A Psalm of Grief (for Manchester)

I feel your presence yet I know it cannot be, 
    even as I welcome your embrace.

I speak of what I cannot truly know
    and still I sense that you are somehow here.

I have struggled for a way to name your face, 
    a name that is not empty or in vain,

Yet something that compels me in the hush
    even whispered in this busy-ness;

“I have been sorrow. 
    I have been death-bound.”

“I have been nailed to a cross.” 
    “I have been tied to a fence post.”

”I have been burned
    like trees and books and sinners.”

While I wait upon your word to set me free, 
    even as I’m chained by my own grief.

“I am the song of someone dying.” 
    ”I am the singing of an empty tomb.”

In empty buildings and in withering hearts, 
    a song at once exalted and yet futile,

I search for you in words and pages, 
    in earth, in sunsets, and the vain
        puffery of heroes.

I search not knowing anything at all. 
    I seek not seeing yet beyond myself.

I knock on doors at empty houses, 
    ask each wrong question ever so sincerely.

I beg for solace, knowing even still
    I must embrace the pains we’ve bred.

I find you in the trite advance of death, 
    the inexorable wracking pains of birth.

I surrender, not for any other reason
    than that I must for mercy’s sake,

Because there’s nothing else; 
    because I’m empty and I’m tired.

I surrender myself up to foolishness, 
    for I am merely not enough,

And hope that I am not alone, 
    and know that I cannot suffice.


Among the towers we have raised, 
    and the temples we have vainly built;

Among these endless humming streets, 
    our ceaseless songs of war;

Crumbling beneath the weight of bones, 
    the howling winds which scour,

Cry the voices of our prophets, 
    our parents who believed

That you were with them, trusting, 
    according to some ancient word and nothing more

In an old book, ribbon-marked, 
    the hue of blood on winter's page.

I am yours, because there is no other. 
    I am yours, because I am already dead.

I am yours, even as I live; 
    because the truth of you weeps from the skies

Because you are the only one
    who can make us better than we are.

© 2017, Karekin M Yarian

Chrisma (from Trias I.)

Our heads will bow to
Willow in the sun’s fair light
While this earth reaches

For soil on our musty tongues,
The spring to pierce our low plains.

Lay these long cloaks down
To dance among the lumbering
Beasts, the foaling mares,

Moaning softly, hosannas
Praising, though our breath comes quick,

Whispered in prayer, rough
Incantations over hands
Sticky with leaven.

As our long arms sway, blessing,
Near the river’s restless shelf,

They scatter a word
On wind-song, the sweet promised
Root, our bread and kin-

Ship rising from the tumble
Pregnant with a covenant.

Vessels made of clay
That seethe and ferment, stretch and
Overflow with us

Who groan in fleshly tangle
Of poetry, the plucked string,

On the threshing floor
While lovers kiss or tickle
In straw and pale light,

And riotous reflection
of moon in our wooden cup.

© 2017, Karekin M Yarian, BSG

A Christian Stand Against Empire (pt. 2)

The first part of this reflection (see previous post) spoke mainly to the “why” of a Christian’s duty to oppose empire. In fact, it spoke to the sinfulness - even blasphemy - of a Christian’s unequivocal support of the state as opposed to the Kingdom of God. But, I didn’t speak much to the ways in which a Christian might do this. This post is not intended to be prescriptive. How a faithful Christian seeks to stand in opposition to empire is an individual matter. But here is a framework of thoughts in support of Christian witness against the abuses of empire, and perspectives a Christian might cultivate that are congruent with the Scriptural witness and the prophetic tradition of our faith.

1. A Christian’s duty is to remain in the world while not being of the world.  In other words, you are citizens of no country but the holy Reign of God. Perhaps more accurately, citizens of the Kingdom, but residents of the world. This means that no flag, no leader, no nation or government holds higher allegiance than God's Kingdom. It also means that Christians have a primary responsibility to live WITHIN the world at peace! So the world may see your good deeds, not your ill behavior and self-righteousness. Not at war…because it is contrary to the will of God that we should exercise violence in the world even to achieve what we believe worthy. No violence ever. Rhetorical, psychological, physical, or otherwise. It is not our place.

