Lent – a poem— by Jane Tawel

Lent

The First Day

By Jane Tawel

March 6, 2019

 

Lent, surprising season,

And for good reason,

One’s never sure when it draws near.

Each year its start

To ream our hearts,

Will suddenly appear.

 

 

This first of Lent,

Our souls should rent

With sobering contrition.

But like Succoth,

Lent fills our cups,

With God’s Chosen’s commission.

 

 

The change of date

Just like our fate

May throw us a curve ball.

For loving chaos

We suffer pathos

Ever since The Fall.

 

 

Today’s descent in

This season Lenten,

Requires of me a price.

But that is little

If only it’ll

Bring me closer to The Christ.

 

 

The Only Son of Only God,

When on this earth, Christ trod,

Took up our lent

When God’s will bent

To die upon a cross.

 

 

And so today

In some small way

I suffer by election,

To become like the only Man

Who sinless, Resurrected.

 

 

Each Lent’s first day surprises me

Like did Christ’s death upon that tree.

But suffering for our human doom,

In this dark season of Lent’s gloom,

Is the only way to be surprised,

In the same way at long past sunrise,

Those women who loved The Christ who died,

Saw Him Arise.

Surprise!

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday, You Old Crone!

 

Jane: Do Not Go Gracefully Into That Good Night (Not that you even could if you tried you old dingbat!)

by Jane Tawel

March 10, 2018

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Who gave someone the creative license to come up with the idiom, “aging gracefully”?  There ain’t much graceful about not being able to bend down without cringing and creaking to pick something up. I don’t connect gracefulness with the gait I now use to jog in the mornings.  Grace is not one of those things people associate with my age when I drop things because my hands no longer grip as tightly as they should.

 

Tomorrow I greet  another marker of the day of my birth. And I hurt all over. We, of my age, joke that being old means you never have a day without pain – somewhere – sometimes it seems every where. I remember a friend telling me about the medication he was on for some illness that had the side effect of removing all of his pains. He immediately understood why people get addicted to these drugs.  It wasn’t until he started taking it that he realized that the difference between youth and age is that when you are young, you enjoy most days without any  aches any where; while when you get  older you always have an ache somewhere, sometimes you have an ache everywhere. This past week I was joking with other “of an age” teachers, that every day I wake up and am for some reason, shocked and surprised to find that things hurt. It is like being a little child again, except the opposite. Little children wake up every day to find new things they can do and are pleasantly surprised.  Old folks wake up every day shocked anew to find old things they can’t do any more, and are unpleasantly resigned. My mom always says with a bit of sass, “but I don’t feel that old inside”.

 

Of the many wonderful things my ancestors passed down to me, arthritis is not one of the wonderful ones. Hands gnarling like claws and joints frozen in stiff excruciation; a back that believes it was only created to go forward and not turn without causing its owner to wince like a baby-I-see-a-baby. These devils of discomfort not only give me physical pain, but emotional as well.  I am too young at heart to have my body do this. It just doesn’t suit my personality – which is immature.

 

And I sure can’t wear high heels any more. Not that any woman should subject herself to those tootsie torture chambers! My feet and knees were once the day’s darlings. My intrepid  trotters trod tirelessly the heights and depths.  My articulatio genu (so I love a good Google, so sue me!) — ran seven seven-minute miles seven days a week, in a godly perfection of physical fitness. Now, “at an age”, after a day in orthopedic looking Aerosols, my non-pedi-ed horn crowned hoofers cry out: “Help us!  Save us!  Do you not know that, We are but flesh and bone!”

 

Do I count my blessings daily?  You betcha’!  I do not (yet) have to go through the horrific things friends do when they get cancer.  I have had a relatively healthy body since youth. The fruit of my womb are healthy and the Fruit of the Loom I wear is while no longer a size 4,  a somewhat acceptable size 8.  I have had a long life already and hope to trot-in-place this globe a few years more, God willing.

 

But it is interesting to teach Bible this year and stand in front of my students’ darling, perfect little selves, still sporting a bit of baby fat, or with limbs so childishly thin and muscle-less that you just want to hand them a raw steak and some cheesecake to wash it down.

