Thursday, June 30, 2011

From the Big Tent: Networking with Len

Here I am, at the Big Tent, the gathering of a multitude of ministries within the Presbyterian Church, sitting in a meeting for the Iraq Peace Network.  We’ve moved from hearing directly from an Iraqi partner to hearing more about the work we’re doing in the U.S. and the mechanisms by which we will do it.

One of the buzz words is ‘networking’.  Well, it is in our name.

How do we network?  How do we network better?  What does our networking ‘bring to the table’?

I have nothing to offer.

But here is what I do know; and I think it might be all I do know about networking.  Maybe it is enough.

When I began to learn about Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), the peace group I go to Iraq with, I was attending Princeton, a Presbyterian seminary.  I was a member of a Presbyterian church back home in West Virginia.  I belonged to a group at seminary called Princeton Seminarians for Peace.  I was ‘under care’ of the Presbytery of West Virginia.

I thought I was pretty well hooked into my church.

Until one day when I was preparing to go to Iraq for the first time and the phone rang.

There was a man on the other end of the line, who identified himself as Len Bjorkman.  Len introduced himself as being a part of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.  I was surprised.  I didn’t know there was such a thing.

Then he gob-smacked me, “The reason I’m calling is that I heard you’re going to Iraq with CPT.  And I just wanted to touch base with you and introduce myself and see how you were doing.”

Outside of CPT, Len is the only fellow Christian who reached out to me as I prepared to go to Iraq for the first time.  Until that phone call where Len introduced himself to me, it never occurred to me that other people might be interested in what I was doing; might pray for me even though they didn’t know me; might care about what might happen to me.

Len wasn’t done with surprises: after we talked for a time, he asked me who would be checking in with my mom.  This is after we had established that I was living with her at the time.  Len, with a pastor’s keen ear, identified the person closest to me and asked about who would be taking care of her.  And while I would be gone, every now and again, Len called my mom.

Len Bjorkman is a born networker, which is just another way of saying that Len and his wife Judy think about people and reach out to them and make connections between what they’re doing and what others might be doing; and they work hard to connect all those dots.

I have visited with Len and Judy in their home, done a speaking tour that Len organized, done a few workshops/conversations at General Assembly at Len’s behest, helped Len usher an overture (fancy name for a certain kind of motion) about Iraq through a committee process, and come to the Big Tent early for the Iraqi Peace Network, all because this kind man has bid me come.

Want to know how to network?  Call someone who might have something to offer and introduce yourself.  Call Len.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

On Buddhists, Bugs & Bunnies

Last night I drove ten miles or so to visit congregants who are celebrating 50 years of being married.  I was late, arriving after all the guests save family had left.  But I wanted to make an appearance and give them my congratulations.

Good conversation, shared memories, and getting to say hello to lots of their family I hadn’t seen in awhile made me glad I took the time to go.

It was dusk when I traveled back on the winding country road.  “Watch out for the deer” were Sandra’s parting words.  And I did.

A yearling stood in the road giving me the once over before bounding into the adjacent fields.  I love to watch the deer run through the unmown wheat fields, only their heads bobbing up and down with the rhythm of their stride.

The deer passed from view and I drove on.  A few miles up the road, a bunny ran out in front of me.  I hit the brakes and thought I’d missed him, but then I heard a thump.  I looked back and didn’t see him, so I traveled on.

But with each yard, I kept thinking, “go back”.  “Check on the rabbit.  You don’t know that you missed him.  Go back.”  A little self-talking argument ensued, in which I pointed out to myself that I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do if I found the rabbit injured but not dead.  “You’re a city girl.  You know you won’t pick him up and take him to a vet.  You’re afraid even of a rabbit up close like that!”

But the thought simply wouldn’t leave me; and so I went back, driving slowly each way, looking for the rabbit in the road or in the grass beside it.  No bunny.  Maybe I missed him.  Maybe I only caught his tail.  Maybe he made it into the tall grass where I couldn’t see.

