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Beloved Stranger (Johnny Levy, Slam Poems Editor)

Why are we here?
To drink the sea?
To swallow the sun whole?

God is light, and rain.
Our hearts are stone.
Waiting in the dark.
Longing to know.
What we only know
With big chunks

See, my religion is not God.
Nor are my thoughts about God, God.
The Bible on my desk is not God.
My church building is not God.
My pastor? Not God.

These can only point the way
And there's a reason that
Pointing things point away
From themselves.
Because they are not the things
That they are pointing to.
We get confused, but:

Only God is God. Alone.

Fiercely intimate,
Devastatingly foreign,
Heart-breakingly quiet,
Deafeningly clear.
Stranger, yet knowable,
But not the way you
Solve for X in Algebra.

More like the way
You remember your phone number
From your childhood home
No matter how many times
You move.


He’s in our bones like that.
Like where we used to live.
Like my very first memory in color:

Running around naked, laughing,
Holding an orange squirt gun
Upside down.

Familiar, but not even close.
Close, but not familiar.

He is God.
The one who stands apart.
He has no Kingdom, Phylum,
Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
He is the place where classification ceases.

And our minds like shot glasses.
Hearts like porous rock.
We are not guaranteed
To figure this out
In time for dinner.   

I could sit in church
For decades upon decades
Singing all the hymns
Taking all the notes,
Stacking up all the years
Like uneaten pancakes

While my heart starves
In a closet:  Unchanged.

Because I was only willing
To offer God 
The right side of my brain.  

I could stand at the shore of God:

Bathing suit fastened, goggles down,
Shaking out my arms, and legs,

And just stand there. For years.
Just stand there.

And miss the glistening chrysalis
Of water surrounding me,
The sound of mystery shushing my ears,
Rocked and moved by waves
Like an infant in arms.

I could know things about Him
And never know Him.

Before there were schools of theology
Before there were leather-bound Bibles
And epistles and appointed bishops
And established hymns

Before there were Baptists
And Lutherans and Anglicans
And Charismatics

And Greek Orthodox
And Roman Catholics,

Before there were ecumenical councils
In Chalcedon and Nicea,
Fiercely debating the nature of Christ,

Before there were Crusades
And Inquisitions, blood soaked
Ground for the sake of conquest,
And power.

Before we forgot
That His kingdom is not
Of this world.

Before you could take your pick
Of 20 churches within a 10-mile radius,

Before church became something we do
And not something we are;

There was a small band
Of fisherman, zealots,
Tax collectors, prostitutes.

Who came into contact
With a Rabbi named Jesus.
Who’s longing eyes
And burning words
Beckoned them to forsake
Jobs and homes and family
To follow Him.

He set their hearts on fire.
Shattered their normal lives
And caught them ablaze
Like carcasses on the altar.

He told them:
Yes, God has given you
His word on parchments
And out of the mouths
Of the Prophets.

Yes, He gave you Moses.
But before Moses was,
I am.  

Behold, I come to you.
Ocean wrapped in skin.
A mystery incarnate.

Behold, I have come.
In the scroll of the book
It is written of me.

Elohim kissing your eyes
With lips of flesh.

And setting your hearts
On fire. I am He.
The reason your heart
Keeps checking its watch.
Whether you know it or not,
You been waiting for Me.
I've come a long journey
To meet you.  Face to face.
To hug your neck and weep
With joy into your hair,

Once you knew of Me.
Now, know Me.

Zenith of human history.
The day God came down.

One life among billions of faces,
Who ripped the jaws of death wide open
By dying in our places.

His body broken, blood spilled into our veins
To make us blood brothers and blood sisters;
Forever changed.   

Advent is like the way
A kiss can end a war.
One strong embrace with tears
Can somehow snatch away the years of bitterness;
One touch can traverse the grand canyons between us
In ways that words could never.

So God came down
And dwelt among us.
Full of grace and truth.  

And a rambling band
Of misfits, the unlikeliest of men,
Rough bearded and callus handed,
Petty and unschooled,

Found themselves holding hands with God
Like school children crossing the street.  
And not only were they
Never, ever the same.

They were reborn.
DNA rewritten.
Cowards became martyrs.
Haters became lovers.
Dead men came alive.  
Not by textbooks
Or colleges.
Or sermons.
Or spells.  

No, the light stitched itself
Into their souls.

God touched them.
Kissed their eyes.
The touch of rain and sun
On open faces.  

The touch that causes
Green things to grow
In the deepest untouched places.

That I may know Him.

This was the cry. Not just
That I may know about Him,
Not that I may find the right box
To put Him in, Not that I may
Get a blood sample to put under
My microscope, but:

That I may know Him.
The cry of the Christian:
That I may know Him.

That I may feel those nail-pierced hands
Pry open my chest,
Scratchy palms
Fastening around this heart of stone,
And yank it out, like a bad engine, finally,
A heavy thud in the dirt behind me.

And that I may feel those same hands
Reach into this chest
And plant something
Alive and Electric.

We are rewritten.
We are reborn.
We are eclipsed.
We are crucified.

We are not what we were,
Else we are not Christian.

For Christian is
By definition:
Erased and rewritten.
Smitten with God,
Gloriously forgiven,
Passionately driven

To know Him.

Not all who check the box
Marked “Christian”
Are the Church.

We are the transformed.
We are the radiant.
We are the unlikely,
And the lovers
Of the unlikely.

We are those who know Him,
And seek and reach and tremble
Our whole lives
To know Him

World without end. Amen.

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