Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Poets and puppies

Wisdom 7:24-8:1; Psalm 27:5-11; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

For a while there last week, I wondered if we ought to have built an ark. It seemed we might float away from all the rain, or blow away from the wind. Every time the lightening crackled and the thunder rumbled, our whole house – and our dog – shook. In fact, no one was happier than our storm-phobic dog when Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful.

We took her on a walk through the neighborhood, and as she splashed through puddles and sniffed each blade of grass, we smiled at the sun and were grateful for its warmth. We might have even said a little prayer of thanks for the beautiful day. It made me think of one of the few poems I know by heart, another prayer of thanks written by 20th century American poet, ee cummings:

i thank you God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes…

Isn’t it incredible how a poem can paint a picture, but not a still-life – the picture made by a poem has motion in it. It helps us imagine things we might not be able to see with our eyes, but that are real nonetheless. Thinking about that walk on Saturday, I can imagine the
leaping greenly spirits of trees and the blue true dream of sky.

Tomorrow is the feast day of John Donne, an English poet and preacher who lived four hundred years ago. He is one of the saints in the Episcopal church, because of his ability to use words to paint pictures, to turn faith from a still-life into something with motion, something with meaning. In his time, people flocked to church to hear him preach, and in our time his poems and sermons and letters are still read in English classes.

Over the course of this school year, we’ve heard the stories of all kinds of saints, all kinds of people of God. Some, like Andrew and Francis, lived many centuries before Donne. Others are living now, like Governor Winter and the campers at special session, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori and Rukhsana Khan, and our own St. Andrew's saints, Miss Saddler and Dr. Taylor. Looking back over all their stories and the pictures they’ve painted with their lives, we’ve seen in them an amazing variety of gifts and abilities used in the service of others, in the service of God.

Now, John Donne, of course, never met Andrew or Francis, and he certainly never met Governor Winter. Rukhsana Khan hasn’t ever been to special session, and I don’t think Dr. Taylor knows Bishop Schori. But they are all connected, and not just because they’ve all been speakers, or the subject of speakers, in chapel this year. John Donne wrote, “No one is an island, entirely alone; everyone is a piece of the continent, everyone is a piece of the main.”

All the saints – past and present, and those still to come – all the saints, all of God’s people, including ourselves, are connected. We are all part of the continent, all part of the main, all part of the big picture that is always full of motion, full of life. And we bring an amazing variety of gifts and abilities. Some of us are poets, and some of us are preachers. Some of us are artists, musicians, teachers, athletes. All of us are scholars. We possess so many different talents and interests – perhaps one of us will find a cure for dogs who are terrified of storms. I hope so, for my dog’s sake. It is breathtaking to imagine the infinite possibilities in this room right now, the infinite ways our particular constellations of gifts and abilities can be put to use by us in the service of others, in the service of God.

Perhaps, one day, someone here will be honored on some calendar of saints, counted among God’s people whose lives have reflected God’s light. But Andrew and Francis and Donne and all the rest have understood that god’s purpose in blessing each of us with something unique is not so that we might be honored. Instead, as we heard a moment ago, the presence of God’s Spirit is
shown in some way in each person for the good of all. Our gifts and abilities are given to us so that we might use them to imagine a better and brighter and more beautiful world – not a still-life, but a world filled with the motions of love and generosity and welcome.

It’s supposed to rain again later this week, I think. But even if it storms, I won’t forget Saturday’s
leaping greenly spirits of trees and blue true dream of sky. i thank you God for each and every amazing day, for each and every one of the amazing gifts we are given…for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes. Amen.

i thank You God, by ee cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;
this is the birthday of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

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