Merry Christmas. Sort of.

I believed in Santa Claus until I was 28, perhaps a little later than most people. But I wanted to believe in him. It’s such a lovely story, that jolly man in a sleigh flying around the world in one night, landing on rooftops and dropping gifts down each chimney. Okay, I knew it was me wrapping the presents. But still.

God’s been harder to maintain a belief in. Some years I’ve pulled it off, sometimes even for almost two decades, if my free will theory was working well (that’s the one that says it’s not his fault, it’s ours). This year, it’s not so good. Indonesia was the last straw. As I said to my husband, the tectonic plates that caused the latest earthquake there, at the same time as the volcano exploded, were not caused by human error, they were a design flaw. A design flaw by you know who, if you happen to buy that whole he-built-the-earth theory. Now, I’ve never been a creationist, even though I’ve sometimes thought it must be nice to park your brain cells like that. But what’s the point of believing in God if he can’t do anything about human suffering? If the world he put humans in is so damn unfair? Don’t get me wrong: geographically, I got lucky. But the ones who didn’t are never far from my mind and I’m pretty angry at God about it.

I have a new theory, which shows how impossible it is for me to just stop believing. That’s because I’ve had the odd experience of God, so there’s no point in my denying he exists. But his goodness? And his absolute power? Those two I’m finding it hard to swallow.

So here’s my new theory. We’re one of his early versions. I think there must be a planet out there where he got the whole design thing right: no tectonic plates colliding, no sinuses, no volcanoes, no cancer, no psychopaths, etc. But us? Oh, I think he kept our model around because he was kind of fond of us, even though we’re so badly flawed. Every now and then he looks back over his shoulder and says, ‘Um, sorry!’ to the world. And then ducks.

This week’s poem reflects my theological struggles.

Early Version:

Waiting For You

It’s dark out this month. Grey
is the sky and the tips
where the leaves hung are bare.
Beauty is black, outlines
of trees against windows
where light hangs less and less.
How can a cradle help
built in years we’ve never
known? How can a voice
centuries thin
speak? Trumpets and angels
shepherds by flocks:
how can our crashes be heard?

Yet light a candle and we fall
knee first again, throats thirsting
for an old story we can’t live
but long for. Empty words read
from an old book to the ones scattered
on the hard wood of pews.

You can tell, by looking at the difference between the versions, that it took me a while to sort out where I was going with this poem. Was I just going to describe the month at the beginning or was I going to say something of substance? And if the latter, how to do it without making an explicit, polemic statement? It’s fine to use a blog as a soapbox, but not a poem. A poem’s responsibility is to draw the reader in, to have them pause, create, reflect. If I give readers every detail, then I leave no space for their imaginations, their hearts to move in. So I worked patiently, line by line, taking out all the anger I kept explicitly putting in and replacing it with images others could work with.

I don’t think I have this poem quite right yet. But I’m getting there.

Current Version:

Waiting For You

It’s dark out this month. Grey
is the sky and the tips
where the leaves hung are bare.
Beauty is black, only
the read-about known, the outlines
of rocks heaving against
the earth under your ocean, where
plates move, sending a wave to toss
houses, crumble walls around
heads. How can a cradle
help, built in years we’ve never
known? How can a voice
centuries thin
speak? Trumpets and angels
shepherds by flocks: how can
the little ones be heard?

Yet light a candle and we fall
knee first again, throats thirsting
for an old story we can’t live
but long for. Empty words
from an ancient book read
to the ones scattered on the hard
pews alone in the city’s crowding
noise. Always the hunger pulls
us forward, always the hunger.
We wait, hearing the voices
of the ones drowned
by quake’s wave. Waiting for you.

.

Finally, here’s another of my theories. It’s time for a Third Testament. If you’re going to believe in God, why on earth would you think he stopped talking to us around 1900 years ago? It’s time to stop venerating the Old Testament with its sordid stories of child abuse, rape, and pillage, and put together a new collection which records the recent history and words of God’s people. After all, there has been quite a bit of new poetry written since the time of the Psalms and the Song of Songs.

Enough ranting. I hope you have a Merry Christmas with your loved ones. See you in January.

PrintFriendlyShare

Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.