the lights were dimmed to shroud the pastor
as tenebrae came over the bloody skull hill
he spoke with some spark of victory
hidden within the terror of his voice
of a God-man hung splintered and stabbed
(forgive them, He said, they know not what they do)

he cried what He cried—barely audible—
(eli eli, He said) to a face He couldn’t see
(it is finished, He said) to a face he could
blood bled, death died, the sun held its breath

I thought I heard a great calamity
deep through the stone church floor
another tearing of another veil
another harrowing of my other hell

the pastor prayed for another coming
which no one thought would really come
and we all left and forgot the first
an hour of nothing changing nothing

I wept as He wept—barely audible—
(eli eli, I said) to a face I couldn’t see
(is it finished? I said) to a face I could
blood had bled, death had died

you say that nothing changed.
in darkness, nothing changed?
though my veins had been transfused
though my sickness had been moved
still I fear a death which cannot harm me
(forgive me, I said, I know not what I do)

this bread
this wine
held in His unwounded hands
given and not yet given
consumed by them and by me
cauterized my wound with another

Father,
If it be possible,

this body
this blood
cut and tore the old
the diseased parts of me
stitched back my body my blood
cauterized my wound with another

Father,
If it be possible,
Take this cup away from me

and when I eat
and when I drink
body and blood become His and mine
broken and shed and torn again
the cup he gave the cup he took
cauterized my wound with another

these days after,
where we ate with Him,
counting coin beneath the table

ignorance becomes love
great acts of divine magic
draw my heart into His own
not seeing what is to come
not believing what is to come
worshiping the arrival of a war lord
worshiping God and Man and Savior

if I had but known His arrival
brought not the freedom I seek
brought only the freedom I need
if I had but known His Face

if I had but known His Heart
He spoke the words of the conqueror
He spoke the words of the Savior
if I had but known His Love

would that I had not thirsted
for our victory but for His Truth
perhaps I would not have stood
a rock in my stone hand
a rock in my stone heart
anger and sorrow and blood
flowing from my lips
(crucify Him)

these days after
where we drank with Him
coiling thorn beneath the table

4a-jacob-wrestling-with-the-angel-detail-eugc3a8ne-delacroix

Why doing the wrong thing might be good for you.

Ever since I was a child, I was taught and I believed that doing the wrong thing would get you into trouble. If you lied or you cheated, it wouldn’t end well. Someone would find out, your guilt would drive you mad, something. Unfortunately, this has not been my experience in life, and I’m willing to bet it hasn’t been yours. Do the people who do the right things always come out first? Do the diligent, honest, hardworking employees always get the raises? No, they don’t. More often than not, they’re pushed aside or overlooked. Maybe doing the wrong thing is the better choice.

This morning I read a sermon by Frederick Buechner about that scene in the Old Testament where Jacob wrestles God. In it, he surveys Jacob’s life and makes a point I had never considered directly, but is remarkably accurate. Whereas we want each story in Scripture to come out as some variation on the theme “this guy did the wrong thing, and he was punished for it,” Jacob’s life paints a different story. Jacob is assertive, manipulative, and aggressive. He gets what he wants through deceit and charisma. He tricked Esau into giving away his birthright by conveniently having food prepared exactly when Esau was starving from working in the fields to grow the ingredients for said food. He tricked his father into giving him Esau’s blessing, which he had secured through manipulation, by dressing up like his brother and lowering his voice to trick his blind father and misrepresent himself as Esau. And what happens to Jacob after doing these things? Not much. His parents still love him, God still loves him, his friends still love him. He inherits his father’s wealth and he gets not one, but two girls to marry him. Esau hates him, but who cares?  Esau’s a sucker. Esau’s the nice guy who finishes last and ends up becoming angry and obtuse for it. Jacob lies and cheats and has a happy, wealthy, and respectable life.

