He remains in the very thick of it

From Scott Cairns’ book The End of Suffering:

Well, the story goes that He has descended into the very thick of it.

The story goes that He remains in the very thick of it.

In mystical synergia, He collaborates with His Body, now and ever. In appalling condescension, He remains Emmanuel, God with us. Whereas we had brought only death and brokenness to that mix, He has brought life and wholeness.

…He did not save Himself, but gather gave Himself.

He did not come simply to rid the Jews of the oppressive Romans any more than He came to trump the other oppressive circumstances that His oddly beloved creatures have continued to construct for themselves and others. On the contrary, He came to suffer the results of those cosmic bad choices with us, and by so doing to both show us how we might survive them and to enable our survival—in Himself.

That is to say, He did not come here to undo our choices, but to move through them victoriously, and to show us how we might likewise move. He did not come to eclipse us, or to overrule our persons. On the contrary, He came to endow our persons with the self-same unending life.

“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24).

…A more likely translation seems to me to be what is yet to be done.

In any case, this does not exactly solve our puzzle. One is very likely still to ask, what is yet to be done?

What is it that Saint Paul and the rest of us are expected to supply?

Could it be ourselves?

The very heart of an efficacious faith, it seems to me now, is bound up precisely in our—watchfully—living into this mystery of what appears to be God’s continuing desire for collaboration between Himself and His creation.

From Adam’s naming of the animals through each successive patriarch, prophet, and holy man or woman, God has shown a predilection for working with His people, as opposed to simply working on them. God is intent, generation after generation on finding one or more of us to suffer the chore with Him. They may or may not always be the best specimens—Moses, Abraham, Lot, David, etc.—but their success is inevitably bound up with their complying with His will, and colluding with it. We find instances of this dynamic collaboration throughout our biblical texts and throughout their surrounding traditions.

One chief instance that comes to mind is illustrated in the Gospel dialogue that accompanies the event we call the Annunciation—that most curious exchange between the Archangel Gabriel and the Theotokos—and I glimpse in that fascinating give-and-take the Holy Mother’s necessary concurrence with the angelic messenger’s announcement. The angel reveals to her the message from on high, and she replies, “Behold the majdservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).

The point is, she said yes to God’s messenger. One despairs to think what would have become of us if she had said no.

…What, then, has yet to be done? What—so far as you are concerned—is the nature of this odd-seeming isterimata that gives Saint Paul cause to rejoice even in the midst of suffering?

You’ll probably have to tell me.

I suspect that, just as each of us is unique in the eyes of our God Who loves us, each of us also will find a unique remedy for our separation from Him. Each of us will discover-—and either will bear or will shirk—a unique cross.

What the fathers and mothers of the church have taught me is that inevitably each of us will, in one or in a number of ways, partake of Christ’s suffering, and that these experiences will help us to apprehend all the more how we are both joined to Him and how we are joined to each other.

We may well have occasion to ask—as Christ Himself asked—that the cup be taken away, but we will fare far better if that request is followed by “yet not my will, but Your will be done.” We will fare far better if, like the Theotokos, we answer the call of the messenger, saying, “Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

the slow learner continued dancing

Poem by Scott Cairns (published in his collections Theology of Doubt and Compass of Affection):

The Theology of Doubt

I have come to believe this fickleness
of belief is unavoidable. As, for these
back lot trees, the annual loss
of leaves and fruit is unavoidable.
I remember hearing that soft-soap
about faith being given
only to the faithful—mean trick,
if you believe it. This afternoon,
during my walk, which
I have come to believe is good
for me, I noticed one of those
ridiculous leaves hanging
midway up an otherwise naked oak.
The wind did what it could
to bring it down, but the slow
learner continued dancing. Then again,
once, hoping for the last good apple,
I reached among bare branches,
pulling into my hand
an apple too soft for anything
and warm to the touch, fly blown.

deep within the clay

A nativity poem by Scott Cairns (about the overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit):

Deep within the clay, and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the ember of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew falls gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. Her human flesh
adorns its Lord, and lo, the wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a King whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

Composed for an event with Gordon College students in Orvieto, Italy. See this page.

turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep

From Compass of Affection by Scott Cairns (155).

