In her book, An Altar in the World,(1) Barbara Brown Taylor begins with a poem.
“The tender flesh itself
will be found one day
to be capable of receiving,
and, yes, full
capable of embracing
the searing energies of God.
Go figure. Fear not.”
Dear God, today, to whatever extent my tender, broken flesh is capable of receiving your energies, may I extend them toward the reconciliation of man and Maker; that reconciliation which invites mystery: the mystery of Gentile as neither inferior nor superior, but as ‘same’.
Sear, they do, these mysteries; lining the walls with question in the cathedral of one’s brain. Sear, not seethe, I implore thee. For I surmise that seething, unremitted, comes to a common, bitter end… Surely, I am not worthy to seethe, in this body of broken flesh.
May our skins look neither anemic, nor aged, alongside one another, but rather illuminated by fiery contrast, hands folded against one another. And I will love my color…and hers. I wonder if our pain is not that we sometimes hate our hue; Oppression’s ‘ other’ face.
May the tendrils of incense, one pale and one burnished prayer; entwine as they climb, reaching toward your wisdom.
May brother’s glaring weakness be bridged by my strength, and my blind spot navigated by his story’s light.
May your mercy weld the two together into faith weightier than our differences. Weighty, wise, whole in wisdom. For we ARE weak, and spoiled of flesh, without both the wisdom, and the mercy…
And , then:
“Therefore, the flesh
is not to be excluded
from the wisdom and the power
that now and ever animates
all things. His life-giving
agency is made perfect,
we are told, in weakness–
made perfect in the flesh.”
These lines taken from Scott Cairns (2) adaptation of Capable Flesh by St. Irenaeus
I am convinced that I have not the answer, and neither do you. We must go searching the answer, together. For the prisons of color and gender are not the only oppressions we bear; nor poverty, nor pain. The oppression we bear, is ‘human’; and unless we bear this cross together, this same one borne by Christ, it will be but a ‘beating stick.’
And from the middle of the poem:
“For even at its beginning
the humble clay received
God’s art, whereby
one part became the eye,
another the ear, and yet
another this impetuous hand.”
And so, ‘life-giving agency’ becomes our quest. Are any of us capable, then, without first being given breath? And can we deny the life that presents right in front of us, the breathing broken… and not wonder also at its source.
1) Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World (New York: Harper Collins, 2009)
2)Scott Cairn, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007)