Jesus lights a fire on the shore and waits for the thin blue dawn. Time folds like a piece of paper. Time reaches its end and everything keeps going. Boats rise and fall like lightning in the distance.
I remember how the trees were covered with sirens that year like birds flying like birds, and how we tried to lift one onto a stick. It was June and I was in love. We were below the northern lights in my memory
water was evaporating everywhere around us the heat was filling the air with mist. But of course I recognize everything after the fact. Jesus waits for his friends on the beach. The ground I’m sure was littered with shells.
Once there came a wolf so fierce he devoured not only lambs but goats and children.
The villagers armed themselves as if going to war but even their weapons could not save them from his teeth, so fear fell like a shadow upon Gubbio and sealed the village gates. Enter the saint: once a dandy, once a soldier, once a prisoner of war and war wounded, who embarked on the Fourth Crusade but on the way gave his sword and supplies to a beggar. Who can take you farther, the lord or the servant?
Saint whose father beat him and dragged him away in chains, saint who kissed a leper’s stinking hand and set out to embrace Syrian warriors, saint who negotiated an exchange with Sultan Melek-el-Kamel of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. That saint sought and found the wolf’s hiding place, and there said, Brother, do not hurt me. You have committed crimes. You deserve to die. This town hates you, but Brother, I want to make peace between you and them, so they won’t be harmed, and when they have forgiven you, men and dogs will never chase you again. Brother, I know the evil you have done came only from hunger. If the people feed you, will you pledge never to harm a living thing? The wolf put his paw in the saint’s hand, then curled at his feet like a hound.
O friends, if beasts hold us in such terror, how much more do we fear the fires of hell? Turn to the One who frees you from wolves in this world and flames in the next!
For two years, the wolf wandered from kitchen door to door. No dog barked. No hand rose against him. Not one child ran from his gaze. When he died of old age, the villagers of Gubbio missed his kind patience. Who can take you farther, the lord or the servant?
Welcome Sister Death, said the saint when his own time had come and taking her hand into his palm, he drew her famished fist to his lips and slowly kissed her knuckles one by one. O, who can take you farther?
The sedentary Presbyterians awoke, arose, and filed to tables spread with white, to humble bits that showed how God almighty had decided to embrace humanity, and why these clean, well-fed, well-dressed suburbanites might need his grace.
The pious cruel, the petty gossipers and callous climbers on the make, the wives with icy tongues and husbands with their hearts of stone, the ones who battle drink and do not always win, the power lawyers mute before this awful bar of mercy, boys uncertain of themselves and girls not sure of where they fit, the poor and rich hemmed in alike by cash, physicians waiting to be healed, two women side by side—the one with unrequited longing for a child, the other terrified by signs within of life, the saintly weary weary in pursuit of good, the academics (soft and cosseted) who posture over words, the travelers coming home from chasing wealth or power or wantonness, the mothers choked by dual duties, parents nearly crushed by children died or lost, and some with cancer-ridden bodies, some with spikes of pain in chest or back or knee or mind or heart. They come, O Christ, they come to you.
They came, they sat, they listened to the words, “for you my body broken.” Then they ate and turned away—the spent unspent, the dead recalled, a hint of color on the psychic cheek—from tables groaning under weight of tiny cups and little crumbs of bread.
He spoke to you in blue, in the long call of light from the top of a Tuscan hill. Your hand answered, the quick sketch of a girl taking shape before you knew she was you, head uplifted, her angelful eyes sure of what they see: being bodied true as the stilled wings, the beatified sky. What words might have passed have passed as air sighed by the soul in the act of rapture. Now there is only ochre and thin-skinned cream, struck gold against the garden’s sudden green, forever as present as it once seemed, her hands crossed soft against her hidden fear and angel’s breath still warm within your ear.
From South and East, from West and North they gather, on foot, by car, in rickshaw, tram, and bus, health, in wheelchair, in joy, in sorrow, relaxed, uptight, disheveled, and fastidious. They come, O Christ, to you, to taste the body that once for all was slain, to sing and pray and take a cup whose balm brings life from dying— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The words they hear when they have come together are chanted, lisped, intoned, or simply said and tell in myriad tongues with every accent of body broken and of life’s blood shed. Mere words convey a gift of perfect freedom, a debt of love that no one can repay, a yoke of new and welcomed obligation— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The spaces where they meet are huge, resplendent, or huts and hovels all but falling down, on Sundays jammed but often solitary, both nowhere and on squares of world renown. Yet all are hewn from just one Rock unbroken in whose protection no one is betrayed, which lets itself be smashed to bits for sinners— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The hands that tender host and cup are youthful, emaciated, worn, and manicured. They take so little time, they bring so little, to do a work by which so much is cured. These hands that bring the Savior near are icons of hands once torn in order to display with lines of blood the names who come receiving— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
If you forget what axons do, or how a virus invades a cell, remember this—
that light becomes food. That the seasons rhyme, a different word each time
turning soil into living song. That all things work together. Even death. Even decay.
That this is the way of the world we got: what is given grows by grace and care
and knows what it needs. That life is strong, and precarious, full of devices and desires.
That what we hold in common may not be owned. Control is costly. Close attention
is the reverence due whatever lives and moves, mutant and quick and clever.
That our neighbors— the plankton, the white pine, the busy nematodes—
serve us best in reciprocal gratitude: what they receive, they give.
The way the heart accepts what the vein delivers and sends it on, again. Again.
Study war no more
Mar 18, 2011
Michael Izbicki grew up in a nondenominational church in California. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, he chose to go to the U.S. Naval Academy out of a sense of duty to his country during a time of war. At the naval academy he began to doubt whether the career to which he had committed himself could be squared with the tenets of just war doctrine. He got in trouble when he responded no to this exam question: "If given the order, would you launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?" After a four-year legal battle, the navy discharged him as a conscientious objector. Izbicki may have to reimburse the service for part or all of his education (New York Times, February 22).