 

My students come with prayer requests for colds and sniffles but also for ailing grandparents, and serious family illnesses. And I love to pray with them, but I also have to tell these budding believers in as gentle and childlike way as I can muster, the hard, sad facts of life; that although my own sin does not cause my infirmities, I have infirmities in this lifetime because of sin. In a nutshell, Paul says in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—“

I happened upon this quote by Karl Barth, “No cultural education, no art, no evolutionary development helps us beyond our sins. We must receive assistance from the ground up. Then the steep walls of our security are broken to bits, and we are forced to become humble, poor, and pleading. Thus we are driven more and more to surrender and give up all that we have, surrender and give up those things which we formerly used to protect and defend and hold to ourselves against the voice of the resurrection’s truth.”

I see a lot of people – and I am tempted – who try to protect something impossible to protect – their youthful selves The Baal of Botox beckons and I, too, sacrifice much moola on the altar of the Pandora of skin potions.  But what does it profit an old girl if she gains a good mask for her wrinkles, but in the process loses about a trillion, gazillion dollars? The flip side is –Old age can be a great forceful stimulant to eradicate one’s pride and provide a needed tonic for a new sense of directed and peaceful humbleness.

My birthday always falls in the season of Lent.  When I give up something like sweets, that either makes me sad or I break my Lenten promises to God. (Thank God, I only gave up newspapers this year – good for my soul and good for my poor old eyes.)  Today I was thinking about aging and Lent.  I can either sink into a depression about all the things that go wrong with my body (and don’t even get me started about what goes wrong with one’s mind! With one’s mind.  With one’s mind. Wait, did I already say that?)  Or during Lent I can reflect and rejoice.

If one’s season as a child is like Christmas, and as a young adult, like the Fourth of July, then this season of my life must be a season of Lent; and like Lent itself, it seems to be in some perverse way, one of the hardest times and yet one of my favorite times.  It is a season of life when I have a long road behind me of so many wonderful years and people, and although I wish I had been better at living them, I was privileged to live them at all.  It is a time when I don’t try so hard to be someone, and therefore, I can see others with more grace, and sit in the passenger seat more often, as they take the reins and drive this crazy cart called Life. It is time when I know more, but need to prove it less.  It is a time when God seems closer and friendlier and Surer. It is a time when I can mourn with those who mourn and in that way, understand the silence and helplessness of our fallen-ness. And this season of life for me is a time when I recognize more the true simplicity of my daily needs and my joy in their provision by a good, good God.

Lent is a time to recognize our great need of a Savior. Jesus tells His disciples, not to fast while the Bridegroom is “in the house”. Jesus later tells His disciples that His resurrected body must, like Elvis leave the building. But unlike Elvis or any other human being, because Jesus accomplished with His “old body” what the Old Adam never could, we all have the opportunity to have a new body just as He did, through the Resurrection. Jesus also says that though he takes His housing with Him when He ascends, His Spirit will  come to live in our “houses”.

My aging body is  a great reminder that, we do not evolve, nor ever have.  When we  are young, we are all like that first Eve. And like the first created human, we will choose self again and again, and again.  Getting older means I can not actually “fix” most of myself any more. And for me, that means I can either, as Barth says, “protect and defend myself against the voice of the resurrection’s truth” or I can submit to the God who sees beyond our infirmities to Christ’s potential.  If I surrender all of me to the radical power of Christ’s cross, then I shall also experience the wholeness of Christ’s Resurrection self.

Oh, knobbly knees and crone-ish hands, thou hast no power over me. In arthritic joints, I claim my victory over viscous varicose vice!  In boorish backs that swoon in fright over the endless stairs of this World, I laugh and use the handrail. Oh, twingy terrors of troubled sleep, I pray through your dark hours!  You, oh flesh, may serve no king but Big Pharma, but I serve the King of New Life and that resurrection will include this poor old dishrag of dust, this shell of selfishness, this body of broken parts.  The Great Physician lives for and in me! And in this body, with walls that decay, is the temple for His Eternal Spirit.

