Midrash In September And October

Midrash In September And October

by Amy Bornman, author of There is a Future: A Year of Daily Midrash

I took the month of November off, didn’t write a single midrash poem. I’ve written other poems, all sorts, but I set down the project for a while. Everyone needs a break I suppose. I needed a break.

It occurs to me that this project is a crazy project. It also occurs to me how significantly it changed my faith in God, the way I read and think about the bible, and (most dramatically) the way I think of Jesus. I think I was at risk of losing it all. I think I still am in some ways. Every time I really think about it, which this project has forced me to do, I remember anew that Christianity is a wild claim. It operates on very strange logic. It takes the entire world and balances it on one god-human who lived for only 30 years in a particular place. It takes one culture’s prophesies and archaic religion and somehow universalizes it in a way that is at once beautiful and so easy to pervert. Some of the greatest good and greatest evil, both, has come in the name of Christianity. This is ongoing. On top of this, the older I get and the more I see, the more terrifying it is to believe anything at all. Existentially terrifying, but also socially terrifying. When I was a child, everyone I knew was a christian. Now, I meet more people who aren’t christians than are. I saw the end of christian pop-culture as we knew it, I grew up in what I would argue was the height of American evangelicalism and purity culture and Christian security. Now I’m stepping into adulthood in the time of ex-vangelicals (whatever that means) and Richard Rohr has a podcast and theology-twitter (a WILD WEST if you ask me!) and sitting in rooms full of boomers who don’t like Thomas Merton?!? Not to mention all the social-cultural-political movements that give more dignity to humans than many churches do. Navigating all of this as a person in her twenties is complicated to say the least. Honestly, it’s been an odyssey.

Church is still a bunch of people in a room trying to make sense of it all. And I’m one person in that room. I haven’t left. I’m trying to make sense of it all. I came to a sort of hinge-point without really realizing it probably somewhere around a year ago. I stopped using the language I’d always used. I stopped calling God “he.” I imagined that it was possible that the boundaries and binaries I always thought existed could disappear. I practiced mystery and openness. I confronted long-standing pain that I didn’t know was there. I began writing poetry. I considered setting it all down. I haven’t set it down.

Recently, every time I sit in church I take my glasses off. I have very bad eyesight, so bad that if you tried on my glasses you’d probably recoil and immediately get a headache. When I take off my glasses, I feel like I’m underwater. The room becomes all color and light, completely fuzzy, without form and void. A new earth. It helps me to be unable to see at church. I wish I could dull my hearing too. I wish I could sit in the nave (built to look like a ship) with all of those people like I’m underwater. That’s how I feel. Taking off my glasses helps me listen, sort of. Maybe more than that it helps me feel at-sea. Vulnerable. It reminds me that I can’t see at all. Anywhere. Ever.

Every time I’m at church, I write a poem. Yesterday, this is what I wrote:

jesus the poem

I haven’t found any more beautiful thing. I
have a poetic belief in Jesus. I
believe in Jesus the poem. the
bright idea, the great surprise,
the lovely verse, the existential,
the dirge, the song, the bell that rings.

I think that’s honestly where it begins and ends for me. “I haven’t found any more beautiful thing.” There is no other religion, no other idea, no other nothingness that imagines a future more beautifully than Jesus does. When it comes down to it, there is no where else I’ve found more hope for the restoration of the entire universe, everything I love, which is ultimately what I want. I’m captivated by Jesus’ humanity, I’m humbled by Jesus’ divinity, and the mystery of the two intertwined goes on and on and on. So I haven’t set it down. And I’m also sort of unwilling to argue about it. It’s too tremulous and tender for that. I have very few answers. It’s a poem. It just is. 

Reading the Bible through the lens of poetry gave it back to me. It let me see the true terror and true joy in it. I wrote poems about Job in September. I’d never been able to read Job before that. Now I think it’s one of the most important books in the bible. It knocked me off the feet with its poetry, its complicated claims, the voice it gives to God and man both, the complicated alchemy of their conversation. It unlocked an anger in me, the confusion I’ve been holding back at how terrible things are, at how much I still love the world. It felt like how I feel, the answerlessness, the writing poems anyway. Still I ask. Still I listen. The poems after Job are angry poems. Poems about the future. Poems that hope that the future still exists. Poems that realize that the word jesus and future are synonymous.

But right now I’m tired. I think I’ll return to the project in December as an advent practice. I’m excited to round out the project and continue in some form for another year. Not sure what it will look like, but it’s been the best way to engage my faith, and the hardest work I’ve done in some time.

from october 24th, the last poem I wrote before the break I took:

o my people, my people, what have I done to you?
have I tired you out? are you weary, asleep?
will you answer me when I speak, do
you listen while you wait?


