Graduate student, Rebecca Jane Bedell, composed this poem for Worship on April 8th, 2018, as Rev. Mark Elsdon preached the sermon, “Is God a Man?” You can listen to her reading the poem at the end of sermon. Rebecca is a candidate in the MFA program at UW Madison.
In His Own Image
Michelangelo stands crammed against the chapel
ceiling, his weight swaying the wooden scaffolding,
neck craned back as he frescoes the hands, eyes,
and beard of a man he could meet on the streets
of the Vatican. A regal man with traveled eyes.
And why not? By 1508, artists had overcome
their awesome fear of depicting God the Father. So it
has been. Holding a brush, a pen, a keyboard, our
imaginations feel a tremble in their climbing muscles,
fall back and tumble down the smooth riverbeds
of what we know, back into the arms of those we came with,
those who look like us. If imagination could look
from the mountaintop, it would run out of air,
faint on the image of Earth falling away into space.
For convenience, our tongues have sculpted pronouns, two
bathroom lines, assigned God one side of the clothing store.
Just as I, age five, imagined God as my own dad, bushy
Santa beard in a recliner with a TV remote. Human God
rolling over, smacking the alarm clock sun, hustling down
the cloudy stairs and pulling his work gloves on, feet dangling
over the world. Forgive us if we can do better. If human,
Rilke imagined God a lonely neighbor, aching
for a glass of water—or the poet’s unborn son, growing
impossibly under skin. Like him, I write of God as lover,
God as seamstress. I wear my similes like a bathrobe
in a blizzard. We can dress God the Mother in her bloody
scrubs, wrapping bandages around all cloven sinew.
Even a radical transgender God would still look like me.
Let us pile our imitations, discordant songs
and paper effigies into a ramshackle altar—
even the translated words of our holy books, deluging
out from our unable lips. Then, let God.
Let a storm smash
the whole construction.
God pulling Godself out of the lightless grotto
of the universe, acting in the electron sizzle
among atoms, most fundamental force, God
the last unknown. Show me why I open outward
in desolate spaces: muted streetlamps after snow,
the sepia tumult of a hurricane. God the frozen lake,
God the blazing tree in its dark center. Reveal the painter’s
image pluming into flames, brushes immolated, eyes
cowering and covered in the corner. Reveal God
who cannot be cupped on the tongue of one who has studied
long enough—reveal us minuscule and wordless
standing for the first time in a field under the galaxy.
The battering tongue of wind the only speech,
pulling the honey of our voices out from the hives
of our throats. God shattering into fantastic grain,
spilt in the vineyards, filling the volatile chapels of
our bodies: thrumming furnaces of grace.
Hope Endures – A Reflection from BWAP Louisiana by Clare Aeschbacher
If you’ve been present in Worship or keeping up with the Pres House blog the past couple of weeks, you’ve already heard some of the stories from the winter Break With A Purpose trip to Denham Springs, Louisiana. First we heard Taya share about ‘hope is born’ and how we saw hope fill Mawmaw, the 80-year-old owner of the house we worked on, as she was able to walk on her new floors for the first time since the flood ruined them in August 2016. Next, Steven shared about hope being tested in Mary, our host at the Fuller Center where we stayed, as she gave away her last towel, but received many more to give away shortly thereafter and as Mawmaw watched the flood waters rise closer and closer to her home, eventually coming in through the floors and causing significant damage. Today, I will reflect on the theme hope endures.
One of the ways from this trip that I saw the continuation of hope was through one of the construction consultants who worked for the Fuller Center, Brian. Our group didn’t directly work with Brian a whole lot, but he was still very open to sharing why he is where he is in his life. I don’t know all of the details, but from what I’ve gathered Brian has a young daughter who lives in Boston, but because of his past with substance abuse, he was only able to spend one afternoon per week with her. In December, he came to Louisiana to do home repairs and was offered a paid position to stay with the Fuller Center which is how we met him. Because he is currently living in Louisiana, Brian no longer gets to see his daughter on a regular basis, but he believes that this experience of helping others will strengthen him, give him the ability to be an even better father, and allow him more time to see his daughter once he goes home. He even speaks to local youth about the dangers of drugs and substance abuse so he can prevent them from falling down the same trap that he did. Brian may have come from a broken past; however, he is hopeful that through his experiences with the people of Louisiana, he can provide a future of hope for them as well as for himself and his family.
Though not directly related to this trip, my second story carries a similar message of hope. As many of you know, I spend my summers working for a nonprofit that does emergency home repairs, similar to those we did on this trip, in rural Appalachia. Last summer, while my co-worker Lucas was running errands around the community, a woman stopped him upon seeing the name of our organization on the vehicle he was exiting. She approached Lucas with tears in her eyes and thanked him for the work he did in the community. It turns out that she had received help from our organization about ten years ago and said it completely changed the lives of her and her sons and gave them all hope for the future.
It may seem that we did something as simple as replacing some floors or something as (not so) simple as moving a giant handicap-accessible ramp, but, in the eyes of the people we served and those who witnessed our serving, we did much more. We inspired hope that we may never see the direct effects of. But that’s not the point. The point is not to be congratulated; it is to do God’s work. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” When we can come together as a group, a church, a community and do God’s work whether it be on a service trip, baking treats for homeless people, or volunteering at the Grace Food Pantry, we can spread hope that endures.
A Reflection from BWAP Louisiana by Mary Murphy
Hope is Named.
