The Difficulty with the Amen
FOUR JANUARY SONNETS
TO CONDEMN OUR UNBELIEF BEFORE GOD AS LUTHER SAYS,
KIERKEGAARD ADDING, IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO BE ABLE
TO REACH THE AMEN
1. My mother cleaned house
on hands and knees
washing the kitchen floor
and that's the way I learned,
too, about God and cleaning house.
Severe North Dakota winters
and pastors in black contrasted
with snow in their German names.
I refused them, even as I took them in.
I sang for my friend Dee Dee Sagness
at his funeral. He wasn't yet ten
when he died after they opened his heart.
I was in the junior choir laughing at practice
ashamed by my sobs as they carried him out.
2. Luther and Kierkegaard were as natural
for one like me as baseball games
coming to Mom and I from the Philco Radio
in the kitchen during summer.
I played with baseball cards
on the living room floor
while paying attention to all
that went on with God.
I had my own skeptical take on grace.
I knew the medicine man.
I sent smoke signals.
I had a camp out back.
Even then I had the pipe.
I didn't know a single person who lived close.
3. After I came back from war
I read Works of Love. I understood.
Right away I understood. I understood
what repetition gave. I knew
fear and trembling like the back of my hand.
By then I had a son. I walked up that mountain
with my hand on his shoulder, a loving father.
I gave him up. My own son. Gave him to God.
When I told my wife she was horrified.
I told her about the black ink on the knife.
I told her about cleaning it on my shirt.
I told her about vows taken for the poem.
She demanded to see the ink-stained shirt
and called me a pretender.
4. Believe me, I've walked past my share
of pretenders. And so many people
of wonder. Word men. Men handing out
epiphanies on the street. One who called himself
Jheezus Joyce. I named my grand daughter
Dheezus. My mother used to say, Jimmy,
you've gone too far this time.
When Kierkegaard's Sermons arrived
from Pastor Ronnie, I was in my 70s.
Jheezus God, where did my life go?
Welcome to the Kierkegaard Hotel
my friend says, Lots of rooms.
Could be heaven, could be hell.
Our foolish minds are weak, willing to be drawn.
4 January 2017
LETTER TO PASTOR RON MARSHALL
AFTER READING HIS SERMONS ON KIERKEGAARD:
KIERKEGAARD IN THE PULPIT: SERMONS INSPIRED BY HIS WRITINGS
What you've done, here Ron, what you do,
with your two books, for me, is to bring him into our home.
Perhaps a second subtitle: Making Kierkegaard Familiar.
Going further, homely. Part of the furniture.
Knicked-up like the coffee table where your books rest.
Underlined and folded over corners. As old-fashioned
as he is young and uncomfortable in company.
That's him over there, sitting by himself. Not
with Dana Gioia on an airplane. Not at university.
Not the bookstore at Holden Village, and not
in some backpacker's pack hiking the Crest Trail.
Not even the Church Library in West Seattle.
First Lutheran wants it closer. Faith
is not light as a dance, but it is heavy and hard...
the help looks like a torment, the relief like a burden--
Walking out the door after Sunday worship.
Disturbed at Starbucks with coffee cake,
interrupting Father Brown on PBS:
...there is mortal danger you will be by yourself.
Martin Luther understood through polar opposites,
repentance central to forgiveness, a requirement.
Luther in your voice clearer than in biography.
We are the offenders...God is the offended.
And this fearlessness: for we know how to rejoice
in sadness, and mourn in happiness. You
are a weaver, Ron Marshall, your fabric tight.
This is rich work, and you're the village pastor,
wily, and vigilant. Endure rejection. Like Christ.
This sentence, pure Ron Marshall, my favorite:
Can we believe in him for who he is,
rather than for what he does? Here you surface
in your own pure voice, as an author must.
Here is the question that validates.
Who he is cuts both ways.
Doesn't what he does do the same?
Atonement means that you step aside
and that he takes your place. I didn't
learn that from Kierkegaard, I got it
from a country church in North Dakota
as a child before I was ten. You set the table
for us in each of these 27 sermons.
That God may bless us rather than condemn us.
This is a breath of fresh air. 'Common bread,
heavenly bread.' Come to the altar today.
This is a sit-down dinner I can attend.
Dana Gioia's poem witnessing to refusal is framed in our kitchen.
Your footnotes filed as recipe cards.
You are the third voice denying yourself,
giving thanks for everything, never doubting God.
4 January 2017