Abba Jacob and The Theologian
by Marilyn Nelson

Thanking him for spending
the entire afternoon
and half the dinner hour
discussing the various ramifications
of the essentially paradoxical nature
of faith,
the theologian interrupts her first
spoonful of lentils
to lean forward again
and cut off
the flow of God.
Reverend Father, she asks,
what is the highest spiritual value?

Marilyn Nelson, age 4







Abba Jacob looks to heaven
and groans.
Humor, he says.
Not seriously, of course.


Originally published in Magnificat (1994)
Republished in The Fields of Praise (1997)
Image: Marilyn age 4, photo: Melvin M. Nelson, Sr.

Richard Beck is Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University, as well as author and blogger.

His blog Experimental Theology explores the interface of Christian theology and psychology, with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice. For example, he has spent enormous amounts of time writing about the theology of Calvin and Hobbes.

Beck’s most recent blog post is “The Psalms as Liberation Theology.” He writes:

As a part of my prayer practice I’ve been praying through the psalms on a four-week cycle. And it has, to say the least, been very eye opening….

Basically, the sum of the matter is this. The psalms are dangerous.

Let me put it this way. If you were an oppressor you would ban the reading of the psalms. You’d burn them. You wouldn’t want an oppressed group to be reading the psalms.

The psalms are a crash course in liberation theology….

Psalm 82:3

There are three main characters in the psalms. YHWH, the psalmist and the enemies.

The thing that strikes you about the psalms when you read them straight through is how oppressed and beleaguered is the psalmist. Enemies, hecklers, back-stabbers, two-faced friends, violent oppressors and economic exploiters abound.

This goes to the source of lament in the psalms. Rarely is the lament about, say, the death of a loved one. The lament is generally about oppression, about the victory of the oppressor.

The lament is about the bad guys winning and the good guys being trampled underfoot….

The sorrow isn’t about grief. The sorrow is about oppression.

Time and time again that’s what you see in the lament psalms, that the source of the lament is due to violent oppression and economic exploitation….

Notice the liberation theology themes. The psalmist sings: “My soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation” (Ps.35:9). And what characterizes this “salvation”? This: “You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them” (Ps. 39:10).

And it’s well known that in the face of violence and exploitation the psalms at times express murderous thoughts about oppressors.

Historically, all this content makes sense. Many, if not most of the psalms, were written after the fall of Jerusalem and were sung during the time of exile. Once again, this highlights the liberation theology content of the psalms. These were the songs of an enslaved and exiled people. Oppression is the ecosystem of the psalms.

Which goes to my assessment at the start. The psalms are dangerous. If I were an oppressor I’d ban the psalms. No way I’d let people sing these songs.

The psalms are liberation theology.

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,

Image source: RetroFit Ministries, “Outer Freedom, Inner freedom,” by Ken Andrews,Jan 22, 2013

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry, from The Mad Farmer Poems (2014)

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Red Fox
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Hidden Hearing
by Li-Young Lee

God slips His likeness of me under His pillow.
Morning grows cloudy, the house darkens,
and I know what the rain at the sill is saying:
Be finished with resemblances. Your lamp
hides the light. A voice, being a voice and not the wind,
can’t carry anything away. And yet,
it makes any land a place, a country of the air,
and laughter its seventh day

Last night I dreamed of voices in a grove.
Ladders reaching from the ground into the branches.
I was mending my children’s shirts, worrying if the light would last
long enough for me to thread the needle.

Now I’m nodding with the trees in the wind,
counting seconds between the lightning and the thunder,
deaf to former things, unencumbered of things to come,
and leaving God to recoup
a human fate.

God snores, His sleep immense
and musty with the season’s litter.

God rolls over in His sleep
and churns the sea-bed
to dislodge many buried keys.

Lanius ludovicianus -Texas -USA-8-4c

Outside, a bird is telling time’s green name.
It stops when I stop to listen,
and starts again as soon as I give up
holding my breath to hear it,
as though whole-hearted listening intrudes
where hearing ajar makes room for singing
so tender my attention snuffs it,
or else so brimming
my ear’s least turning spills it.

God takes out again that portrait
he makes of me each day, now adding, now erasing,

and time is a black butterfly, pinned
while someone searches for its name in a book.

First published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Fall/Winter 2012 (Vol. 29, No. 3 & 4). Republished in Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Winter/Spring 2012 (Vol. 40, Nos. 1 & 2)

Among Li-Young Lee‘s many awards are the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award for his third book, Book of My Nights, and the American Book Award for his memoir, The Winged Seed. His most recent book is Behind My Eyes.

From Shambala Blog:

Chögyam Trungpa, Beginner's Guide to MeditationPeople have difficulty beginning a spiritual practice because they put a lot of energy into looking for the best and easiest way to get into it.

We might have to change our attitude and give up looking for the best or easiest way.

Actually, there is no choice. Whatever approach we take, we will have to deal with what we are already. We have to look at who we are.


From Chögyam Trungpa’s “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness” in A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers, page 37

Stephen Jay Gould

Our mind works largely by metaphor and comparison, not always (or even often) by relentless logic. When we are caught in conceptual traps, the best exit is often a change in metaphor—not because the new guideline will be truer to nature...but because we need a shift to more fruitful perspectives, and metaphor is often the best agent for conceptual transition. (264)

Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History


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