Guided by poems

Dear President Trump,

Our church celebrated its 150th anniversary with a doozy of a service this morning. We opened with a short poem by Hafiz:

Is God speaking.

Why not be polite and
Listen to

Pretty dang provocative, right? And radical. And incredibly hard for me to wrap my head and heart around – are you God speaking? Really? Do I need to be polite and listen to you? Personally, I’d rather not. To me you are profoundly un-God-like and listening to you is noxious, infuriating, and anxiety provoking. But if I get to play at being a god (or God, I suppose) and can decide that you are not “God speaking” or even “a god speaking” it clearly gives you license to play God and decide that I am not “God speaking” and you don’t have to be polite and listen to me. This is where we are, isn’t it? I sure don’t want to listen to you or to the people who are aligned with you, and you’ve given no indication that you are listening to me or people like me except to use what we say to mock us.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Still, though, I’m afraid that as long as you all hold to the position that those of us who didn’t happen to be born White, male, straight, privileged, and typically abled are less than and undeserving of the rights and responsibilities of full personhood, the way forward is fraught. It’s not new news at all that you’re running scared, touting and promoting to the hilt the old ‘isms in an effort to hold on to your unfair share of the resource-power pie just a little bit longer. And it’s also not new news that we can’t just wait you out, or that if we match your rancor, this whole thing will spiral out of control in a disastrous way. But how do we hold steady, how do we see the God (love) in you when you quite clearly want to shove us off the island? I honestly don’t know.

But I think maybe Emily Dickinson has an idea:

I had no time to Hate—
Because The Grave would hinder Me—
And life was not so
Ample I
Could finish—Enmity

Nor had I time to Love—
But since
Some Industry must be—
The little Toil of Love—
I thought
Be large enough for Me—

(Complete Poems, 1924; poem #498)

Our guest preacher recited this poem from memory and I think maybe it was meant to be an answer to Hafiz’s challenge. “The little Toil of Love –“ – not a big grand gesture or some monumental work; just a little thing, a little tiny bit of love – what if that is enough? What if that is enough to keep us from becoming paralyzed by the enormity of the hate we sometimes feel and so often face? What if that is maybe, most days, enough to keep us from jumping into the bottomless pit of suffering and despair?

Her words don’t really lead me to feel any more positively disposed to the idea of listening to you politely, but they do help me re-orient to the imperative of not adding to the world’s misery, and that’s important.

The final few lines of today’s benediction helped seal this fundamental idea for me. Here they are somewhat paraphrased:

May you be blessed with foolishness….
Foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world.
Foolishness, so that you will do what others claim cannot be done.

May we be safe to be daring and foolish.
May we commit and recommit to our little Toils of Love.
May we be healthy and strong when we choose to listen politely.
May we know that peace grounded in love will make the difference in this world.

Tracy Simpson

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