Navigating the Narrative

Child WildGideon Strauss, Associate Professor of Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian studies, frames the Christian narrative through the eyes of an artist. Trading in the theological terms of Creation, Fall, and Redemption; he invites us into a story of wide-eyed Wonder, visceral Heartbreak, and imaginative Hope. This simple shift in language leads us beyond a theological assent to the truth of the Christian narrative. Wonder, Heartbreak, and Hope invite us to be active participants in our own life stories; and ultimately, in God’s Great Story.

Over the course of our nine months together, we will frame our time through these three lenses – examining the artist’s capacity to cultivate wonder at God’s creation; the ability to capture the hurt and heartbreak of the world and in our own congregations; and the opportunity to imagine the hope that is already, but not yet. To start our journey together, I offer you three poems, reflecting on these themes.

Wonder

Mysteries, Yes
by Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

 

Heartbreak

A Brief for the Defense
By Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

 

Hope

Try to Praise the Mutilated World
By Jack Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.


For Reflection:
  • Which piece most reflects your own spiritual life right now? Your creative work?
  • Does one of the themes of Wonder, Heartbreak, or Hope most truly resonate with the way you view your vocation as an artist or as a pastor?

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