Tending the Soul: Christ Plays

Tending the Soul: Christ Plays

“Christ plays,” wrote the great Victorian poet and classical scholar Girard Manley Hopkins in 1877, in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” Years ago I took notice of the poem’s title since the kingfisher, a creek-diving bird with bright colors, was a prized sighting on my childhood wilderness forays. We don’t find a single abstract noun anywhere in Hopkins’ sonnet. He writes of beauty and delight, but nowhere names them. For the poet, abstraction distracts; the concrete carries all. Everything we know of beauty and delight unfolds for us by way of this-worldly things we encounter. Kingfisher birds, clanging bells. A rock tossed in a well, rippling its sound. Each thing, being true to itself, selves its way to our awareness through sensuous impressions.

Slow way, way down here. Hopkins is worth more than a skim. “Christ plays in ten thousand places” is more than a mystic’s bumper sticker.

Tending the Soul: Playground

Tending the Soul: Playground

"Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his."

- Girard Manley Hopkins

 

I am in love with my own city, and cities. I love my city’s skyline with its cash register and cranes, and its quirky grid of diagonal streets. I love the homes that have welcomed me, those Montview Boulevard mansions with marble fountains in the living room, and those cardboard residences set up under Platte River bridges. I love its publicly commissioned art and its dumpster graffiti. I love the #15 Colfax Avenue bus with all our sorts of people. I love my first day in any other city on the planet too, with whatever it serves up. My first five minutes visiting Dehli, I stepped over a cow. Just to get out the airport door! I knew right then the day would be an awakening, as is every city day.

Tending the Soul: The Elusive "I"

Tending the Soul: The Elusive "I"

Eminem got his big break in the hip hop world during my freshman year in high school. I instantly fell in love with his music and image, which eventually led me to cut my hair very short and bleach it blonde in an effort to communicate to those around me that I had an inner “Slim Shady.”

The next year I discovered the gift of 90s punk rock. I listened to Blink 182, Green Day, and MxPx on repeat. I also bought a pair of Dickies pants, a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors, and several ironic small t-shirts at the Goodwill. Everyone I met knew that I was a punk rock kid, that I was in a punk rock band, and that I didn’t like their “preppy music.”

Tending the Soul: Releasing Life

Tending the Soul: Releasing Life

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.   - Luke 23:46
 

As we talked together about parenting our girls, a friend asked, “At what age did you start releasing control over your daughter’s life?”

I thought for a moment and then asked him to clarify: “Do you mean my illusion of control over my daughter’s life?” We laughed, thinking about middle school. I thought for a bit more. “Maybe when she was a week old?”

Maybe earlier than that. By the time my daughter was hours on the earth, a wave of awareness stunned me – that I cherished her life more than my own. How was it possible that such unfathomable love nestled itself into the little dip between my chest and shoulder? Five pounds of hunched up creature, no bigger than a skinned rabbit, now consumed me - drawing more love out of my pores than I knew I had. When the nurse scurried her off for a procedure my breath halted. My tiny daughter was so terribly fragile. Would she be ok? I let her go (as if the nurse had even asked permission). Of course my little one was ok, like seven billion babies on the planet have ended up ok.

Tending the Soul: Movement to the Margins

Tending the Soul: Movement to the Margins

“God is at home. We are in the far country.”   - Meister Eckhart

“Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make people holy by his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.”   - Hebrews 13:12-13
 

In every society, in every city, in every neighborhood, on every playground there is “inside the camp” and “outside the camp.” The contours of all human gatherings have their margins.

When I first began to spend time in Bangkok slums, I observed this: destitute people build their homes out of discarded scraps, in unusable swampland where city sewage flows. Residents of these “crowded communities” are shunned and shamed by people with permanent homes and mailing addresses. As I spent more time, however, I further observed this: there are top dogs in any slum. They have the largest sheets of corrugated tin for roofs, and linoleum spread across their plywood floors. They resourcefully splice electricity in from the service mains, and lash TV antennas to bamboo poles. They collect “rent” from quadrants of the swamp and from boarders in precarious second-story rooms.