A Reflection on Luke 21:5-19
Christian Wiman is one of our best living American poets. In the last decade he has been using his gift to explore the presence of God in the world, catching sight of the Divine in the most common of occurrences. It is a skill he is honing as he comes to grips with the diagnoses of incurable cancer. The temple of his body is breaking down. No sense now, worrying about what will happen in the future, the present is where to look for God, to peer at every moment for the imminent evanescent shimmer of Presence.
This is what I believe Jesus is trying to teach his disciples in the scripture passage we are exploring. The passage is difficult to understand logically, but logic never brings us into the divine presence. We must not ever try to understand Jesus logically; he speaks in metaphor, parable, and poetry.
Luke most likely recorded his book 40 to 50 years after the temple and city of Jerusalem were destroyed. He and his community are remembering Jesus’s lessons and trying to make sense of where God is when there is so much horror in the world. The answer is one the mystics and poets understand far more clearly than the rest of us – God is right here in this moment. Today I offer the lens of a poet to decode this selection of Scripture. The following are three prisms of interpretation from Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss.
The poet’s wisdom:
Christ comes alive in the communion between people. When we are alone, even joy is, in a way, sorrow’s flower: lovely, necessary, sustaining, but blooming in loneliness, rooted in grief. I’m not sure you can have communion with other people without these moments in which sorrow has opened in you, and for you; and I am pretty certain that without shared social devotion one’s solitary experiences of God wither into a form of withholding, spiritual stinginess, the light of Christ growing ever fainter in the glooms of the self.
Wiman, Christian. My Bright Abyss. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 291
Read the Luke text from this perspective – How might this help us understand the faith of a community experiencing persecution and seemingly endless foreign occupation, earthquakes, diseases, etc.?
The Poet’s Prayer
Lord, I can approach you only by means of my consciousness, but consciousness can only approach you as an object, which you are not. I have no hope of experiencing you as I experience the world—directly, immediately—yet I want nothing more. Indeed, so great is my hunger for you—or is this evidence of your hunger for me?—that I seem to see you in the black flower mourners make beside a grave I do not know, in the embers’ innards like a shining hive, in the bare abundance of a winter tree whose every limb is lit and fraught with snow. Lord, Lord, how bright the abyss inside that “seem.”
Wiman, Christian. My Bright Abyss. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 210
Read this prayer over and over again. Internalize it. Imagine you are in Israel at the time Jesus is speaking the words recorded in Luke. How might this prayer be heard in that environment?
The poet’s poem:
My sorrow’s flower was so small a joy
It took a winter seeing to see it as such.
Numb, unsteady, stunned at all the evidence
Of winter’s one imperative to destroy,
I looked up, and saw the bare abundance
Of a tree whose every limb was lit and fraught with snow.
What I was seeing then I did not quite know
But knew that one mite more would have been too much.
Wiman, Christian. My Bright Abyss . Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 258
The poets sees something in the woods, looks away from his sorrow, attends to the moment, and senses something more than is apparent to the eyes. He is haunted by a whisper of the Divine, a whisper emanating from the vision in the woods, a murmur he can barely discern, but – it is there. One mite more would be too much… One mite of what? The divine presence? The weight of the snow on the branch? The haunting in his heart? Whatever that mite is – it fertilized the growth of the flower that bloomed from his sorrow.
I pray that you will learn to attend to each moment, to look away from your sorrow, sense something more, and experience the flowering of faith in a community devoted to holding each other through the challenges of life.