Just another thought: Thin ice & the Gospel

The more aware I become of how thin the ice is that we’re all skating on,
the heavier my heart and footsteps become. The more heavy-hearted I am,
the more plodding my steps, the more I risk breaking through the ice
and sinking into piercing cold and suffocating darkness.
From here, the only theology of “Good News” that matters
looks like a branch, a blanket, and an embrace.
Anything else is just more thin ice.

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Cradle Song

 

I wake early and make the hour long train trip to a doctor’s appointment. We finally arrive at the train depot in the transportation center and I step out of the train with the sleepy-eyed ┬ácommuting workers and texting students and make my way to the bus terminal. I feel wide-eyed in the city this morning; like I’ve never been here before, even though my physical therapy appointments mean I’m here at least once a week, sometimes twice. Today, though, the steel gray of the normally sunny skies, somehow seems to emphasize, rather than cover, other shadows: the streets are dirtier, the hungry are hungrier; hope seems to always slip in the pavement cracks or slide around buried rebel roots just before I can step in it. I aim, step forward, and hope evaporates. I’m puddle jumping in a hope mirage. The violence of racism, the inhumanity of police-state brutality, and injustice across this country continues to grow, continues to break my heart and then, when I’m weak and tired, invite me to despair. I haven’t felt more like giving Christmas a complete pass than I do this year in a long time. Just meet it at the door at Twelve midnight, December 24, explain, “No, just not this year. I’m sorry, not this year,” and go back to bed, or prayer, or the streets. At the transportation center, the connecting hub for the regional train, the Amtrak, and the city buses, I look around and I can’t help but think of lyrics from Les Miserables:

“At the end of the day

You’re another day older,

that’s all you can say

for the life of the poor.

It’s a struggle, it’s a war,

and there’s nothing that anyone’s giving

One more day, standing about, what is it for?

One day less to be living.”

The Broadway lyrics in my head are interrupted by the Christmas carols playing over the speakers amid the morning rush and exhaust:

“Come, they told me, ” the song began and they seemed to. I look around and see them shuffling. The crew cut blonde guy with defeat in his eyes older than he is shuffles right into my personal space and behind me, studying every crevice and corner for a cigarette butt. He looks up just enough and just often enough as a safety precaution. He is maybe twenty-three. Stooped, leveled, solidly defeated at twenty-three.

“Our finest gifts we bring…pa rump a bum bum,” the story of the drummer boy continues while a few feet away a half a dozen others are shuffling. One man is rummaging through a trash can. Another shuffles left, then right, but never shuffling too far away to protect his two thirteen-gallon kitchen trash bags full of aluminum cans for recycling. I wonder what desperation is making this necessary: his own hunger, his family, needing medication, or a fix for an addiction, but no matter what the reason, they all grow despair, they each rob our spirit and leech our humanity.

“I am a poor boy, too…pa rump a bum bum,” the steady, solemn carol continues and I think that there, in that one unassuming word of the carol, seemes to be the key: “too,” “I am a poor boy, too,” a poor boy, also; a poor boy like you: a King on the inside but poor on the out. One of the half dozen homeless men is moving in start and stop, herky jerky, wide circular motions, his hands in the waist of his layers of pants. The others continue, intense as a forensics team, scouring the area for change or cigarette butts. And this, this is their long day and their hungry night; every night, their every day; everyday for what the Les Miserables lyricist called “the wretched of the earth.” For me, this is a few minutes of my day on my way to my physical therapy appointment. These are lean times. I have nothing extra to share today. My spouse and I live simply; more faith than funds, but I’m assured of at least my next meal and sometimes I remember my song.

Of all that I don’t remember from my childhood, I remember that someone sang over me when I was a baby. I had a cradle song and it seemed only logical that if you’ve got a cradle song then you know for sure what your Homecoming song will be. I wonder, did Christ at Calvary hear even an echo in His Mother’s weeping of His cradle song, of Mary’s Magnificat. I wonder if it welcomed Him home. I wonder if these shuffling, searching men had a cradle song, if they had someone to sing over them. I wonder if it would matter at all now, if they did have one, but they didn’t even know it. “Probably not,” I think, “except maybe, maybe some grace could let a humble and very late cradle song still be their Homecoming song; at least as a back up. If there’s a Book of Life, there’s bound to be an even Bigger Book of Commentary, Corrections, and Back up Homecoming Songs. Everyone has to have a welcome song, especially when the world has been so cold, so brutal; when our waiting, our Advent, has been so long. We should have a Homecoming song. So I grabbed the bus schedule and around its paramenter I wrote:

“This cradle song’s for the brokenhearted,

Hope is born for wounded souls;

Calling all to come as children:

The scared, the least, the left behind.

Lay down your cares,

Let Me dry all your tears,

Trade your songs of sorrow now

For the Savior’s lullaby:

“I rest in Jesus

as Jesus rests in me.

I’m never afraid

Nestled in the Prince of Peace,

I’m never afraid, nestled in the Prince of Peace.”

I look up from the bus schedule as the aluminum can man boards a city bus followed by a few of his friends, leaving the others to scatter.

We all scatter, all of us, all of our cradle songs half-remembered, our stories untold, and Homecoming songs unsung.

We all scatter, brothers unclaimed.

– PreetamDas Kirtana 12/8/14

Almost Never

I almost never want to be you anymore.

I almost never want to be anyone other than myself, which is a surprising thought to hear in my own head. The shiny, new lack of envy isn’t the result of a sudden mastery of self-care and self-esteem and self-worth and self-love; no, there’s too much self-focus there to leave much room for love. This is closer to resignation than deep contentment. Settling into the creaking, knotty pine rocker of my own skin comes, I think, from just paying a bit more attention, from seeing even a little bit below the surface, that, and getting older.

I almost never want to be you anymore.

I understand that to be you and enjoy your privilege – to never worry about money or food or being warm; to never be concerned about eating the last, using the last or making something last – to enjoy your privilege would likely cost me my empathy. It might dry up my compassion, as well as my tears.

I almost never want to be you anymore.

I understand that with your amazing square jaw also comes your fallen arches.

Your beautiful spouse also comes with her parents and family and all of their collective baggage.

To be you to have your great head of hair would cost me my hard-won smile.

With each story people share with me I understand a little more that it is not cliche’, but an inescapable fact: that we are each and all of us fighting our own battles; that we each do have our own cross to bear.

More and more, I almost never want to be you anymore,

almost never, except now,

when it’s dark and cold and Christmas,

when the summer-long hours of desert sun no longer dare my darkness to surface,

when the August heat no longer holds the constant winter draft of abandonment at bay,

when these days are so short that sunset brings a soft, golden sadness,

then, now, everytime,

something happens to my memory,

a sort of soul amnesia flowers barely noticed,

and I forget, sometimes, that I don’t want to be you;

not anymore,

except,

after the first snow fall

and until I’m convinced,

again this year,

that there will be a thaw, that the cold draft will end,

that someone will shut the door and this time,

I’ll be on the Inside; enclosed, not closed out,

until I’m convinced of my imminent and annual

surprise of Spring;

the consistent surprise

that any of us are still here at all;

Until then.

– PreetamDas Kirtana, 12/1/14 Continue reading Almost Never