2. Stand in opposition to any attempts by states, nations, powers to war against other nations. War in an abomination. The language of war is abomination. The committing of it should be off limits to all Christian people. Just War Theory is an absolute fraud. Using metaphors of war and militarism (such as the War on Drugs, Intelligence Czar, Security state) is a demonstrable form of psychological violence that inures us to the realities of militaristic violence. 

3. Stand with those who are most marginalized by the prevailing culture. Do not countenance the denigration of the poor or the dismantling of our societal obligations to care for them. Follow the Scripture’s mandate to treat the alien and foreigner with dignity. Follow Jesus’ example to treat women with respect and help to see them empowered. Work for the end of racist policy. Work for restorative justice rather than state supported retribution. See capital punishment for what it is…state sanctioned murder.

4. Do not let the state divide you from one another. Do not let the state keep you in constant fear. Do not let the state convince you that someone else has less value or dignity than you, or that anyone indeed has more! Wealth is a stumbling block to grace, not a sign of it! God doesn’t countenance hierarchies of value among his beloved children, unless of course it is by making the least into the first. Neither should you. Every human being who ever lived, who lives now, who has yet to be born, is of immeasurable and precious value to God. Treat them accordingly.

5. Remember that the world is broken by sin. And that the Ruler of this world desires conflict and destruction. Bear witness always to God’s call to love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness. And trust that these will one day prevail. But we must be faithful.

6. Accept no violence! No matter how “worthy” the goal of said violence, it is more often likely that violence is the means of the state to secure more power for itself. And that always comes at the expense of God’s beloved children.

7. Strive always for right relationships between people, seeking healing rather than division; freedom rather than imprisonment; safety for all rather than mere security for some. Strive for right relationship between people and the creation we inhabit. If God created and blessed it, who are we to destroy it?

8. Never let the state reduce your value to what you spend, how much you consume, or how much you produce. Economics is no judge of human value or dignity. Remember the Widow’s mite. Learn the word “enough.” It is not a Christian duty to spend money to help bolster an economy that has been destroyed by the state’s pre-disposition to war. Or that has been ravaged by the greed of the wealthiest class that profits from war. A Christian's duty is to call for all people to have what they need in accordance with their human dignity.

9. Become informed. Educate yourself. A Christian duty is to see the world the way it is. Not to retreat into some foolish wishful thinking or fantasy. God gave us minds to think, and commanded that we should love God with them, as well as with our hearts, our souls, our strength. Retreating into a primitive worldview robbed of scientific discovery is to miss the chance to see God’s majesty and blessing unfold in ever new awe inspiring ways. Jesus heals the blind man. Precisely so that he could see and glorify God. Don’t let your answer to his question “do you want to be healed…” be “No.”

10. Reconcile yourself to death. Lose the fear of it. This is a Christian’s greatest duty besides the call to love. Empire loves to leverage our fear of death to extract our compliance with nearly every abuse it commits. From war to state sanctioned violence, to criminalization and incarceration of those who the culture “others” so that we remain fearful. These rely on our fears to be given the freedom to expand without accountability. Resist the fear by becoming familiar and at ease with the inevitability of your death. 

11. Remember….there is absolutely no such thing as a Christian Empire or even a Christian nation. The very idea is nothing more than an idolatrous creation of human sin whose aim is to subvert God’s Kingdom. It is a shadow facsimile that appeals to our sinful nature. We cannot create the Kingdom on Earth. That is God’s work. Ours is, like John the Baptist, to call the faithful to prepare the way.  

A Christian Stand Against Empire

I firmly believe that my responsibility as a person of the Christian faith is to stand in opposition to empire. To speak out openly against every use or mis-use of power by one over another that leads to marginalization or oppression. I do this because the Master that I choose to follow was very clear that the Kingdom of God that we long for is characterized by the end of authority, power, and the rule of any group or individual over any other. The chief metaphor for this in the language of my faith is the story of a God who poured God's own self out completely to become incarnate in the flesh as a powerless human being in an insignificant backwater and was murdered by the state for proclaiming love as the new ordering principle of all human relationship.

