I slipped from my bed this morning at 3:15, wobbled my head for a few minutes in front of this monitor screen, washed that same head in the kitchen sink, and then headed over to our church to take the 4-5 am shift in the overnight prayer vigil that follows our Maundy Thursday foot-washing service. Last year, I took the 3-4 am shift with friend Hall, and we followed that with breakfast at the IHOP just down the highway. This year, I returned to my usual 4-5, sharing it with Jeanine. When Annis and Robert came to spell us at their traditional (how long this tradition for them?) 5-6, Jeanine and I slipped out quietly to our cars and went our separate ways. This morning, the hour flew by. I'd brought along poet David Rosenberg's A Literary Bible, his life-long love-labor'd translation of major chunks of the Hebrew Bible, as well as Kahlil Gibran's series of imagined Jesus monologues, from the voices of those who knew, or knew of, him. While sitting in the quiet darkness of Reconciliation, I chose to read neither; I simply sat in meditation for what seemed little more twenty minutes.
Driving away from Rec, down Starcrest, two temptations sat upon my shoulders: the temptation to drive straight home (a mere three minutes away) and slip right back into bed, or to drive on out and join the still-nodding morning. Save for last week's coffee-fuel for the road trip to and from Dallas, I have shunned the brew for the past month, as part of my recent re-dedication to a healthier way of eating and living, but there was something so exquisite about the air this morning, and the darkness, and the emptiness of the streets, I let go of all my best intentions, and slipped down Nacogdoches Avenue and headed for the Quarry Market's Starbucks, the one place I knew the party would already be on.
In truth, I was looking more for coffeehouse chapel quiet, so I was a bit surprised by the number of cars already in the parking lot. Inside, the two barisatas sported the bright smiles of people who have long been into their days; in one of the comfy overstuffeds was a grizzly bear of a man who looked to be sleeping, more than waking. In another of the chairs was an SB barista on brief hiatus from his call to the coffee altar. At a table, two chicas were about the scholarly business of the papers strewn out between them. After placing my order, a party of four (literally, a party: for 5:15 am, these four seemed awfully alive and boisterous in their twentysomething "ain't it beautiful . . . crystal blue persuasion") rolled in; I made the error of taking a table that would guarantee my proximity to their grackle-like mirth, when one table over would have put me right beside the mujeres bibliotecas. After ten minutes, the lust-for-lifers rolled their stadium cheer out into the day, leaving the rest of us to our dozings and readings and the generally anonymous guitar'd voicings of the SB soundtrack. Anonymous until sister Joni piped up into the crystalline morning with "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire," with some of my favorite lines: Come with me / I know the way, she says / It's down, down, down the dark ladder. . . For a poet, I am often one of the most literal-minded readers of the stuff. The scent of those lines had always recalled Alice to me, until one day - many many years after their living on my turntable for months on end - it occurred to me that those "dark ladders" might just be junkie tracks down an arm. O, the sweet bliss - the sweet fire - of ignorance.
I hoped for an orgy of Joni into the morning, but it was not to be: anonymous guitar-voiced mush still had the upper hand with the SB deejays. I slipped back into Rosenberg's Bible to read his startling translations of the Psalms and, in this case, Zechariah. It occurred to me that it was Rosenberg and his collaborator Bloom who derailed my lenten reading of Gravity's Rainbow last year, pulling me into their examination of The Book of J, and on into Rosenberg's A Poet's Bible, which was simply the precursor to the fat tome in front of me. DR has spent his entire adult life translating - in absolutely eye-opening fashion - huge chunks of the Hebrew Bible; the poetry he has tapped is astonishing. Since reading his Isaiah chunks two years ago, I have been almost completely seduced by Bloom's contention that much of the Hebrew Bible is as astonishing a motherlode of imaginative literature and characterization as his own Shakespeare-god.
Of course, the Hebrew Bible is not all literature and poetry, as last night's reading from the HB certainly demonstrated: we were "regaled" by an astoundingly tendentious inventory of the proper way to slaughter and eat the Passover lamb ("gird your loins, and eat hurriedly), a passage so awful and unnecessary, and ample indication of why Rosenberg has never presumed to translate the entire Hebrew Bible.
Enough. I closed the book on DR's psalms and walked back out into the still-black morning, grackles in joyous riot. The Quarry was once just that, a sprawling pit for the old Portland Cement Company, now long gone, though the designers of the hoo-haw marketplace wisely kept four of its towering smokestacks as watchful pillars over the conspicuous consumption rampant at their feet.
KRTU and some very fine trumpeted jazz took me home to here and now and maybe a bit more sleep . . .
This afternoon at 3, we will have our Stations of the Cross service. Folks in the congregation were invited to contribute meditations that we will read as part of the service. I was given Station II, the station at which Jesus is said to have taken up his cross. Here is what I wrote:
STATION II: JESUS TAKES UP HIS CROSS
In the voice of the Granddaughter of a woman who was there—
No disrespect to the man they call The Beloved Disciple and his poetic, well, his poetic screeds, but The Beloved is the only one of the four gospelers who emphatically states that Jesus did, in fact, pick up his cross. Look to Mark and the two others who followed his tale and you see a man—Simon—a traveler from Cyrene, a pilgrim from 1,000 miles away in northern Africa—this is the man who carries the cross for Jesus.
It is beyond me to know what axe John has to grind against this carrier of the faith, a man who likely had no idea what compelling fate awaited him before he took his first steps in the direction of Jerusalem. No idea that obedience to his own faith would lead him to a crossroads not of his choosing, a rude bridling of all his very best intentions, compassion induced at the sharp blade-point of a Roman spear.
I mean no disrespect whatsoever, believe me, to the honor of Jesus, but let us not be deceived by Gospeler John’s sleight of hand: Jesus shouldered his cross long before he ever set foot on the road to Golgotha. It did not take those final days in Jerusalem—from victory to plunging despair—for Jesus to see, and shoulder, his cross. Likely, years before, a mere youth in his father’s workshop, he shouldered a beam for his work table and felt a shuddering recognition of what lay ahead.
It has been said that while Simon of Cyrene is the one who carried Jesus’ cross, it was Jesus who carried Simon himself, just as he carries all of us, when Roman spears compel us to acts of mercy that are nowhere to be seen on our busy, get-to-the-next-place, mapped-out lives. Life fashions the wood on our shoulders . . . we kneel under its crushing weight, and yet miraculously, if we attend to the silence within all its crushing din, we also feel the breath of one above, beneath, and all around us. Simon knew the truth: he may have carried the beam, but what is that compared to the weight of all of us?