Another book that I find truly inspiring and refreshing is John O’Donohue’s The Four Elements. Here are some extracts from three of his poems quoted by his brother Pat in the foreword.
From ‘In Praise of Fire’
As air intensifies the hunger of fire,
May the thought of death
Breathe new urgency
Into our love of life.
As short as the time
From spark to flame,
So brief may the distance be
Between heart and being.
May we discover
Beneath our fear
Embers of anger
To kindle justice.
From ‘In Praise of Water’
The courage of a river to continue belief
In the slow fall of ground,
Always falling further
Towards the unseen ocean.
Its only life surrendered
To the event of pilgrimage
It continues to swirl
Through all unlikeness,
Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it.
The buoyancy of water,
Stronger than the deadening,
Downward drag of gravity
From ‘In Praise of Earth’
When the ages of ice came
And sealed the earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream,
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.
Let us ask forgiveness of the earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.
The marks offered them
sure and peaceful sleep,
a way to acquire prestige
and a thousand unnecessary things.
To continue along this path,
they had to harden themselves
against the Lamb and against
His Kingdom of Peace and Justice.
The strategy was always
to gain control
over all the world’s inhabitants,
to acquire all of their wealth,
and appropriate all their glory,
always in obeisance of the Beast.
From Julia Esquivel’s poem ‘Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.’ (1981), published in Threatened with Resurrection/Amenazado de resurrección
To be a follower of Jesus … means … to see through every regime that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus … means forming communion that seeks peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others.
Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope
Some quotes from Desmond Tutu’s God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time.
On ‘a deep reverence’ for this world:
… all is ultimately holy ground and we should figuratively take off our shoes for it all has the potential to be ‘theophanic’ – to reveal the divine. Every shrub has the ability to be a burning bush and to offer us an encounter with the transcendent.
On a church that is too focused on the world to come:
A church that tries to pacify us, telling us not to concentrate on the things of this world but of the other, the next world, needs to be treated with withering scorn and contempt as being not only wholly irrelevant but actually blasphemous.
On prayer, government and the kingdom of God:
It is dangerous to pray, for an authentic spirituality is subversive of injustice. Oppressive and unjust governments should stop people from praying to God, should stop them from reading and meditating on the Bible, for these activities will constrain them to work for the establishment of God’s kingdom of justice, of peace, of laughter, of joy, of caring, of sharing, of reconciliation, of compassion.
On peace, justice and terrorism:
… instability and despair in the third world lead to terrorism and instability in the first world. … there is no way in which we can win the war against terrorism as long as there are conditions that make people desperate. […] there is no peace without justice, and safety only comes when desperation ends.
Commenting on Isaiah 56:3-8, which talks about the inclusion of foreigners and eunuchs among God’s people, foreigners and eunuchs, that is, who keep the Sabbath and the covenant, Walter Brueggemann notes that:
the community welcomes members of any race or nation, any gender or social condition, so long as that person is defined by justice, mercy, and compassion, and not competition, achievement, production, or acquisition. (Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to a Culture of Now)
Quite so! Brueggemann is also right, it seems to me, to suggest that this ‘stance of generous inclusiveness’ is a direct contradiction of the Mosaic rules in Deuteronomy 23:1-8. Isaiah’s words are an example of prophetic critique of Israel’s ancient traditions, the kind of critique that Jesus was to continue some centuries later.
Some quotes on love and forgiveness from Francis Spufford’s recent book Unapologetic:
If someone asks for your help, give them more than they’ve asked for. If someone hits out at you, let them. Don’t retaliate. Be the place the violence ends. Because you’ve got it wrong about virtue. It isn’t something built up from a thousand careful, carefully measured acts. It comes, when it comes, in a rush; it comes from behaving, so far as you can, like God himself, who makes and makes and loves and loves and is never the less for it. God doesn’t want your careful virtue, He wants your reckless generosity.
God … wants us to love wildly and without calculation. God wants us to love people we don’t even like; people we hate; people who hate us.
We’re supposed as Christians to go out and love recklessly, as God does. We’re supposed to try and imitate Jesus in this, and to be prepared to follow love wherever it goes, knowing that there are no guarantees it’ll be safe, or that the world will treat such vulnerability kindly. ‘Take up you cross and follow me,’ says Jesus … risk everything, even death. Take love’s consequences.
We’re supposed to see God’s willingness to mend, to forgive, to absorb and remove guilt, as oceanic; a sea of love without limit, beating ceaselessly on the shores of our tiny island of caution and justice, always inviting us to look beyond, to begin again, to dare a larger and wilder and freer life. But it is possible to shrink it instead into something like a Get Out of Jail Free card, to be played by God only very occasionally in a game otherwise dominated by the same old rewards and punishments, human justice writ large all over the cosmos.
‘Taking up the cross’ in costly discipleship means a willingness to struggle against evil, for the sake of fullness of life, for the ‘bringing back of beauty’. It does not mean the passive acceptance of imposed suffering. Rather it means resistance to any pain or violence unjustly inflicted and an affirmation of abundant life for all. It means prioritizing love and justice inseparably intertwined.
Mary Grey, To Rwanda and Back: Liberation, Spirituality and Reconciliation