The Night Shift–A Poem In Four Parts
Dream while you are awake
Stay awake in your deepest sleep
Evoking a mind never resting
From its journey to believe
Faith is built on imagination
And God is a dream
And a wakeful intuition
A mysterious poetry
Of better days
A better way
Our ancestors dreamed
Apocalypses spinning into
And tea leaves mistakenly
Read and said to be premonitions
What if the world has always been
On the edge of calamity
What if apocalypse
Is always now
A way to orient ourselves
In the tumult we are
Like feathers and cement
Flying, floating, stuck,
Paving pathways and lost
From the warmth we used to know.
Advent is dreaming
Advent is apocalypse
Advent is waiting
It is watching
And picking ourselves up
On the move again into an unknown world.
Advent is trusting
It is remembering
Advent is coming to the sacred fire
To hear the story again of
Where we come from and where
We believe we are going
Prepare the way
God is gestating
Coming soon to a world near you
Redemption is being born
In the unexpected and long awaited.
The night shift finds us.
Can you see at night?
Do you dream in the harsh unfiltered light
Of these days?
Stay awake to your dreams
Advent is learning to believe
In the dark.
Last night I dreamed of a rainbow
The deepest, most vivid, complete rainbow
I have ever seen
I could see the left side and that it stretched boldly across the sky
Clouds and trees obscure it, but I know she is there
This strong, vivid reminder
Of a world in full color
A universe that knows how to
My mother is in the kitchen
At a sink with a window looking out
In the direction of the rainbow
The land is flat–like Kansas
In the Wizard of Oz
I desperately want her to see the rainbow.
“Look!” I say to her. Look at the rainbow.
It is so spectacular–but in my dream
I was at once filling in the blanks of what I cannot see
And living an immediate intuition of what is actually there.
We go outside, a screen door to a yard
With an old tree, maybe fallow in the winter
Maybe dead but we couldn’t part with it.
The second we get outside
There are thick grey clouds obscuring the rainbow.
There is a split second when I feel
Accused of something–that I had made it up,
That it was all just in my imagination.
In my dream I can feel the strength of my convictions.
The fire of knowing something to be true
And then I spot again, the solid
Bands of deep color
As if painted on the sky in thick
The rainbow is definitely real
But my mother and I can’t see it together
At once I am there all alone
On that flat land, with the tree
Branches like thick magic marker
Spidering along the horizon
Tracing and blocking my view
The only light the moon
A Rainbow at night
Like a tornado come and gone
My alarm goes off and the sermon continues.
You might wonder why we begin Advent in apocalypse.
It seems a strange place to start, doesn’t it?
Why begin this sweet, tinsel journey to Christmas morning
In the jarring glare of such challenging, stark
The ancestors marked time in apocalypse–unfiltered moments
When faith is our only food, our only map
When the world is on edge–and the night
Has absorbed what we thought we could see.
Grandmother wisdom and grandfather vision
Would teach us again how to work in the dark.
Look back, they tell us, to the ways Creator moves
In hard times, when the world feels like
It is coming to some grotesque culmination
Remember, they tell us, how God uses
These sharp edges of darkness and light.
Imagine, they remind us, that you were born in darkness.
And you will be born again in that deep murky twilight
The world is turning, grandmothers tell us
The world is burning, grandfathers warn.
And we are confronted again, how will you live differently
If you believe that our Redeemer is coming soon?
If it is today, what changes for you?
If it is tomorrow, will you dream tonight of a different world
Or will sleep be dulled by the drunken soak of the worries of life
Drowning our imaginations in false loyalties and dead efforts.
We begin Advent in apocalypse because we have lost
Our connection to the imagination this sacred journey requires.
We are not here for the folly of accumulation or recognition,
Or the gluttony of possession or power.
We are here to welcome the turning of time
That never stops inviting us to love.
Tender and corporeal.
Aching and ethereal.
We have forgotten that we dream together
In our sequestered night times
Our imaginations collaborating in the inscrutable
Distance between us
And God is moving, darning
The garment that dresses humanity
For this dissonant friendship
With a world, absurd and elegant.
Apocalypse is about waking up,
Imagination infused with Holy Mystery
And history and herstory and our story
And the best worst memories and aspirations
Of sleeping to wake up to ourselves
And waking up to dream.
Deep slumber awakens an undefended you
We give ourselves to the vulnerability we
Fight off in our awakened insecurity
And we rest in a risky trust that our bodies
Are wired to require.
You can go hungry
But you can’t go without sleep.
Eventually the body surrenders
To that tidal wave of unconsciousness
And our bodies release hormones and muscle memory
Of rest and cataloguing experience
And strange inspiration.
When things get worse
We wake up to our deepest longings.
When the shadows come
We are enveloped in a reprieve
From our delusion and confusion
And equipped for another day that will
Give itself to night again.
A reprise of a primal drum beat
God will soon
Birth a new world
Where terror is dissolved into
An ocean of trustworthy love
And a morning new with truth,
And hints of a world we had imagined
In the night.
*I wrote this poem for my sermon at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, NC for the first Sunday of Advent. You can watch the worship service here.