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Filtering by Tag: resurrection

The Poetry of Loss and Resurrection

Jill Reid

Robert Freidus Sometimes, especially when I’m most in need of meeting myself—the actual Jill long lost within the daily, rigid busyness of life—I hunt for myself in the files on my computer.

I look for me between the lines of what I have managed to write down, in words and images that, over time, come together in patterns and threads and whispers. And I try to understand what I believe I have been trying to tell myself. I have discovered that the Jill who has been writing these past few months is one who can’t stop talking about the past, about memory, about loss.

A few months ago, I stood in the cold corner of a funeral home with a twenty-one year-old college student whom I have come to love and admire very much over four years of teaching her. Just a day earlier, she was taking notes in her English literature class. Now, she was standing near the casket of her mother, killed on impact in a tragic car crash. And just like that, the month became not her first month as a college senior, but the month in which her mother died, the month she would forever associate with brutal and unexpected loss.

I know that grief and loss almost always find us when we aren’t looking. And even when we are looking, our God-given human instinct to exist, to expect others to continue to exist along with us still baffles our ability to navigate what we somehow feel was never meant to be—this road of vanishing faces, this road of vanishing moments. We feel we are made to last. We feel those we love were made to last. And yet, like pencil etchings on a growth chart, our human lives can feel so measured by the losses we endure, the grief we live with.

A few weeks after the funeral, I read a poem by Lisel Mueller that stunned me in all the aching and haunting ways the best poems do:

“When I Am Asked” by Lisel Mueller

When I am asked how I began writing poems, I talk about the indifference of nature.

It was soon after my mother died, a brilliant June day, everything blooming.

I sat on a gray stone bench in a lovingly planted garden, but the day lilies were as deaf as the ears of drunken sleepers and the roses curved inward. Nothing was black or broken and not a leaf fell and the sun blared endless commercials for summer holidays.

I sat on a gray stone bench ringed with the ingenue faces of pink and white impatiens and placed my grief in the mouth of language, the only thing that would grieve with me.

I think the poem haunted me because of how powerfully Mueller’s images portray a collision of experience—that relatable and agonizing experience of being alone in a cheery, bright world with your own dark grief. The placement of a hard “stone bench” in both the middle of her poem and the middle of a garden communicates something of the hardness and ruttedness one faces in the middle of loss. The flowers bloom beautifully and unsparingly, advertising their wholeness in a season where “nothing is black or broken” except the mourner, sitting on a gray bench, stuck between bloom and loss.

Mueller’s poem helps me understand the self I have discovered in the files of my computer. I think I write about loss and memory and the past because those things never really are lost or past. I think we write poems and read poems because, among other things, poetry becomes the landscape of resurrection. When Mueller finds that language, that poetry will “grieve” with her, she not only resurrects the memory of her mother, but she also raises up her own grief and gives it a safe space to unfold, to exist. In our busy lives, it does seem that there is little room to negotiate loss. But in the world of the poem, there is space, not only for those we mourn but also for those who mourn.

(Photo by Robert Friedus)

Horror and Resurrection

J Mark Bertrand

Untitled

Johann August Nahl, The Tomb of Madame Langhans

First impressions are too revealing, especially mistaken ones. When I first laid eyes on this porcelain copy of Johann August Nahl’s The Tomb of Madame Langhans at the Getty, my eyes over-saturated with snapshot impressions, I registered the gowned Gothic lady breaking through the crust of her marble tomb, saw the swaddling infant at her breast, and thought: horror. She’s dressed like a Mary Shelley character, but it was Bram Stoker’s Lucy who sprung to mind, the nocturnal lady in white creeping from her crypt in search of children to devour. Puzzled, I stood by the plexiglass case to take in all the details. What was I looking at? Night of the Living Dead: Sturm und Drang Edition?

Reading art through the lens of genre is not so unusual. The established patterns and precedents give us a leg up in making sense of new experiences. When we get the genre cues wrong, though, the miscategorization can result in surreal unintelligibility, as in my case. I wasn’t misreading The Tomb of Madame Langhans. That’s not a strong enough term. It was as if I were reading an alternate, wholly different work––and even now, studying the photograph, it doesn’t line up with my memory at all. The Tomb in my head is more macabre, reimagined to better fit the assigned pigeonhole.

My mistake is too revealing because it shows that, in my mind, the best fit for a work like Nahl’s is in the horror genre. This is strange because I am a Christian, and The Tomb of Madame Langhans is in fact a depiction of the Christian hope of bodily resurrection.

