Ravished by Love

I attended a protest march and prayer vigil last week here in Topeka, Kansas. In response to recent criticism and censure from the Vatican,  a group of protestants, Catholics, and some Zen Buddhists gathered in support of Roman Catholic sisters.

Thus the day came when, Elijah the Tishbite, my Labrador retriever named for the Biblical prophet, who spent much of his ministry in protests of various kinds, began to live up to his namesake. Elijah, the prophet-dog, rose near dawn the day of the march, and spoke in his canine way, “Don’t mess with the sisters! Thus saith the Lord.” We put his prophetic utterance on a placard. I donned my clergy collar, and off we went.

Ever since the woman of Bethany ran across the city to pour out the oil of her love on Jesus, women of God have endured criticism, ostracism, and hostility to the ways they express their faith and serve Christ. It only takes the breeding of a sheep dog to attempt to corral religious orders into neat doctrinal boundaries, and lines and rows pleasant to those who seek to control what they cannot understand. It is quite another thing to fathom the love and devotion of a soul, who is willing to give up possessions, power, prestige, and marriage for love of God.

I wrote a poem some years ago, about women and men, who take prayer seriously, who are ravished by love, and willing to give themselves to it with total devotion. Such people are often misunderstood by the prevailing culture.  I titled the poem, Ekklesia, which is the Greek word we translate as church. It means a gathering or assembly. Just what ought to happen in such a gathering has been under dispute for centuries, though most agree ekklesia should have something to do with prayer, worship, and love for God and others.

The poem draws images and some of its style from The Song of Songs (also known as The Song of Solomon). This book of the Hebrew Bible extols the wonders of human love and it has often been interpreted as a metaphor of the love between Christ and the church, or between an individual soul and God.

I offer the poem today in praise of all those women and men who have given radically of themselves to God, even in the face of criticism, ridicule, and suffering.


EKKLESIA

Sustain me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am sick with love. – Song of Solomon 2: 5

Who is that coming up from the forest
leaning on her beloved
coming up
dripping apple blossoms
crazed and drooling?

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the hinds of the field,
that you stir not up nor awaken Love until it please.
                                                       Song of Solomon 2: 7

They are coming
coming up
from the forest
smelling of earth
and musk
naked
staggering
trailing shreds of God stuff
God dander
God sweat
God hairs
coral streaks upon their cheeks
stumbling into the light
falling to their knees
rolling in balls
splayed upon their faces
dizzy
begging for raisins and apples
sick with Love.

Called forth from nuptial beds
summoned, half-ravished
to tie a shoe
to feed
to lead
to plant
to mend
to make all new
with rapture round their eyes
and power in their step
and mouthwash on their breath,
swilled to hide the scent
the sweet taste of God,
thick and smooth on the tongue
as honeysuckle in the throat of night.

When they spoke
it was like being in the forest.
Birds chirped.
Rabbits hopped.
The air was alive
and twigs cracked under foot.

Hillsides
held them in the night
tucked under arms of trees
prostrate and panting
luminous
beneath pale light
of lunar ooze
smeared cross a starry sheet.

They lay trembling, hushed
listening for the rush
the fleet beat of wings
so soft, so hard
and ah!
so sweet.

At dawn
sun’s blaze
and dusk
they came up
in the sleet
the cold
the mud
the snow
the heat
coming up
out of the forest
at dawn
sun’s blaze
and dusk
to hover round the manger –
pale flickering fires,
pleasing incense,
consuming themselves in ever rising prayer.

There they sat
silent
crystal prisms
receiving light
in stillness
and shattering it
in myriad dancing rainbows of delight.

Meanwhile
Janet
with the yellow sweats
under her blue dress
cleaning up on a Saturday morn
in the rest room of the public library
paused
in her ablutions
to talk to the children
who were entranced by the pedal flush toilets
and to their mother
who smelled the over familiarity
and felt the ache and loneliness of Janet
who announced she was a realist and a humanist.
I don’t take everything in the Bible.
Like spare the rod and spoil the child.
That’s bad. A kind word turns away wrath.
My mother always used to say that. That’s hard to do,
said Janet.

She followed them out to the car
asking if they were going to have lunch now
and could she ride along.

kyrie
eleison

Lotuses,
awash with Love
spinning slender crystal threads
from tangled, matted mind,
are they surprised
they, who hoist holiness from murky depths,

waiting
birthing
dying
rising
gifting

waiting
birthing
dying
rising
gifting

saying the seasons’ cycles
strung like beads on the Spirit’s breath,

are they surprised
that on a Saturday morning
a humanist and a realist
washing up at the library miles away
slams into their prayer,
Our Bag Lady full of grace,
preying on us sinners until we die?

kyrie
eleison

Are they surprised
the woeful world beyond the woods
wakes from its sorrow
and sniffs the nectar of their blooming silence?

Ah they think they are alone.
Their solitude is filled with throngs.
Their restless nights passed
in company with crowds.
They thought their anguish hidden
in the vines.
It is a rushing current
cutting channels for compassion’s surge
down hillsides and across the plains.

The terms!
The terms
do not forget the terms
in small print at the bottom
on the private underside of bird wings
where soft down separates
air into feathery streams,
on the pale intimate flesh of the underside of leaves
under rocks and fingernails,
whatever clutters, clamors underfoot
and in the book they keep.
There are the terms
conditions
limitations,
extremities.

To read the terms stand under
but do not seek to understand.

The terms consist most of obedience.
Love
Serve
Die

Follow orders and do not ask too many questions.
Those who do, don’t stay
or lose their hearts
and can no longer pray,
deranged and dribbling,
bewitched by reason.

They ate God
slowly there
chewing carefully
in spite of their hunger
and flooded their thirst
with tiny sips.

This food for you, they said to one another.
I am not worthy
that Thou shouldst come under
come under
my roof
under me.

I will stand under Thee
and looking up,
say but the word, I healed,
shall see,
the underparts of Three in One:

the soft belly
the wing
and the hum
that dwells beneath Silence.

You can go there if you dare.
They will invite you in
into infinite unappeasable longing
into insatiable hunger
into the belly of God.

There you can watch Desire smack its lips
Sisyphus roll his stone
while you, shivering, groan
to be swallowed up by life
and find your home at last
next to a hayfield
in some celestial timber.

They will invite you in.
Watch out,
hospitable spiders all!
It is a trap.
Their tactic:
evangelism by voyeurism.
For the main attraction
their ravishing belly dancer
will seduce you through diaphanous veils
of flesh and matter.
This epiphany burlesque
is rated X.
Admission free.
The only catch –
the show lasts till eternity
and death the only exit be.

And you
dear foolish you
only looking for a rest
now must spend your life in making love,
this ardent Lover’s guest.

You want to go?
You cannot miss them.
They are a haggard bunch
ragged, wrecked souls in a crunch
having totaled their hearts in prayer.

Their name is Servant.
It isn’t far. Around the block
beyond the lake –
you needn’t search.

And the name of the place?

is church.

Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can floods drown it.    Song of Solomon 8: 7

Elijah, the Prophet-Dog, Protests Rome


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2 responses to “Ravished by Love

  1. So deeply touching it made me cry- thank you for sharing this.

  2. Pingback: Ravished by Love | The Praying Life | Nail It To The Cross

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