Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

I start with a poem, not my own. 

Field Notes for a Psalm of Ascent
Jane Zwart, Assistant Professor of English, Calvin College

Unto thee I lift up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. Psalm 123:1

Mimic the rustic who mistakes a hot air balloon
for a keyhole punched in the sky’s bright tin
and prays the old words Thy kingdom come.

Mimic the magi who watched heaven thrum
and dim, wondering what angels the novas
would toss from quiet into song.

Mimic the kid who carries a plastic flashlight
to the backyard and aims it upward, transmitting
a prayer in Morse code, first by clapping a hand
over an Eveready’s canned brightness, then
by letting its light go—never mind the stars’ unblinking.

Mimic the martyrs who rolled their eyes
not to mock their captors but because they knew:
earth’s thin ceiling is heaven’s vellum floor.

Mimic the skeptic who cannot sit through a sunset
without saying (in a manner more angry than glib, more
bashful than blasphemous) O God Almighty.

Mimic the Christ, who must have thought our constellations
backward but who stayed anyway, peeling death
from lepers, dusting Palestine off his disciples’ ankles.

Mimic the Christ, who must have scanned the sky
he meant to cross, then put on a cross. It was rooted where
no stars could dangle. Mimic him, the Christ.

A friend near Philadelphia, Tim Bickhart, sent this poem to me by a professor at Calvin College, Jane Zwart. He'd seen the last two stanzas in a letter that had gone out from the President's office at the college and hunted down the rest. Turns out this was the Inaugural poem written by Professor Zwart for Michael Le Roy's inauguration as Calvin's President in 2012. [1]

I read and reread the poem. I'm not sure what possessed him to send it, but I'm glad he did. It was one of those perfectly timed gifts from someone out of the blue. He had an intuition that I might like it. So I'm sharing it here.

Mimic the rustic magi kid martyr skeptic Christ. He is more than all the challenges we lay toward him. 

It's become a trope among folks attracted to the claim that science has disproven Christian faith that believers indulge a primitive, even naive, view of the cosmos. It's said that we locate some divine parent-figure in a physical space somewhere looking "down" on us—or at least that we let the beliefs of folks who once did believe that sort of thing still hold sway over us.

Maybe. But, in fact . . . no. We don't. In fact . . . we "locate" the divine in a more metaphorical space than that: in wonder, passion, fascination, humility, weakness, glory, abjection, connection, compassion, urgency, patience, transcendence, presence, love. We "locate" the divine around the corner, in a word we hear but can't physically locate, and to which we respond. We respond with a "yes," and with a turn of our heads, and with a re-pointing of our bodies toward the other. A move to mimic. 

[1] I've only been able to find this poem in an online version of the inauguration bulletin, and reprint it here because I like it so much. If there are copyright concerns, I'm happy to be informed and will gladly comply with any permissions requests expected.