Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Poem of the Day: "Listen, Lord -- A Prayer" by James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was a poet and author as well as a lawyer and activist who served in the NAACP for quite some time. He was also appointed as an ambassador to Venezuela and Nicaragua by Theodore Roosevelt. His work was highly influential during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Here is his poem, "Listen, Lord -- A Prayer":

O Lord, we come this morning
Knee-bowed and body-bent
Before thy throne of grace.
O Lord--this morning--
Bow our hearts beneath our knees,
And our knees in some lonesome valley.
We come this morning--
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord--open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning.

Lord, have mercy on proud and dying sinners--
Sinners hanging over the mouth of hell,
Who seem to love their distance well.
Lord--ride by this morning--
Mount your milk-white horse,
And ride-a this morning--
And in your ride, ride by old hell,
Ride by the dingy gates of hell,
And stop poor sinners in their headlong plunge.

And now, O Lord, this man of God,
Who breaks the bread of life this morning--
Shadow him in the hollow of thy hand,
And keep him out of the gunshot of the devil.
Take him Lord--this morning--
Wash him with hyssop inside and out,
Hang him up and drain him dry of sin.
Pin his ear to the wisdom-post,
And make his words sledge hammers of truth--
Beating on the iron heart of sin.

Lord God, this morning--
Put his eye to the telescope of eternity,
And let him look upon the paper walls of time.
Lord, turpentine his imagination,
Put perpetual motion in his arms,
Fill him full of the dynamite of thy power,
Anoint him all over with the oil of thy salvation,
And set his tongue on fire.

And now, O Lord--
When I've done drunk my last cup of sorrow--
When I've been called everything but a child of God--
When I'm done traveling up the rough side of the mountain--
O--Mary's Baby--
When I start down the steep and slippery steps of death--
When this old world begins to rock beneath my feet--
Lower me to my dusty grave in peace
To wait for that great gittin' up morning--Amen.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Poem of the Day: "Bury Me in a Free Land" by Frances E.W. Harper

Today's poem comes from Frances E.W. Harper. She was born free and lived in Baltimore, Maryland from 1825-1911. Today's poem, "Bury Me in a Free Land," was featured in a book Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854) which catapulted her into abolitionist circles alongside figures such as Frederick Douglass, William Garrison, and many others.

Some of her other works include "Two Offers," the first short story by an African-American woman to be published, Moses: A Story of the Nile (1869), Sketches of Southern Life (1872), and Iola Leroy (1892).

Here is today's poem, "Bury Me in a Free Land":

Make me a grave where'er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;
Make it among earth's humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.

I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.

I could not rest if I heard the treat
Of a coffle gang to shambles led,
And mother's shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parents' nest.

I'd shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mother's arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with a mournful flame
My death-pale cheek grow red with shame.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob no man of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Poem of the Day: “The Slave Auction” by Frances E.W. Harper

Today’s poem of the day is “The Slave Auction” by Frances E.W. Harper.

The sale began—young girls were there,
     Defenseless in their wretchedness,
Whose stifled sobs of deep despair
     Revealed their anguish and distress.

And mothers stood with streaming eyes,
     And saw their dearest childre sold;
Unheeded rose their utter crime,
     While tyrants bartered them for gold.

And woman, with her love and truth—
     For these in sable forms may dwell—
Gaz’d on the husband of her youth,
     With anguish none may paint or tell.

And men, whose sole crime was their hue,
     The impress of their Maker’s hand,
And frail and shrinking children, too,
     Were gathered in that mournful band.

Ye who have laid your love to rest,
     And wept above their lifeless clay,
Know not the anguish of that breast,
     Whose lov’d are rudely torn away.

He may not know how desolate
     Are bosoms rudely forced to part,
And how a dull and heavy weight
     Will press the life-drops from the heart.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Poem of the Day: “To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth" by Phillis Wheatley

In an effort to expand my appreciation of poetry, I have been attempting to read a poem a day. Instead of keeping them to myself, I would love to share them with you. I am currently working my way through a collection called The Black Poets, an anthology edited by Dudley Randall. I chose this book to start with because I teach a 9th grade American Literature class which focuses on Civil Rights literature and I would like to integrate these poems into my class more.