All I know is that as I was making the loop looking for the rabbit, the lightening bugs started coming out.  I love lightening bugs.  They’re summer magic.

But even as slowly as I was then driving, one of the lightening bugs hit the windshield of the car.  And lots of other bugs did as well.

Driving in the late evening in the country is an act of homicide to thousands of insects.

The air is thick with them that time of day and they can’t withstand the wind shear of a car.

Even as I wanted to give myself some sort of moral credit for going back to check on the bunny, having no idea what I would do if I found him, I was reminded that my mere presence, surrounded as I was by the technology of the automobile, was proving mortal for perhaps thousands of living creatures.

I am not a Buddhist, but there is much in me that yearns to that way of being, of taking care for all living things, even the tiniest of insects; of being aware of the abundance of life surrounding me; of treating all creation with gentleness and respect.

These were the thoughts that plagued me last night, just another mass murderer on her way home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Never Doubt that You Make a Difference

I’m guessing we pretty much all know we make a difference in the lives of the people we are closest to.  Even when they don’t tell us, we know we have an impact on parents, spouses, children, friends and co-workers.

But we make a difference in the lives of strangers as well.

Study after study shows what a huge impact we each have on the lives of others.  A smile or a frown to a stranger on the sidewalk can affect their entire day and thus the day of everyone around them.

We make a difference.

But the difference I’m thinking of today arises more out of my own passions – the things that get me up off the couch and shouting at the television or writing to an elected representative, or in my case, traveling to Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

CPT has had an almost continuous presence in Iraq since 2002, first in Baghdad and later in the Kurdish north.  Every time I’ve gone, things seem pretty much the same and sometimes, even worse.  Even the lulls in the street violence seem seductively false.

And it’s tempting to think that we have made absolutely no difference by being there.  But whenever those feeling creep into my life, I remember our friend, an Iraqi Christian woman now living outside of Iraq.

Visiting one day, another CPT’er voiced her own doubts about having made any difference and our Iraqi friend jumped up from the couch, practically shouting, “You must never say that, especially not to me!”

She went on to tell us about the nights she would stay up late watching the streets outside the apartment building where we all lived, searching to make sure that no one was coming to do us harm.  She reminded us that the entire neighborhood knew we (as Westerners) lived there, her point being that they all kept us safe by their silence, out of an appreciation for our presence and all that we did.  She spoke of the many who came to our doors seeking what help we could offer, whether to find loved ones in detention, to help them connect with resources, to accompany them through dangerous situations, or just to listen.

“You made a difference to us.”

The fact is that we often do not know the difference we make or how it is perceived by others.  On that day in our friend’s living room, we received a genuine gift.  It is a gift I would share with you.

You make a difference.  The people whose lives you touch the most may never tell you.  They may not know themselves.

But you make a difference.

That’s why God put you here in the first place.

Never doubt it.

You make a difference.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Good Father (from Beth's sermon archives)

A Commentary on the Text

          Almost all of this is inspired by or taken directly from Bruce Feiler’s book, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths.

          There are a few important things to note about Genesis 18:
          (1) God appeared to Abraham, that is Abraham was in God’s very presence somehow in the midst of the three strangers, who are not people, but divine beings of some kind.  Some say angels, some, particularly later Christian writers, say that the three were in fact God.  In fact, Orthodox Christians portray the three at the table as a representation of the Trinity.  From the following chapters, it would appear that God was one of the three (see 19.1).  But what is important for us is that it is God, not angels or messengers, who speaks to Abraham.
          (2) Laughter is a big part of this story – in fact, the child of Abraham and Sarah, is named “He laughs”.  That’s what ‘Isaac’ means in Hebrew.  Sarah laughed out loud when she as an old woman was promised a child.  Earlier, in 17.17, Abraham, hearing the same promise, actually falls on his face laughing.
          (3) Sarah observes from the tent . . . in that time, as it is even today in many Middle Eastern homes, women are not allowed in the company of men not a part of their family, so Sarah is culturally sidelined to the background in this story.
          (4) Abram’s name was changed by God to ‘Abraham’.  The name Abram means ‘the father is exalted’ or ‘mighty father’ in Hebrew and Abraham means ‘father of many nations’. [Feiler, p. 69].

