Martin Luther: Monk in my own back yard


            for my friend and inventor, Lee Bassett

If only we could sit together for one hour
and share the secrets of our hearts.
            --Martin Luther

"Instead of finding the Bible, some readers
would end up enslaving themselves verse by verse to a paper pope."
            --Scott H. Hendrix

My friend asks, When was the last time you read a good poem?
            --Jim Bodeen

Fate-gift of my North Dakota childhood,
Martin Luther, visionary reformer of Scott Hendrix's biography.
The daily writer unknown throughout the pews of my life
except in cliché. Here we are again in our 70s:
Hendrix in quotes and Luther in Italics.
Third voice, marginal, in Roman text, mine.

What I find in collared men, about to find out.
"The mystery and otherness of God
precious to him, and the faith that captured
his heart sustained him when his mind
found no easy answer for the suffering
that touched his own life." Save me

from myself. 2600 Luther letters survive.
"During his last twenty years, the Luther residence
was more like a hostel than a home. Almost every word
he spoke...was recorded." People like me
sitting with notebooks, listening.
Condemned heretic and outlaw. Me, only heretic.

Any who become monks go against fathers.
Through him my creator has given me
 all that I am and have. When was he born the first time?
 "1482 or 1484." My own life session with holiness
desiring a re-write of the family script.
Holy head to foot in word and story.

"The just live from faith,"
from an isolated birth. The new person
is only a word. To be only a word.
All this time I thought I wanted a church.
I would not have come to this
if I had not gone to school and become a writer.

Bernard of Clairveaux, Benedict, Merton,
and Brother David--these monks for half my life--
and these--Han Shan, Crazy Cloud, Ikkyū. The Augustinian now,
" the cliché has it, a monk's desperate search
for a gracious God" merging. These ones
and the disappearing Lao Tzu. Not

divine forgiveness for me, release me from being good.
All day long I do nothing but write letters.
I could do that. "The problem was a conscience
too scrupulous." Beware of aspiring to such purity
that you will not be looked upon as a sinner,
or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners.

"Mystical tradition of marvelous exchange."
To be a close reader, "teacher of the mystical page,"
Sister of the great desires. Writer and reformer
fusing centuries in one sentence: "...Luther
was prepared to go away as Abraham went,
not yet knowing where but most sure of the way

because God is everywhere." Sufficient context.
"Luther himself admitted different interpretations
of the same text could be valid in different eras."
This, too, taking the crucified down from the cross.
Petition of  arrogant witness. My eye's belief.
Why not also degrees of understanding?

God's word unbound. Always. His listening, too.
Hearing my father curse God,
God listening, church pastor cowering,
while, I, child-son stand with God and father.
I had not consented for the word of God to be bound.
Given this work. "Luther now, notorious

outlaw in exile." My North Dakota path
grand in its own way, leaving the Dakotas.
"Was Luther still a monk?"
The devil is the master of a thousand arts.
Trees planted on my knees breathe for me,
consuming the toxins. Free young people

from the hell of celibacy.
"Take proper action despite imperfect results."
God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners.
Not the shine on a smooth surface--not that gloss,
but notes on Hendrix and Luther
written in the margin of the page.

I am a failed lover, Lord, but not a lazy one.
"No longer to obtain a reward by pleasing God
but to allow God to change the heart."
To explore the world in a notebook.
Cannonball Adderley singing Mercy, mercy, mercy.
"The Lord's supper not only memorial, but delivery of forgiveness."

Take the words as they come.
"Worship in Luther's experience, informal, spontaneous,
arising communally, not imposed from above."
Full with spiritual attacks of doubt. Why do this?
Anfechtungen. Thinking more and more about the poet,
the sweeping black cape of Ezra Pound.

...While people who think they do not believe
and despair, have the greatest faith. Turning page
after page in biography, no longer giving a rat's ass
about church reform. Listening closely,
to fight and take the field against mobs and devils.
"And he needed a quieter place to hide."

Psalm 118. This is my own beloved Psalm.
"Practice not negotiable because they access
power and presence of the divine."
Unable to access small talk. Or get rid of it.
Glory of God and accurate perception of how things are.
Not morality. Not for God's sake.

So that God may be loved and heard,
made up of scarcely two believing persons.
Our time, banal, in pulpit and in poem.
For us, nothing at stake. No stakes.
How to consider everything?
Wherever God's word is absent the devil has an easy task.

Jim Bodeen
20 July-30 July 2016

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