Friday, March 29, 2013

A Francis poem, Pope Francis & The Call That Awakens Us

Dear Family and Friends,

I got a Happy Easter phone call from my brother-in-law a few days ago, so it’s fitting that I do the same, and for additional reasons.  You see, I am currently writing about what Francis said (on this exact day) – three months and three years ago.  It was December 29, 2009. 

The poem I’m attaching feels like the most important poem yet.  But this, one of the 48 additional poems that have come since the publication of Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Poems will be published after this prose book is completed - Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Love Story.

The poem came after I transcribed audiofiles of Francis’ and my last four (of five) extraordinary dialogues.  I waited three years to listen to those recordings, made possible because Francis’ wonderful doctor, Dr. Devlin, had volunteered his recorder.  This poem provides a short overview of part of what I have been writing about (Francis’ last 100 days) since last autumn.  After that, I’ll go back to Chapter 4 which is only partly written.

Yes, during this celebration of Jesus’ Passover, it’s altogether fitting that I share with you who love him, what Francis said as he made his own Passover – and what he said about Jesus.  So here’s the poem written earlier this month:

The Last Conversations 2009                    
She did not dare -
could not bear
to hear his voice again.

To see,
even just his writing,     
his cursive script –         
that took a lot,
When holding to her face                     
his worn grey sweatshirt             
she could breathe in
the sweet scent of him,             
uniquely his.                                

And the taste of him?         
Oh that - she always has,         
in poems she wrote.          
In prayer.                                            

But his voice?  
His rich and resonant voice?
She’d heard it once,                  
within her ears:               
“I love you, dear” -                     
a visitation                                           
she had called it; a miracle            
become a daily mantra
that sustains her still.    

But now to know his
voice awaited her on audiofiles - she knew
it was time to hear his voice again
kept live through time        
these last three years.

She sat before the monitor,         
snapped on speakers,           
found the file
and paused.

It took three clicks
and there they were:
the files centered on their four
"last suppers."      

It was the week after Christmas.
Hildegard von Bingen's
Canticle of Ecstasy                          
flooded their room.
A dinner tray sat on Francis’ lap.
She offered him a bite,
then took one of her own.   
He smacked his lips
over Tuscan kale.   
“Such feasts given us by friends,”
he said, then wept with her   
at the generous love                                                 
they spent on them,      
sending cards and emails for            
a last
“Message for Francis”
read aloud at dessert.                                         
“The love’s so rich,” she said,                             
it feels decadent.”                                                  
He called their dinners –          
“last suppers.”
The talk turned deep,
her listening, intent.                         
“When Jesus joined in                          
our human condition,” he said,            
sharing his thoughts of
recent days,
“in a way,
we too were raised -
to that
She relaxed, breathing in her gratitude.         
At another last supper
he thanked her for trimming
his hair and beard
that day.                   
“Such a loving experience
we had together!”
he affirmed.
“You injected new energy
and life in me:

It’s not time yet.”

She massaged his legs and arms
as he fell asleep.           

On the day of New Year's Eve 
he wouldn't eat,                     
but then at night he changed his mind.         
 “For my sake?” she asked.
“For us,” he answered.
They were both aware:
this night could be the last          
of all the last suppers they’d held dear.         

So they embraced the little spark         
of which he spoke.
“With patience,” he suggested,
in a weak and scratchy voice,                    
“it might become something bigger.” 
"He had," he said,                                  
"just a very small window
I'm allowed in the world,

But he was not bereft,                   
she was relieved
to hear him say, for he’d wrestled
with some terror –
fear of the unknown,
earlier that week -                              
“not without comfort,” he repeated,
his voice frail.

Hovering on the edge of New Year’s day –
the year into which
he would hardly step
before he left –
the music stopping time
for them that night,
was not a canticle of ecstasy     
but a virtuoso oud player’s
mesmerizing music.                                       

They reminisced.
Seven years before on his 75th birthday,
that music had filled Bella Cuchina,               
the restaurant they’d rented
to celebrate with family and friends.
The occasion, the music, had swept them         
in a transport of joy.
Here now alone, together they relived it.
“That music tears your heart out, doesn’t it?!”   
she said.  And he?

He began to softly sing, 
his pitch, melody
in perfect rhythm
with the master’s own.
His voice grew strong and full,
its signature resonance, once more rich.   
After a pause, before beginning again         
into sing-a-long mode, he said –
“What a melody, huh?!”
Now she’d heard him
heard him singing his joy with her,
on the verge of his dying,
on the brink of his death.

Francis’ faith in Jesus’ resurrection as something mysteriously bestowed upon us all is a faith I cherish as most of you do.  

I’m a member of a small community in our parish which is open to others, for discussion and monthly “Agape” prayer.  Earlier this week two articles were sent around preparatory to that meeting.   Carol Zaleski wrote both of them.  I was deeply moved by this passage from the one entitled “Immortal Dreams”: 

“There are hints in the Hebrew Bible:  ‘If a man die, shall he live again?’ asks the book of Job. ‘All the days of my service I would wait, for my release to come. Then you would call, and I should answer you; you would long for the work of your hand.’  (RSV) It is this call from our Maker and Redeemer that awakens us from death, not some inherent excellence and indestructibility in our souls.”
Here’s the link:  but I’ve copied the whole article below. 

Even if this doesn’t fit in with the Passover theme, our group did discuss this second article I also liked - about prayer.  In fact, this passage quoting Karl Barth moved me to tears:  “But what about foolish prayers, trivial prayers and selfish prayers? Karl Barth is comforting here. “We do not know what proper prayer is,” he admits, and it is actually a sign of our faith that we run to God in prayer with “haste and restlessness.” To do so reveals a trust that we are in communion with God, who intercedes for us with sighing too deep for words, who hears and answers prayers “quite apart from our weakness or strength, our ability or inability to pray.” In prayer, said Barth, we stand beside God as friends.” 

It’s heartwarming that our new pope called himself Pope Francis.  But even more moving to me is his actions, like yesterday’s, which our local paper reported this morning.  The headline reads:  Pope Washes Women’s Feet in Break With Church Law
I like the last few lines of this article which is more complete online:  “Francis responded that it was to ‘help me to be humble, as a bishop should be.’ The gesture, he said, came ‘from my heart. Things from the heart don't have an explanation.’”

What is especially telling is his referring to himself often as “the bishop of Rome.”  In the early church the Pope was seen as the first of all the bishops, exercising “the Petrine ministry,” but he was still mainly “the bishop of Rome.”  It all fits the humility of St. Francis of Assisi, Francis’ patron saint. 

Just one more thing about Pope Francis.  Some of you may be aware that some people are questioning his role during “The Dirty Wars” in Argentina, specifically, some say he didn’t do enough.  (Others, on the other hand demonstrate he did what he could, even at his own risk.)  In any case, I was especially moved by the concluding paragraph of this article – “ Pope Francis: A Modern Passion Play”  By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News  28 March 13

“Readers will decide for themselves what to make of this, but let me share my personal reaction. As an atheist and Jew - and yes, one can be both - I find scriptural arguments for and against liberation theology completely foreign. But I have long valued the political work its adherents do in poor communities. I must also confess a surprising sympathy for the new pope. I can only assume he believes in a just God who knows what he did during the Dirty War. This is the cross Pope Francis bears, and it must be terrifying, an unending crucifixion in his personal passion play. If I could only write that play as a work of fiction.”
(Info about this writer):  A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes on international affairs.

Joyous Easter everyone!