And then God wrestles him. And Jacob starts winning. He fights God face to face, as he has been fighting God’s rules his whole life, and he starts winning, as he has been winning his whole life. At this point, he’s got to be feeling pretty good. But then God lightly touches his hip and knocks it out of its socket. He brings the powerful Jacob down in a moment, and all that remains is a weak, broken, husk of a man struggling to grasp hold of God to ask for a blessing—like when a child doesn’t want you to leave and cleaves to your leg when you try to walk. All his power and manipulation and charisma are nothing to the touch of God. And then he receives God’s blessing. He tried to get it in the same way he got his father’s blessing: he tried to pretend to be better and stronger than he was, and maybe he almost convinced himself that he was stronger and better. But he didn’t get the blessing that way. He got it by being broken by God, and then asking, knowing that he didn’t earn it.

This is not, however, a satisfying ending to the story. See, in this life, Jacob got and kept riches, marriage, prestige, and status by way of doing the wrong things at opportune times. God is not trying to tell us that doing the wrong thing will end up poorly for us. Quite the opposite. In this life, you get only what you’re given by other sinners, and they are not looking for someone who always does the right thing. Just like us, they like people who remind them of how they perceive themselves, and also like us, they are remarkably susceptible to manipulation for it. So if you were sitting alone asking yourself why that lying, cheating, adulterer of a coworker is getting raises and promotions all while keeping his marriage and extramarital relationships secure and hidden from each other, this is why. It’s because doing the right thing is decidedly not the best thing.  It’s not the best thing for your career, for your friendships, for your momentary happiness. People won’t always “value your integrity” and “speak well of you.” Some will, but most people are petty, jealous, and vindictive. They’ll notice you’re an honest, hard-working, loving person, and they will hate you for it.

Once we start convincing ourselves that we should follow God for our own benefit, we will swiftly find that we’re severely mistaken. Following God isn’t about benefiting yourself. Following God is about following God. Love, faith, perseverance, joy, and a happiness that lasts all come from following the road of dejection, rejection, spite, and persecution. At least for most of us. God wants us to know two things. First, that he can break us in a moment of all that fake arrogance we’ve built up for ourselves.  And second, that doing the right thing is only worthwhile because it is the right thing to do, not because it brings us earthly achievement. You’re not happy? Maybe you’re looking for happiness in the wrong place. Maybe you’re serving the wrong master. It sucks; but to be truly happy, to have joy, to find love, you have to not want any of those things. The tricky thing is, when you do live for yourself, you will get everything that the world around you has taught you is valuable. You can’t make a choice to follow God for your own good. It’s not about you. It’s about God.

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
  You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
  You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
  You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
  You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

- T.S. Eliot

Never Mine.

j. palmer horst —  February 13, 2014 — 1 Comment

I took the bus from seventh street and fourth
to twenty-second.  I was stuck inside
for twenty minutes slowly moving north
with thirty or so bodies close beside.

A girl stood next to me and grabbed my arm
at tenth street when the bus jerked suddenly.
In here, her touch was merely in alarm.
No space between except, apparently,

infinity (where touch means “hold me, please”
but not “please hold me”).  Once I knew the truth—
the truth that she was merely a reprise
of other touches, which betray my youth—

I pulled the cord; I left; I let her go.
I never thought that she was mine.  Although—

Mimesis

j. palmer horst —  January 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

abstractions aside,
I always found you
and you always left.

far from the folly you felt
when you realized nothing—
when you realized everything,
everything remained.

you are your own mirror—
reflection of a reflection
static in sight and sound,
chosen with contemplation.

choice is known ignorance
prescribed by past mimesis,
prescribed by present blindness,
prescribed by future fear.

Inertia

j. palmer horst —  January 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

on a night bus there is only
the hum of rubber meeting road
and the beat from high-volumed
headphones, several rows back.

the destinations are determined;
the driver is mere formality—
his hands hold the wheel
choosing the same roads
during the same routes.

i am inertia on this bus,
unlikely to shift attitude.