Poems for Holy Week (IV)

Poems for Holy Week (IV)

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”  In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!  Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”(which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

MARK 15:29-34

(See also PSALM 22)

 

Forsaken

So far from the words of my groaning,
my God, you do not respond. The day
is night and I am a worm
in the downpour. Yet you are holy.

I am the skunked wine they lift
and spill over this desert tongue;
I am encompassed, I am hung
by a madness so complete they call it sane—

your name be praised. My God,
what have you done? The wick
grows dim, the wax runs, I melt—
I cannot fill myself with breath—
and would you snuf me out?

-Sarah Crowley Chestnut

Poems for Holy Week (V)

Poems for Holy Week (V)

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

JOHN 19:28-29

Sour Wine

 In the beginning was the Cross
And the Cross was with God.  And the Cross was God.
Moreover the depths: surf-stacked


 Towers tilting right, tilting left.         

Pass through,
Hurry now—over the long, dry tongue of sand.

I am the Lord upon many waters, I am the

Rung-out God, enthroned above the flood.
See it now?  These rivers of living water?
Tip your wine-soaked sponge to my split lips—
Yes, the wine is mine.  The water, too.  And the thirst.

-Sarah Crowley Chestnut

Christ on the Cross, Salvador Dali

Book Recommendation: “Spiritual Friendship” by Wesley Hill

Book Recommendation: Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill

Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christianis Wesley Hill’s second book on Christianity and homosexuality. Wesley, who is a professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry, identifies himself as a “celibate Gay Christian,” meaning someone who has only experienced attraction to people of the same sex, but as a Christian, is convinced that the biblical teaching on human sexuality precludes acting on this attraction. Wesley has written on the topic before in his book, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, and in both books he exemplifies a unique ability to tell his own story through deep, theological reflection in a way that is intellectually compelling, deeply human and often poetic. While Washed and Waiting chronicles how he came to terms with these issues in his own life, Spiritual Friendship is something of a follow-up which hopes to re-introduce the church to the theological richness of “friendship” as a missing but potentially vital component to the discussion around human sexuality.  Early in the book Wesley writes, “Friendship is a good and godly love in its own right, just as worthy of attention, nurture and respect as any other form of Christian affection. That is what the Christian tradition has mainly said and that’s what I want to say – from a fresh angle of vision – in this book, too” (xx).

 

And that is what Wesley does in just under 140 pages. The book comes in two parts, each comprised of three chapters. The first part, “Reading Friendship” (which is perhaps the most sobering/saddening/insightful part of the book), narrates the disintegration of friendship in modern life. Wesley points to multiple reasons for this, including our shared Post-Freudian inheritance of a deep suspicion that all relationships are motivated by subterranean sexual desire, the elevated status of marriage, and the nuclear family as the exemplary form of human relationship, as well as the Enlightenment conviction that being tied down or committed to anything, especially a friendship, can only inhibit our own self-determining happiness. While his lucid style can lend itself to a casual read, this section merits close attention, evident as it is that he has done his homework on how we moderns have come to think of friendships in such a diminished manner compared to the elevated status our predecessors gave it.

The second part, “Living Friendship,” contains a call for the church to re-discover the forgotten art of friendship, and in particular “spiritual friendship.” For Wesley, “Spiritual Friendship” is a formal and communally acknowledged vow of friendship between two people of the same sex. He sees this as a fruitful way forward for those in the church who, like himself, identify as same-sex attracted but remain convinced of traditional Christian sexual ethics – a pairing that often leads down a life-long path of loneliness without intimacy.

Throughout both parts of the book, Wesley knits together honest and intimate personal experience, well-researched theological reflection, sober analysis of our current cultural moment and that of previous ages, weaving one coherent and highly readable plea for all in the Christian church, both gay and straight, to rediscover the good and hard work of friendship. His basic argument is that one of the primary ways the church has failed those of its own who experience same-sex attraction but hold to a traditional sexual ethic, is that we have over-emphasized marital relationships to the exclusion of friendship. This then all too often implies a diminished status of solitary loneliness for those who are unable to marry. Instead, with the help of many of the Christian tradition’s brightest moments, Wesley traces a tradition of intimate same-sex love which is expressed not through sex and marriage but through chaste, committed friendships. In fact, some of the most thought-provoking material in the book looks to ways in which Christians in centuries past entered into and celebrated these “vowed spiritual siblinghoods.” While Wesley offers a rich celebration of the goodness and power of intimate, committed friendship, he is sober enough to know that proposing friendship alone is no magic bullet for solving all the complicated and personal issues that churches face in caring for people with same-sex attraction. Still, he is convinced it is a wonderful and important place to start!

Wesley’s proposal for the church grabs one’s attention in large part because it avoids the publicity stunts, blanket condemnations, and oversimplification that has all too often characterized the discussion. Instead, Wesley speaks with the gentle voice of experience, creativity, compassion, informed conviction, wisdom and humility. This book (along with Wesley’s others) comes as a highly recommended resource for anyone interested in issues surrounding friendship, human sexuality more broadly, as well as LBGTQ issues within the church.

Poems for Holy Week (VI)

Poems for Holy Week (VI)

 

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

 

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.  The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.   

 

JOHN 19:30-34

 

 

 

Finished

 

The wine severs in its descent.
How long has it been poured
before spilling in grisly torrents 

 

down your chin?  It rends you as it rides
this seismic current from heaven
to earth until it finds the spear’s slit.

 

Until now each dove and lamb
were fingers plugging holes
in the most impossible dam. 

 

But you are the burst wall
so water and blood gush eternal—
you break to effect the impossible

 

turning of the most impossible tide.
Come.  Put your hand into my side.

 

-Sarah Crowley Chestnut

 

 

Poems for Holy Week (VII)

Poems for Holy Week (VII)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last…

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God.  Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body.  Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.

LUKE 23:44-46; 50-53

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Into Your Hands

It’s the care of commitment when all is done—
Reverberant cry lobbed as a prayer;
Silence echoes inside the hum.
 

Light bleeds as a cure from the staggering sun
And by some unseen hand the veil is split with
Care.  Such commitment to a job well done
 

Hangs like a flag, pounds like a drum.
Were you always first to volunteer to face
The silence that blares inside the hum?
 

You held the note and held the line—
Did you hold your breath to exhale your life?
This, the care of commitment.  All is done.
 

When the spectacle sinks, flies or slumps,
We stagger blind, shell-shocked and dumb.
Silence rings inside the hum.
 

Is war silent?  Combat, still?
Hush of linen wrapped limb by limb to fulfill
The care of commitment.  All is done
To silence the scream inside the hum.

 -Sarah Crowley Chestnut

(Descent From the Cross, Rembrandt)