JOSEPH JACKSON (BLACK LIKE COFFEE)
Sometimes we must be content with a small piece of peace. When citywide peace is difficult to obtain, when neighborhood peace is a challenge, and when worldwide peace is evasive, then contentment with a small piece of peace suffices.
On a sunlit day with a clear blue sky, the day before Thanksgiving, I found that small piece of peace in the confines of Havenwoods State Forest Reserve. Approaching the tall pines, on a pathway, I stood still in the silence and serenity to admire the peace, the solitude, multiple tree and bush species, the natural grasses, and again, the clear blue sky and sun giving light and shadow to the landscape. I proceeded to a sanctuary of pines where I stood, silent and still, on a carpet of pine needles absorbing again a small piece of peace. Perhaps touching the peace that the Apostle Paul mentions, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Being the idealist that I am, I naively asked myself and God, why can’t the world at large, in all its vastness, experience a larger piece of peace?
My thoughts shifted to a walk I had taken a few weeks earlier at Mequon Nature Preserve. Admiring another beautiful day, I took a detour off the beaten trail into the forest. My eyes were drawn to the sight of a large blue-gray stone on which I sat to take a moment of meditation. Gazing and musing at the ground covered with colorful autumn leaves, there was a strange-shaped green bug that looked like a mini armored military tank. The bug climbed onto my walking stick, and I began to have a conversation with this creature. For a few moments, an aura of peace surrounded me and my foreign insect friend.
The conversation went something like this. “You know Mr. or Ms. Bug, you better be glad we are on your turf, in your environment. When we are done communing and conversing, I will let you back down and go on my merry way. However, if you should show up on my porch, I’m not sure if you would become my enemy or remain my friend.” Just like that, the piece of peace we shared had the potential to become conflict, depending on my decision. Why can’t we exist together in peace on the same turf, in the same environment that is all of creation? As Rodney King emphatically asked, “why can’t we all just get along?“
Alas, as we enter the season of Advent, a season of waiting for the Prince of Peace, not the prince of a piece of peace but of the fullness of eternal peace. Now, my mind wonders as I wander to the sweet, sweet Creche’ and the poem I wrote a year ago, that ends with the same sentiment…the same longing…the same advent wait for… Peace on earth, goodwill to all.
In The Creche’ (By Joseph Jackson)
In the creche’, a stable where the Christ Child lays.
In a manger, no cradle, no crib the babe stays.
In swaddling clothes, from head to toe, Son of God.
Something out of the ordinary, quite odd, a miracle.
Emanuel! God with us!
In the creche’, the nativity, lays our divinity.
The Spirit infleshed dwells among us.
Joseph wonders, Mary ponders, cattle lowing, the baby awakes.
Infant lowly, infant holy, eyes wide open, stares into the future.
No crying he makes.
I stare, I gaze, I meditate, I contemplate.
I ponder, I wonder. What path will the Christ Child take.
Holy child so meek and mild, what’s at stake? Tell me!
In the creche’, the Christ Child, the God Man, Deity,
Eternal One, Infinite Son.
In the creche’, from cradle to cross,
we suffer no loss.
From God’s only Son, salvation is won.
Peace on earth, goodwill to all.
HEATHER LEE (WHITE LIKE CREAM)
Call of Souls (By Heather Lee)
Blue cold clouds
on winter’s solstice red sky
mystical swirling crystals in light
give way to frozen night
and drafts though old windows by lighted tree
my warmed heart bearing cold breath on my throat
in some sort of contented, Christmas longing
called, maybe, bittersweet
thanksgiving meets lack, a deep breath
or simply wonder, the shaking of a head
or grief, there I said it, grief…
for friends and dreams long gone
and more on the way there
for grandmother’s spoon in the bowl
and dad’s strong arms holding firewood
for a manger without splinters and straw
and a star without a cross-filled light
for a red solstice sky without blue frozen night
and drafts through lonely lighted windows
for lovers, and love, all kinds
and the ancient gathering call of souls
I am called to begin with an advent poem to complement Joe ending with one. Do you see that word, contented? Do you hear the same ideas, the same feelings, the same musings that wander through Joe’s contented piece of peace reflection. Is it the same as some sort of contented, Christmas longing?
