This is My Body

A poem by Rev’d. Ruth Wells

This is my body
This
Is my body
This is
My body
This is my
Body;
Broken

I trace the cross on my belly
Vertical linea nigra
This black line, marking out your expected arrival
Then the horizontal one I barely dare to touch
The ‘sun roof’ as my sister called it
Made for your quick escape
Your great evacuation
Made in haste.
This is my body broken for you.

This is my blood shed.
The messy reality of new life
Carnage
The aftermath
Blood for weeks
That secret that nobody told me first time round
The woosiness of the initial venture out of bed
Tentative steps like learning to walk again
The return of sensation to limbs numb
The shock of it all.
This is my blood.

And as I flit inbetween sleep and wake
In the liminal hours
The sound of your guzzling
Lulling me into dreamlike trance
I chance again upon the Eucharist
The broken body
The blood shed
And I’m walking the line
Placing your broken body into outstretched hands
Some eager
Others hesitant
All broken
And my brokenness
My bloodshed
Becomes all the more poignant
The collision of humanity & the Divine

And as I hold you to me
Our heartbeats echoing
I am caught up in it all
The brokenness and the beauty.

Wells

A Moment of Curious Holiness

Two poems, ‘This is My Body,’ and ‘Gifted,’ by Cat Connolly, with a reflection on playfully tracing lines between God and humanity through words. 

Illustration: ‘Wings’ by Matthew Colclough

 

My understanding of what it means to be artistic has been stretched in the last couple of years. For a long time I inwardly mourned my own lack of ability when it comes to painting, drawing, crafting, and all related subjects.

 

However, I was prompted a while ago to start writing, and to think of writing as being an art form. Perhaps this is obvious to some. For me it was bizarrely revolutionary.

 

And I love words. I love that emotions and images unique to each person can be conjured as the reader is taken by the hand and linguistically twirled. I love the beauty and flow of language captured on a page. I love the ambiguity and power that can coexist in simple communication.

 

So now, gently encouraged, I write. Not often, not much, and not with the dexterity of an acclaimed wordsmith. But it has become for me a way of being, journaling marbled with prayer and wonder, self-reflection and creativity tentatively combined.

 

It has become something vulnerable, but also bold. A small step of playful bravery. Musings between myself and God. And somehow, this encapsulates the way I have come to think of art.

 

 This is My Body

 

A moment of curious holiness.

Juxtaposition of beauty and brokenness.

As the melody of the Agnus Dei surrounds my soul with calm, the wafer is cracked.

A sharp cut of sound against a softness of voices.

And as we sing to the Lamb, the altar again bears the weight of outpoured love,

fractured

so that each can receive to themselves.

Wonderment surrounds the indwelling of God.

So violently torn asunder,

the broken reaches out and offers restoration

with open,

bleeding,

blessing hands.

 

 

Gifted

 

‘Are those wings?’ you ask, looking over my shoulder.

‘What?’ Caught off guard the question surprises me. Someone asked me that once before, a long time ago. ‘I dream of flying sometimes, but I don’t have wings!’ I laugh.

Your smile is quizzical, as if you don’t quite believe me.

Later, I wonder. What is that other people see? I am quite ordinary and unremarkable. Only the gifted people have wings.

I dream it again that night – the gentle whisper of wind, the graceful dancing beneath the stars, the music carrying my bare feet – only, my feet aren’t on the ground.

When I wake I turn in the mirror. Is that a glimpse, a glimmer of something? But it can’t be, I tell myself. It’s not possible.

Time passes by. I see you again, and now, finally, I ask the question.

‘What makes someone gifted?’

This time your smile is kind. ‘They believe’, you reply.

My favourite place in the world is a roof garden by the river, where fairy lights twinkle in the overhead branches. It is quiet, and peaceful. Eventually I am alone in the twilight. The calm serenity falls like a mist around me and all seems content, full of wonder, perfect.

