believers confess that God in Christ has defeated death and reconciled the cosmos to himself. And so the Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, "If Christ is raised from the dead, nothing else matters. If he is not raised from the dead, nothing else matters."

"This is what we preach, and this is what you believed," Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

Paul raised the bar about as high as you can when he said that no one should believe a lie about the resurrection, and that no one should preach a lie. If Christ isn't raised, said Paul, then the first witnesses were, in Pascal's famous words, "deceived or deceivers."

This week is different.  John says that he wrote his gospel with an agenda, "that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ" (20:31).  But the reading this week is not about faith but about doubt — in particular, Thomas's disbelief in the resurrection. 

Resurrection?  Really?

Except for the times when he is grocery-listed with the other disciples, there are only three references to Thomas. They're all in John's gospel, and they all reveal Thomas's sceptical bent.

After Lazarus died, and Jesus planned to return to Judea (where villagers almost stoned him), Thomas replied, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Then, when Jesus told his disciples that they would join him in glory, Thomas questioned him: "Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

And then there's this week's gospel. When told that Jesus had appeared to the other disciples, Thomas was incredulous: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."     

The last several years, I've enjoyed reading the poetry of Denise Levertov (1923–1997).  Her personal story is so interesting.

Levertov was born in England to a Welsh mother and a Russian Hasidic father. He had emigrated to the UK from Leipzig, converted to Christianity, and become an Anglican priest. After moving to the United States in 1948, Levertov taught at a number of places, including eleven years at Stanford (1982–1993). By the time she died, she had published fifty volumes.


Carved panel of Doubting Thomas,
Abbey of Santo Domingo del Silos, Spain, c. 1150.


It was at Stanford, where her papers are now housed, that Levertov converted to Christianity at the age of sixty. Her little book The Stream and the Sapphire collects thirty-eight poems that trace her "slow movement from agnosticism to Christian faith."

Levertov always had an affinity for Thomas the Doubter. She wrote a Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus. And in The Stream and The Sapphire she included the poem St. Thomas Didymus.

The Greek Didymus and the Aramaic T'omas both mean "the twin." In her poem, though, Levertov imagines Thomas identifying with his spiritual twin rather than his biological brother.

Thomas's spiritual twin is the desperate and doubting father in Mark 9:24: "I do believe, help my unbelief."

Long after Thomas saw the miraculous healing of the little boy, the doubt of the father plagued him. "Despite all that I witnessed, his question remained my question, throbbed like a stealthy cancer, known only to doctor and patient. To others I seemed well enough."

Here is Levertov's poem:

In the hot street at noon I saw him
a small man
gray but vivid, standing forth
beyond the crowd’s buzzing
holding in desperate grip his shaking
teethgnashing son,

and thought him my brother.

I heard him cry out, weeping and speak
those words,
Lord, I believe, help thou
mine unbelief,

and knew him
my twin:

a man whose entire being
had knotted itself
into the one tightdrawn question,
Why,
why has this child lost his childhood in suffering,
why is this child who will soon be a man
tormented, torn, twisted?
Why is he cruelly punished
who has done nothing except be born?

The twin of my birth
was not so close
as that man I heard
say what my heart
sighed with each beat, my breath silently
cried in and out,
in and out.

After the healing,
he, with his wondering
newly peaceful boy, receded;
no one
dwells on the gratitude, the astonished joy,
the swift
acceptance and forgetting.
I did not follow
to see their changed lives.
What I retained
was the flash of kinship.
Despite
all that I witnessed,
his question remained
my question, throbbed like a stealthy cancer,
known
only to doctor and patient. To others
I seemed well enough.

So it was
that after Golgotha
my spirit in secret
lurched in the same convulsed writhings
that tore that child
before he was healed.
And after the empty tomb
when they told me that He lived, had spoken to Magdalen,
told me
that though He had passed through the door like a ghost
He had breathed on them
the breath of a living man –
even then
when hope tried with a flutter of wings
to lift me –
still, alone with myself,
my heavy cry was the same: Lord
I believe,
help thou mine unbelief.

I needed
blood to tell me the truth,
the touch
of blood. Even
my sight of the dark crust of it
round the nailholes
didn’t thrust its meaning all the way through
to that manifold knot in me
that willed to possess all knowledge,
refusing to loosen
unless that insistence won
the battle I fought with life

But when my hand
led by His hand’s firm clasp
entered the unhealed wound,
my fingers encountering
rib-bone and pulsing heat,
what I felt was not
scalding pain, shame for my
obstinate need,
but light, light streaming
into me, over me, filling the room
as I had lived till then
in a cold cave, and now
coming forth for the first time,
the knot that bound me unravelling,
I witnessed
all things quicken to color, to form,
my question
not answered but given
its part
in a vast unfolding design lit
by a risen sun.

Not all those who saw the risen Christ believed. In his last recorded appearance in Matthew 28:17, we read that "when they saw him, they worshiped, but some were doubtful."

And not all those who believed saw him after his resurrection. Thomas was an exception, said Jesus: "Because you have seen me you believe? Blessed are those who did not see and believed."