A Good Father

          To understand the importance of Abraham and this story about Abraham for us, perhaps we should begin with the first verse of the first chapter of the book of Matthew, the first Gospel of the New Testament: An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
          Abraham is the father of Ishmael, and thus the father of Islam; Abraham is the father of Isaac, and thus the father of Judaism; Abraham is the father, the ancestor, of Jesus, and thus the father of Christianity.
          On this Father’s Day, as Abraham’s children continue to fight with and kill each other around the world, perhaps if we consider Abraham to understand better what a good father is, we might better learn what it is to be a good child of that father.
          A good father does not take himself too seriously . . . when God told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child, they were both so old that the reaction for both of them was to laugh . . . indeed, Abraham literally fell on the ground laughing.  A good father takes God seriously, but never himself . . . for to be a father is to be willing to be ridiculous in the eyes of the world.
          A good father loves expansively . . . in Genesis 12, God promises Abraham that he will be the father of the nations, that Abraham will be blessed in order to be a blessing to the world.  This was not a genetic, but rather a spiritual promise . . . the blood of Abraham does not flow in my veins, yet Abraham is my father too, for Abraham’s love is an expansive love, with arms outstretched to embrace the whole world.  Consider in our text today that the very next thing to happen after the promise of a child from God is that Abraham and the visiting God travel to Sodom and Gomorrah, which God proposes to destroy, so bad are the reports of their behavior.  And they were bad . . . very very bad.  Alive with the promise of new life for himself and Sarah, Abraham does not hold back in fear . . . rather Abraham wheedles, cajoles, negotiates with, and even threatens God with the loss of God’s own honor should God do this thing . . . Far be that from you (to kill the righteous with the wicked)!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?  
          Abraham’s love is not limited to his own family or tribe; it is not even limited to those who deserve that love, for Abraham bargains for the lives of everyone in the two cities . . . and God agrees!  The love of a good father for his family changes how he sees the whole world. . . for a good father sees the whole world through the eyes of love.
          A good father is thankful and prays for his children.  In the Qu’ran, the Muslim holy book, Ibrahim (Abraham) prays to God, “Praise be to Allah, Who has given me in my old age, Ishmael and Isaac.  My Lord, make me, and my descendants, steadfast in prayer.
          A good father is not perfect; a good father makes mistakes . . . Abraham tricks powerful men who give him hospitality into thinking that Sarah is his sister rather than his wife . . . twice!  Abraham sends Ishmael away into the desert to please Sarah . . . Abraham takes a knife in hand to sacrifice Isaac . . . the same Abraham who argued and pled with God on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah says not a word in protest about sending away his older son or taking a knife to his younger one.  Feiler notes that Jewish thought suggests that Abraham was testing God rather than the other way around.  The only problem with this is that Abraham tested God with lives other than his own, with the lives and well being of his sons.  Even good fathers make mistakes.
          In trying to make sense of all of this, especially about the story of the sacrifice of his son, Jewish believers have understood the story to stand for the place of suffering a believer must endure for their faith; Christian believers emphasize the aspect of faith; and Muslim believers, the importance of Abraham’s obedience.
          Suffering, faith, obedience.  Which is it?  Is it all three?  None?  Or something else entirely?  The fact is that even, and perhaps especially, good fathers will be misunderstood by their children.
          A good father was once a son . . .in Christianity and Judaism, Isaac is the one on the altar to be sacrificed; in Islam, it is Ishmael.  But interestingly, all three religions “share a legend surrounding the offering.  Immediately after the [son] is saved, he lies on the altar, clutching the knife, the emotion of the ordeal flooding from his body.  God tells him he will grant him any prayer.  ‘O God, I pray that you grant me this,’ the [son] says.  ‘When any person in any era meets you at the gates of heaven – whether they believe in your or not –I ask that you allow them to enter Paradise.” (Feiler, p. 109).
          Finally, a good father seeks the reconciliation of all his children . . . in Abraham’s case, that was not to be until his death, and then, maybe only for an instant.  In Genesis 25.9, we read that Abraham’s sons “Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah . . . east of Mamre . . . with his wife Sarah.
          Feiler says that Abraham “dies at peace.  Even better, his death promotes peace.  At Abraham’s burial, his two most prominent sons, rivals since before they were born, estranged since childhood, scions of rival nations, come together . . . Abraham achieves in death what he could never achieve in life:  a moment of reconciliation between his two sons . . .”  (p. 208).
          Could it really be that many of the struggles of the three faiths today can be reduced to a family squabble, albeit a squabble of epic proportions?  Could it be that we are all really just trying to say, “Daddy loves me best?”  Maybe.
          And maybe it’s time, from the world’s stage to the privacy of our own homes, to embrace the notion of Muslim Sheikh Abu Sneina, “So was Abraham a Muslim? . . . For me, Abraham submitted himself to Allah.  He did everything for God.  I don’t know if he’s like me, but I would like to be like him.”  (p. 163).
          Maybe we should worry more about whether we’re like Abraham and less about whether Abraham is like us.
          It’s what a good father would want from and for his children.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Mountain Cheesemaker