In fact, the entire lens through which I view my faith stories is one of a struggling people who had chosen to have a human King rather than be ruled by the God who covenanted with them and struggled over subsequent generations with the fallout; a prophetic tradition that calls out the privileged for their complicity in marginalizing the poor; and the teachings of Christ about the re-establishment of God’s holy reign. One characterized by non-violence, humility, mutual self-giving, justice, mercy, and love.

I’m not sure at all if I am any good at living this vision or standing against the blasphemy of empire. Standing in witness against acts great and small by the powerful and privileged that leech the dignity and humanity away from the oppressed. But I try. I have faith that what I think pleases God does in fact please God. And hope that I live in integrity with my faith. And I have to believe that Christ's commands to love will bear fruit or he wouldn't have given us the new law.

Christian witness in opposition to empire and all of its false idols is a terribly challenging way of life. We are so entrenched in the mechanics of power — state/nation power, economic power, military power, cultural domination — that anyone who stands against it is seen as out of touch or deranged. Peculiar. Oppositional. And yet, we fail to note that in nearly every case we have been taught that the right laws, with the right punishments, or the right people holding the reigns of power will be a solution to whatever we perceive ails us. Our solution to power is almost universally, always, more power directed in opposition. And it doesn’t take too close a look to see how dismally this has failed…is still spectacularly failing! The Crucifixion points out that this use of power is a great lie. For beyond it, the Resurrection demonstrates that power is destroyed by a God who completely abdicated power and, in doing so, even overcame the power of death.

There is no greater blasphemy than a Christian who supports empire - the waging of war, the punishment and retribution of our criminal “justice” system, the systematic denial of human dignity for those that its system of racial and economic privilege has marginalized and oppressed, the worship of money and power. This idolatry is the greatest of sins. It flies in the face of a loving Christ who overturned the money changer’s tables and the hierarchy of power dynamics in communal relationships by proclaiming that in the Kingdom the first shall be last and the last first. The business of domination belongs to the Devil. Dominion is death.

Faithfulness is characterized by self-negation. Self-sacrifice. I am nothing without God. In Christ, I have no power that is my own. I may have courage, humility, patience, and love. But these do not originate in me or my power as much as they are given to me by Christ so that I may be a vessel to pour them out for God’s work in the world. Why? Because I reject any power I may claim for myself knowing that it will ultimately be used by me to - willingly or not - make subject another human being. My husband? My neighbor? A whole population of people who disagree with my social positions or views on justice? The “other” side that the politics of power always convinces us is responsible for our anxieties. Even that “other” side who is convinced to persecute me and mine because they are taught by empire to be afraid.

Be not afraid.

You may be one of those people in my life who hasn’t the foggiest notion as to what moves me. Where on earth my views on politics and power come from. And like I said, I may not actually be very good at following this path to the negation of power and opposition to empire, but it is what motivates me. As a Christian, my highest desire is God. And it is to see the world made whole by God’s grace and love. And to see the flourishing of human freedom, dignity, and peace when we cease to destroy one another and our fragile planet through our violence and subjugation. And to await the day when the love of God will gently guide all things to glorious renewal and re-creation.

For now, I renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. Chief among them, the empire which strives always to separate us from the love of God. Thank goodness we are also promised that this is impossible. 

Soli Deo Gloria

--Br. K

 

 

Prayers from None

A Responsory

We are not merely made of stars and breath, 
    but words emerging from beyond
        the limits of our reach.

We surrender to the hush within that gathers,
    this silence bubbling up from deeper wells,
While love pours out as water from a fountain,
    gathering in pools where we
    may wash our tired feet.

What will we pray, surrendering ourselves? 

Into that fair eternity, beneath our waiting breath,
    where love’s command is now no longer parsed,
far from the hush of evening while we listen,
    we hope for voices, still and small,
drawing love from rivers, fords and springs,
    to gather these fair waters in one place.

