Thursday, August 13, 2009

Electric Chimes or Rams' Horns

From the book Grace Confounding; a poem by Amos Niven Wilder (1972)

The following advertisement in support of church attendance was published in Reader’s Digest, vol.77, no. 459 (July 1960)

“Sure you vote, pay taxes, work hard, make money, and have made out a will. But you must do something more to become a first-class citizen. You must experience the benefits that come from going to church regularly. Your children will respect you more. Your neighbor will look up not just across to you. Your community will recognize you as a participant, not just a passer-by. Your country will be stronger, for you will enforce that spiritual fabric so essential to its continuing welfare. But the person who will benefit most is you. You will get the stimulation and reward of understanding the brotherhood of man, this dignity that the individual can derive from worship. You will equip yourself to cope with all the complications that eternally face us all. You will make the other167 hours each week truly worth living. See for yourself—next Sunday.”


Yes, go to church next Sunday,
take time out on Vanity Fair,
enter into the hurricane eye
while the winds blow outside.
But don’t leave the world behind you,
take it in with you:
after all, it was here with God’s word
that it was all set in motion.

“Take your family to church next Sunday.”
(Compel them to come in” Luke 14:23)
No, better just tell them where you are going,
remember that generation gap.
Join the parade on Fifth Avenue or Main Street.
Rather, join the ancient procession through the
wilderness,
the trek as old as Abraham.
Fall in with the tribes that moved through the desert
and knew the scorpions and the manna.
Elbow the shadows in the catacombs
and those who gathered in the Cevennes,
The proscribed and the harried of all lands,
With the stigma of the Cross or the star of David,
or the armband of the resistance.
Company with the pilgrims of all times.
Hear the sound not of the new electric chimes
But of the ancient rams’ horns.

Yes, “go to church on Sunday,”
But why not also on some other day when there is
no one there?
Or on some week night when there is a church
meeting:
perhaps you can help change the hymn book
or get rid of that chromo by Hofmann,
or help vote the church into a merger and out of
existence into a larger life.
And don’t think too much of that dignity
or sink too far into the foam-rubber seats or the organ tremolo.

Go up to Zion: hear the angels sing and look through
the trapdoor into Abaddon.
Go through the door not only with the Smiths
and the Jones,
with the garage man and the banker,
but with David and Isaiah, Peter and Thomas,
Mary and Martha.
Kneel not only with your neighbors, benign
or distracted,
but with Hagar and Job, Anna and Stephen;
yes, with Jephthah’s daughter, immolated for a vow
(she is still with us),
and with Rizpah whose sons were impaled as an
expiation (she may be sitting next to you),
with the Magdalen and Ananias and Judas.

Look on the Seven Lamps of the Apocalypse
and consider the guttering torches of time.
See where the flickering candle flares and drips,
Fly the immense eclipse.
Go not to be tranquillized
but to be exorcised.

Yes, go to church and to Mt. Zion,
To the assembly of the first-born
And in innumerable company of angles,
keeping holiday with songs—but with fear
and trembling.
Draw near to the holy mountain
as to Sinai enveloped in smoke
with its tremors and flowing lava.
Behind the familiar eleven o’clock exercises
are ancient congregations and glories,
voices and paeans and chariots of fire,
And a great white throne.

To draw near is to take your life in your hand.
Going to church is like approaching an open volcano
where the world is molten
and hearts are sifted.
The altar is like a third rail that spatter sparks,
the sanctuary is like the chamber next the
atomic oven:
there are invisible rays and you leave your
watch outside.

Go, therefore, not to be tranquillized
but to be exorcised.
Follow the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud
with exultation and abandon,
with fear and trembling,
for the zeal of the Lord of Hosts
whether in the streets or the council chamber,
whether in the school or the sanctuary
waits not on the circumspect
and the flames of love
both bless and consume.

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