While I may not be aging gracefully, I am only aging because of Grace. And that same grace that has covered my sins in the blood and death of Jesus, The Christ, is also my insurance policy on this old body.

Because  if I know anything about the Holy Spirit of Christ, it is that it doesn’t plan on living in this dump forever.  Resurrection means a makeover, like this girl ain’t ever dreamed of!

 

 

 

 

Looking Toward Today’s Resurrection

Looking Toward Today’s Resurrection

 By Jane Tawel

March 11, 2017

 

Today is my birthday. It is also, the 11th day of Lent 2017.   This morning’s birthday reading was pretty spot on to rev my old engine after a week of the, I am ashamed to say, what is often a usual panoply of exhaustion and worry and work and never enough time or energy yada yada yada. Never enough embracing of joy. Never enough embracing of hope. Never enough rejection of the specters of death and a full out hug of the mysteries of resurrected life.

 

On this my birthday, I read Parker Palmer’s reflections in The Active Life on resurrection. So as I reflect on the march–or rather awkward Macarena– towards returning to dust today, I also awkwardly lunge and slide toward the hope of today’s Resurrection. The duality of Lent is much like having a birthday at my age – one contemplates simultaneously one’s death and one’s life as one contemplates simultaneously Christ’s death and Christ’s Resurrection.  In this dual frame of mind, on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the homily was on Psalm 103.

 

Psalm 103 lets us know that just as Ash Wednesday “blesses us” with the remembrance that “we are but dust”, yet we are also blessed with the remembrance of all Jehovah has done in the earth’s creation and the world’ history. We also are blessed with the hope that God’s loving-kindness endures forever for those who keep His covenant.

 

At my age, you begin to keep telling others and yourself that old joke about another birthday beating the alternative, and so it was with irony and conviction that I read Palmer today about this human tendency towards often living actually preferring death to life.  Jesus talked a lot about this but we keep messing up what He was really saying.  I keep messing it up. So I want to share the words of greater thinkers than I. Palmer writes about a poem by Julia Esquivel.

 

“They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection”

by Julia Esquivel

 

It isn’t the noise in the streets

that keeps us from resting, my friend,

nor is it the shouts of the young people

coming out drunk from the “St. Pauli,”

nor is it the tumult of those who pass by excitedly

on their way to the mountains.

 

It is something within us that doesn’t let us sleep,

that doesn’t let us rest,

that won’t stop pounding

deep inside,

it is the silent, warm weeping

of Indian women without their husbands,

it is the sad gaze of the children

fixed somewhere beyond memory,

precious in our eyes

which during sleep,

though closed, keep watch,

with each contraction

of the heart

in every awakening.

 

 

Now six have left us,

and nine in Rabinal, 1

and two, plus two, plus two,

and ten, a hundred, a thousand,

a whole army

witness to our pain,

our fear,

our courage,

our hope!

 

What keeps us from sleeping

is that they have threatened us with Resurrection!

Because every evening

though weary of killings,

an endless inventory since 1954, 2

yet we go on loving life

and do not accept their death!

They have threatened us with Resurrection

Because we have felt their inert bodies,

and their souls penetrated ours

doubly fortified,

because in this marathon of Hope,

there are always others to relieve us

who carry the strength

to reach the finish line

which lies beyond death.

 

They have threatened us with Resurrection

because they will not be able to take away from us

their bodies,

their souls,

their strength,

their spirit,

nor even their death

and least of all their life.

Because they live

today, tomorrow, and always

in the streets baptized with their blood,

in the air that absorbed their cry,

in the jungle that hid their shadows,

in the river that gathered up their laughter,

in the ocean that holds their secrets,

in the craters of the volcanoes,

Pyramids of the New Day,

which swallowed up their ashes.

 

They have threatened us with Resurrection

because they are more alive than ever before,

because they transform our agonies

and fertilize our struggle,

because they pick us up when we fall,

because they loom like giants

before the crazed gorillas’ fear.

