A Prayer of Thanksgiving

IMG_1137I’ve been doing drawn meditations based off of scripture or spiritual pieces.  I’m attracted to texts that come from other times of social disruption, those scary, creative times when the range of possibilities opens wide and people find new ways to seek God.  This seems to be the moment we’re in now, and I’ve been looking back at a much earlier moment that has some profound similarities.  The Early Church period was full of contrasting ideas about Jesus, full of argument, really, but also full of some beautiful expressions of piety and wonder.  God had come down and dwelt among us, which meant that people could claim, really for the first time in Monotheism, that they had met God, touched God, smelled and heard God.  It was an extravagant notion, and some unknown early Christians responded with this extravagant prayer, which was found in Nag Hammadi in 1945.  I found it in A New New Testament, Hal Taussig, ed.

1 This is the prayer they said: We give thanks to you, every life and heart stretches toward you, O name untroubled, honored with the name of God, praised with the name of Father. 2 To everyone and everything comes the kindness of the Father, and love and desire. 3 And if there is a sweet and simple teaching, it gifts us mind, word, and knowledge: mind, that we may understand you; word, that we may interpret you; knowledge, that we may know you. 4 We rejoice and are enlightened by your knowledge. We rejoice that you have taught us about yourself. 5 We rejoice that in the body you have made us divine6 through your knowledge. 6 The thanksgiving of the human who reaches you is this alone: that we know you. 7 We have known you, O light of mind. O light of life, we have known you. 8 O womb of all that grows, we have known you. 9 O womb pregnant with the nature of the Father, we have known you. 10 O never-ending endurance of the Father who gives birth, so we worship your goodness. 11 One wish we ask: we wish to be protected in knowledge. 12 One protection we desire: that we not stumble in this life.   13 When they said these things in prayer, they welcomed one another, and they went to eat their holy food, which had no blood in it.

Taussig, Hal (2013-03-05). A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts (p. 8). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

And here’s the text of my meditation, which can also be found scribbled in the picture above:

Name untroubled, we have known you.  We have known you when you curled your limbs, as only a child can curl her limbs.  We have known you as we once knew ourselves, when we were small and weak. A knowing before memory.  A knowing that only we can know.  And we know that this is your one pure gift – to give us to ourselves.  And so, Thanksgiving,  Great All-Being, smallest source of everything, who knows and anoints our knowing.

The Great Marco Saavedra

This is an article I wrote about Marco.  We’re holding a rally for him today, Friday July 26th, at Rep. Joyce Beatty’s office (471 E. Broad Street, Columbus).  The rally is at 11:00 AM.  If you can’t come to the rally, please sign this petition or call I.C.E. at 202.732.5000.

“There is no fear where there is perfect love,” Marco Saavedra said, just minutes before being detained by Border Patrol agents as he and eight others attempted to cross the border back into the United States on Monday.  Marco had gone to Mexico four days previously as part of an action sponsored by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA).  He and two other undocumented activists were intent on bringing home five young adults who had either been deported or returned to Mexico for economic or familial reasons.  Dressed in graduation robes and mortar boards, and surrounded by reporters, the nine walked to the border as hundreds of supporters filled the streets or watched a live broadcast of the demonstration online.

I met Marco during his first year at Kenyon College, where I was serving as the chaplain.  He was a shy sociology student and watercolorist who often sat in the middle of campus, painting the scenery.  As he matured over the years, he formed the habit of beginning prayers or introducing speakers with lengthy quotations, which he had memorized.  He was as familiar and at home with George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins as he was with Martin Luther King, Jr.  He became a Peer Minister in the campus ministry, and after college was part of the Episcopal Leadership Institute for Young Adults.

It wasn’t until his junior year that he “came out” to me as an undocumented immigrant.  I had always found it strange that he never traveled by plane, taking long bus rides between the campus in Ohio and his home in New York City.  He told me that his parents, sustenance farmers from Oaxaca, Mexico, brought him to this country when he was three years old.  Unlike many undocumented young people, he had exceptionally good luck.  He was admitted on scholarship to Deerfield Academy, a private college prep school, and from there made his way to Kenyon, which like many private colleges doesn’t require that applicants provide proof of citizenship.