Hidden City

…that you might approach the Jerusalem of the heart…
                                                     —Isaac the Least

And now I think Jerusalem abides untouched,
the temple yet intact, its every cornerstone
in place, its vault replete with vivid scent, its ark

alight with vigil lamps whose oil is never spent.
In psalm the pilgrim asks forgiveness, pleads that God
return the Spirit to the heart, and look, the Ghost

had never left, had never for an instant drawn
away, had only watched His presence made obscure
by soul’s own intermittent darkening. Just so,

the three companions of the Lord had blindly walked
the lesser part of three dim years before their eyes
beheld the Light that bathed the Son eternally.

Just so, the Light of Tabor spools extending past
the vision of the multitude, if nonetheless
apparent to the meek, the poor, the pure in heart.

Just so, the Holy City bides within the heart,
awaits the day the pilgrim will arrive, will quit
the road, turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep, and see.

the divine in him contracted to an ache

By Scott Cairns in his “Recovered Body” collection and recently shared here on the Huffington Post.

The More Earnest Prayer of Christ

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly
–Luke 22:44

His last prayer in the garden began, as most
as his prayers began–in earnest, certainly,
but not without distraction, an habitual…what?

Distance? Well, yes, a sort of distance, or a mute
remove from the genuine distress he witnessed
in the endlessly grasping hands of multitudes

and, often enough, in his own embarrassing
circle of intimates. Even now, he could see
these where they slept, sprawled upon their robes or wrapped

among the arching olive trees. Still, something new,
unlikely, uncanny was commencing as he spoke.
As the divine in him contracted to an ache,

a throbbing in the throat, his vision blurred, his voice
grew thick and unfamiliar; his prayer — just before
it fell to silence — became uniquely earnest.

And in that moment — perhaps because it was so
new — he saw something, had his first taste of what
he would become, first pure taste of the body, and the blood.

the way things were shaping up

YHWH’s Image

And YHWH sat in the dust, bone weary after
days of strenuous making, during which He,
now and again, would pause to consider the
way things were shaping up. Time also would
pause upon these strange durations; it would
lean back on its haunches, close its marble
eyes, appear to doze.

But when YHWH Himself finally sat on the
dewy lawn—the first stage of his work all but
finished—He took in a great breath laced with
all lush odors of creation. It made him almost
giddy.

As He exhaled, a sigh and sweet mist spread
out from him, settling over the earth. In that
obscurity, YHWH sat for an appalling interval,
so extreme that even Time opened its eyes, and
once, despite itself, let its tail twitch. Then
YHWH lay back, running His hand over the
damp grasses, and in deep contemplation
reached into the soil, lifting great handsful of
trembling clay to His lips, which parted to
avail another breath.

With this clay He began to coat His shins,
cover His thighs, His chest. He continued this
layering, and, when He had been wholly
interred, He parted the clay at His side, and
retreated from it, leaving the image of Himself
to wander in what remained of that early
morning mist.

By Scott Cairns from Recovered Body.

all but invisible through that lavish debris

The Glass Man

He is the transparence of the place in which He is…

This is where he washed to shore
during rough weather in November.
We found him in a nest of kelp,

salt bladders, other sea wrack—
all but invisible through
that lavish debris—and we might

have passed him by altogether
had he not held so perfectly
still, composed, so incoherently

fixed among the general
blowziness of the pile.
Unlikely is what he was,

what he remains—brilliant,
immutable, and of speech
quite incapable, if revealing

nonetheless. Under foot,
the landscape grows acute, so that it seems
to tremble, thereafter to dissolve,

thereafter to deliver to the witness
a suspicion of the roiling
confusion which brought him here.

By Scott Cairns in Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (pages 55).