Sunday, February 21, 2021

WERE NOT OUR HEARTS BURNING WITHIN US?

I have been working on a poetry chapbook for over two years that tells the story of my marriage, children, and widowhood, interwoven with excerpts from the Song of Songs (or Canticle of Canticles) in the Bible. My daughter Mary has been my chief critic and commentator and has been responsible for clearing out a lot of clutter (including the ziggurat on which the chapbook was originally constructed) which has made it a much better collection of poetry as a whole.  

She kept telling me that I needed a poem for the end that could serve as a bookend for the whole chapbook, that would be comparable to the opening poem, which I've been told is one of the best things I've ever written.  l didn't feel as if I could live up to the challenge. In addition, I told her that the opening sections of the chapbook, which dealt with my life before my husband got terminal cancer, were created on a solid bedrock of faith which all came crashing down when he died.  So I didn't think that a "matching" poem could or should be written because his death was like experiencing a hurricane, earthquake, and wildfire all at once. The landscape of my life will never be the same, and I can't write the same kind of poem. I sent her a couple of poems, but we both agreed that they weren't what she was looking for, and I didn't really think I wanted to try to write what I thought she wanted. 

She recommended a couple of Scripture passages that she thought might help, and I agreed to reflect on them, especially as Lent was approaching.  One of them was the Road to Emmaus, which is not a Lenten story, but post-Resurrection. It is also my favorite in all the New Testament; it is the reason why I always try to go to Mass on the Wednesday after Easter.  That is the Gospel and the First Reading is the story of the man who was lame from birth, whom Peter heals as he is heading into the Temple. The man follows him into the Temple and leaps and jumps about praising God. I always love the sheer joy and excitement of that man and imagine him causing quite a stir in the staid precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, at the 9:00 morning Mass, I have been reflecting on the Road to Emmaus story.  That evening, I was describing this passage to a friend who isn't Christian and therefore was completely unfamiliar with it. I told him that it is the story of a pair of Jesus' disciples leaving Jerusalem after his death and heading to the town of Emmaus.  The priest who was the founder of World Wide Marriage Encounter told us at some point that he always imagined those two to be a married couple, that they were walking away from Jerusalem in disillusionment after their dreams that Jesus was their Messiah ended on the cross.  He had just been another false prophet and his death ended all their hopes.

As they were discussing their disillusionment with what had happened, a stranger drew up with them on the road and asked them what they were talking about.  One of them, irritated and angry, asked the newcomer if he was the only one who didn't know what had happened in Jerusalem three days ago. They had been thinking that he would be the one to redeem Israel, but instead, he was handed over to be crucified.  In addition, some of the women from their group had gone to the tomb and didn't find his body but had a vision of angels who reported that he was alive, but no one had seen him.

Then the stranger stunned them by saying, "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!"  He then proceeded to explain to them everything in the scriptures that had referred to him. By the time he finished, it was nearly dark and time for the evening meal, so they invited him to eat with them. While he sat with them, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them, and they recognized him as he vanished. They looked at each other and said,  "Weren't our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"

When I finished telling this story to my friend, he told me that he sensed my heart was truly open and imagined my husband's heart open as well even though I can no longer see him. His comment reminded me of so many times when my husband and I would hear a story of someone who received the gift of faith or reconciled with someone from whom they had been distanced and we would turn to each other, knowing our hearts were burning with joy and astonishment and grace. Thinking of those times, I realized that I am called to be open to letting those scriptures set my heart aflame again, just as they did when my beloved husband was alive.

Then I felt able to begin the final poem that my daughter has been looking for, and I believe this will be the culmination of the chapbook that I didn't think I could write.

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