He could have gone on to a fairly normalized American life, finding work in the areas that interested him and keeping quiet about his immigration status.  Instead, he decided to follow the examples of Martin Luther King, Jr., W.B. DuBois, and his other heroes, and use his relative privilege to help others.  He became a DREAM activist, advocating for the passage of the DREAM Act and other immigration reform.  Since September, 2011, Marco has been leading protests and asking for action from the Obama administration.  His work has gotten notice in the national media, including an appearance on the NPR show This American Life in late June.

Watching the nine young activists march to the border yesterday was incredibly moving.  I once thought of myself as Marco’s teacher, there to guide him in his spiritual development and help form him into a leader of God’s Kingdom on earth.  Now Marco has become my teacher, through his commitment, his bravery, and his willingness to sacrifice his own safety on behalf of others.  He and the eight other young adults are being held in detention by the I.C.E.  I pray and make phone calls for him, knowing that it’s the least I can do, and knowing that he is doing so much more to exemplify the faith that we both practice and bring about the world that we both believe in.


The Man with the Withered Hand


He was there, in the synagogue on a Sabbath, an observant Jew.  His withered hand didn’t limit his worship – he wasn’t a Levite, he wasn’t a priest.  He couldn’t work because of it, but this wasn’t a day that required work.  It was the one day when his hand didn’t matter, the Sabbath, when all work went still.  Wouldn’t such a man love the Sabbath law, the law that allowed him to sit quietly with his neighbors and not feel that his withered hand made him an outsider?

Perhaps he agreed with the Pharisees’ denunciations of Jesus, who had just defended his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath.  Picking grain, something he couldn’t do, in defiance of sitting quiet and being at rest, one thing he could do quite well.  Agreed with them, until Jesus took pity on him, and asked him to stretch out his hand.  Was he angry, even as he obeyed, not wanting to turn into a demonstration of power?  Or perhaps he was considering the day after, when he would be useless again, when he’d have to beg and accept charity and feel that he was somehow lesser than other people.  It was a finely balanced act, that stretching forward of his arm, the withered hand balancing on the end of it.

“Stretch out your hand,” Jesus said.  He could stretch his fingers without pain.  A glance back at the Pharisees, at their anger.  He had stepped from one camp into another, had ceased to be an observant Jew in their eyes, had become a grain-picker, a miracle-scrounger, a hopeful child.  And yet.  And yet, his hand moved, he could grasp the cloth of his tunic with it, could rub the fabric between thumb and forefinger and feel everything without pain.  He could return to his seat and hold his hand in his lap, looking at in, and then realize that it was no longer a passive object, that it could do more than nest in the cradle of his other hand, that it could stretch, the fingers could drum on his legs, the knuckles could curve them into fists.

But it was still the Sabbath.  No one would be working until sundown.  Even Jesus, who had proved his point, would rest now.  And the Pharisees, the angry Pharisees, had gone away.  The Sabbath, and there was little to do but return to the street, to the piece of shade that rested against the synagogue wall, where he must wait, watching the angle of the sun across the roofs of the houses, resting and waiting for sunset.


The Fig Tree Canticle

Here’s a painting, or actually two paintings, that I’ve been working on for the last few weeks.  They’re really meant to be an entry into prayer, a meditation on Luke 13 and Mark 11, on the apocalyptic imagery in Jesus’s language and the call to redemption.  Many of the visual ideas come from the Rothschild Canticles, the late medieval prayer book that I’m absolutely fascinated by.  The figure on the right is from a photo that appeared in F.A.M.E. NYC Magazine, of a businessman fleeing ground zero on September 11th, 2001.  I couldn’t find an attribution, and don’t know who took it, but appreciate the photographer and the image.

fig tree canticle painting

The Beatitudes

Here’s a small watercolor sketch (with some photo effects) that I created as part of the Sur’mount’ing the Mount project at Summit UMC.  My friend Meghan, who’s a dancer, noted that “the physical representation [of the Beatitudes] is reaching, exploration of opposites.”  I read this after I’d created my painting, but was pleased by how well Meghan’s thoughts seem to fit the image.