Invocation of the Son

Since I haven’t posted since October, here’s a poem for you.

I’ve been toying for a while with the idea of writing a cycle based on the traditional missal sequence. Not much progress has been made so far, but this short invocation is inspired by that idea.

Invocation of the Son

Heavenly hosts are quite silenced before this vast miracle.
Great terrible creatures who shout their praise to the First and Last
beyond beginning or end, whose immortal voices shake the pillars
that hold time and eternity upright—Holy, holy, holy—
who lift themselves on gleaming pinions as far as East and West,
who always with fiery eyes behold the ever-burning Flame—
Now at His word they are all dumb and meek and still in wonder:

A mother cooks a simple supper for her large and rowdy family,
adding too much salt to the mixed vegetables, and the constant Flame
still consumes her heart and lights her face. A young man,
sinking to his knees in a dark storage room, rises from the workplace
directly from the dirt into the presence of the Lofty One.
First and last meet in the rounded softness of a newborn child
as they once met in a virgin’s womb—for the Word is flesh.

I’ve noticed (perhaps you have as well) that my poetry has become much more straightforward than it was several years ago, much less cryptic. This shift hasn’t been intentional, but I’m not dissatisfied with it. What do you think? Do you consider my earlier poems on this site inaccessible? Do you find this simplistic? I’d also like feedback on the ideal form and content of an alternative Anabaptist mass or even a broader liturgy.

5 thoughts on “Invocation of the Son

  1. Regarding the poem: I enjoyed it–this contrast between the holy host of heaven and the holy coming in humanity. 🙂

    Regarding an Anabaptist liturgy: I think this contrast is the right place to start. We have become a people who understand more with our hands and even our hearts than we can articulate with our minds. (It has not always been this way, since the first to receive believer’s baptism were educated.) Cryptic poetry will probably not be helpful for this mission, since “speaking in tongues” requires an interpreter. It sounds like I’m equating cryptic poetry with speaking in tongues, but I’m merely using it as an analogy. Both are Spirit-given and both have value as they can speak on a deeper level to an audience that understands it.

    An Anabaptist liturgy can and should contain allusions to the rich language of Scripture, but it should be accessible to all. This really is the challenge of every writer, isn’t it–to write so that both new and mature Christians can walk away from the words better nourished, only to return to them later and once again be filled? An Anabaptist mass intrigues me. What would that look like? What liturgies does Anabaptism already have?

    Now, lest my comment turn into an essay, I’ll just add that if you study the world of liturgy and if you haven’t already, you should read Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith. He is also a Canadian theologian.


    1. Thanks for your input, Yolanda.

      I agree that conservative Anabaptists, unlike many other modern Christian groups, have become quite lazy in their understanding of Biblical principles. After all, the Word is surely designed to minister to the threefold person, and those who see no more in it than application for that region of the physical they can easily point at in others are losing its depth.

      I agree, too, that cryptic poetry has limited use. After writing some intensely metaphorical pieces in the past, I began to realize that my readers simply couldn’t interpret them at the level I would have liked. Such a barrier, of course, is all the more pronounced in audiences who have been trained to skim for easily applicable blanket meanings. At the same time, I shrink from writing anything remotely like sentimental fluff (perhaps I’m too sensitive on that point), and I still revel in the power of allusion. I think that’s part of the key to writing for various gifts and tastes, and it’s part of the reason the Bible remains so powerful as writing.

      Is Scripture accessible to all? This isn’t an idea I’ve developed to any extent, and I’m certainly not a Gnostic. But I would argue that a hyper-literalist interpretation of almost any Biblical passage misses a lot of its meaning. Perhaps another part of an Anabaptist liturgy would be a call to reawaken the powers of Anabaptist thought. Many of the monastic orders of the Middle Ages cultivated an atmosphere of wholesome mental and mystical development in the midst of a system perhaps more liturgically saturated than any other.

      Due to our abhorrence of anything smelling a little high-church, I don’t foresee any significant Anabaptist group adopting a formal liturgy in the near future. But I’ve heard quite a few Anabaptists of my generation express an appreciation for those forms. I think perhaps we can meet in the middle, with more carefully planned services, and perhaps even informal orders (is that idea incendiary?), that satisfy those who want that type of experience. This type of compromise could also go a long way toward loosening our tightly held caricatures of education and allowing those who have intellectual gifts to use them for and within the church.

      I haven’t read any James K. A. Smith yet, but he’s on my radar. I will kick him up a notch.


      1. Disclaimer: I don’t normally write such excessive comments, but while I am passionate about some of these ideas, I’m not sure how to write about them in a way that segues with my own blog space. (So I’ll litter/bless yours. Feel free to delete this comment.)

        I don’t like the word lazy. You may well be right. However, I question whether it is laziness or naiveté that causes this imbalance. It might be different for each person within our Anabaptist tradition.

        In our defense, while we are weak on loving God with our minds, we do decently well at applying what we know. Christ said, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Yet, this can result in making an idol of practicality, seeking the Scriptures for “applicable blanket meanings,” while neglecting to realize that God wants our worship more than He wants our work.

        Please, don’t write sentimental fluff. 😊 Allusion brings power. Whenever we place the Word in our words, we bear testimony to the reality that “His Spirit bears witness with our spirit.” (Rom. 8:16) Is it not a co-communication of sorts? (If that’s correct, I’m terrified.)

        Are all Anabaptists to be thinkers? Yes, and our weakness in this may actually undermine the values we’ve worked so hard to maintain. The amount of media our people are imbibing while never having learned how to critique what they hear and see alarms me. Something needs to change.

        However, I don’t expect that all are called to think to the same extent. Who are the prophets? The teachers? If there are eyes and hands in the body of Christ, I expect there are brains. Even the monastic orders you allude to did not include everyone.

        Many monastic communities positively impacted surrounding society, bringing education and morality. However, Jesus example of living among the common people conflicts with a monastic lifestyle. Somehow, those of us who are compelled to think must call those around us to grow in thought, but we will do so by reaching them where they are. We must strengthen the things that remain, as tempting as it is to tear it all down.

        There remains great value in our tradition. I hear you expressing an appreciation for these values.

        I have realized of late just how naïve the prejudice against high church really is. History books frame us as enemies—how completely unbiblical! When I’ve been in the place to say things like, “The Catholic Church did get some things wrong like infant baptism, but they did actually follow the Bible in other ways,” I’m met with open surprise. Many really don’t know better, and I believe that as worshippers, they would welcome more liturgy.

        My present approach is to listen to my culture in the hopes of discovering our present liturgies so that we can build upon them. We have textual liturgies: passages read at Communion, benedictory prayer, rites of baptism. We have visceral liturgies: the kneeling prayer mid-service, four-part hymnody, the woman’s prayer veiling, feet washing.

        Aside: the Spirit arriving was an incendiary idea (Thank you for teaching me a new word.), and I expect there are old men seeing visions that coincide with your dreams.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s