They have threatened us with Resurrection,

because they do not know life (poor things!).

 

That is the whirlwind

which does not let us sleep,

the reason why sleeping, we keep watch,

and awake, we dream.

 

No, it’s not the street noises,

nor the shouts from the drunks in the “St. Pauli,”

nor the noise from the fans at the ball park.

It is the internal cyclone of kaleidoscopic struggle

which will heal that wound of the quetzal

fallen in Ixcán,

it is the earthquake soon to come

that will shake the world

and put everything in its place.

 

No, brother,

it is not the noise in the streets

which does not let us sleep.

 

Join us in this vigil

and you will know what it is to dream!

Then you will know how marvelous it is

to live threatened with Resurrection!

 

To dream awake,

to keep watch asleep,

to live while dying,

and to know ourselves already

resurrected!

 

 

 

In my 7th grade English classes we have been studying poetry.  You would think they would moan, but they really get into it – reading it, dissecting it, and writing it. Here is one thing I resonated with that Parker says about his finding his way into the meaning of Esquivel’s poem:

 

The longer that one dwells on the poem, the harder it is to say exactly who threatens us with resurrection. The poem itself is like the kaleidoscope whose image Esquivel uses; each time you turn it a new pattern appears. So the poem imitates life, in which the “threat of Resurrection” comes both from those who dispense death and from those who have died in the hope of new life… If it is true that both the killers and the killed threaten us with resurrection, then we, the living are caught between a rock and hard place.  On the one hand, we fear the killers, but not simply because they want to kill us.  We fear them because they test our convictions about resurrection, they test our willingness to be brought into a larger life than the one we now know. On the other hand, we fear the innocent victims of the killers, those who have died for love and justice and peace. Though they are our friends, we fear them because they call us to follow them in “this marathon of Hope.”  If we were to take their calling seriously, we ourselves would have to undergo some form of dying.  (Parker 147-8)

 

It does take time to figure out meaning – in poetry, in literature, in science, in nature, but ultimately in one’s life. I am very grateful on this my birthday to have had so much time to try to figure it all out.  And I ask forgiveness for wasting so much time on anything that does not enflame hope, kindle truth, and stoke life– in myself and in others. Because that is what defeats death. Faith, Hope, Truth and Love are those eternal “dust-busters”. And they are available for each day’s embrace of Resurrected Life.

 

Our spiritual journey is one of testing and running.  We are put to the test daily to “figure out what it all means”. And we must run and not grow weary in hope. The paradox as St. Paul found, is that in Christ’s powerful death is also Christ’s powerful Resurrection Life. Lent is a reminder that we take up Christ’s cross daily in order to experience daily the Hope of Resurrection – His and Ours.

 

May today be a day when we embrace the journey of finding the meaning of our own daily deaths on our journeys to today’s possibilities for our own daily resurrection. The Good News threatens the world not with death, but with Resurrection and the hope of Christ’s resurrected life.  May today be a day when we too are threatened and threatening with resurrection.

 

 

 

 

How To Celebrate Sorrow

How to Celebrate Sorrow

By Jane Tawel

February 26, 2017

 

Wednesday, March 1 will be one of my favorite days in the year.  It is Ash Wednesday, a day  where some of us who believe in Jehovah, the God of Israel, the God of The Christ,  begin forty days of penitence. The Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah. (Note to self: The Muslims also celebrate these same days of repentance.) At the end of these various religious days of repentance, there is a big celebration:  we call it, Easter or Resurrection Sunday.  The Jews call it Yom Kippur.

So I am meditating on the fact that I seem to have been born into a time and place where the idea of penitence, remorse, regret, sinfulness, unholiness — all of it — is “not a thing”, as  the kids say. Perhaps born out of time and place, I am trying to make it “a thing” — a daily “thing” in my own life. I walk and pray and try to accept a daily sense of my need to be cleansed from “stuff” inside and outside, in my mind and in my heart.  The bible I read, calls it a sense of my own unrighteousness and need. And being redeemed has to do not only with eternal salvation but with relationship to a specific and real God and relationship to specific and real others — my neighbors which Jesus says include my enemies, as well as my family members, biologically family or Christ-0logically family.

