There were several reasons why I abandoned this practice a few years ago. One of the most pressing was the theology of conquest and the dispossession of the people of Canaan. So, I propose, once again, to ignore the Daily Office readings. You do not come here to listen to me rail against the dark sides of our tradition.
Instead, I propose to play with sundry poetry, as things leap out at me.
The Unpardonable Sin
This is the sin against the Holy Ghost: —
To speak of bloody power as right divine,
And call on God to guard each vile chief's house,
And for such chiefs, turn men to wolves and swine:—
To go forth killing in White Mercy's name,
Making the trenches stink with spattered brains,
Tearing the nerves and arteries apart,
Sowing with flesh the unreaped golden plains.
In any Church's name, to sack fair towns,
And turn each home into a screaming sty,
To make the little children fugitive,
And have their mothers for a quick death cry,—
This is the sin against the Holy Ghost:
This is the sin no purging can atone:—
To send forth rapine in the name of Christ:—
To set the face, and make the heart a stone.
Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) was an American poet known for the musicality of his verse and his oratorical skill, though his early career was marked by failure and penury. He was fond or ordinary folk, travel, and the beauty of life. His vision of poetry as performance art was, perhaps, ahead of its time. A poetry slam of our day has the musicality and strong rhythms of Lindsay's verse.
This poem calls to account religious people and systems that cause devastation to human life. To harm others, allegedly in the name of Christ or Allah or any other deity, is nothing short of blasphemy.
We would do well to ask whether our faith is allied with worldly power and destruction or with grace and healing. The flag and the Cross do not mix well, though many seek to link them. The Cross judges all earthly systems, all movements, all governments, all ideologies.
I see too many political actions in my own nation at this time that fit all too easily into these verses. The third stanza, especially, evokes our bombing and devastation in far-off lands followed by our refusal to embrace the refugees we have created or helped to create. Desperate masses who would prefer a quick death to their current misery. Fugitive children. Homes reduced to rubble and disease.
Can our hearts turn from stone back into flesh? Ezekiel 36.26-27 offers a promise of what God can do.
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.
One of my more startling sermons involved some visual props. A rubber-headed a mallet, a standard claw hammer, and a sledge hammer. I lifted each up in turn, raising them from behind the pulpit to describe how each is suited for a certain range of purposes. I suggested that to break up our stony hearts, God may well need a sledge hammer.
Are we willing to let our hearts be broken open? Are we desirous of hearts of flesh that can, once again, feel compassion, act with justice and truth, and practice humility?