Maria Magdelena Langhans, a pastor’s wife, died in childbirth on Easter Sunday. The death of mother and child on the day Christians celebrate Christ’s victory over death inspired the hopeful vision commemorated on the tomb. Together they are raised on the last day in triumph. The pathos of the scene struck a chord with eighteenth century audiences, too: porcelain copies like the one in the Getty circulated far and wide, exercising an influence on the budding Romantic Movement reminiscent of the craze inspired by Goethe’s Werther. The original audience, Enlightened though they were, did not see the tomb and think of Mary Shelley but rather St. Paul. They possessed a cultural category by which they could properly assess the cues, one that over time has come to be overshadowed even in the minds of those of us who still believe in the doctrine of resurrection.

Can the doctrine alone constitute a hope? Can I call it hope in the fullest sense if it is incapable of recognizing its own reflection in art? Perhaps more is required.

I take a perverse delight in introducing the topics of bodily resurrection and St. John’s vision of a new heaven and new earth by first assuring Christian audiences that “you will not spend eternity in heaven.” Their eyes flare in astonishment. Yet the disembodied future we’ve been taught to anticipate would have been thin gruel to early believers, who expected a future in the flesh. Am I much farther down the path of understanding, if my mistaken my first impression of Madame Langhans’ tomb is anything to go by? Perhaps not. I have eyes that see horror when they look on hope, when I’d be better served with eyes that can see hope when they look on horror.

The Inconvenience of Lent

Stephanie Smith

In our American culture of drive-through coffee, instant Twitter feeds, and video on demand, we prize immediacy. We like to check our email on our touchscreen phone as soon as it hits our inbox, grab lunch to-go, and download live-streaming news. We are a nation of busy professionals, parents, and students living under the banner of “carpe diem,” driven by the idea that there’s no time like the present.

This “now” syndrome certainly has advantages, motivating us to work hard and invest fully in whatever we’re doing, but what happens when we apply our instant-culture values to spirituality?

Last month, I had a bizarre experience with communion that made me consider this question. After months of exhausting church-searching, my husband and I finally found a church where we wanted to stay. It’s a contemporary kind of church, the kind that has a graphic designer on staff and a coffee bar out in the hall, and we came because we like the teaching and the small groups. But you have to understand, the church we went to before we moved was a liturgical church, the kind with Kierkegaard quotes in every other sermon and weekly communion. So we knew we’d have to make some adjustments at our new church.

But this is what I did not expect: communion that is served before the service, an addendum tacked onto and separate from the worship service. So we set our alarms a little earlier, entered the sanctuary, and found only a fraction of the congregation had shown up. The pastor said a prayer for this handful of early-risers, and at his invitation we filed up front and received the elements, and then it was over. The whole ordeal took literally five minutes. There was no time of confession before receiving the sacrament. There was no benediction afterwards, charging us to go forth bearing Christ into the world. There was no community, only a faithful few. There was no ritual, no careful unfolding of holiness.

It was like grabbing Christ’s blood of the covenant, His outpouring for the world, in a Styrofoam to-go cup. It was a sacrament dictated by convenience, quickly squeezed in between other items on the agenda, and left out of the greater context of cosmic redemption.

The problem with an instant culture, and an instant church, is that a preoccupation with the present diminishes our ability to see seasons, to see story, to observe the unfolding of time. This is the pivotal idea of the sacrament of communion: Christ asks us to remember Him by taking the bread and wine (Luke 22:19), and to anticipate the future when we will eat and drink with Him face to face (Matt. 26:29).

As we now enter the season of Lent, we enter a time of waiting. There is no immediacy or convenience here. But there is a story of cosmic proportions unfolding, as we take the forty days of Lent to remember, to walk through the events of the life of Christ: the temptation in the desert, the agony of Good Friday, the silence and sorrow of Holy Saturday, and the joyful victory of Sunday morning.

It is often difficult for us to lay down our gadgets and agendas to just sit for a while, quiet our souls, and dwell with God. And yet, He laid down everything for us, making Himself “nothing” and emptying Himself to the point of death (Phil. 2:7-98). In his beautiful poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” John Updike writes of the agony of the cross, “Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, for our own convenience...” As we cross the threshold of Ash Wednesday, let us reflect sincerely and sorrowfully on Christ’s suffering for us, so that on Easter morning, our hearts will grasp the incredible joy in His resurrection.

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at www.stephaniessmith.com. After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She writes for www.startmarriageright.com and manages Moody Publishers' blog, www.insidepages.net.