As I reflected upon this phrase, I pulled out my sketchbook to help me express my thoughts. I resulted in the displayed drawing. I reflected on the stories I heard throughout my trip to Denham Springs, LA and I ended up with three elements of hope–Pain/Darkness, Possibility/Light, and Trust/Community. As I continued to draw, I ended up adding words that resonated with each attribute. While doing so, I asked myself a few questions; What pain did Denham Springs suffer from? What do they hope for? And How did they cultivate those hopes into something tangible? Today I would like to share two stories that guided me in this artistic reflection.
Pain/Darkness and Possibility/Light
One particular story stands out to me in this regard is from the daughter of Director of Hospitality (Mary), Her daughter, a high-school sophomore I believe, told of the state of violence and poverty in Denham Springs before the flood and her hope for a better and safer community in the future. She talked as if the flood, though tragic and painful in-it-self, was a restart for the city to come together and rebuild a something they’d be proud of.
She ended with a story from within flood relief efforts. She explained that between a very poor trailer park and a wealthy neighborhood, stood a fence. The flood waters tore the fence down, as from the act of God, providing a passage out of both their previous lives as well as safety from the flood. Individuals from both sides of the fence worked together to gain safety, not taking into account their differences, but rather strengths, as each of them worked to survive and help others out of trouble.
Another story that resonates with me is from the work site, where I helped renovate the floors at MaMa’s house. Both the owner of the house, MaMa, and the worksite manager, Peter, put their trust in us, a group of strangers from Wisconsin, with varying construction skill but a willingness to volunteer, to help renovate the floors. Neither of them had reason to trust in our ability to complete the tasks on hand, but they did so anyway. Peter sacrificed both time and skill in order to teach the group how to restore the floor, from the demolishing step through to laminating a new subfloor. He even trusted us enough to leave the job site from time to time and allow us to cultivate our own community, trust, and faith in each other to continue to problem solve, teach each other skills, and team-up for difficult tasks.
Though we did not see MaMa’s house finished, I trust that the Fuller Center, Peter, Mary, and future volunteers will continue upon our efforts to renovate and fully hear MaMa’s stories, allowing her to move back in and resume living. I also have faith in Denham Springs to stand together in community to provide strength, hope, and love as they work to restart, rebuild, and change their city for the better.
Hope is Tested – A reflection from BWAP Louisiana by Steven Martell
When I think of the phrase “Hope being tested”, I tend to think of the word “Faith”, so when I was asked to speak about a time that hope was tested, I knew I wanted to share a brief story of faith in action. Although there are times in my life when my hope was tested, I discovered through our interactions with the people of Denham Springs, Louisiana, that those who were present during the flood in August of 2016 all had their faiths tested by the difficulties presented by the disaster.For those of you who are unfamiliar with this event, last August there was a large flood that was the result of extensive raining and the inability of the water to drain from the region. This resulted in a flood that had standing water for several days, forced many people indefinitely from their homes, and caused an estimated $2.2 billion in damage. Today I would like to share a few of the stories the people offered to us during our stay with them two weeks ago.
Our first story was from our host, Mary; she revealed to us that we can have our faith tested in some of the most unexpected ways. During the flood and in its aftermath, Mary volunteered to leave her home so she could help her church hand out various necessities to the people who had been driven from their homes. She spent an entire afternoon determining who needed the toiletries that the church was able to provide. Although this seems as first glance to be an easy request, Mary found that she had her faith tested when she began to run out of supplies while the number of people asking for these supplies seemed to stay constant. As Mary began to anticipate, she came to a point where she had only one towel remaining, even as multitudes of people requested them. Being unsure of what to do with the last towel (so as not to disappoint the crowd), Mary found herself tested. Mary reported to us that she felt called by God in that moment to give the towel to the next person waiting in line (even though this meant she would not be able to meet the needs of all the others), but she gave away the towel nonetheless. Within minutes of giving what she thought would be the last towel, a shipment containing over one hundred towels was received by the church: a miracle for both Mary and the survivors in the church.
In the meantime- while Mary was helping the people who came to the church looking for help- she hosted dozens of others in her own home, giving up her own bed. As she let people into her dry space (one of the few undamaged homes in the neighborhood), the water continued to raise. Mary told us that she, her family and those who were taking shelter in their home began to grow anxious as the water started to lap at the edge of the home’s lawn. She recalls sitting down to pray, placing her trust in God and saying “You have trusted me with all these people! You can’t let my house flood or they will have nowhere else to go!” Later that afternoon the rains finally stopped, leaving Mary’s home as an island in the water, with a new shoreline a matter of paces from her family’s front doorstep.
The final story I would like to share this afternoon is from Maw-Maw, the 81 year old woman the Pres House team members had the pleasure of serving during our trip. One morning during the week, while I was taking a break from working on rebuilding the floor, Maw-Maw told me briefly about her experiences during the flood. Maw-Maw reminded me how she is lucky enough to have many of her children living near to her or with her, yet as the water rose in her neighborhood she explained that found herself stranded at home with one of her daughters, while her sons were out in the community saving others from completely damaged homes. Although Maw-Maw did not go into much detail while telling me her story, it was clear that she had been shaken by being stuck in her home while the floor buckled and broke, yet it was also clear that she never let her fears get the best of her because she was confident that someone would find a way to make it back to help in her evacuation if need be.
Through these stories you may have seen a common theme that sprung out: hope being tested purely on a basis of faith. Although these are all more dramatic examples of tests of faith (as they are all driven by a tragic flood) they are all clear testaments to the power of faith. All these stories ring with a similar message: place your faith in God, and (although you may face challenges that will test your ability to stay hopeful and faithful) you shall not be unnecessarily harmed in your doings…
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