lenten journal: bear with me


    In my post yesterday I quoted from Bruce Springsteen’s keynote address at South-by- Southwest, which I would like to repeat:

    The purity of human expression and experience is not confined – there’s no pure way of doing it; there’s just doing it . . . . At the end of the day, it’s the power and purpose of your music that is what’s valuable.

    After seeing him in concert last night in Greensboro, I must report the man walks the walk (rocks the rock) as well as he talks the talk. At 62, the Boss shows no signs of slowing down or gives any indication that the point of his evening is to leave it all on the stage. If rock and roll were a religion, Bruce would be a Pentecostal evangelist. With his clarion call still ringing in my ears, I heard the music start all over again when I read this sentence in Art & Fear:

    To make art is to sing with your human voice. (117)

    May I offer a mash up, if you will? There’s no pure way of doing it, there’s just doing it; at the end of the day, it’s the power and purpose of your faith that is what’s valuable. To make faith is to sing with your human voice.

    Here is one of the reasons Jesus matters: he was fully human, which is to say being human is not a bad thing, not an evil thing, not a destructive thing. Being human is who we were made to be. Bruce sang, and a coliseum of voices along with him, of what it means to be resiliently human:

    we are alive
    and though our bones are alone here in the dark
    our souls and spirits rise
    to carry the fire and light the spark
    to fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart

    The reason we all sang along, or at least one of them, is because he sings about the truth of life that lives amidst the contradictions and grief, of the light that shines indefatigably in the darkness. We are the dry bones singing and dancing. Every damn day. It is the melody of art and faith, our best song in our human voices, embracing the life we have been given to live. Back to Art and Fear — Bayles and Orland close their book by saying:

    In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot – and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice. (118)

    I’m a quote ahead of myself. I need to back up a page or two to the set up for the paragraph you just read:

    Answers are reassuring, but when you’re onto something really useful, it will probably take the form of a question. . . . Over the long run, the people with interesting answers are those who ask interesting questions. (112-113)

    Not long after I re-read those words, I came across my friend Jimmy’s thoughts on his Facebook page this morning:

    It didn’t seem questions had much place in my faith tradition. I remember asking questions, but, there were always answers. Life is not a math challenge where all the numbers add up to a simple resolution. Neither are questions.

    Jesus is the answer, says the old gospel song, backed up by all sorts of good intentions. No. Jesus asks the questions. Where are your accusers? Do you want to get well? Do you love me? Jesus calls us to embrace the uncertainty. Consider the lilies. Walk the second mile. Take care of the people who can’t take care of you in return. Love your enemies.

    Oh – there’s one more thread in my tapestry: this line from Mary Oliver’s “Spring,” which graced the Writer’s Almanac today:

    There is only one question
    How to love the world.

    Wait. That’s not fair. A good line from a great poem deserves to be seen in its natural habitat. Here’s the whole thing.

          a black bear
               has just risen from sleep
                    and is staring

    down the mountain.
         All night
              in the brisk and shallow restlessness
                   of early spring

    I think of her,
        her four black fists
            flicking the gravel,
                   her tongue

    like a red fire
        touching the grass,
            the cold water.
                  There is only one question:

    how to love this world.
        I think of her
                   like a black and leafy ledge

    to sharpen her claws against
        the silence
            of the trees.
                  Whatever else

    my life is
        with its poems
            and its music
                 and its glass cities,

    it is also this dazzling darkness
           down the mountain,
                breathing and tasting;

    all day I think of her—
        her white teeth,
           her wordlessness,
                her perfect love.

    The fact that I went to Baylor notwithstanding, I love a good bear metaphor. And I’m back to Lyle, or at least his cover of Steve Fromholtz’s song:

    some folks drive the bears out of the wilderness
    some to see a bear would pay a fee
    me I just bear up to my bewildered best
    and some folks even seen the bear in me

    Oliver’s bear comes lumbering out of hibernation into a world exploding with possibilities and dangers, callings and contradictions, reminding us we follow a similar trajectory: sometimes bewildered, sometimes uncertain, sometimes hungry, sometimes hopeful, and always called to love with all the force and fervor of a bear looking to break a winter’s fast or Bruce belting out the final chorus of “Born to Run.”

    We are alive. And human. And are called to love the world: to relish the uncertainty, to dance in the dark, to make faith by singing in our human voice:

    everybody has a hu-hu-hungry heart.


    P. S. — Sic ’em, Bears.


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