Tuesday, June 9, 2009

dust and water: A Meditation on Beseeching



Psalm from lisab on Vimeo.
I find myself watching this, listening to it over and over – a vid from a poet whose work I admire. So beautiful –

. . . The leaves turn their palms, whispering a music of inquiry: What is wisdom? To insist that an end ends all? . . .

. . . If I accuse you, Lord, of refusing me, I find the quarrel within myself. There is honey still, though the hives collapse, and the cupped and clustered flowers, and rain pouring out of the sky's purse . . .

I have been swimming in psalms this past spring – the Book of Psalms – a book more modern and more gaspingly real than I had imagined before reading it for myself. When the psalmist asks
Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee?
it is not as a declaration of faith. The psalmist is not setting up for a rhetorcial, "Yes, but of course."
Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?

Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
The answer in the psalmist’s mind is, “No" - as in - snort of disgust, "No!"



The psalmist is railing, “What good to You is it to let me die, unanswered? I can’t praise you after death, after I cease to exist, only now, only here. Answer my beseeching.” If God is the God of the living, not the God of the dead – what good is my dying? What – and truly without the miraculous revision of the risen Christ – what can this mortality mean? And why won’t You answer me? Why do You let me run as prey to every fear and sorrow, gasping like a hunted deer?
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

I hear, here in this video above, the same beseeching voice.

For me, beseeching first, rather than doctrine – though each, sought in humbleness and hearingly, each truly are only different hands of the same body – but, for me, beseeching is the ground of that being-in-relation-with-God that we call “religion.”

I write that down and immediately the tapping on my shoulder – for James says that pure religion and undefiled is
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep . . . unspotted from the world
So I am likely wrong. Maybe charitable action and that vulgar* word “obedience,” is the fertile and originary ground.
(*vulgar - meaning "of the people" as our acts must be. And too, obedience is a word not admired, haven't you noticed?, in today's polite society.)


Or maybe we are all different soils, different earths, growing the same good seed separately –
And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth . . . And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred . . .
But this verse is after all not really a confirmation of my position. Because the words I left out say of the seed sprung up on stony ground:
But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
Does beseeching have no depth of earth? Is beseeching by itself that stony ground that affords no rootage to the seed?

Always I am thrown back on what only I know, thrown back only on what I know within myself.

Beseeching turns me. Doctrine (the words of the Book) lays the path for me to see the way. Action moves me, and moving I am changed.

But, for me, beseeching first.
Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.

I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me?

The perfect music in the background is by Antony & the Johnsons – not an African group like I had at first assumed – i.e. not a newest generation Ladysmith Black Mombazo, nor another Ayub Ogada – but the New York City band of a very pale UK-born, US-raised singer. "Dust and water, water and dust . . . " are the repeated lyrics. Hauntingly beautiful chant. The voice of beseeching.

The sound is definitely African, and I find I am a little put off at first at this New York appropriation of the cadences of African chant. But would it be less appropriation for “real” African music to be woven with these words of a Western white American woman? Is it exploitation, this mimicking, this emulation of a sound? Colonization? Because we long-wanderers out of Africa have no music any longer of our own? Because all music belongs to us all?

Or is this the true voice of beseeching, this borrowed music, sung in full color, despite the pallor of the singer's skin? Because we borrow everything we have. We do not know where we are from, or what we really are. What are we? A vanity, whose days are a shadow that passeth away? Or a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour? Made to have dominion? or made to look after and defend sheep and oxen, beasts of the field, fowl of the air, the fish of the sea?

How long have these calls for Your response radiated up from our globe, out into Your wide expanse? How long still will our songs rise up, beseeching You to turn not an ear away?

Or is it we who turn away too soon, we who seek the silence of a final end? And You, God, who pant after us, who – strangely, miraculously – set Your wide and wise heart on foolish, wilful, wasteful, belligerent us?
Am I a sea . . .
says angry Job to God,
. . . or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?

When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint;

Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions:

So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life.

I loathe it; I would not live alway: let me alone; for my days are vanity.

What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?

And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?

How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?

I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?

And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.

“So there,” says Job. “I’ll show You.”

Back-handed beseeching.


Okay, Lord, I dare you.


(O Lord please prove us wrong.)

3 comments:

Mrs. Organic said...

I haven't said anything because this post struck me as sort of rhetorical, but I have a couple thoughts on this.

I remember telling the Lord I couldn't do this hard thing He'd wanted from me. And then things got harder. And then even unthinkably harder.

Which actually meant that I could do that first thing He'd wanted from me (because it was practically a cake walk in comparison).

I love what you said here - "Action moves me, and moving I am changed. But, for me, beseeching first."

Things getting harder made me feel as if my beseeching had fallen on deaf ears (especially when it was only one week before the bottom started dropping out). You'd think that when it had all turned around and had gotten much easier that I'd have seen that as an answer, or proof, or something.

I suppose I'm much too stubborn. I'm afraid any acknowledgement will bring back the hard and the unbearable. How is that for backwards thinking.

Lisa B. said...

Thank you for this post, which says so much of what I feel about religious feeling--I am in some sense out of my home religion, but I feel the longing for it, for the form it gives to something in me, for what it helped and still helps to articulate--

I think that one truth of Christian religion is what it helps to articulate about suffering, which seems to me to be one of the hard, irreducible facts about human existence.

Thank you for your sensitive and intelligent attention to the things I am making. It feels like a tremendous gift. Thank you.

Emma J said...

Mrs O - your response spurred me, freed me, to write finally what I'd been trying to mince my way around all week - to just write and not rhetorize.(thanks)

Lisa B - my attention arises out of what you are doing and has nothing to do with kindness on my part.

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