Year A, Proper 10
For the last two weeks I have been writing about the imagery of story. Images lead us along the paths to finding the inside truth of a story…even as the young girl, Maggie, says in the book, Is That Story True?, the outside of the story didn’t really happen that way. Images lead us to the emotions of a story which strike a chord in our hearts as we recognize and remember when we have felt the same. Images lead us to metaphor and meaning. If the story is about a child finding a hidden key that unlocks a hidden treasure box, what is the metaphor or meaning of that key or that box in our own life? In the life of our community? Our world?
As you read the texts for this week I invite you to list the most vivid images that come to you after you put down the Bible or shut down your computer screen. Your list might look something like:
- the pregnant belly of a woman rolling and roiling as twins move within; perhaps you have a kinesthetic memory of this experience!
- red lentil stew
- a lamp burning warmly
- mountains singing…..what is that sound like?
- trees clapping their hands….is it the rustle of the wind?
- wagon tracks overflowing with bounty….
- What is the look, the feel in the body, in the heart, of “no condemnation”? Does it feel like the first day of summer vacation? Like walking out of the office on the last day of job that brought no joy? Coming out of cold into warmth? Or vice versa?
- a sower sowing seed….the feel of it in the bag….the walking…the rhythm of the arms…the smell of the soil…the taste of fresh bread…
Images stick with us through our lives. Psalm 119:105 was one of the first Bible verses I learned as a child. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” I have never forgotten it. With these images I was given a confidence and assurance in God’s Word, first in the biblical texts, and later in the discernment of my own heart. God’s Word was first a place of safety and in that context I could wrestle with it when the hard passages came later in my life.
One way to grow more adept with images is to read poetry. If you are not accustomed to poetry you can start by savoring the psalms. Read them out loud and in a variety of translations and paraphrased settings. Sing them as often as you can. I have never forgotten, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” because of an anthem in junior high choir. Or “You shall go out with joy!” because of the choral anthem I sang with the high school chorus at my high school graduation. Whenever I encounter these verses again, my first memories ring in my ears, enriching the context in which I read them in the present.
Find poets you love and read them. Out loud and silently. Listen to them read their own work. Or others read it for them. Instead of offering folktales with imagery this week I offer you poems to resonate with the images of our scriptures. They are still stories…they are very true on the inside. And their outsides are magical in the power of their words.
For Genesis 25:19-34…..what we learn from brothers….
I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.
By Marie Howe
For Isaiah 55:10-13 ….”the mountains break forth into song” and “the trees clap their hands”
is the instructor.
We need no other.
Guess what I am,
he says in his
Because I love the world
I think of grass,
I think of leaves
and the bold sun,
I think of the rushes
in the black marshes
just coming back
from under the pure white
and now finally melting
stubs of snow.
Whatever we know or don’t know
leads us to say:
Teacher, what do you mean?
But faith is still there, and silent.
Then he who owns
the incomparable voice
suddenly flows upward
and out of room
and I follow,
obedient and happy.
Of course I am thinking
the Lord was once young
and will never in fact be old.
And who else could this be, who goes off
down the green path,
carrying his sandals, and singing?
By Mary Oliver
For Romans 8:1-11….”no condemnation”….
Which reminds me of another knock-on-wood
memory. I was cycling with a male friend,
through a small midwestern town. We came to a 4-way
stop and stopped, chatting. As we started again,
a rusty old pick-up truck, ignoring the stop sign,
hurricaned past scant inches from our front wheels.
My partner called, “Hey, that was a 4-way stop!”
The truck driver, stringy blond hair a long fringe
under his brand-name beer cap, looked back and yelled,
“You fucking niggers!”
And sped off.
My friend and I looked at each other and shook our heads.
We remounted our bikes and headed out of town.
We were pedaling through a clear blue afternoon
between two fields of almost-ripened wheat
bordered by cornflowers and Queen Anne’s lace
when we heard an unmuffled motor, a honk-honking.
We stopped, closed ranks, made fists.
It was the same truck. It pulled over.
A tall, very much in shape young white guy slid out:
greasy jeans, homemade finger tattoos, probably
a Marine Corps boot-camp footlockerful
of martial arts techniques.
“What did you say back there!” he shouted.
My friend said, “I said it was a 4-way stop.
You went through it.”
“And what did I say?” the white guy asked.
“You said: ‘You fucking niggers.'”
The afternoon froze.
“Well,” said the white guy,
shoving his hands into his pockets
and pushing dirt around with the pointed toe of his boot,
“I just want to say I’m sorry.”
He climbed back into his truck
and drove away.
By Marilyn Nelson
For Matthew 13:1-9….What kind of soil are you? How do you receive the seed? What will grow?
I want to be
with the universe
like the tiger lily
its gorgeous head.
among the so-called
in the uncultivated fields
that still abide.
But it’s okay
if, after all,
I’m not a lily,
but only grass
in a clutch of curly grass
waving in the wind,
staring sunward: one of those
sweet, abrasive blades.
By Mary Oliver
You see, I’ve always identified with the neat grass,
the charming roses, and the carefully tended gardens.
But perhaps, in the grand scheme of things,
women really have more in common with dandelions.
It feels like lots of folks keep trying to get rid of us or shut us up
or pull us out of the places we want to be.
And maybe we do have to be like the dandelions
that are willing to return proudly
the very next day after the lawn has been mowed.
Perhaps the dandelions have a lesson for us
in their ability to splash the yard with color
immediately after they have been mowed down.
And our words, thoughts, feelings and actions
are maybe just as subversive and uncontrollable
as the light seed puffs of the dandelions
that ride the wind to take root
in every imaginable spot on earth.
By Nelia Kimbrough
Blessings on your story journey this week,
through the sacred images of our texts,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Photos and commentary may be reprinted with permission only.
[i]Mary Oliver, “I Want”, Evidence (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2009, 56).