Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: April, 2019

Jesus’ Dream

Mark 11:12-24
Tuesday night.

He listened while they yammered about the fig tree,
the money changers and the animal sellers.
It was apocalyptic talk, they said: 
a fig tree cannot bear fruit out of season,
a temple cannot operate without 
tradition, and surely mountains do not fly 
into the sea.  He closed his eyes and yawned.
They argued on. He fell asleep and dreamed
a little dream. No heaven-rending vision;
just ordinary faces in the crowd: 
a child whose upstretched arms begged to be held,
a woman merely asking to be healed
a leper yearning only to be whole.
They did not ask so much. He saw each one
while dreaming of an ordinary world, 
the slow, patient turning of day to night,
the whisper of a breeze to lift the heat,
the juicy, sweetmeat taste of figs in season.
He listened to their ordinary prayers 
as though there was an altar in his heart
and he the priest. He smiled, and mountains flew.

The Wasp

Mark 11:12-14
On a normal day a fig tree is just a fig tree.
Middle Eastern Ficus carica
grows wild where winters aren’t so bone-deep cold 
and summers linger long and hot and dry.
Blastophaga psenes—the female fig wasp—
bearing pollen from a distant tree, 
crawls inside the seed pod, tearing off
her pollen-laden wings, the mortal price 
of fertility. She lays her eggs
and dies. The eggs birth larvae, male and female,
who dance time’s ancient dance there in the dark,
after which he dies, and she emerges
to pollinate another tree. Spring comes.
Without the sting there can be no sweetness.
This was, however, not a normal day.
That is, it was normal in every way—
the sun was climbing high above the hills,
the ancient sign of nascent summer nearing, 
the dream of wasp and pollen, seed and fig—
a normal day it was…until he came by. 
En route to other errands, he was hungry
but there were no figs. It was said 
he cursed the tree. But tell me: was he not
a wasp to pierce the seed pod’s tomb-like darkness, 
and spread his wings and die and leave behind
an altogether different sort of pollen 
that yields a sweeter sort of fig? Spring comes.
Without the sting there can be no sweetness.

The Room Where Nothing Happens

Nothing happens in this room.
That is why we come.
Pews have ceased to creak beneath their burden.
Elders summing up the worth of lives, 
exhausted careworn parents, antsy children—
all gone now. A gasp escapes an organ pipe.
Like a canyon breeze, it serves to warn
the pilgrim of a fast-approaching storm.
We walk in holy canyons before a rain,
before the drowning torrent washes clean
the remnants of unsanctified terrain.
This is the honest hour, when all pretense has flown.
Nothing knows and nothing is unknown. 
Holy words may yet be said, holy music sung,
holy food broken and poured in holy ware.
Nothing makes them holy, and makes us one.
Beyond the reach of prayers for grace, surpassing
justice neither blind nor balanced true,
solace trickles down in wordless blessing,
like drops from canyon walls after a deluge,
oblations to the god whom none can claim,
who obeys no law, and has no name. 
Nothing happens in this room.
That is why we come.