Should you be mislead in your search for the perfect cheese recipe, let me assure you, your search continues . . .

Whatever this is, it is most definitely not a treatise on that perfect Gruyere . . .

Allow me to introduce myself . . .

My name is Beth

I live in the mountains

I have never, and I do mean never, made cheese . . .

But I am a huge fan of Monty Python

Love Life of Brian

And fancy myself one of the ‘cheesemakers’ Jesus blessed therein [translate: blessed are the peacemakers]

Admit it - like me, you really wish Jesus had blessed the cheesemakers instead - it would have made life so much easier if all I had to do was go out and learn to make a fine cheddar - with all its challenges, that’s got to be so much easier than making peace . . .

And in the end, the cheesemakers have a fine wheel of something very tasty to show for all their effort, while all I have is more fighting and discord and disagreement and disharmony and dysfunction and and and any other dis– you can think of . . .

Not that I’m complaining, mind you – well, maybe a little. . . but I continue to be surprised that the efforts at peacemaking so often result in more discord, that the attempt to secure justice, at least for a time, increases injustice.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This Newtonian law of momentum holds that “all forces are interactions between two different bodies.” [fn]

It would seem that Newton’s third law holds true in the world of the exchange of ideas as well.  It’s the only explanation I’ve got (nod to social scientists, who I’m sure can do better) as to why various propositions for peaceful resolution meet such anger and violence and resistance.

Virtually all humans claim to desire, even to long for, peace.  Yet proposals for peaceful change are often, if not usually, met with anger.

Resistance to change and the cost of that change to the individual or its society as a whole can offer only a partial explanation.  For the fact is that every war results in change and enormous cost.  Yet few wars provoke the violent response in the citizenry that calls for peace do.

Hypothesis: humans are on a trajectory of war and violence.  Ways of being peace would alter the trajectory.  Resistance is the predictable result.  Newton was more right than he knew.

Yet, if this is true, why does the trajectory of war and violence not yield an ‘equal and opposite reaction’ of peaceseeking?  Perhaps it does.  Perhaps by its very nature, the impulse to peace is quieter, more low to the ground, than the impulse to war, so that the ‘reaction’ of peace goes by unnoticed, even, sometimes, by those who seek it most fervently.

The Christian answer in these United States today to war and violence often includes statements offered so matter-of-factly that they are proffered as axiomatic: I’m not Jesus.  I’m not that good a person.  Jesus didn’t have to contend with nukes.  Even Jesus was violent (referring to the money-changers incident, but forgetting, somehow, the cross).  They’re evil.  They need killing.  What else can we do?

It is settling for so much less than the gospel of the Risen Christ, these reasons to stay on the course we’ve set for ourselves.

