Take Another Road


photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo on Unsplash

Yesterday was twelfth day of Christmas, and today is Epiphany, the Christian celebration of the coming of the magi from the east to honor a baby born to working-class parents, Mary and Joseph, in Bethlehem.  The magi came seeking Light but first they ran into a powerful ruler who preferred darkness. On the way to Bethlehem the magi stopped in Jerusalem and asked how to find this child.  The king got word of their search.  Fearful of losing power, he consulted advisers about the child’s birthplace. Then he summoned the magi, sent them to Bethlehem to find this threatening baby, and lied about his intentions, “When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.”

Led by the star they had seen in the east, the magi found the house where the child lived with his parents and presented their gifts. Warned in a dream, they took another road home.  When the king realized that the magi had fooled him, he became so angry that he ordered his soldiers to kill all the babies in the region.  Meanwhile, Joseph also had a dream that warned him to flee with his family to Egypt where they lived until after the king died.

This is not a story to pack away with the crèche and the Christmas decorations.  It’s a story for the cold dark days of winter 2018 when the richest and most powerful are still more interested increasing their wealth and power than in following the way and the teachings of that child born in Bethlehem.  It’s a story that keeps saying, “Take another road.”
Frequently on this blog I’ll be introducing artists, writers, and musicians who are showing us another road. On this Epiphany it is fitting to feature Jan Richardson, an artist, writer, and United Methodist minister who has helped many celebrate this season in her images and books, especially in the image Wise Women Also Came in her book Night Visions.  I share with you one of Jan’s poem’s “The Map Our Dreaming Makes.”  You can imagine it coming from the lips of one of the magi.  Jan offers it as the beginning of a larger gift, a retreat resource you can download for this day or another day in the season of Epiphany when you need to pay attention to your dreams and reflect on taking another road.

She writes this retreat resource for Women’s Christmas, a day also celebrated on January 6 in some countries. Women’s Christmas began in Ireland on Epiphany Day when women took time off for rest and celebration together after the responsibilities they had carried during Christmastide and the rest of the year.  However, men as well as women will find much to ponder in both the poem and the resource.

The Map Our Dreaming Makes
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas

I cannot tell you
how far I have come
to give this blessing
to you.

No map
for the distance crossed,
no measure
for the terrain behind,
no calendar
for marking
the passage of time
while I traveled a road
I knew not.

For now, let us say
I had to come by
a different star
than the one
I first followed,
had to navigate by
another dream
than the one
I loved the most.

But I tell you
that even here,
the hope

that each star belongs
to a light
more ancient still,

and each dream
part of the way
that lies beneath
this way,

and each day
drawing us closer
to the day
when every path
will converge

and we will see the map
our dreaming made,
luminous in every line
that finally led us

—Jan Richardson

Visit also Jan Richardson Images and find her other reflections on Epiphany at The Painted Prayerbook.


“Dazzle Gradually”


photo by Bill Finley

On this first day of a new year, I begin a blog to discover people who –in the words of  poet Emily Dickinson–“tell it [the truth] slant” as I write about connections among three topics dear to me—faith, culture, and justice.  Frequently I’ll highlight a poet, a songwriter, a filmmaker, or other kinds of artists who speak obliquely so as not to overwhelm.  They want to get their message across before their audience slams a door in their faces or throws tomatoes at them or simply goes to sleep.

I know no better place to start than with Dickinson’s poem, which doesn’t have a name but rather is known by its first line which says, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.”  Why do that?   In the oft-quoted and parodied court-martial scene in A Few Good Men, Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) shouts, “I want the truth!” and Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) yells back, “You can’t handle the truth!”  Dickinson would agree, but she sees a way forward and it’s not a straight path.  She advises, “Success in Circuit lies.”  Tell it circuitously, gracefully, gently. Dance around a bit.  She follows her own advice as she plays with the order of that line and the next two:  “Too bright for our infirm Delight/ the Truth’s superb surprise.”  Truth can sometimes be a nice surprise, or at least a digestible one, when delivered in a way that honors our fragility before its power.

Then Dickinson makes a comparison, using a simile, which is another way of telling it slant:  “As Lightening to the Children eased / By explanation kind / The Truth must dazzle gradually / or every man be blind.”  By explaining to kids what lightening is and what causes it, we adults help them be less fearful of it.  There are further comparisons here. Lightening is a little like truth—bright and fascinating but incredibly powerful—and we are like children—often unknowing and easily overwhelmed.  Truth has the power to blind if it’s not delivered in ways that that we can take in.

I believe in the wisdom and the challenge of this poem. I believe that creative artists of all kinds stand the best chance of getting across the truths that our society so sorely needs to hear.   Creative people can be heard in places and ways that noncreative people—however educated and skilled they may be—aren’t always heard. I think how some in our society choose not to hear scientists who warn us about global warming, environmentalists who remind us that there are limits to the earth’s resources, and journalists who seek to tell the truth and uphold the principles of a free press.

As a minister, as a writer, and as a grandmother, I am deeply concerned about the world we inhabit and the ways we are treating it and each other.  In this blog, I will be seeking out the prophets of our time who by telling it slant may help us to hear the truths we so desperately need to absorb.  I invite you to join me in my quest.