April 10 – three voices for a time of high tension, fear, and anger — a prophet, a pope, a poet

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

“If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech” . . . Isaiah 58

Pre-note: today’s post is longer than ordinary, and quotes 3 authors, the prophet Isaiah, Pope Francis, and the muslim poet Warsan Shire. I think you will find them worth the time they require.

Have a blest day.

John st sj

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When I first encountered these three texts, they seemed at first glance somewhat unrelated. The Warsan Shire poem, “Home,” was new to me, sent by a friend in our English Department. The second is familiar, Isaiah’s eloquent prophecy from Chapter 58.   “Unrelated”?  What was I thinking?  Unrelated only on the surface.  The tensions roiling the world  – –  fear of, and anger at,  the millions of women, men and child immigrants on the roads of the world today,  so like the little family of Mary, Joseph, and their child Jesus,  torn from their sleep to flee in terror from soldiers trying to find and kill them – –  fear and anger about “the stranger” confronts every reader of the “Work day in a Hard Time” poetry list.  Our fear wears on us all. It can remind us that violence toward immigrants has erupted in this country before, (e.g. 1844, 1877, 1920-24). Such troubles aren’t limited to the 2+ centuries of the U.S. either.  Isaiah addressed them centuries ago.

Text # 1: Isaiah 58:7-10

Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

Text # 2: Pope Francis:

In July, 2013, for his first trip as Pope, Francis chose the tiny island of Lampedusa, just off Sicily, a place home to the dangers and deaths of immigrants trying to enter Europe. That day Francis spoke to the whole world to “reawaken our consciences.”   Here is a short clip.   “Immigrants who died at sea, from a boat that, instead of being a way of hope was a way of death. . .   I felt that I ought to come here today to pray, to make a gesture of closeness, but also to reawaken our consciences so that what happened would not be repeated. Not repeated, please!”

Text # 3: – Warsan Shire, “Home”

This is the second Warsan Shire poem for the Work Day/Hard Time list. Her words remind me of Isaiah 58.  As always, it’s best to read the poet out loud, with pauses.  However, I find it a lot harder than with most Work Day posts, to read these next words out loud.

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Warsan Shire

(SomaliWarsan ShireArabic: ورسان شرى‎‎, born 1 August 1988)
is a London–based- Somali writer, poet, editor and teacher.[1]  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsan_Shire)

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