Designed to Do More than Reflect: Holy Refraction

There’s just no beating around the bush about this. The events of these days have been hard to manage.

The news, more often than not, leaves me sad, sorry, or simply confounded. How have we found our way here? For surely we have all wandered into a movie no one would pay good money to see. Someone shut off the lights and forgot to illuminate the aisle.

And yet… there are glimmers that sparkle all around me. People who hold onto hope. People who keep doing the good. People who, against all odds, keep bearing the torch so others can see by its light. I see ’em and I wonder how they stand the barrage of the daily news and don’t wither under its fire.

Some just seem really good at keeping their focus. They’ve got their eye on that prize and nothing distracts.

Some are on fire with a passion — for kids, for family, for their art or their dream. A heart aflame compels them and nothing can quench that fire.

Some, it appears, are duty bound. Disciplined to the max, obedient to a fault, or perhaps afraid to veer left or right.

Some, however, seem unfazed by it all. (And here, I am not referring to the few that, by privileged means and with an apparently hollow soul, can turn a cold shoulder to the circumstances of others and go on about their business as if nothing is happening.) I am referring here to those who stand in the midst of the fray, absorb the blows and yet respond with patience and understanding, kindness and positive intention.

While I in these circumstances often feel inclined to reflect the world back to itself to show it just how awful it looks, these “unfazed” folks don’t stoop to this. Instead of knee-jerk reflection, they engage in Light of the World refraction.

“Refraction is the change in direction of a wave passing from one medium to another or from a gradual change in the medium. Refraction of light is the most commonly observed phenomenon, but other waves such as sound waves and water waves also experience refraction.”

Wikipedia

By God’s grace, these remarkable people receive the earthly things that demand our attention but reflect them at a different angle. A Kingdom angle. Instead of holding a mirror to the world, they offer a different and better way.

I pray that we who claim the Spirit of God in our hearts and souls might choose to refract earthly things this way. To pass them through this medium of a different density and reflect them at a new angle to offer a Kingdom reflection.

To the uninitiated, it may look like magic, but we know it’s not sleight of hand. It’s just the same kind of refraction designed by the Great Optometrist who gave us eyes not only to see but to focus clearly on what God sees. And to be witnesses to it all, to the ends of the earth …

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

What is it about poetry?

What is it about poetry that “gets us right there?” It’s National Poetry Month, so I am asking.

Dr. Raphael Campo, a poet and physician at Harvard Medical school, puts it this way: “When we hear rhythmic language and recite poetry, our bodies translate crude sensory data into nuanced knowing — feeling becomes meaning.”

Imagine, a poet-physician arriving at nuanced knowing, the very place where feeling becomes meaning. It seems almost impossible doesn’t it? That our bodies are the translators. But who better than the ones who study the body to heal the body, to interpret the language it begets?

Not just the lub-dub, lub-dub in the rhythm of a heart beating. Surely, its beats per minute indicating healthy or not. Its volume signaling functional or not.

Not just the whoosh in, whoosh out of the respiring lungs. Their filling and emptying is surely essential to the operation of the organism.

Not just the electronic whir of signal transmission of the brain. And not just the regular pulse of blood through the arteries.

Not just and yet I can’t help but think that rhythm recognizes itself. Knows its kin. Tunes in and pays special attention to its own. That the body responds to poetry because the body is poetic. Lyrical. Creation set in motion. Without prompting or instruction, the toddler sways, the child twirls, the partners step toe to toe.

Just so, my soul recognizes and delights in rhythm. But there’s more to the poetic than rhythm. And that’s why it begs us to read it aloud, recite it, hear it spoken or performed. Verbalized, the poetic allows us to both gather the outline and sketch in the details. To give shape to the form and pour in the color. To chew and swallow, taste and smell. To bring it to life.

Just as the mind does for a well-told story. We know it. We feel it. It has meaning for us and uniquely to us. It draws out what is true from within us, and speaks urgently to our “right now.” Because that’s what we bring to it. And blessedly, so blessedly, we can all gather around poetry because there is not just one right answer.

Mind you, not just willy-nilly words will do this. It’s the culled, cultivated, carefully chosen words that settle deep. The true poet uses words and phrases expertly arranged with an ear for rhythm, a sense of style, how one word will relate to the next, and a feeling for how they will settle on their hearers. Though we each receive them in a slightly different way, if we dare to attend without withholding, poetry has the potential to wake up the poetic in us. To shed light in our darkness, to lift burden from our bearing, and to clarify our way into each new day.

We are all poets. Words animated. Sculpted from the raw materials gifted at first light. Honest words if we are brave enough. And so helpful in their moment to get us through our moment.

How does poetry work on us?
as art... it feels

I feel everything.
I feel the loud.
I feel the crush of bodies.
I feel the eyes on me.
I feel the distance between us.
I feel the, no one is talking to me.
I feel the, everyone has a friend but me.
I feel the invisible.
I am invisible.

Let me go.
I'll be going.
I'll show myself out.

