A reflection on Acts 3:12-19 and Luke 24:36b-48
A little over a month ago I attended the Tucson Festival of Books. It was the first time Tucson had sponsored this event and I landed upon it while reading the local newspaper one morning over breakfast. What a great idea, I thought. And so the following weekend my husband and I wandered up to the U of A. I was most excited to attend the presentation offered by Poet Laureate Billy Collins.
I first heard the poetry of Billy Collins at CREDO, an eight day event for Episcopal priests sponsored by the Church Pension Fund , which focuses on wellness: financial wellness, spiritual wellness, physical wellness, and so on. The leader of that particular CREDO offered the group of us an opportunity to ponder our ministries through the poetry of Billy Collins.
Dan and I arrived early, in plenty of time to get a good seat in the large ballroom where Billy would speak. A long line of people formed, waiting for the door to open twenty minutes before the presentation. We got a reasonably good seat and settled in. I had no idea what to expect, I had never heard Billy Collins speak. Would he be boring, droll, or pompous? He was after all the US Poet Laureate but that didn’t mean I’d enjoy him speaking about himself and his poems.
So, I was pleasantly surprised when this short man walked up to the podium and began to amuse the crowd with his dry sense of humor. Soon we were all laughing out loud at this very funny man full of stories that enhanced his poetry.
Now I have four or five books of Billy Collins poetry. I have read them over and over, still his poetry has not leaped out at me the way that Mary Oliver’s poems do. She speaks a language I understand, of nature, and God, faith, and love. But, except for the CREDO experience, Collins’s poetry failed to speak to me in that way. That is until I heard him speak and recite his poems. Now when I read his poems I hear his cadence, his voice that contains a bemused chuckle just under the breath, as if he hardly takes himself, and his fame, seriously.
Here is a poem that conveys a bit of this, called, The Poems of Others:
Is there no end to it
The way they keep popping up in magazines
Then congregate in the drafty orphanages of a book?
You would think the elm would speak up,
But like the dawn it only inspires – then more of them
Not even the government can put a stop to it.
Just this morning, one approached me like a possum,
Snout twitching, impossible to ignore.
Another looked out of the water at me like an otter.
How can anyone dismiss them
When they dangle from the eaves of houses
And throw themselves in our paths?
Perhaps I am being too harsh, even ridiculous.
It could have been a day at the zoo
That put me this way – all the children by the cages –
As if only my poems had the right to exist
And people would come down from the hills
In the evening to view them in rooms of white marble.
So, I will take the advice of the mentors
And put this in a drawer for a week
Maybe even a year or two and then have a calmer
Look at it –
But for now I am going to take a walk
Through this nearly silent neighborhood
That is my winter resting place, my hibernaculum,
And get my mind off the poems of others
Even as they peer down from the trees
Or bark at my passing in the guise of local dogs.
A poet. An author, who now amuses and informs me on this journey of life.
Who is the author of your life, Peter asks.
Who is the author of your life?
As much as I enjoy Billy Collins or Mary Oliver I would not define either of them as the author of my life. Rather these two help me understand the author of my life and how that author writes me into life anew each day. Poetry helps me understand the life giving creativity that comes from God and is made manifest in each of us.
There is much discussion these days about how it is that God manifests God’s self in the world. The mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is and always has been a primary focus for this kind of discussion. What is God doing? Can any of this be real? And if we think it all unreal, what then becomes of our faith? Or if we reduce Jesus to a mere human, a man, what then becomes of our salvation? We can read all kinds of authors these days and follow many trajectories of thought. But ultimately the question comes down to, who is the author of our lives?
If God is the author of our lives, then we must accept a certain amount of mystery. The story we know of God and about God as three persons in one will always be more full of mystery than finite answers. It’s supposed to be that way because we are not God, we are humans. And in our human state we are only capable of seeing dimly through a mirror.
To help us with this mystery, to help us know God more fully despite God’s mysterious state, God sent God’s beloved, the Christ, into the world. God gave us God’s love in the fullest expression of love that God could imagine. God gave us God’s love in the form of another human being. In the process of giving and receiving this love we are not, like Billy Collins who struggles to accept that other poems have the right to be created, we are not to assume that God’s love only exists as we know it. God’s love exists as we know it and also with a depth and breadth beyond anything we can imagine. Are we able to imagine the possibility of this kind of love, even as it remains a mystery? Are we able to recognize the life giving love when it comes our way? Are we able to acknowledge that all that we are and all that we have is of God and for God? Are we able to understand that the author of our life is love? Can we hear that author speak into our lives? And if so, are we also able to allow that author to speak through our lives and into the broken places of this world?
When we really allow the author of our lives, God and the mystery of love, to speak through our lives, then something transformational happens. We begin to love as God loves. We love generously. We love the mistakes as much as the successes. We love the hurt until it becomes whole again. We accept others as they are and love them graciously, accepting the very traits that set our nerves on edge. We love from the heart and the mind. We love through those times when the love of God as we know it is crucified and killed by our neighbors. And yet, like the author of lives, we love until that love, God’s love, is alive again and walks this earth in flesh and blood just like you and I.