I take a breath and step out into the evening air.

My wings are beautiful.

 

wings

Lila: Life, Blood, and Birth into Love

Jamie Franklin reflects on parenthood, God’s love for humanity, and the miracle of birth into love, through ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson. 

Published in 2014, Lila is the third book in Marilynne Robinson’s rightly celebrated Gilead trilogy. It is also, in my opinion, its crowning glory. Robinson is a deeply and obviously Christian writer, and yet she is also widely accepted by the broader society as one of the greatest living Western novelists, winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature and being chosen as an interviewee by no less than Barack Obama due to his affection for her books.

The eponymous Lila is a multi-dimensional narrative that illuminates Lila’s present by gradually revealing to us her past. We find her as a child ‘just there on the stoop in the dark, hugging herself against the cold, all cried out and nearly sleeping’ and we come to understand that she was neglected by her parents to the point of death when her salvation arrived in the form of Doll, a mysterious woman who takes upon herself the burden to remove Lila from her abusive situation and to give her the best life that she can. Doll and Lila spend the latter’s formative years wandering around from place to place, sometimes alone, sometimes with a gang of similarly rootless nomads headed up by the ruthlessly pragmatic character of Doane, who at one stage abandons Lila on a church porch when Doll is absent for a few days and hence not around to take care of her. After the death of Doll and a period in the hell-like prison of a whorehouse (the book’s language), the present of the book finds Lila in Gilead, the hometown of preacher and genuine man of God John Ames, living in an abandoned shack. Ames meets Lila, falls in love with her, marries her, seemingly unconcerned about her past, and then has a child with her, a baby boy. He is also very old, but I am fairly that his exact age is never mentioned in any of the novels. The moving denouement of the work finds Lila’s existence transformed by the relentless love of John Ames, whose affection for her is something that she finds it hard to accept much less to comprehend. Ames’ age, however, means that inevitably Lila will be left alone to raise their son at a not-so-distant point in his young life, the tragic side to love, being the fear and the inevitability of this sort of parting.

I was deeply moved reading Lila, and I have thought about it a lot subsequently, particularly around the time of the birth of my own son, Rupert, and our continued raising of our one year old boy Rafe. The temptation of critics of Lila (though I’m not aware of any) would be to say that it is a fundamentally patriarchal text that indicates that the woman Lila’s only possibly redemption could come in the form a male hero-character. This criticism, though tempting, would be to miss entirely the point and hence the power of the story. The fact is that Lila is twice saved and twice utterly helpless: the first as a little girl, neglected by the selfishness of her parents, and the second as a woman, whose life has gradually declined into a state of sub-human non-being. The first time, she is saved by Doll; the second time, she is saved by the prodigal love of John Ames. A leitmotif in the novel is the continual reappearance of Ezekiel 16:6: ‘And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.’ Indeed, the book could be seen as an extended commentary upon this passage. The fact is that Lila stands for all of us: we are all helpless, like the little girl sitting outside on the stoop of her house; no eye pitied us, nobody had compassion upon us, but the Lord came to us in his grace. This is the love that Lila finds it so hard to accept, to draw near to. But it is the love by which she is ultimately transformed. It is a love which is sheer grace, totally unnecessary for God to give but absolutely vital for us to receive. It is giftedness and prodigality.

I watched Rupert being born (I really watched it) and this verse came back to me powerfully: ‘I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.’ When Rupert’s head popped out, I could see nothing else but blood. When eventually his little body followed it was entirely grey and it took him a few second to draw breath to cry, hoping that someone, something, would be there to help him on the other side. He was covered in blood and meconium and other unidentifiable gunk. Strange images occur to you: I thought he looked like a small, hollow sock, so inhuman and incoherent did he look at that moment.