The first time I experienced someone who celebrated Ash Wednesday was when I was a freshman at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.  My beloved theater professor, Jim Young, came to class with a large black smudge on his forehead and I, being ignorant of the meaning, kept trying to rub it off for him.  He recoiled in horror from my little anxious helping hand.  Jim is no longer wearing ashes; he is now on the other side of Resurrection Sunday forever.

I often think of that metaphoric moment and how it reveals continual issues in my own life.  I have grown up in a culture that does not want to look at negative things too closely and does not want to live in grief much at all. We want to move straight on to the celebration.  We want to helpfully and quickly remove the “smudges” from our own lives and the lives of others. We want to “bury the past” and “bury the body” and be happy again.  We move past the moments of sorrowful deaths, both the literal ones and figurative ones, as quickly as possible.  There is not enough time to grieve or mourn, there is too much to do and accomplish, and staying busy and active helps us “get past” the problems and sadnesses in our souls.  And what good does it do any one anyway?

The only problem is, all of that reasoning just isn’t true. We know it isn’t true somewhere deep inside. And when we keep living by denying the smudges and moving on to the resurrection of our own happiness, we end up with ever larger and larger holes in our souls and confusion about why we aren’t all that happy. We merely bury the live body of ourselves along with the dead bodies of the other person, other relationship, other job, other life.  We move our bodies along, but our souls begin to rot from within, merely masked in the myrrh of merriment. We refuse to go through the needed completeness of penitence and grief, a daily need, as Jesus told Nicodemus, to go through the painful channel of suffering and be reborn into new life. We want Jesus to have suffered for us on the cross so we can wash our hands and souls of a need to suffer with Him on behalf of our own broken lives and the lives of others.  We want to avoid going through the Red Sea and wilderness and arrive in the promised land with all our “stuff”, saved and cleansed by someone else’s journey, while we sit and watch, grumble and criticize, and devour the panacea of false hopes and happinesses. We want the fruit from that tree not the one we were provided — partying continually, eating, drinking and being merry, and never finding the joy that comes with the hard work of penitence and deprivation, fasting from self-love in order to find the love beyond measure in our Heavenly Father and the selflessness of a reborn soul.

In the bible, numbers matter and forty and ten, the days of Lent and of Rosh Hashanah respectively are days of completeness.  At the end, of both of these times, I don’t end up with a better me, like I might after a diet, but I end up with a better sense of who I am in the vastness of eternity and worlds without end.  I end up not less penitent, but more humble and thankful to be alive, more thankful to a God who loves enough to suffer and grieve. I end up closer to shalom, or true soul-wholeness, and with a better relationship with a real God, and a better relationship to the reality of this world and my neighbor. I end up with an inkling of what completeness might really mean. And that is how sorrow leads to celebration.

This Lent, I am sharing with folks that I will be “fasting” from Facebook.  The reason I am fasting from it, is because I keep anxiously and falsely thinking that I can be “helpful” — I am wired to be busy, busy, busy as a teacher, a parent, a friend.  I have been reading a book by Parker Palmer and this week’s reading was about the days of “Lent” for Jesus — The Forty Days in the Wilderness– days when Jesus met head- on complete fasting and complete temptation. The One Who Was Sinless came out from those days of deprivation and temptation with a better relationship with a real God and a better relationship to the reality of this world and His neighbors, including His enemies.  Jesus came out of those forty days with more grief and more joy and began the business of saving the world. And in The Christ’s ministry of sorrow and suffering, we all get a better chance at celebrating.

