May 5, 2022
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, in our reading from Acts, we meet the Ethiopian eunuch who served the country’s Queen. The man was sitting in a chariot reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” Philip’s instruction results in this faith-filled man’s Baptism.
It’s a bible story I’ve loved since I was a novice and read the excellent book by Alexander Jones, “Unless Some Man Show Me”. That long-ago era in my life was a time when Vatican II opened up to the faithful the power and beauty of scriptural study and prayer.
The 1960s were a wonderful time to be committing myself to a life-long spiritual journey. Over the next few years, I devoured the published documents of Vatican II which included the one on sacred scripture, the “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation” (“Dei Verbum”).
Here’s a great description of the document.
Before Vatican II, like many Catholics, I had had limited experience with scripture. Mainly, we had it read to us at Mass. We had a Bible in my childhood home, but we used it mainly to record familial births and deaths inside the front cover.
Part of the reason for this scriptural vacuum was the long-held belief that most Christians were not theologically astute enough to interpret scripture on their own. Vatican II initiated a blessed change in that perception.
In 1966, the same Alexander Jones, in the company of 27 colleagues, edited the magnificent Jerusalem Bible. My parents gave me this revered book as a gift for my Religious Profession and it has accompanied my prayer for more than a half-century.
Reading the phrase in Acts today, “unless someone show me”, brought the whole sacred journey back to me.
I offer this brief reminiscence to confirm how precious and important it is to build our prayer life on scripture. It is also important to educate ourselves continually by reading good commentary and spirituality. Such thinkers are like Philip in today’s passage. They are the ones who will “show” us, opening to us new understandings for our prayer.
- Walter Brueggemann
- Elizabeth Johnson
- Thelma Hall
- Macrina Wiederkehr
- Raymond Brown
- Brother David Steindl-Rast
- Sandra Schneiders
- Margaret Farley
- Matthew Fox
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I would love for some of you
(even though you are a shy audience)
to list some of your biblical and spiritual guides
in the comment section, if you feel so inclined.
Poetry: Give Me a Name – Emily Ruth Hazel, a New York City-based poet and writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature, Kinfolks: A Journal of Black Expression, and Ruminate Magazine. In 2014, she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship to develop a full-length poetry book manuscript during a residency at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences.
The way home is a desolate road
through the desert. Only my driver and I
roll through the noonday heat. Ahead of us,
the air shimmers. Then out of a cloud
of dust, a man runs up behind us.
He calls out, Who are you reading?
A poet’s vision unfurls in my lap.
I’m thirsty for company, someone to walk
between these lines with me,
clear a path through my own wilderness.
The stranger says he’s well acquainted
with this writer. If he knows who I am,
he doesn’t let on. He climbs in
and we plunge beneath the words.
Whose story is this, anyway?
The one who takes a vow of silence,
an outcast whose most loyal friend is
heartache—is this a portrait of the poet
or of another? I hold the words like water
in my palms, my face reflected in them.
Back in Jerusalem, I was an unexpected guest
in God’s house. There I was dark enough
that I’d never pass as a native.
In a land of divided rooms,
neither side claims me.
Smooth chinned, voice unchanged,
even among my own, I am always other.
My educated tongue surprises.
I read the way my people envy
and despise me in the same blink.
The jewel of Ethiopia, our warrior queen,
trusts me with the nation’s treasure.
But power of the purse came with a price.
Still a boy when I was taught my body
could not be trusted, I was like a lamb
that hears the metal scraping
hot against the stone. When they came for me,
my gut churned. A boulder sealed
my throat. Only mangled moans escaped.
They carved me into a loyal servant
ashamed of my own voice.
Deep in my chest liquid rage
threatened to erupt. I tried to swallow
the unspeakable. Learned to amputate
everything I felt. Any part of me that trembled
was a danger best denied.
All the boys I knew marched into manhood
believing courage hung between their legs.
But I’m my mother’s child.
Long after the men who tore me from my home
washed my blood off their blade,
I remembered my mother
had shown me how to be brave.
Wherever I go, I’m described by my difference,
defined by what I cannot do or be, haunted by
echoes of violence known but unnamed.
Never to look into a young face and recognize
my likeness, I’m tired of being seen
as an absence, a shadow that merely calls
attention to what is touched by light.
Here in this barren place, riding with
a stranger, I feel like I belong.
The wheels of my world slow to a stop.
I step out of the story I’ve been told
must be mine. The man I’ve just met
stands beside me as we wade into a river.
He holds my shoulders. Dips me
into the muddy water. Not as I was held down
years ago. This time, I’ve chosen
to be held. I feel the muscles in my back
relax against his arm. Memory stirs,
half-awake: my mother’s gentle hands
bathe me as a baby.
Raised up again, my body breaks
the surface. Bright sky overwhelms.
Boulder rolled away, my tongue
unguarded now. Laughing and coughing,
mouth full of water and silt and suddenly a song
in a language I’ve never heard.
God of the unsung, God of the present
and the missing, God who translates
phantom pain, who holds the map of all
my scars, may this body be your temple.
Some say my branches died before they bloomed,
water too precious to be wasted on me.
Don’t let me wither under the blistering sun,
cursed for bearing no fruit.
If I can offer shelter to someone called
to walk a lonely road, maybe that’s enough.
God of the forgotten, God of the never begotten,
will my story, at least, outlive me?
Give me a name worth remembering,
a name that will never be cut off.
Music: Thy Word – Amy Grant