Children simply cannot live without love, not just because they need it emotionally, but because if somebody didn’t care for them, from the moment of conception in the womb to their birth and early fragile and vulnerable days and ever beyond, they would die without hope. And, in that sense, we are all, every single one of us, however imperfectly, literally loved into being. If somebody hadn’t taken pity on us; if somebody hadn’t seen us wallowing in our blood and from then on said to us, ‘Live”, we could not have done so. Maximus the Confessor says in the Four Centuries on Love, ‘We do not know God from his being but from his magnificent works and his Providence for beings. Through these as through mirrors we perceive his infinite goodness and wisdom and power’. Childhood and infancy is unquestionably one of those mirrors, in which, as parents, we are invited to participate in an imperfect way in the perfect parental love of God for us, and, in which, as children, we first learn utter dependency and reliance upon another which is the crucial, base and fundamental fact of our existence. As Maximus taught, if we can have eyes to see these things, then truly we can sense God’s presence among us. Nowhere is this clearer to me than in the beauty of my children’s lives, in their love and dependency upon me, and in my love for them.

And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.

I finished Lila during a long period of reading late into the night. After I had finished, and despite the fact that we have been trying to get our toddler Rafe to sleep in his cot recently, when he awoke a bit later on, I took him to bed with me and allowed him to sleep with his arms around my neck, in the still darkness aware of the mystery of his being.

Madonna Lactans

Alice Watson reflects on Mary, Motherhood, and the mystery of Christ.

  1. What was

bouts

Dieric Bouts, Madonna mit Kind (ca. 1475)

He is eleven days old and we take him to Church. I am broken.  Not yet learnt how to reform, or realised that it might even be possible.  Swallowed up by silence, and doubt, that nothing can make sense any more.

I feed him in the vestry, I’m afraid he’ll fuss, of the looks, the milk that won’t be controlled, how he coughs and splutters and how I don’t really know what to do.  How I don’t really know who I am.  How I don’t really know.  Squished between the discarded decorations and the sign for the fete, I look up and in a dusty old picture I see you.  Did you know what to do, birthing your own Lord, Word made flesh. Your flesh. How you held in your arms a little ball of universe, and sprayed milky stars across his skin.  In chaos and in love.  What trauma did you know too?

He still feeds long after the bell has rung, after the rows of shuffling feet and crossing hands have made it back to their pew.  But the curtain swishes, and the veil is lifted, and the body of Christ (amen)  And the blood of Christ (amen).  How long until the Blood is my blood, and how long until it’s his?  For His blood was once yours, no purification needed, only grace.  So very full of grace.

  1. And is

Hansen

Kate Hansen. 2010. ‘Gladys and Elizabeth’

He is eight months old and I run back from classes to feed him.  Leaving behind the patriarchs, and the evangelists, and the dead German theologians.  There are quite a few of them. I don’t read many women in these early days.  I am tired and I pretend I’m not.  I drink too much coffee.  I keep up.  Sometimes.  Sometimes barely.  I think of you as my hands move around the beads, or as my mind moves around them as I will him to sleep.

At night I whisper the Magnificat to him.  Half promise, half threat, half dream.  Cast the mighty down.  Raise up the lowly.  Did you do the same, night after night, rocking chair revolutionary.  Is that how he became his Mother’s son?

I don’t go to Walsingham.  I stay home and nurse.  I think you’d approve.

  1. And is to come

icon

Icon of the Mother of God of the Inexhaustible cup.

And so this is this.  Time passes, and I am moulded, formed, softened by the love that has flowed through my ducts, toughened by the fire that burns in my veins.  Perhaps not tough enough.  Still.

I learn of loss, of fear and trembling.  I learn of trust and of acceptance.  I learn of laughter and of lament.  And I learn a little something of the mystery, and the wonder of transformation.  Of pain transfigured to strength, scars to art, nights of tears to mornings of joy.  And of the power that can transform blood, to milk, and to blood again.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for all of us who cry, who mourn, who are shamed, cast down, who carry heavy burdens.  And for all those who lift them. Now and at the hour of our deaths.  Amen.