lamb of god


Angus Dei ~ Denise Levertov


Given that lambs
are infant sheep, that sheep
are afraid and foolish, and lack
the means of self-protection, having
neither rage nor claws,
venom nor cunning,
what then is this ‘Lamb of God’?
This pretty creature, vigorous
to nuzzle at milky dugs,
woolbearer, bleater,
leaper in air for delight of being, who finds in astonishment
four legs to stand on, the grass
all it knows of the world?
With whom we would like to play,
whom we’d lead with ribbons, but may not bring
into our houses because
it would soil the floor with its droppings?
What terror lies concealed
in strangest words, O lamb
of God that taketh away
 the Sins of the World: an innocence
smelling of ignorance,
born in bloody snowdrifts,
licked by forebearing
 dogs more intelligent than its entire flock put together?
God then,
encompassing all things, is
defenseless? Omnipotence
 has been tossed away, reduced
to a wisp of damp wool?
And we
frightened, bored, wanting
only to sleep till catastrophe
 has raged, clashed, seethed and gone by without us, wanting then
to awaken in quietude without remembrance of agony,
we who in shamefaced private hope
 had looked to be plucked from fire and given
 a bliss we deserved for having imagined it.
is it implied that we
 must protect this perversely weak
animal, whose muzzle’s nudgings
suppose there is milk to be found in us?
Must hold to our icy hearts
 a shivering God?
So be it.
Come, rag of pungent
dim star.
Let’s try
 if something human
still can shield you,
of remote light.

There are many who have a tough time understanding this poem,

or the way a holocaust victim falls in love with God,

or how the world makes sense.

I am not one of those.

Of course, this doesn’t make me better or wiser or stranger, any more than someone who understands and adores astrophysics, or music, or Sanskrit is better or wiser or stranger. It is simply my native tongue, some strange combination of the accident of my birth, the shape of my mouth, and the geography of my life.

I expect God-Love-Spirit-Mystery-Christ-Tao-Beauty-Wonder-Grace…. comes to each of us in a language that s/he can understand, according to his/her particular wounds and gifts, according to his/her time and place, and in accord with what s/he is here to learn or to be…..comes to each with images and understandings that heal and lead to a more full expression of who we are to be. In the end, I suppose it matters not what we come to understand (‘right belief’, as they say) but how that understanding transforms us into compassionate beings.

 So here goes.

What if god is both completely all powerful, and at the same time utterly powerless? What if Love needs our nurture as much as we need Love’s? What if Life is both beautiful and ugly at once, in the very same moment, both tragic and joyous at once, both ‘all is well’ and at the same time ‘all is really screwed up’.

There was a time in my life when it seemed that all of the suffering and grief in my life came rushing over the crumbled dam that had kept it at bay (and me numb to it) for so many years. The onslaught of that pain was so intense that I could feel nothing but it, and as I looked around the landscape of life surrounding me, I saw nothing but more of the same suffering, tragedy, and despair. My personal accumulated griefs – an emotionally unavailable mother, a childhood sexual molestation, 3 dead babies, an emotionally controlling and sexually abusive spouse, a ‘man of the cloth’ who turned out to be a predator (he was not clergy, but pretended to be and I was so hungry for words of grace that I believed him), a divorce ( I begged on hands and knees to not be abandoned) that left me bankrupt (literally and figuratively) – a  lifetime of amassed personal shames – came spilling out and almost drowned me. Divorce is a grief like no other – the way it opens one to every other pain and failure of one’s life, the way the stages of guilt and blame and bargaining are accentuated by rejection and failure. Disentangling my sense of self from what I had been told I was for so many years was nearly impossible.

I was in deep despair. The poetry I wrote at that time was desolate and littered with images of trauma. I could find nothing redeeming in life… save my children… and there was even a tiny but terrifying voice in me that said they’d be better off not having to experience life.  I was living on the very edge of life for close to 2 years, choosing whether to stay or to go. For months I alternately lamented and raged at god, uttering and outering those outraged ‘whys’ , and ‘wheres’ and ‘hows’. Pastors and chaplains could offer little solace that didn’t leak right away through that crumbled wall. The questions I asked of life had no easy answers and it seemed the best they could do was to join me in the pain of my disillusion and devastation.

