Saturday, October 22, 2016

Poetry Saturday: Salt Water Sacraments

The death of our colleague in a diving expedition gone wrong has made me think about all the ways we relate to our planet.  Most days and months, most of us likely give no thought to the planetary laws of Physics and Chemistry and Biology that affect us all.  In days of heavy weather or king tides or a death out in nature (as opposed to a car crash), we become uncomfortably aware.

I was looking through my poetry folder and came across the poem below.  It describes a true time, when I went for an early morning Easter run and watched a baptism in the ocean--and it really was a time of ferocious rip tides which had drowned swimmers.

I, of course, thought about our sacraments, how we try to channel the Divine, how we participate in rituals we scarcely understand.  Is God more like the parents and adults gathered around the child being baptized or more like the ocean, with its currents governed by larger laws?

For the record, most days I believe that God is like the parent or partner who wants the best for us--but I also believe that if we set forces into motion, God cannot always rescue us (much like the parent of any adolescent).

Salt Water Sacraments

In the nineteenth century, they’d have gathered
by a lake or a slow moving river.
They’d have worn white robes
and sung the hymns they knew by heart.
They’d return to shore for homemade cake and fresh-squeezed
lemonade, a recess for sweetness, a respite
from the sweat of daily life.

Today they gather at the edge of America,
the southernmost shore of the tip of Florida.
Easter Sunday, just at dawn, traditional
time for baptism. The beefy man in a white
shirt whips off his tie and wades
into the surf. Two girls in neon
swimsuits follow him. Brave

children in this month of drowned swimmers
sucked out to sea, drained bodies spit
back on the sand, weeping women
taking their dead away.

These children see the beach as a playground.
They don’t understand the depth of the commitment
they make, the true nature of the covenant.
Their parents think of all the dangers lurking
offshore, waiting to sting and strike sweet
flesh. Even the minister knows only
the vague shape of this sacrament,
has only glimpsed the vast expanse
of salt water beyond that anchors
and buoys and cradles.

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