Perhaps peace is the dream of God.  But if there are any dreams in the universe that have a chance of coming true, surely they’re the dreams of God.

To all the peacemaking cheesemakers or cheesemaking peacemakers seeking your blessing, I say, blessed are you.

[fn]  C Hellingman (1992). "Newton’s third law revisited". Phys. Educ. 27 (2): 112–115. Bibcode 1992PhyEd..27..112H, per Wikipedia article on Newton’s Laws of Motion.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Idyllic Life

I have an idyllic life.

I step out into the yard at night and hear the peepers and the water running and gaze at the stars and wonder at all who are beholding the same sight.

In the cool of the morning, the birds begin to stir and the gold finches captivate me.  Ben says they shouldn’t be called ‘gold’ finches, but rather SCHOOL BUS YELLOW finches when he comes home one day having seen a flock of them.

In the heat of mid-day, I can practically watch my three precious tomato plants growing, a gift from a congregant who would take no money from me for them.

Randomly, I hear the laughter of children and remember Ali, who is about to graduate from high school, when she was four years old, jumping into my arms with the abandon and joy only children seem to know.

Girls camp under the wisteria, hidden from view in its cave recesses and giggle and I think of grandson Rowen and the look of wonder on his face when he first dared to enter the wisteria cave himself, a wee boy of three.

It’s evening now and the doves are cooing and I remember the white dove Max and I saw on the roof at the apartment in Baghdad.  It was so still for so long, regarding us with such compassionate eyes, we were sure we had been visited by the Holy Spirit.

Everything is so connected and each thing reminds me of another.  Each thing is a touchstone to a bit of the past and a gateway to the future – a future I cannot see.  But I have no need.  As I said, I have an idyllic life.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Significant Pause

[A reflection-sermon on Ascension Sunday and Acts 1 from last year.  The phrase "a significant pause" is from theologian Karl Barth.]

Later in the story
Saul persecutes . . . even kills . . . seeking to destroy . . . the church . . .
and Jesus pleads with him to know . . .
why do you persecute me?
But now, just now . . .
is the waiting time . . .
the gasping for air in-between time . . .
the time of silent symphonies . . .
and roaring silences . . .
It is the time of His gone-ness . . .
He is gone . . .
And I . . . I
Gaping into space
like a domestic turkey
too stupid to come in out of the rain
In real danger of drowning in my own curiosity
while a world still loves and hates
watches and waits
and all I can manage is a stare
my hopes and dreams laid bare to the
The gone-ness
Of Him to whom I gave so much


how did it look on that day . . . ?
You may suppose that he looked like Superman
charging into the cosmos
Right arm extended in a fist
Or index finger pointed up -
a Sistine chapel moment if ever there was
Or, as Dali imagines,
His body falling into it
gracefully rising
As if lying on unseen hands
Like the hands that hold us up as children learning to swim

with only the soles of his feet visible to my peering eyes . . .
How fitting it would be his feet . . .
The feet that were kissed . . .
And wept over . . .
And anointed . . .
And pierced with hammering nails . . .
The feet that walked the land . . .
And supported his body through so much . . .
Balancing the body in knelt prayer . . .
Feet flying into the temple . . . slapping the marble with their rage . . .
Those were the feet I saw that day when He was taken up . . .

the vertical plane of up and down to us ‘below’
somehow horizontal to him . . .
An unwitting cross made even from his movement
From ‘this world to the next’?
Was it Dali’s dream that day?
Did he ascend into an atom so big and so small at the same time
that even the painters eye couldn’t quite capture the moment?
Did the openness of heaven look like a sunflower?

I think so . . .
I think it was more like Dali’s dreams
than Michaelangelo’s
but it’s hard to say
even though I was there
some things
defy description
and I am left groping
The mind simply too small to grasp
What it has witnessed

And this too-small-mind is what He wants me to use?
To ‘witness’
To all that was seen
And heard
And felt
And changed?