Today’s poem of the day is “To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth” by Phillis Wheatley (1753-94):

Should you, my lord, while you pursue my song
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was switchd’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was the soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d.
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannical sway?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

E.L. Mascall on Hell

E.L. Mascall was one of the most brilliant Anglo-Catholic theologians of the 20th century. In reading his book Christ, the Christian, and the Church: A Study of the Incarnation and its Consequences, one of his passages on hell really stood out to me. In fact, in the section highlighted red, he directly refutes a thought experiment I previously published where I attempted to apply the Ontological argument to the problem of hell. Hell is one of the doctrines I have always struggled with so I really appreciate his thoughts which don't compromise on orthodoxy but also maintain a strong emphasis on the love of God (VII.III):

From the Incarnation onwards the history of the world is the history of the Christian Church, and the end to which the whole process is moving is the remaking and gathering together of the whole human race through incorporation into Christ. It does appear that there will be at  the end of time some human souls who have rejected finally and irrevocably the gift of eternal life. In admitting this, I do not mean to imply that I find the doctrine of hell anything but terrible to consider; but, while we cannot say that any particular person is in hell, loyalty to the plain teaching of the Gospel compels us to recognize that the final separation of a human soul from God is a very genuine possibility. We need not hesitate to acknowledge that in the popular mind, as moulded by the stories of nursemaids of the last generation but one and the sermons of the less scrupulous type of preacher, the doctrine of hell has been so conceived as to make religion a matter of fear rather than of love, and that the torments of hell have sometimes been depicted in crude and even ridiculous ways. But, in its essence, hell simply means that a man's ultimate destiny is determined by his own decision, and in this sense we must surely agree with Mr. Eric Gill that the doctrine of hell 'implies the most stupendous compliment to man humanly conceivable.' To-day, he says, 'the doctrine of hell is not disbelieved because kind people have persuaded us that a kind God would not be so unkind, but because we have slipped down from the proud eminence upon which, with great pain and labour, religion had placed us--an eminence upon which we stood as men meriting to receive the uttermost praise or the uttermost blame--...into an easy place where we can grovel comfortably.' Hell does not, it must be repeated, imply a denial of the love of God; what marks it off from heaven is not anything in God, but the condition of the human soul. The joys of heaven, the joys and pains of purgatory, and the pains of hell all proceed from the love of God--in heaven from love returned to its fulness; in purgatory from love returned, but as yet only in part; in hell, from love rejected. 'It is terrible,' writes Martin, 'to fall into the hands of the living God, for those hands give to each man what his will has settled on.'
We are not concerned here to consider fully the doctrine of hell, but we are concerned to recognize that it is not incompatible with the truth of the Church's final perfection, the plemora which will be achieved when, after 'all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all'; the apocatastasis, or restitution of all things; the anakephaloaisois, or recapitulation of all things in Christ. For it is of the essence of the notion of hell that the damned are altogether excluded from the community of the redeemed. They do not form a kind of fringe or slum of the heavenly Jerusalem, whose presence is a perpetual reproach to it, as the depressed areas in England where a reproach to the national honor; they are not in it at all, they have ceased to count. And if it be urged that heaven will be numerically incomplete by the number of the damned, the answer must be that the perfection of heaven is not a numerical perfection anyhow. For even heaven is composed of created beings, and is therefore finite: to demand that it should be so perfect that nothing more perfect were conceivable is in effect to demand that it should not be finite at all; in fact, that it should be just God himself. There can be no a priori calculation of the number of the redeemed; that is a secret hidden with God. As de Lubac writes:
'The Church is, in fine, nothing else than humanity itself, vivified, unified by the Spirit of Christ. She was willed by God to animate creation.' Woe then to him who separates himself from her! If schism is the sin unto death, death itself, damnation, is a schism: the supreme schism, the total alienation, the decisive severance; and one which can be the lot of those who are to all appearance the most ardent enthusiasts for unity: for it many are within who seem to be without, some can be without who pass for the guardians of that which is within. Novit Dominos qui sunt jus. But, whatever may be in this respect revealed at the Last Day, one thing is certain: the Church will not enter the kingdom mutilated. In the Jewish legend, when Lot's wife had been changed into a pillar of salt, one limb after another was successively torn from her; however, by a miracle of immediate restoration, she always remained whole. So also the Church, the salt of the earth, is often maimed, but finds her limbs again. And so humanity itself: all its defections leave no void in it. They can do nothing against its fulness. As in our fleshly body the members are jointly involved in one another, so humanity will share in the destiny of him who took it as his body. Since the Head has triumphed, the whole Body, the Pleroma, will be saved.'