Tag: grace

More Than We Can Ask or Imagine: A Poetic Reflection

Amelia Pahl - More Than We Can Ask or Imagine: A Poetic Reflection

I see that moment of grace when the sun breaks through a murky sky.
I see the little spark of hope that flairs when someone asks just the right question – and then cares to listen.
I see a new sort of possibility appear amidst the mundanity of daily life. 
I see a dreamer who counts the stars and still only fathoms a drop of water in the ocean of the universe.

“More than we can ask or imagine” evokes a sense of absolute grace, a hope that, whatever our shortcomings,
whatever our mistakes,
whatever our inconsistencies
we’re part of a vast, bold, extravagant universe that is endlessly giving birth to itself.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a wee bit more than I can imagine on a typical day.

I’ve been writing poetry since I was at least seven, and words have come intuitively to me for as long as I can remember. I don’t really write poems, and I hardly ever think them – it’s more like I suddenly find myself bleeding words onto a page and all I have to do is get my self out of the way. For me, poetry is an act of grace, a moment when emotion, intuition, and words come to a head and explode into written form.

Often, in these moments, I feel an enormous sense of relief when I can find just the right words in just the right place on the page to express what normally can’t be expressed in words. It’s a moment of birth after what is usually weeks of growing and churning inside of me; suddenly I am given words for my experience of life – and it’s miraculous.

I like poetry because it doesn’t have to make sense. It allows us to give up our need to understand – if only for a little while – and instead to sit with life exactly as it is. And I’ve found that, in the sitting, life actually starts to make a little more sense. This is grace. This is more than we can ask or imagine. 

Poetry doesn’t have to make sense, and that’s why it can glimpse an unimaginable God.

Here is a poem.

The poet Adi al-Riga, as quoted by Rumi:

“I was sleeping, and being comforted
by a cool breeze, when suddenly a gray dove
from a thicket sang and sobbed with longing,
and reminded me of my own passion.

I had been away from my own soul so long,
so late-sleeping, but that dove’s crying
woke me and made me cry. Praise
to all early-waking grievers!”

Here ends the poem, but the grieving still runs thick in my veins,
I am up to my eyes in unknowing, swimming in the sluggish questions of my waking life,
Wondering where my awkward dance fits in with the graceful grace-filled folly of my world,
            your world, our worlds colliding and
            never quite knowing what to do about the wondering.
Each day I step out in trust
            – or maybe it’s stupidity, I can’t remember which –
And I hold on for dear life, never really sure
            who knows, who cares, who loves, who dares to question with me
            this spinning, half-sleeping place we call home,
            or life, I can’t remember which.
I am alone and never alone
I am known and unknown
I am strange and I am familiar
I am water I am air I am breathing universe I am ancient sleeping tree
I am the early-waking griever.

I died
Once or twice while writing this,
But death is dawn in Rumi’s books, and I tend to agree, though
            not in so many words.

I don’t know anything; I know that much.

Amelia Pahl is in her second year at CMU. 

From camp to CMU: Knowing God beyond academia

I’m not sure what wild whim it was last February that had me filling out and submitting and application for Summer Staff at Camp Mennoscah.

Lizzie Schrag (far right) with her roommates from Camp Mennoscah. Lizzie Schrag: knowing God beyond academia

Lizzie Schrag (far right) with her roommates from Camp Mennoscah.

My relationship with this Kansas church camp was shaky, at best. I hadn’t gone every year as a camper, and not all the years I had attended had been particularly good experiences. From what I could remember it was hot, sandy, and full of both poison ivy and extroverts.

So when I arrived at camp last June, I had come because it was something in which I believed. I had taken enough BTS courses at that point to have a vague recognition that, when set up correctly, Christianity could be positive and life-giving instead of horribly destructive, as my own post-high school experience had led me to conclude.

Camp, then, was the best example of Christianity being “set-up” correctly, that I could think of: an intentional community that broke bread together; worked, played, and rested together; had healthy intergenerational interactions; and defied gender stereotypes—all on a place set aside as holy ground by the life-giving flow of the Ninnescah River.

Lizzie Schrag: knowing God beyond academia

But what I didn’t bargain for when I arrived at camp was, well, the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God: that Grace, eloquently described in Hamilton’s ‘Unimaginable‘, as “too powerful to name.”

When I started working at camp, I viewed all those aforementioned aspects of Christianity as a check-list, as if I could simply mark them off once they happened. I saw them as practices that brought us closer to God. But I had gone so long without feeling that overflowing, overwhelming love, grace, and certainty in who I was as a child of God, that I couldn’t quite dare to believe that I would again.

But God has a way of overturning all our assumptions and our expectations.

Somewhere between buckets of compost, stacks of dishes, and a little turtle poop (I was the nature person after all), I regained trust in my own ability to be strong, capable, and loving in service—a living example of worship.

And between hymn sings and hug circles, notes of love from our director and quiet campers pouring out their stories, I regained trust in the loving goodness of other people.

And on my last night with campers, as I was hanging back at campfire waiting to put it out, I found myself talking to a camper whose difficult story was eerily similar to my own, and in ministering to her, (I guess that’s what listening, and sharing, and praying really is), I regained my trust in God, and God’s ability to work through what is messy, and broken, and seemingly irreparable.

Lizzie Schrag: Knowing God beyond academia

I went to camp because it seemed like a place to live out what I had learned in textbooks and lectures. But I left knowing God beyond academia.

I affirmed that I need a place to write and think, to make sense of God amidst all the dangerous, damaging religiosity I have, and continue to brush up against. But I also learned that God’s mercy forces us to reevaluate our doubts, God’s grace can sass our bitter cynicism right back, and God’s love can come in forms as small as a baby turtle, and as expansive as a prairie sky.

At camp I slammed into a God who is in all and through all. Even me.

Elizabeth Schrag is in her second year of a Biblical and Theological Studies major. 
This post was first shared in Chapel at CMU on Sept 12, 2017.

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