Somehow, in all my raging-at, God began coming to me. (Isn’t that how psalms of lament most often resolve?) One of my earliest experiences of Divine Empathy was a rainstorm, witnessed from the window of my hospital room, that felt anguished somehow, as if God too was lamenting over the terrible pain of the earth. I began to catch more and more glimpses of that Empathy — rolling down my car window along a country road to a dark woods of katydids echoing my heartbeat , lying on the ground-as-embrace to feel its breath in rhythm with my own, feeling something profound pass between my hand and the tree as it took on something of my pain, tiny tadpoles drawn to take in nourishment from something so insignificant and lowly as my dangling toes…

One night, alone in my room, at a time when I was perhaps closest to death, I felt such overwhelming and profound love that I knew there was something there, waiting for me to cross over, to take me back into its all-encompassing embrace, like that ocean the mystics speak of I suppose. My pain was so completely dissolved by those experiences of love-so-close-to-death that they were quite seductive. Yet at the same time, I clearly understood that if there was a love that profound behind it all then there must be something terribly meaningful about life, or else Love wouldn’t have been asked to come.

Following one particularly and intensely painful evening, I fell atop my bed in my street clothes, curled into a ball, sobbed and rocked myself to sleep. That night a light-filled cross came to rest over my bed, with a voice that told me over and again to gaze upon it, to be filled by it, to see how the light was streaming down the vertical aspect of it directly into the depths of my soul. The voice told me I would be filled like that with love, filled and filled, then instructed me to notice the horizontal pieces and how they were made of the same light/love, though less perfect. I was told that the love would overflow through those cross pieces. It was the filling that was important for me to understand and to allow. (realize that at the time of this dream, I thought of the cross only as an instrument of suffering, shame, and torture.. definitely not an image my subconscious would’ve cooked up as an image of love!… and myself as someone shamefully unworthy and completely undeserving of love ) When I woke in the morning and touched my feet to the floor, I wept again, this time because I wanted so to go back … back to that place of deep love.

After that, god began coming to me as lover, carrying me away like something clandestine. Sometimes there would be a physical response in me. (when these things started happening, I was so grateful to be pointed to the mystics by a wise mentor. not many in my world understood love mysticism like this). I was both confused and blessed by this response — confused at how such an experience of intimate pleasure could come spilling out of me intermixed with just-as-powerful sobs of release.  It was as if every emotion in my body was somehow tied to another. I was equally surprised, but not surprised at all, that God would come to heal my wounded sexuality with such tender intimacy.  I would awaken, wanting to cover my shame, only to be penetrated by a Loving gaze so intent that I had to acquiesce to what it said it beheld in me.  One time in particular it hit me while on retreat. I had come a few days before the others and was exploring/preparing/praying. That particular day, alone, in the sanctuary of nature, away from the pain of humanity, I was filled with the joy and the freedom of love, a dancing-with-Life kind of energy.  I’d rolled down some hills and had finally leapt out onto a large bolder over the water in the creek, where my arms flew instinctively upward as if to receive. Soon I was lying on the rock … being loved. When I came out of that, I noticed a congregation of cows who’d come curiously to crowd the opposite bank, staring intently at me. I like to think they were drawn to something that day…a light, an energy… that humans can’t detect.

All this time, I was in deep and constant conversation with god about life, about pain, about suffering. I was still crying out, ‘Why?!’ and ‘How long’ and ‘How could you?’,  still finding life a terrible tragedy, at times still scarcely keeping the fire on the other side of the door at bay, frantically stuffing towels around the cracks. On the eve of the opening day of the group retreat, I built a blazing fire in one of the campfire circles up on the hill, I was burning it for all my sisters who’d been raped and beaten and abused, mutilated and used as weapons of war, for all the powerless and vulnerable children, victims of incest and torture, tossing the pages of that book, one by one into the fire. I raged and lamented. How god could create such a world, allow such atrocity? 

As I, along with the fire, quieted, I become aware of two owls there in the dark with me, sounding a call and response, call and response, call and response, moving closer and closer to one another, until their calls at once became unison. There was no separation between the two. It was like the beauty of that moment when light meets dark and sets the sky ablaze. Again I found myself on my back being loved. After this particular intercourse, as my body was wracked with those strange sobbing tears of joy/pain, the experience of god putting god’s head on my chest was so terribly palpable. In that moment, suddenly I knew god needed my compassion… my compassion for god’s inability to make the world good as I wanted it to be. God was clearly asking for my forgiveness for a world… and a pain… spun out of control that god felt responsible for but could not fix. God was beseeching my tenderness and mercy.