How can my little brain be up to this?
There aren’t enough atoms in all the world
let alone in my wee thoughts
To give voice
And so
I am silent
Vacant stared
Unaware even of angels

And yet . . .
Somehow . . .
I . . . am . . . the . . . mystery?
Paul makes it sound so easy . . .
“When He ascended on high He made captivity itself a captive and He gave gifts to His people”
Paul was always a good one for a nice turn of phrase . . .
“He made captivity itself a captive”
Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
Sounds of freedom . . .
Yours and mine . . .
Oh, and it comes with parting gifts too?
Lucky me!  Lucky us!


Who am I?
I who was there that day
and am here still?

I am the body of Christ . . .
I am the people gathered in His name
Birthed by Christ . . .
I even have a birthday . . .
Pentecost . . . literally ‘the 50th day’ . . .
The 50th day after Jesus was resurrected . . .
Ten days after Jesus was ‘taken up’ (ascended)
The day the Holy Spirit ‘came down’

I am The Witness . . .
Swear me in and I’ll tell you truly . . .
My life is my oath . . .
And my testimony . . .
I was nothing . . .
Just a hand-full of folk . . .
And they died . . . as all humans do . . .
They died . . . but I didn’t . . .

I was nothing . . . I am nothing . . .
But . . . somehow . . . I was and I am . . .
Something . . .
Something amazing and wonderful . . .

I am the koinonia . . .
The fellowship . . .
The ‘where two or more are gathered’ folk . . .
There is no me without Christ . . .
And there is no Christ on earth without me . . .

The church . . . that’s me . . .
The place where no self-respecting, enlightened thinker of this century
would be caught dead . . .
The people and place who have made it their job to bore children to tears .
Purveyor of superstition . . .
Keeper of dead texts . . .
Defender of a faith long made irrelevant .
Flawed failure . . .

His people . . .
Receivers of gifts . . .
Followers of The Way . . .
Members of a family . . . dysfunctional as it may be . . .
The church . . .
The ecclesia . . . the gathered ones . . .
Dismiss me if you will . . .
But remember . . .
I was there on that day . . .
I saw and heard and felt what cannot be described . . .
And for all my foolish star-gazing . . .
Every now and then
I actually look around me
And with nothing more than my own two hands
Nothing more than God, that is . . .
I have changed a world . . .
And am changing it still . . .


I am still tempted to sky gazing . . .
Searching for the God standing right in front of me . . .
Looking for the Divine in the night sky
and missing that of God in the wrinkled hands clinging to mine
And even angels have a hard time getting me to look around and see . . .
But I am all He has . . .
And I am all He has!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Auden, Anita and Che

An Auden Moment

From As I Walked Out One Evening, by W. H. Auden

'O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

Friends and loved ones come into and out of our lives . . . mostly they enter and exit peacefully . . . but even with the gentle exits of moving away, losing touch, drifting apart, there is pain . . . but what of the pain of the living for the dead and dying?

Whose pain is it?

What right have we who are not dead or dying to feel pain for or with or around those who are?

Whose pain is it?

A friend imagines the horrors of war and terror and feels the pain of strangers.

Mostly, we cannot feel each other’s pain. . . maybe not ever . . .   Empathy is as close as we can get.  Some are better at it than others.  A few seem to have been born with an empathetic gene — you know the ones – people who seem to be natural listeners, the ones to whom everybody flocks in sorrow times.

But most of us learn empathy, usually the hard way.  Maybe it happens in an instant.  Maybe it takes a lifetime.  But there we are, thinking only of self and how this affects the very important ‘me’ of the situation, when something turns in us and we become aware, if only for an instant, of the other and the reality of their separate existence, of their pain . . . and their beauty . . . and the glory of their existence . . .