Now, while hearts grow plaintive,
    we wander as a flock of birds to find
    the strand on which these starlit lives emerged…

A Collect

O SHORE of teeming shadows, boundary of making, and our solace in the primal deep; be eternal promise for these new-born spirits, roaming, whose muck climbed out upon the earth to see a mocking sky.

Drink deeply from this cup, you ancient ones,
    be satisfied for ever and until your labor’s done.

The Prayers

Can we still claim the prayer our mothers knew: 

Our Father in heaven…

INEFFABLE, humbly we surrender to the gentle
    rolling wave, the undulating song
of olden days, your endless heartbeat melody
    of making and re-making that still sings
within the deep, whose echo is the
    tale of our emerging.

You un-contained above, you effervescence
    here below, you ocean of perpetual becoming,
you striver towards awake-ness and you fashioner
    of eyes that now behold this work and marvel;
Now I see your face. And melt. Away.

(c) 2016, Karekin M Yarian, BSG

A Psalm of Lament, A Brief Lesson, and a Respond

A Psalm

Surely we are proud, O proud and mighty,
    haughty monkeys, barely from the plains!

The brachiated arm that threw the stone
    now pulls the lever, wields the gun aloft;

Opposable the thumb that thrummed the string
    now, upon a trigger, poised to kill;

The mind that opened wide the eye to see
    the rumble of the beast on the savannah,

Now contemplates the atom or the germ,
    a twisted helix now the herald of our doom.

The mystery of life, of death, its sweep
    the interval between barely a breath;

We’ve hardly ceased the lashing of our tails
    scraped the mud from these long wandering feet,

While in our hands we hold the burning reins,
    four eager mighty horsemen made
    of blood and steel and rage.

Pain is the song that burns. 

The struggle of our tale can now continue,
    until our truth be told we cannot rest. 

A Brief Lesson

WE are burdened here beneath the mighty towers we have made, bowed beneath the weight of expectations, the endless search for worth and worthiness. So heavy are the comforts we have heaped upon ourselves, tending them consumes our days and years. The judgments we have made, the absolutes, stone-cold imperatives that trail behind us like a mantle wrapped about; we soon collapse encumbered by our very selves, entangled by the chains of these mad hoards. What treasures we have gathered up and carried from our bondage, freely handed over by the masters who enslaved us! We are truly made of mud and straw. What flames may come and make us into pyres just to burn these needless things, turn our warring weary dreams to fields of rolling wheat.

Respond

What shouts and trumpets soon will ring
    to raze these fair walls surely to the ground?

Step by step we march this quiet desert ‘round;
    To look for truth among the endless sands.
O dreadful silence, here among these ghostly tents,
    Where once we wandered endlessly
‘til none recalled who still had breath.

(c) 2016 Karekin M Yarian, BSG

"Behold, Your Mother"

“Behold, your mother.” With a single phrase, Jesus gives the Church into the care of his most Holy Mother, and calls the Church to care for her…to take her in…in the person of the Beloved Disciple.
 
The Blessed Mother, Mary, is the only singularly human person who never failed to do what God desires. As we follow her from Gabriel’s Annunciation and her assent to God’s plan of salvation, through the years of care devoted to raising a child destined to be the downfall of many, we at last find her by the foot of the Cross. And it is here, in this moment, that Christ urges from the Cross that she take us as her own children with the words “Behold your Mother…woman, behold your son.”
 
If you seek and study the faith of the early Church, it becomes clear that Mary’s role in salvation is deeply graven in the heart of our Christian story, and it is to our detriment that we lose sight of Mary’s central role in the Incarnation. Contrary to what we hear, over and over again, The Blessed Mother is a whole lot more than merely a nice Jewish girl who gave birth to the Messiah. She is truly the Mother of God.
 