When Joe and I got together yesterday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, I welcomed him to the fully decked halls of Christmas at my house. I really can’t explain it. I am one to at least wait for the first Sunday of Advent to ring in the season, but, for some reason, or maybe many, I needed to get the light coming into the darkness as soon as possible this year. My kids were even on board, ahead of me, offering to come by to help decorate the tree. I suspect we are all searching a little bit harder this year for a piece of peace. How about you?
Joe and I sat down by my tree admiring the snow that had fallen over the weekend, which added that magical winter blanket to the landscape outside my window, and he read his reflections to me. I marveled at the little piece of peace that these moments of sharing stories provide. For that, I am grateful and motivated to share mine with him and you.
Perhaps you know the line in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (I think Joe mentioned Paul too) that reads: for we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. (v 9-10). And perhaps you have heard of Saint Benedict, whose rule of life invites us to what he calls constant conversion, little by little, growing in a deeper understanding and participation in the peace of God. It seems to me that both Paul and Benedict are writing of the pieces of peace, the in-breaking of hope and sweet oneness, that maybe I would sometimes call grace.
Oh, and speaking of Saints, I think I’m going to have to start calling Joe Saint Francis as he seems to have started conversing and communing with bugs. Confession, I had a sweet conversation with a coyote that was hanging around in my front yard last week. But humor and confessions aside, that story of the bug invited me to wonder about the very nature of conflict and violence when we find a creature that is “other” than us. Why is it that some people squash bugs when they show up in their houses or on their doorsteps (especially ones that look like military tanks)? How is it that if we encounter something in the woods or a foreign land, we may spend time in admiration, conversation, love, and awe, but when it shows up in our ordered and controlled lives, we are often afraid, threatened, and sometimes quick to decide that it does not belong? My goodness, what if I replace the word “bug” with another human being that doesn’t look like me, or talk like me, or live in my neighborhood or country, or believe the same things as I do. I think I’m right where Joe found himself asking about why on earth can’t we all get along. Alas—the shaking of a head.
I have one more story that seems to want to be shared about a piece of peace. At the Thanksgiving table just last week, someone in our family had posed a sort of silly conversation prompt to the group. “If you could bring anyone, alive or already gone, to Thanksgiving, who would you bring?” With a table full of young adults and teenagers, I sure didn’t expect to hear a name I would recognize. There was just a moment of pondering for all, it was just a breath of unexpected quiet, and out of the mouth of my 19-year-old son came, “you can’t say Grandma Mabel, because you know we are all thinking it.” His great-grandmother, my grandmother (I was thinking it), my mom’s mother (she was thinking it). Whoosh…there it is—grandma’s spoon in the bowl-—thanksgiving meets lack—grief, there I said it, grief. And in our shared missing her, in our shared grief, there was a smile of joy and a piece of peace.
SUGAR (THE SWEET ONENESS OF GOD)
Where is the sweet, sweet oneness today. The poetry—The Creche’ and The Ancient call of souls—these poems that join the coffee reflection to the cream reflection. Fun fact: Joe wrote The Creche’ on 12/21/22, and Heather wrote The Ancient call of souls on 12/21/13. Two winter solstice poems, written on the darkest and longest day in different years, find their way to you and to us here, together, in 2023. Poetry—written in the past– is some sweetness today. Perhaps you have a poem you could share with us?
What else? A friendly bug on a stick. The beauty of nature. The Apostle Paul. A world we love at war. Special moments where we have a chance to sit with each other and sense the presence of peace—a peace that holds the grief of our and maybe all of history in a present moment— where its seeming darkness touches a light, an everlasting light, an everlasting peace that is filled with wonder and joy and hope and fullness. Like is written in Isaiah…
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Share a piece of peace with us today.
Heather and Joe