Now, some would call this heresy – (does God need forgiveness? … but then again, which party does forgiveness heal?) – but this awakened me. Awakened me to a vulnerable god who needs me. This god, this beloved one of my heart and my soul, needed my compassion, my grace, my acceptance, and my help. Suddenly, I could stop blaming God for the pain of my world, and start loving God – for the pain of the world.  This was the great release for me from seeing life as desolate, cruel and harsh to seeing it as something terribly tender in need of my nurture. I imagine this not so very different from Jesus’ impulse to utter ‘as you do to the least of these you do unto me’. This lover of mine was beseeching me to LOVE him. To love him in all of the places I saw ‘him’ in the world….in humanity, in nature, in the whole of life.

Soon after that retreat, I viewed the film, ‘The Thin Red Line’. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend it. Not your typical war film, the main character is having an ongoing conversation with god throughout. I recall the dialogue being something like ‘is this you too?’ I wept then too. This was shortly after 9/11 and suddenly I was having the same experience at home… walking into my bedroom, god needing me to take god into my arms at the end of a long day of beheadings, military torture, and Rwandan rapes. I became that place for god to come to be received without expectation or demand, without needing to be hero or scapegoat, just to be loved.

This was the next challenge in my journey, as it felt as if the Beloved One who came to me in all its vulnerability, led me time and time again to witnessing atrocity and trauma, and seemed to ask me, ‘Can you love me here?’ My deepest experience and intuition of this Beloved One, whom I call God, is that God is all there is, that all is an expression of God, and that God IS somehow in the atrocity, in the crucifixions, hidden in the darkness. This has been both my deepest knowing and my most profound challenge .

The interesting thing about god being hidden in the darkness, right in the midst of the darkness (it’s interesting to read the first chapter of John in this light) is that we, as expressions or reflections or images of God (or whatever one thinks of the human), are also hidden in the darkness, from ourselves. Perhaps we can’t really see our own face any more than we can see God’s. We are mysteriously dark creatures. Who knows what we are doing here? Maybe we only catch glimpse from time to time of our backsides.

This might seem like heresy too, but this vulnerable god taught me more about loving my fellow humanity, about loving life, about looking for love in life than any image of God as all powerful could’ve for me. and perhaps that is the secret of god’s power after all… god’s ability and/or willingness to be small,  to be vulnerable, to be powerless, to be needy and hungry, to let humanity be its nurturer, to teach it how about love …it reveals a power that doesn’t need power. I think of Jesus as vulnerable infant, Jesus before Pontius palate. This reveals much to me about the nature of God.

By the time I met Etty Hillesum a few years later, I knew I’d found my sister, my soul mate. by this time I’d grown to find a terrible and tender beauty in the whole tragic mess of life and I’d also come to know it all…. the good, bad and the ugly… as god, my beloved One.  Along comes Etty, holocaust victim, in the midst of her own transformation during atrocity, finding god in the midst of it all, and knowing that ‘god is safe in our hands’. I remember that during the retreat in which I met Etty, I kept seeing a crown of thorns in the photo on the wall. I’d turn my head and it would be a basket of flowers. Of course, they were the same.  During that same retreat, I read the inscription in the cemetery, ‘all who eat this bread and drink this cup shall have eternal life’, in a brand new way… of course, we all eat the bread of life and drink the cup of suffering while journeying here. We are all partaking of eternal life.

For me, this powerless One is a power that empowers. It empowers humanity to take the responsibility of loving into its own heart, and empowers the human soul to grow. For me, it’s not so much about fixing the world’s (or my own!) problems, but about loving in the midst of them. I am asked to love this One I love right in the midst of humanity’s suffering, which I think makes me a better person, a more loving person. A god who needs me to be god’s feet, hands, heart, eyes, ears, arms, inspires me to love. A god who needs me to co-create with…. through our love-making….needs a human being to catch the seed in its womb, to give birth and nurture that which has yet to be born in this place…. person, idea, beauty, or song.

Mutuality and reciprocality with my god, empowers me, lifts me up from ‘done-to’ to ‘doer of’. That is good for my soul… for one such as me who once was powerless and believed herself to be shamefully unworthy.

To bring it all back around to the beginning again, isn’t it amazing how powerful god is, to speak to me in a way that I can hear? To do that for me? And that’s how it works for me that I can allow for others to hear and see god so differently than me. To see God as all-powerful, or isness, or energy, or fire. in a paradoxical way, I can let go of my need for other’s to understand this same God as me precisely because I trust so implicitly in god, am so terribly smitten by God, believe so much in God’s power, I suppose some would say. It’s all God’s doing to me, no matter what language is spoken, and God doesn’t need me at all to pin God down into one adequate descriptor.

All is well,


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