Armenian illuminated manuscript in the Malatia Gospel,
Doubting Thomas, by Toros Roslin, 1268 AD.

Likewise in 1 Peter 1:8: "Though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you do not see him now, but believe in him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory."

A week later, after touching the wounds of Jesus, Thomas confessed, "My Lord and my God!"

In Levertov's poem, Thomas's questions weren't answered; they were put into a larger context and a different light.

In the end, the famous doubter became a passionate witness. The Acts of Thomas from the early third century says that Thomas took the gospel to India by 52 AD. Today, the St. Thomas Christians trace their origins to this disciple of doubt.

NOTE: For more on Levertov, see the two critical biographies by Dana Green, Denise Levertov: A Poet's Life (Chicago: University of Illinois, 2012); and Donna Krolik Hollenberg, A Poet's Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013); and the recent Denise Levertov, Collected Poems, edited and annotated by Paul A. Lacey and Anne Dewey, with an Introduction by Eavan Boland (New York: New Directions, 2013), 1063pp.


* * * * * * * *


Talking to Grief
by Denise Levertov


Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don't know you've been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog. 



* * * * * * * *



What The Figtree Said
by Denise Levertov


Literal minds! Embarrassed humans! His friends
were blushing for Him
in secret; wouldn’t admit they were shocked.
They thought Him
petulant to curse me! – yet how could the Lord
be unfair? – so they looked away,
then and now.
But I, I knew that
helplessly barren though I was,
my day had come. I served
Christ the Poet,
who spoke in images: I was at hand,
a metaphor for their failure to bring forth
what is within them (as figs
were not within me). They who had walked
in His sunlight presence,
they could have ripened,
could have perceived His thirst and hunger,
His innocent appetite;
they could have offered
human fruits – compassion, comprehension –
without being asked,
without being told of need.
My absent fruit
stood for their barren hearts. He cursed
not me, not them, but
(ears that hear not, eyes that see not)
their dullness, that withholds
gifts unimagined.



* * * * * * * *


'Denise Levertov: Poetry as a Way to Prayer'
Jul 19, 2012


SchAdvStudy
Dana Greene (Emory University)
Poetry and Prayer: Continuities & Discontinuities - 'Denise Levertov: Poetry as a Way to Prayer'

An international conference organized jointly by the Institute of English Studies and Heythrop College, University of London.

The analogy and continuity between poetry and prayer, the poetical and the mystical, has often been discussed. The psychological mechanism used by grace to raise us to prayer is, Henry Bremond wrote, the same as that set in motion in poetic experience. Both poetry and prayer are rooted in an inner experience of concrete and fundamental values so that both invite, using the language of John Henry Newman, a real rather than a notional assent. Reading a poem can be perceived as a prayerful experience. W.H. Auden wrote: 'to pray is to pay attention to something or someone other than oneself. Whenever a man so concentrates his attention -- on a landscape, a poem, a geometrical problem, an idol, or the True God -- that he completely forgets his own ego and desires, he is praying.'

And yet it is also true that we have no shared understanding of the terms 'prayer' and 'poetry'. Some might claim that there is no connection between them. The traditions of poetry and prayer are numerous and the connections between them elusive. And poetry is, self-evidently, not exactly the same as prayer.

The conference will consider the similarities, interrelatedness and differences between poetry and prayer. What do poetry and prayer share? How do they differ? In what ways do they relate to each other? Theoretical reflections and historical surveys will provide a context for the discussion of individual texts and authors from different countries and cultural and religious traditions.


* * * * * * * *


Denise Levertov: six poems
Mar 15, 2009


Bloodaxe Books
Denise Levertov reads six poems from her later collections, three from EVENING TRAIN (1992) and three later included in her posthumously published collection SANDS OF THE WELL (1998). This is an extract from an hour-long reading she gave for the Lannan Foundation in Los Angeles on 7 December 1993. The poems are: 'Settling', 'Open Secret', 'Tragic Error',  'The Danger Moment', 'A Gift' and 'For Those Whom the Gods Love Less', three of which were also included in her SELECTED POEMS (New Directions, 2002), which was published in Britain as NEW SELECTED POEMS (Bloodaxe Books, 2003):
http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/titlepag...

Denise Levertov (1923-97) was born in Essex, and educated at home by her father, a Russian Jewish immigrant, who became an Anglican priest, and by her Welsh mother. In 1948, she emigrated to America, where she was acclaimed by Kenneth Rexroth in The New York Times as 'the most subtly skilful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving,' and during the following decades she became 'a poet who may just be the finest writing in English today' (Kirkus Reviews). Throughout her life, she worked also as a political activist, campaigning tirelessly for civil rights and environmental causes, and against the Vietnam War, the Bomb and US-backed regimes in Latin America.

This video is copyright Lannan Foundation 1994 and posted on YouTube with the permission of the Lannan Foundation. 


* * * * * * * *





More on Denise Levertov poems, bio, essays:

The Poetry of R.E. Slater - "Meet Poet Denise Levertov"