One great thing about writing a blog, is you get to connect with other writers.  I have realized that anything I have to write, has been written better by some one else, but I also realized that I simply am one of those people who must write to think and process.  I encourage any of you readers who want to take a journey into a less unfulfilling -self-centered life and a more fulfilling, other-centered life of “being”– a life where a true lenten season and a daily sense of grief and repentance and a conviction of one’s own need and want is a path to a true sense of completeness or shalom– where a time of repentance and taking up Christ’s cross leads to true joy– I highly recommend you read some of the great writers on these topics. There are many. If you haven’t read the bible for yourself, check it out along with those who can illuminate it for you. Recently,  Parker Palmer and Henri Nouwen have provided a huge paradigm shift for me. I encourage you to read them.  Here is the passage from Palmer that has given me an idea of how to fast and celebrate Lent this year.  I look forward to celebrating with you on Facebook on the other side of the next forty days. God willing.  Here’s to ashes!

From The Active Life  by Parker Palmer:    on fasting,  temptation, and the need to prove ourselves:

 

In the first temptation Jesus faces, the devil says, “If you are the Chosen One, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.”  But Jesus refused him…. But these word of Jesus, his refusal to turn stone into bread, are his response to the devil, not to starving people. Once Jesus moves through these temptations and embarks on his public ministry, he works a number of miracles, including the provision of bread for people who are hungry. What Jesus says and does is related to context, and when the circumstances are right he has no inhibitions about using his powers to meet authentic needs.  We need only to understand why the circumstances in this story were wrong.

 

The devil prefaces his challenge to turn stone into bread with a taunt that takes a very familiar form:  “If you are the Chosen One…Though few of us get needled for thinking we are Chosen, the tone of that taunt should remind us of outward or inward voices in our lives: “If you are so able… “If you are a real woman or man…” If you truly care…” If you are such a good parent…” The root temptation here is almost irresistible.  It is not the temptation to do a magic trick, which most of us know we cannot.  It is the temptation to prove our identity, which many of us feel we must…

 

Had Jesus made stone into bread simply to show the devil that he was the Chosen One, he would have been acting mechanically, caught in the cogs of cultural expectations, compelled by circumstances to act a role.  By refusing to do so, he both demonstrates and extends his transcendence over the context of his action….Jesus does not regard himself as accountable for his calling to any voice except God’s so in his refusal to “prove” anything to the devil he is actually proving that he is the Chosen One…

 

When you refuse to meet the terms of an external demand, refuse to produce publicly verifiable results, you do not prove anything in the normal sense of that word.  Instead, you leave yourself open to charges of elevation or cowardice, and you forfeit the external confirmation on which so many of us depend; you may become inwardly shaky about who you really are. …

 

In light of the fact that Jesus had been fasting in the desert for an extended period of time, “and at the end he was hungry,” the devil seems to speak with a voice of reason, perhaps even compassion, when he says, “… Tell this stone to turn into a loaf.”  Henri Nouwen calls this the temptation to be relevant, and with that word he names something that many of us face from time to time—the temptation to “solve” some problem on a level that does not solve it at all, and may even make things worse.

 

Jesus’ real problem in the desert is not hunger—though it might look that way to an outside observer—so his real solution is not bread…   when the time comes to end a fast, you do so gradually, and not devour a chunk of bread! When we rush to the aid of a fasting person, attempting to be “relevant” by insisting that he or she eat, we are likely not only to be irrelevant but to do harm as well.

 

True relevance requires a certain subtlety, which the very idea of relevance seems to exclude. What Jesus really needs in his desert fast is not food.  In fact he does not need anything external.  Like the woodcarver in the poem, who fasted not merely from food but from praise and criticism, gain and success, Jesus’ real need is for inward confirmation of his mission, a confirmation he is more likely to find in the emptiness of fasting than in the gratification of bodily needs…..

 

Actions that seem relevant may turn out to be irrelevant in the extreme. Parents know that they do not necessarily solve a child’s problem by giving in to the demand for a special toy. They must address the problem behind the problem, which may be the child’s capacity for delayed gratification or for simple self-reliance.  Teachers know that they do not necessarily solve a student’s problem by answering the questions the student asks.  The real question may be the student’s ability to find answers for himself or herself, so the teacher who withholds answers may enlarge the student’s capacity to learn.  The temptation to be relevant is often the temptation to deal with only the external illusion of a problem and ignore its internal truth. (Palmer, The Active Life, excerpts from pp. 106-108)

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