While no power in heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of God, Mary can indeed bring us closer. She is Daughter, Mother, Spouse to the one holy God. She is the New Ark of the Covenant. The first Ark contained the tablets of the law, Aaron’s Rod bloomed in to flower, and Manna that had fallen from heaven to feed God’s people. So while that Ark contained the commandments, the staff of the priesthood, and bread from heaven, so likewise did Mary carry within her the Lawgiver who gave us a new commandment to love one another as he had loved us, our great High priest, and the bread from heaven that feeds and satisfies us to eternal life.
 
Mary is the highest reflection of our agency – our human will – in response to God’s call to faithfulness. She didn’t merely consent to God’s Incarnation through her flesh, she gave assent…her “fiat” that it should be done to her according to God’s word. And it was. She is the first Tabernacle, the proto-Church, and it is she who gave her very flesh to God with Us!
 
Now, at the foot of the Cross, can any sorrow be compared to Mary’s watching her Son and the hope of Israel be put to death? Do you imagine that having him taken down from the Cross and anointed for burial, that Mary might have had to endure the cloying scent of cassia and nard and death on her hands for days as a reminder of her grief? “Behold, your Mother.”
 
Do you think that she did not weep that he wore a crown of thorns rather than the crown of the Kingship of Israel or the crown she had plaited and woven for a wedding day that now will never come? “Behold, your Mother.”
 
Do you think for a moment that our own doubts when it comes to the faith we profess aren’t mirrored deeply in the eyes of one who watches her Son thirst in agony on the Cross? Do you think for a moment she may have doubted Gabriel’s word that day that he told her “The Lord is with you, favored One?” “Behold, your Mother.”
 
All of our journey as faithful Christ-followers is to be found in the life and works of Mary, his Blessed Mother, and now ours. For if Christ is our brother, then how can Mary not also be our Mother? Given to us and we to her by Christ from the Cross, let us recall a lowly handmaiden who has been exalted by God for faithfully saying yes, until and beyond an ignoble end on the Cross that is itself, even yet, a beginning which we are at this moment incapable of fathoming.
 
Like at the beginning of our Christian story, I imagine Gabriel standing behind Mary as she watches her Son’s life pour out in pain. Here’s how I imagine what is in her heart:

She is the mother, reaches for a vessel;
Pours out wine upon the ground and prays
For water pure to wash away the foulness
Of death, to wring a river from a linen shroud.


Even Gabriel beside her weeps,
Cannot tell her not to be afraid, he chokes
Upon the tide of pain that washes up,
A flood of gall that rises in his throat.


What difference between swaddling and a shroud
When a mother’s hand has wound them both
And stained them both with tears of joy or pain? Or
That by a carpenter’s skilled hand the frame was built, 


Both the manger and the cross made to receive him
Unforeseen? There’s no small irony.
Her face she lowers to the ground, and prays
For a swift hail of stones to end her pain.


Here these two in sorrow stand, old friends
Whose memories swirl around the air like ash
Or dust shaken from the scrolls where prophets’
Shadows wait, smile knowingly and sing. 


Wait, O Lady, patiently, to bear him.
For he shall bear you also to the throne.
And in these final hours while your grief flows free
Take sweet Gabriel’s hand and weep for me.
 
My Sisters and Brothers – Behold, your Mother.
— Br. Karekin

Benedictus (on Good Friday)

BLESSED be the folds of flesh which part
    in invitation to the tent of meeting; 
and blessed be this rain of suns descending
    down which lays us bare. There are no words
    to speak of this anticipated moment, 
when terror and our hope become like one; 
    and the spirit humble moans, cries out, 
    or wails a wordless song, recalling. 
That this inhuman light should salve, 
    should clothe, should heal us is un-nameable; 
or that our mighty falling-down should be
    undone by hope, destroyed by love; 
unspeakable, the weight of it, its truth, 
    borne by one whose light is from
    a new pierced side poured out. Feed us
your raging heavens until everything within
    is turned into a hurricane of ash. 
Restore this hopeless city of un-knowing, 
    upon whom light has risen fair enough
to soothe the dead and free our merely living
    from this prison dark. Until all is new illuminated.

(c) 2016, Karekin M Yarian, BSG