I think on Auden and my friend Anita and Che Guevera . . . an unlikely trio . . . Anita, who introduced me to the story of Che at his trial . . . a woman much later in life recounts being there and how it changed her life that when he was sentenced to die, Che looked . . . directly . . . at . . . her . . . Anita’s voice in the dark night of the stairwell we sit in in Baghdad, smoking our cigarettes away from offended noses and lungs, comes at me with this story . . . or maybe it was bright daylight and we were on the roof . . . Everybody puts themselves center stage, Beth, she says.  Do you really think Che Guevera gave one hoot about that little girl?  I doubt he even saw her.  He had just been sentenced to death, #@!!#@!

Knowingly, we both suck on our cigs and let out long sighing exhales.

But what I secretly know is that I’m not like Anita.  I’m that 9-year-old girl, sure Che is looking at me.

And it isn’t just that we put ourselves center stage, is it?  In our rush to be in the middle of it all, we push each other off . . . there isn’t even room for you to make a cameo appearance, let alone be best supporting actor on my stage when I’m in full-on Beth mode.

So how can I truly love the you that is you when I can barely let you step, even briefly, onto my stage?

An Auden moment . . . that’s what I’m in need of . . .

“Then, in June 1933, Auden experienced what he later called a ‘Vision of Agape’. He was sitting on a lawn with three colleagues from the school where he was teaching, when, he wrote, ‘quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly – because, thanks to the power, I was doing it – what it meant to love one’s neighbor as oneself.’” from Selected Poems, by W. H. Auden, Edward Mendelson, Ed.

Somehow, it gets all mixed in together for me, this over value of self with undervalue of other with judging both self and other with anger and with sadness with love with beauty . . . it’s all of one piece, somehow . . .

I don’t think I’ve had an Auden moment yet . . . I’ve come close . . . but that was empathy . . . sorrow at another’s sorrow . . . caring because they cared . . . it’s close, but it’s not quite there . . . there . . . there where the neighbor lives . . . there, on the neighbor’s stage . . . there, where I have no place, and yet am still blessed to merely sit and watch and be . . .

I know the place . . .but I haven’t been there yet . . .

A Summer Night, by W. H. Auden

Out on the lawn I lie in bed,
Vega conspicuous overhead
In the windless nights of June,
As congregated leaves complete
Their day’s activity; my feet
Point to the rising moon.

Lucky, this point in time and space
Is chosen as my working-place,
Where the sexy airs of summer,
The bathing hours and the bare arms,
The leisured drives through a land of farms
Are good to a newcomer.

Equal with colleagues in a ring
I sit on each calm evening
Enchanted as the flowers
The opening light draws out of hiding
With all its gradual dove-like pleading,
Its logic and its powers:

That later we, though parted then,
May still recall these evenings when
Fear gave his watch no look;
The lion griefs loped from the shade
And on our knees their muzzles laid,
And Death put down his book.

Now north and south and east and west
Those I love lie down to rest;
The moon looks on them all,
The healers and the brilliant talkers,
The eccentrics and the silent walkers,
The dumpy and the tall.

She climbs the European sky,
Churches and power stations lie
Alike among earth’s fixtures:
Into the galleries she peers
And blankly as a butcher stares
Upon the marvelous pictures.

To gravity attentive, she
Can notice nothing here, though we
Whom hunger does not move,
From gardens where we feel secure
Look up and with a sigh endure
The tyrannies of love:

And, gentle, do not care to know,
Where Poland draws her eastern bow,
What violence is done,
Nor ask what doubtful act allows
Our freedom in this English house,
Our picnics in the sun.

Soon, soon, through the dykes of our content
The crumpling flood will force a rent
And, taller than a tree,
Hold sudden death before our eyes
Whose river dreams long hid the size
And vigours of the sea.

But when the waters make retreat
And through the black mud first the wheat
In shy green stalks appears,
When stranded monsters gasping lie,
And sounds of riveting terrify
Their whorled unsubtle ears,

May these delights we dread to lose,
This privacy, need no excuse
But to that strength belong,
As through a child’s rash happy cries
The drowned parental voices rise
In unlamenting song.

After discharges of alarm
All unpredicted let them calm
The pulse of nervous nations,
Forgive the murderer in the glass,
Tough in their patience to surpass
The tigress her swift motions.