(jesus walking, it was winter, sept. 9)

jesus walking, it was winter.
the feast of dedication was
in jerusalem. he was walking
in the colonnade of solomon,
perhaps remembering him,
some dim memory from another
part of himself. the people
surrounded him again, and
maybe he only wanted to be
alone, in the winter, in the
colonnade of solomon,
walking and feeling the
cooler air on his skin, thinking
about his skin and everything
he loved? he speaks to them,
he gives them his time, again
and again and again.
everything you need to remember
will stick in you like a pin.

(john 10)

(what name should I call you now?, september 11)

o tornado god,

hurricane god,

bad weather god,
chaos god.

will you stop your
spinning and hear
my cry? you’ve tossed
me about too long.

o opposite god,

underside god,

deep down dark
and sadness god,

disaster god,
explosion god,
everybody weeping and shouting god.

I’m a brother of jackals
and friend of ostriches,
is that what you want
for me?

when I hoped for good
evil came instead,
like a mean trick.
out of nowhere, it came.
what am I to think of you?

what name should I call you now?

(job 29-30)

(do you know? september 17)

do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
do you observe the calving of the does?

no, you don’t. only I am there.
the angels and me, we wait with
held breath, we surround the mothers,
the golden deer, laboring alone under
trees, in meadows. we sing the
song of newness as they crouch
and the infant deer are born.
there’s a crack and a pause and
all of heaven sees and knows
and I bless the deer as it stumbles
and stands for the first time in
its life, lifted by my gaze.

you don’t know what it is like.
if you did, you’d be asking different questions.
job, there’s secret wisdom everywhere.

(job 38)

(exultate deo, sept. 25)

by the waters of meribah do you mean my house
up the forty red stairs to the front porch where
I stand in the morning’s 55 degrees feeling
at once big and small and so unsure of what to do?
by testing do you mean the dailiness, the way
we don’t know when things will change? the
living that draws out over days and days and days?
you say, as I stand on my porch, bare feet,
“open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
so I stand, open mouth, my eyes on the fuschia
mums I bought in the suburbs to feel some
sort of passing of the seasons. I need them.
I stand on my porch and nothing happens at all.
my mouth is a cavernous place.
(psalm 81)

(this is no place to rest, october 10)

arise and go for this is no place to rest.
there’s poison in the water, lead leached from the pipes,
some terrible thing radiating from the very ground you walk on,
the houses are falling down, a blight that the vines crawl up
because they wish for all to be made whole again.
the earth did no wrong, it was you who made it foul and
dangerous, years and years of doing whatever you wanted
as if you were a god. so arise and go,
find another holy place (they all are) and treat it
like its christ’s own body because of course it is.
how gladly the earth dies for us because it
loves us, the molten light beneath our feet,
a silent humble heat without a name,
born in anonymity, too beautiful to look
away. be the silent minister, wash the
feet of the earth with your own
tears and hair as it dies and dies
and dies.
(micah 2, luke 7)

(the future, october 14)

if every sword were changed to plow,
if every spear to pruning hook, if the
energy and adrenaline of the world were
tuned to earth and leaf in specific places
beloved and known as a child knows their
backyard where worlds are imagined,
if governments opened tight fists to reveal
the kernels of sorrow held within, if war was
no longer taught or mentioned, a curse word too
terrible to say. if every person sat under
their own vine, their own fig tree and
looked up at the sky and down at the
earth and no one made them afraid,
that is a future I dare to imagine with
the thin hope left in me, the gladness
that remains though it has every reason
to go. why do you cry aloud? has the
pain seized you now like a woman in
labor? here we writhe and groan together
in the strange euphoria of hard work,
o daughters of zion, we were made for
this child, the future we birth with blood
and shouts too slow to bear, the fear that
all may still be lost if we stop pushing
it onward, if we lay down and die.
arise and thresh, o daughter of zion.
climb the mountain, don’t give up.

(micah 4)

(the four winds, october 24)

o my people, my people, what have I done to you?
have I tired you out? are you weary, asleep?
will you answer me when I speak, do
you listen while you wait?

there are four angels who hold the four winds.
they stand in the cosmos’ corners, white knuckled,
holding tight the power to harm the earth
and the sea and the trees and they keep their
eyes on me, they sing and sway and hold
the winds in their hands, their fists, and they
wait for me.

but what have I done to you, have I wearied you?
have you grown confused by how muddled it’s
gotten? have you been waiting too long, have you
fallen asleep? I do not blame you. these are terrible times.
trace back in your memory to what I told you before,
the instructions I whisper when you look back at me.
do justice, love kindness, walk humbly at my side.
the things we teach to children, have you been doing them at all?

there are four angels who hold the four winds.
think of them while you wait, imagine the
strength of their hands.

(micah 6, revelation 7)


NOTE: This article was originally published on the blog Synchronized Swim on November 25, 2019

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