joyful is the dark

nightoceanSometime in the magical blur of divinity school I learned about the way we use imagery of light and dark. Light is good; dark is evil. Light is safe; dark is scary. Light is energy and hope; dark is depression and loss. I learned that language frames our reality, and so when it goes unexamined, imagery like this can uphold destructive cultural patterns, especially when it comes to race.

Since then, during these, the darkest days of the year, I ponder how I can confront my own ingrained prejudices and reclaim dark as good – if not for the world, at least for myself. This year it comes to me through a hymn (HWB 233) I just learned a few weeks ago:

Joyful is the dark, holy hidden God, rolling cloud of night beyond all naming, majesty in darkness, energy of love, Word in flesh, the mystery proclaiming.

Joyful is the dark spirit of the deep, winging wildly o’er the world’s creation, silken sheen of midnight, plumage black and bright, swooping with the beauty of a raven.

Joyful is the dark, shadowed, stable floor, angels flicker, God on earth confessing, as with exultation Mary, giving birth, hails the infant cry of need and blessing.

Joyful is the dark coolness of the tomb, waiting for the wonder of the morning. Never was that midnight touched by dread and gloom; darkness was the cradle of the dawning.

Joyful is the dark depth of love divine, roaring, looming thundercloud of glory, holy haunting beauty, living, loving God., Hallelujah! Sing and tell the story!

A joyful solstice and the goodness of the dark to you. -sk


walnuts and drop kick me jesus

A couple of years ago I decided to harvest walnuts.

I’d forgotten about one magical early October afternoon until Dr. Emilie Townes reminded me with a comment from her formal installation as the new dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School: “After all we’re in Nashville where the song ‘Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life’ has deep theological meaning.”

How a phrase can spark a memory.

We’d just moved to Missouri. I was unemployed and looking to expand my domestic skill set, and (more importantly) walnuts were free.

I did just enough internet research to be dangerous and then I started picking up the green-hulled specimens in our yard. It grew from there. On my walks around the neighborhood I would keep an eye out for walnut trees, which it turns out are everywhere.

I tried to be subtle, but to Jamie’s embarrassment, I walked a few steps into many a yard to glean.

In retrospect, perhaps it had gone too far when we pulled over by the side of the road on an apple-picking trip to north central Missouri. In my defense, without my single-minded pursuit of free nuts, this never would have happened:

We parked on a gravel road turn-off, crossed the highway, waded through the ditch to the walnut jackpot, and began to fill our bucket. As time passed, we became more bold and ventured from the ditch into the plowed under field. Not long after, an elderly man from the house next door headed our way.

I thought: Crap. We’re trespassing. We’re in trouble.

Turns out not. He’d noticed our peculiar quest and invited us to head over to his place next. He had two trees and a ground full of nuts.

We crossed back over the ditch, got the car, parked in his driveway. Not always being good at small-talk, I sometimes feel a bit awkward in these kinds of social encounters with strangers. Fortunately he spared us the trouble and headed inside. We started to gather and a few moments later heard music. Our hospitable stranger had brought out his cigarettes, a lawn chair, and a guitar.

I almost laughed out loud. My first thought: is this really happening? Why yes, yes it is.

The genre was classic country, and the one song I remember:

Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life

End over end neither left nor to right

Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights

Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life

The deep theological meaning that day was less about football metaphors and the Christian life and more about hospitality and the divine power of saying yes.

I have to admit that the walnuts didn’t turn out so well, but that’s another story, because that day we left fully satisfied.

Ah the tales we can tell of this Missourian life.

small thoughts

Yesterday morning I saw three things of awe:

a beaver scooted across the road near the Hominy Creek trailhead

my first neighborhood hummingbird whirred circles around the pink bushy blooming Rose of Sharon

a bright yellow finch (was it the same one that came through last August?) perched first on the purple coneflower and then danced across Ripley Street to the neighbor’s sunflowers

I’ve long thought that the kingdom of God is nearer than we think –
that most of the time we miss it because it comes in pieces, and we are not paying attention.