Formed in the Deep

Night,
you haunt me,
hunt me and
spear me. Through
my chattering heart
your lance pierces
my island of dreams.

In the geography of the dark
you try me, you play me
with a joy here,
with a fear there.
Now my passion is
pushed beyond
boundaries.

If only I could steer
these dreams…
what pleasures
might visit the night!
I would eat at a sacred grove;
I would consume a canyon;
would devour mountains; and
take in each valley, feeding
my heart with desire.

But no, this is not to be.
Now is not the time for daydreams.
The hard work of night beckons, calling
me to be its matter, formed in this deep.

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Of Elves and Such

Last night was spent in Borgarfjarðarhreppur, which derives its name from Álfaborg, meaning “town of elves.” Ancient legend has it that this part of Iceland is ripe with elves, and there is a fairly substantive hill overlooking this quaint town and welcoming harbour that is purported to be the home of many elves, and in some reports, the home of the Elf Queen.

I have heard a variety of reports on how many Icelanders believe in elves, ranging from 60 to 80 percent. Tales are told of bad luck attending those who mess with elf habitations. There is a sign on the elf hill in Borgarfjarðarhreppur suggesting that those who walk in these environs do well to do so with respect.

Our city tour guide in Reykjavik reported that belief in elves is BS and thought these to be tales told to enforce morals in children, much as has been suggested for the Grimm fairy tales, for instance. On the other hand, our own tour TourMagination guide reported that the good folk in Borgarfjarðarhreppur regularly avoided the shortest route to the nearest village because of a menacing mythical creature on the fjord who pushed more than a few people over the cliff resulting in their demise. Eventually, a strong soul in the 16th century took on this force, and managed to land him, or her, in the drink in order to secure a short, and safe, route for the villagers. A cross was erected to mark the spot and remind folk of the victory won. Insofar as the story represented a hold on the imaginations of the adults, these tales seemed to be more than a tool used by parents to whip their children into shape. Adults, too, were shaped by these tales.

It is not altogether hard to understand why people in these locales held and hold (if the polled reports are to be believed) beliefs in mystical and mythical creatures. The landscape in Iceland, where the earth stretches high and the sky reaches low invites one to imagine, if not see, a meeting of the earthly and heavenly, a kind of world where it is very easy to believe in elves, dwarves, trolls, etc. What cannot be seen is believed because the unimaginable is happening before your very eyes: clouds are swallowing mountains, and the seas are fingering their way into the land. Borders are being pierced everywhere, and souls not piloted by hard, cold reason alone might imagine that things are more complicated than they first appear.

Perhaps, then, there is a place (or places) between “BS” and “literally true.” Perhaps this hankering after mythical creatures is a symbol, or sign, of human hungering for some permeability of boundaries between the earthly and the spiritual; or perhaps more accurately, these tales are symbolic representations of peoples’ experiences of the earthly/heavenly becoming porous. Within Christianity, for instance, the message of the birth of God as the infant Jesus is precisely this: earth being touched by heaven, and the fervent hope of believers in this religion – and some others too – is that there is more to life than meets the eye; for some this “more” is experienced. Perhaps behind these tales that we wink at, exists a deep human hope for and foretaste of a kind of homecoming that abides, eternally.

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This is the home of a good many elves, I’ve been told.

Into My Desire

How is it that You stay away
but still dwell more deeply
in me: You the Horizon
swallowing an ocean tanker whole;
You the Sea that tides my desire
over and over and over again;
You this perpetual Ache that
washes me from head to toe
so that I know nothing of
myself save wanting of You.

Now, this orange I taste is Your lip
this wind on my arm Your finger tip
this warmth of sun Your breath on my neck
and this spirited laugh that wells from within
is now Your Spirit, spinning me round
and round until I collapse into
my Desire, into You.

Veni Domine

A glimpse of You is
never enough. This
desire for Your Breath
flooding my lungs fills
me with more wanting You;
with more aching after You.

You, God, are
the Desire by which I
desire You.
You, God, are
the Hunger that is
sated with hunger
for You.
You, God, are
each kiss of life;
each touch of love;
each turn of the season
that turns me inside out
as Your reign surely comes.

Veni Domine.

Something in the Empty

Boxes everywhere, and
all emptied save for
air, now a cypher
for hopes both
disappointed,
and fulfilled.

“The day after,” too,
is sacred with rattled
bows unleashing oceans of
questions asking after
what we will.

These empty boxes
hold a potent
absence and are a
mirror of
sorts inviting us
to peer
into the void where
we finally
glimpse our desire.

Amidst this disarray of
Boxing Day, order may
well evade us, but meaning
presses hard against the
dis/content; there
is something in
the empty.

Manufactured Desire, Destructive Discontent

In one of my classes we have been reading Graham Ward’s “The Politics of Discipleship.” In the book he writes of manufactured desire.  He sets it in contrast to actual needs.  These latter are the stuff that daily occupies the so-called two-thirds world – that is to say, food, clothing, shelter, water, etc.  The former refer to “needs” created by clever capitalists etc.  Marx writes that after humans take care of real needs, they create needs to occupy themselves.  It seems that we are doing this in spades these days.

 

My students were intrigued by the idea that we are unwitting (although sometimes altogether too witting) slaves of desires that have been created for the benefit of shareholders who themselves have made obscene returns their very own desire.  Maybe “intrigued” isn’t quite the right word.  But hopefully you get what I mean.  A strange kind of feeling accompanies the realization that you have been putty in the hands of mad men, who are very happy to see us unhappy aside from the slick new (fill in the blank).  On the one hand, a kind of insane rage flashes in you, and on the other hand, a kind of perverse (to the market forces, anyways) pleasure  as the desire to usurp these manufactured desires arises and as the virtue of contentment contends against destructive discontent.  We discussed what it means to push beyond consumerism into citizenship as our primary way of engaging the world.  Of course, certain folk, politicians among them, rather prefer consumers over citizens; always happy to create a need that we can fill by buying the latest widget.

 

Ward also points out that, for those with more than they can keep in their gated fortresses, the market is only too happy to manufacture other kinds of needs: experiences that are generally exotic and thus both hard on the earth and vacuous in virtue: think of the littered trail up the mount called Everest for a moment.

 

We talked about what Christian discipleship means in a time and place such as ours.  We talked about how we are all implicated in the system (especially true for those of us with investments and hopes to retire some day), and we also discussed how insidious evil is.  And in our talking we discovered that talking is itself a cure:  in thinking these things through aloud we found a kind of solidarity that recognizes that small things matter.  Walking when possible, taking a coffee cup to displace another paper cup polluting Mother Earth, shutting off the computer, tablet and phone for a time.  These things were small, but they loomed large as we discussed them together ever mindful of that picture posed by that itinerant preacher of long ago: the Reign of God really is like a mustard seed.  Sometimes we need to start small because a crack is all that we have for planting.  Sometimes a crack is enough to remind us that enough is enough.