Friday, December 03, 2010

Advent – Week 1, Day 4

This past Sunday, my good friend and sometime mentor and erstwhile Chicago poet/elder, Kent Foreman passed away. He has been a fixture here for some time now in the underground poetry scene and had indeed, been writing and performing poems since long before most of us were born, including on the road with such jazz greats as Max Roach and Oscar Peterson. His life was a rich one, a full one. Once, in a visit to NYC he stayed with me in Brooklyn, and on one memorable, sweltering, summer, night, us both in our BVD tank tops seated in the kitchen with the windows open, we smoked and talked. This was the kind of talk we writers crave with old dudes – stories of crazy shit that happened with remarkable people, sparkle-eyed tales of caution, that are less caution than ‘go-out-and-make-your-own-stories’ kind of stories. Everything about that night stands out starkly to me. I remember hearing some gunshots from the projects, the noise from Los Primos Dominican restaurant below us, our own laughter.

Kent was diagnosed with lung cancer just this summer, and it moved quickly from there to chemo, to refusal of more chemo, to hospice. When I first moved to Chicago, I looked forward to what I thought would be several nights at jazz and blues clubs with Kent; further seminars in my continued education towards music, Chicago and grown-man shit. Instead, what happened was what happens. We were both too busy for our own good. I was traveling too much and before you knew it, he was house-bound. I got back into town and his daughter, Gabrielle, was telling me that it was day to day. I went out to see Kent and with him vaguely in and out, I sat for an hour or so telling Kent how appreciative I was of everything he had been and been to me, his sharing his family with me, and how regretful I was of the things we didn’t get to do. I sang him calypsos and spirituals. I got up and went home.

I have never been so acutely aware of my mortality as when I got a text from his daughter later that night saying that Dad, in her words, managed to avoid the coming indignities, has gone to where the chill winds don’t blow.

I sat there for several moments stunned, as though I wasn’t perfectly aware I had been sitting with a dying man just minutes earlier. Suddenly, I knew nothing of the value of my own living. In a ten minute span, I questioned everything – my poems, my friends, my choices, my loves. I wondered if anything was worth anything…

Here’s how God works. You get what you need, when you need it – plain and simple. The Advent, as I’ve said in previous posts is about preparing the self for the coming of something larger, for the possibility of something more. The Advent suggests the most wondrous and amazing of ideas – that at the lowest hour, we can reboot and restart from a place further along than we’d ever been before. Matthew 24, 36-44 repeats what is a familiar Christian dogma; that we will not know when the Father is come, and that if we’re not prepared, we’ll be left behind while others attain heaven. Most of Christianity likes to talk about this literally, and we are regaled with pictures of a descending Christ who lifts the godly up into the sky, while the sinful are left behind to something vaguely purgatorical or worse. But there is something way more practical and useful at play here. We have an opportunity to empty ourselves, and refill it with larger more meaningful possibilities “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only…” Jesus has been telling us how much the Father is in us, how much we are in Him/It. There is something inexorable in each of us that plots the timing of his own upliftment. There is something to be gained, a lesson for each despair that if one prepare oneself, one might be able to glean. A fellow blogger, in speaking of Simeon’s coming to the temple to see Christ and recognizing that Christ was the savior, says (and I’m half-quoting, half parsing) that Simeon recognized a most important truth, that it wasn’t necessarily that this guy, Jesus was the way we were going to be saved, but that hope lay in the fact of this re-birth as it were, was possible. He held a baby in his arms, a being utterly new and without flaw or sin.

Of course, this specific baby, turned out pretty fly. He did some amazing things with water when people wanted to get their buzz on, and when the object lesson needed to be greater, he told dead people “Yo dawg, you wint really dead is the thing” (even after being reminded that the dead man ought to be decomposing by now – there is no coincidence that the Book points that out). And then he kept telling those around him that they should come to the Father through him, while saying that the Father was in him AND in all of them. “wash folks’ feet like I do. Love people like I do” he said “and you can holler at these miracles yourself. This shit aint special!” And then he peaced out.
Verse 42 of Day 4’s reading says “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come”, and the ‘your’ before the ‘Lord’ here is important too, because the manner of recognition of that opportunity is going to be peculiar to each of us. “watch…” it says. Be aware. Turn inward and find that God that’s coming.

The birth of Christ as celebrated in Christmas is an interesting phenomenon. Like the coming of the messiah itself, it is a renewable wait. As soon as the holiday leave, we resume waiting for its return, just as Jesus, predicted for forever, came lived 33 years, left and then we immediately started waiting for his return again. The allegory is simple. It retains its parallels in just about every religion in the world. It is the principle behind all of life; the idea of renewal and none of us can take advantage of this life cycle, if we aren’t ready to renew, ready to plant when the time comes, ready to reap when the time comes. We gotta watch so we don’t get swept up in the flood like when Noah was here (Matthew 24: 37-39). If we do and pay attention, we might find we survive the flood in all our spirits and emerge on a mountaintop.

Kent’s daughter wrote to say that Kent was excited for the approaching death. He was practically giddy about it, she said, even joking that the waiting was so good, that the other side was going to be anti-climactic. I needed to hear that. Kent was so ready, he was going looking good! How self-absorbed I was to make Kent’s death be about my petty failings, without recognizing that this was another chance to build toward a life that made me ready for renewal at any moment; whatever form it might take. So many beautiful things and people take place daily in my life. So many moments are opportunities to make things right, and make them right again, and here I was, a simpering, ball of despair, ready to throw in the towel because I recognized all of a sudden that I was mortal.

Less about being mortal is the fact that here again was the chance to experience something and come out with more understanding, to be taken up, to have my ark perch itself a little higher. The Christ is coming and he stays coming, no matter how often we stone him and tie him to the crosses we make ourselves bear.

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Blogger Strategic Stiletto said...

A priest once told me that one of the reasons we long for the coming of God is this: at the moment of our birth God shows a glimpse of his face to us, and from that point on our souls crave that beautiful godliness. The accuracy of this man made account is of less value to me than the uncharacteristic upbeatness it describes. Where I grew up, the Catholic practice was less about guilt and more about hope.

As I came to form my own fundamentals, taking from the Catholic teachings what worked for me and leaving the rest behind, it became clear that the divine possibility of man was to be found in the pursuit of one's beautiful godliness. Spirit works so specifically in each one, and this pursuit varies from person to person.

Picture a world of godliness in progress. Picture a space on the planet where everyone fully occupies our divine possibility. Picture Monday nights at Bar 13 where spirit moves spirit and word illuminates man's godliness. Picture steamy nights of salsa, when rhythm matches heartbeat and hipsways consecrate woman godly.

The big bonus of our mortality is a the eternal opportunity for godliness. Perhaps the question we must all deal with is less about our own mortality, and more about the divinity of our beautiful humanity.

2:33 AM  

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