Hey, what's your name? 
she called, as I turned to leave.
I'm Deborah.
I want to meet you.

Wendy, I tell her.
I was almost Wendy, she says, 
Until my mother's
mother in law said I couldn't be.

I love the name, Wendy.
I've always wanted to be Wendy.
Wendy suits you.
So glad to meet you.

I feel the quiet.
I feel the smile.
I feel the distance close.
I feel the visible.
I am visible.

Oh, Dear Poetry, you reach in and touch the deepest parts of us. May we be brave enough to endure it and bold enough to believe it so we can proudly proclaim it.

What if we held Easter and everyone showed up except the Christians?

“They didn’t show up, so we’re pretty much making it up as we go along,” the young woman said.

She was sitting with a few others in a small circle centered on a glowing lantern dug into the sand. Its bright light was the focal point for the make-shift concentric swirls of a growing crowd who had gathered for the Easter Sunrise service at Siesta Key Beach. People were still making their way slowly, in twos and threes, along the walkway from the parking lot onto the soft, moonlit sand. They wore sweatshirts and caps, were wrapped in towels and blankets, carried beach chairs and spread out blankets and held the hands of children. All in the chilly pre-dawn darkness to the drumbeat of the waves, as we prepared for the sunrise of Easter Sunday.

There is just something about Easter that makes you feel like you need to come in person. Especially this year. Oh, how valiantly groups scurried to deliver remote Easter services, productions and greetings in 2020. But this year is different. This year, we know how to gather safely. Out of doors. In small family groups. Six feet apart. This year I could come in person. How I delighted in that thought after a year of absence from in-person worship.

Until I heard this young woman acknowledge there was no planned service. Now, what I had seen and heard was starting to make sense.

The cars leaving the lot when I pulled in at 6:20am. The small groups congregating with their associates in front of the pavilion and going no further. The three singers standing in the dark trying to begin a sing-along where no one else was singing. “Tell us what you’d like to sing,” they tried, cell phones illuminating their faces as they searched the lyrics and sang (honestly, not terribly on pitch) acapella. “Ok! Verse 4! Amaazziiing Graacee, how sweeeet the sounnnd.”

Normally, this Easter Sunrise service was organized as an outreach by a nearby Presbyterian church. Apparently this year, “out of an abundance of caution” (if I never hear those words again, it will be too soon!), it had been canceled. These brave souls were gonna make it Easter, anyway!

Not me. Not proud of this, but not me. Not like this. After the weak effort at hymn singing and then hearing the woman admit there was no plan for this service, I packed up my beach chair and headed nearer the oceanside. I could surely offer my thanks to God for Easter by the thrum of the waves, and get an even better view of the sunrise from there. Looking back at the congregated, I did marvel at the many — perhaps 100 or more — who stayed, determined to worship together anyway.

What a missed opportunity to proclaim the risen Christ, I thought, safely from a distance. How many of those who had come or who had come and then left in disappointment really needed to hear this message or might even have heard it for the first time? I mean, who gets up at 5:15am if they’re not serious about this whole Jesus thing?

Alas, if I was… Stevie or Patty or Steve or Don or Sarah or Tom or Rob or Marey … perhaps it would have been different. All of these people have, over the course of this last year, provided excellent Christian nourishment for my soul, by media in its various forms. And they have spoiled me. Here, when faced with the amateur version, I’m out. God bless those who stayed.

For my part, I did commune with the waves. I watched the gulls gather and sing from their choir lofts in the shallows. I marveled at the pinks reflected in the sky and the birds delighting in the sun’s first new rays. I greeted walkers-by, calling Happy Easter on occasion, when it seemed safe to say so. I silently thanked the many individuals with large trash bags who swept through picking up human discards from the beachfront, caring for the earth over which we have been given dominion.

But was this worship? Was this even Easter?

Silently, I departed, after marking the official sunrise at 7:17 am. The clouds overhead promised it would be a good one – lots of rays reflected early over the new day. As I drove into our neighborhood, I nearly screeched to a stop. I couldn’t help my intake of breath when I saw the poor lifeless bunny sprawled across the roadway. Oh, I thought, not on Easter. And then, What if some poor child returned from Easter services only to find the Easter Bunny lying dead on the ground?

As I pulled into my driveway I realized what I surely needed to do.

I gathered some supplies and walked back to the sad scene where the rabbit’s body still lay, its side pierced, its eyes sunken and lifeless. With some difficulty I managed to lift him, remarkably heavy and still warm. I carried his body to an out-of-the-way place and laid him gently under the hedge. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Easter Bunny. After shoveling a bit of mulch and a few leaves over him, I pronounced a brief word of thanks, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Saddened, I turned to return home along the paved walkway when a small, chocolate brown bunny caught my eye. He nibbled at the green grass in the shade of a nearby bush, apparently, unconcerned about my presence. Once satisfied, he hopped away out of sight.

And it was Easter.

Did I go back to the burial site to check under the hedge? Not yet.

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