I am wary of the schmaltzy universalism that sometimes pervades the world of multifaith encounters. In our interfaith families community, we strive to preserve and hold the funky particularities of Judaism and Christianity, even when this leads to dissonance, instead of dwelling always in the safer zone of overlapping interfaith values.
But recently, my husband came home with a poem that found its way through my defensive cynicism. Peace activist Christopher Matthias wrote the poem to read at an interfaith conference on corporate responsibility. I love that his poem contains both timeless religious imagery, and more angular modern references. Chris works for an order of Roman Catholic nuns. So I thought I better write for permission to post the poem, warning him that this blog takes the radical position of advocating raising children with two religions. He wrote back, “I would be more apprehensive to share permission if your blog were not radical.” So here’s the poem.
THIS, HOLY THIS
Like the breath held.
Ready to. Ready to. Ready to flare forth!
The sound of creation vibrating all life from the center
Like the vibrating lips of the aborigine through the didgeridoo
Telling the story of how THIS, HOLY THIS arrived and flows in tones of hydrogen and light.
We are learning your name as it is spelled out.
Creation. Life. Our God.
We hear you underwater;
In the wind;
In the bells;
In each other.
We have known your loving kindness:
Our mothers’ affection;
Our fathers’ embrace.
We are spelling out your name life by life, life after life;
Our holy charge to play our part—to dot an “eye”
As the desert fathers and mothers searched for home.
As Buddha touched a sacred moment under the Bodhi tree;
As Ganesh first swung the trunk of his newly given pachyderm head;
As Samson pushed apart the pillars—blind—shamed—but loved by you;
As the Sufi poet spins himself to ecstasy,
As Rumi found the words:
If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
or what “God’s fragrance” means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close. Like this.
As Peter stepped out on the water;
As the medicine wheel is painted on the regalia of a dancer, dancing for his honor, for his people’s honor, for the love of you…
As the sisters took off their habits after centuries;
As they struggle to be just as much your church as their brothers;
As two pines from Lebanon were nailed together
to suspend a man from Nazareth until he exhaled no more.
As sinners and saints ate bread,
Drank malt liquor,
Told jokes bother clean and dirty.
As wars erupted,
As fish ate fish ate fish;
As Mary said her “Yes!”
As Joseph Dreamed;
As Moses held out his arms;
As Miriam played her trick;
As people threw snickers wrappers in garbage cans;
As beads crossed the devotee’s fingers;
As children were conceived;
As children were not born;
As morning came;
As icicles melted;
As peace was sought with picket signs, hunger strikes, songs and letters,
As Gandhi placed calloused feet one in front of the other;
As gossip spread;
As Shakespeare crossed out words he didn’t like;
As mountains fell;
As we have doubted our place in all of this;
As the grandparent died;
As we forgot the beauty of difference;
As the young man died;
As we found ourselves in our opponents;
As the sister from Seattle died;
As we threw our heads back and laughed at ourselves;
As memories were lost;
As a lover proposed;
As oranges were blessed;
As papers were filed;
As curses were spoken;
As those who are on the same team fought instead of yielding, forgiving, and renewing their commitments to each other.
As they passed through it—beginning again, and again, and again.
As fields were planted;
As poison filled the ocean;
As millions died in genocides;
As stories of beauty saved, changed, and vindicated lives;
As atheists made sacred the time of one life.
As miners never emerged from the belly of the earth;
As wind turned chimes—revealing the harmony of the two sides of this touching the two sides of that.
As the nautilus grows and grows, echoing the shape of the universe;
As we ask you to be with us as we speak our part of your name
Day by day
Choice by choice
Forgiveness by forgiveness
Voice by voice
Coast by coast
Bite by bite
Child by child
Love by love by love by love by love by love.