Resident Artist Emily Ruth Hazel’s new poem in response to the theme of “lies” and
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her“
Listen to “Runaway”
The Church is a conflicted bride,
her face flushed with passion,
her thoughts laced with doubt.
Home, to her, has never been
a single street address. She lives
everywhere, a temple built of flesh
instead of stone, a body
with a mind and a will of her own,
her heart not only red but also blue
and independent, her spirit
both radiant and restless.
How far she has wandered, dragging
the train of her newly washed dress
through sewage-flooded gutters.
When she returns, ready to change,
grace attends her, fingers gently
combing out the tangle of her hair, patiently
undoing seven times seventy buttons.
But legalism has one narrow foot
braced against the Church’s back, two hands
yanking taut the laces of a corset
made from the bones of faith,
that great, endangered mystery
that swims beneath the surface.
Perhaps this undergirding was designed
for the body, to shape and support,
but it digs into her skin,
pressing her inmost parts
to conform to its constraints.
Breath held captive, the bride
anxiously waits to be untied,
Pilate’s questioning of Christ
reverberating through her
centuries later—What is truth?
This far from paradise,
knowing good and intimate with evil,
how could her heart ever again
be naked without shame?
What would she look like if she lost
the fig leaf lingerie? What if
she continued the long walk down the aisle,
eyes fixed on her first love,
confessing all her uncertainties—
would God still have her?
Born hungry, we feed each other
false hopes like the warm milk of a lullaby.
Having outlived the famine years,
we think we are finally wise
and bite into the red delicious of deception,
handing it off to our partners.
The growl grows louder.
A tribe of exiles and runaways,
we are all in the same soup line,
but we front as if we’re in the queue
to enter an elite club where God is
a brass-knuckled bouncer
letting in only those who pay
or charm their way inside.
Angling for VIP passes,
we bleach our teeth with white lies,
wear pretense like concealer,
sweep shades of embellishment
in all the right places. We flaunt
our faux diamonds and flash our fake ID.
Fully knowing who we are,
knowing that we can’t afford the cover,
the host at the door waves us in
and offers us a bowl and spoon.
We grab what is given with one hand,
the other hand already reaching back
to draw the invisible velvet cord
across the path behind us:
we want to be the first inside
and the last to make the cut.
Measuring our steps like a barefoot bride
who wears a borrowed spoon
dangling from her necklace,
what is it we are limping toward?
Eden is a memory of the scent of
apple blossoms. What do we have left,
we ask, that we have not created
for ourselves? Our fingerprints on everything,
by this time, who can tell
how much of religion is manmade?
The river of life that streams from heaven
has been dammed and redirected,
human calculations managing the flow,
interrupting natural rhythms.
From the spinning belly of the same truck
out of which that wall was born,
poured as a thick, gray river of our own,
we have built a semblance of refuge on the shore.
Easily sold on the invention
of that which is concrete—
a substance that grows stronger
as it ages—who can blame humanity
for mixing with cement
our aggregate beliefs? We manufacture
cinder blocks of knowledge
weighty enough to withstand
minor disasters, but never
too heavy to lift alone.
Stacking rules upon rituals,
long ago, we tried to build a tower
that would scrape away the blue,
leave a keyhole in the sky
so we could see beyond,
but our tongues divided us;
our ladders toppled.
Among our tall attempts,
we have landscaped a courtyard instead,
an echo of the garden we once knew,
then sealed it with a glass roof
more transparent than our prayers,
turning the open space into yet another
structure to contain the wind,
to cage our fear of what we can’t control.
Everything within our reach
we have domesticated. But what can we do
with a wind that cannot be caught?
From the Artist:
As with the first three themes of the year, which I found myself defining by contrast—Light and Darkness were intertwined, the theme of Fools led me to write about wisdom, and Dancing was set in relief against grief—the theme of Lies inspired me to explore the alternatives, honesty and truth. Under the many layers we wear, there is an opportunity for daring vulnerability and naked authenticity. The truth of who we are, and of who God is, is not as simple or as flat as it is often presented or misunderstood to be; deeper truths are always multifaceted.
In “Runaway,” I wanted to take a closer look not only at our human tendency to run away—from truth, among other things—but also at how God has different qualities of a runaway, being hard to tie down and moving unexpectedly. This got me thinking about our human strategies for trying to make sense of our world and of the spiritual realm, and how religion can come close to articulating these things but sometimes misses the point entirely. Since subtle masks and readily accepted myths can be just as dangerous and destructive as overt lies, if not more so, I wanted to offer a poem that could acknowledge a few misconceptions about Christianity and some of the contradictions within the global and historical Church, which are troubling to me.
When I began delving into the chain reaction of deception and hiding just a few pages into Genesis, I was surprised to discover a direct connection between that text and the New Testament passage I had already had in mind to respond to (Ephesians 5:25–33), which quotes a line from Genesis about the mystery of marriage. I’m intrigued that the Apostle Paul chooses the metaphor of marriage—perhaps the most complex and intimate of human relationships—to depict the relationship between God and the Church. It was this image that became my starting point for taking off some of the layers.
Emily Ruth Hazel is a New York City-based poet and writer whose work wrestles with themes of relationship and faith. As a believer in poetry that feels accessible and lived-in, she aims to capture the beauty, hope, and humor that can be found in everyday experiences.
Emily enjoys cross-pollinating with artists of many disciplines and she has performed her work solo and collaboratively at numerous events. She has been awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize in a national competition for emerging poets, and a collection of her poetry, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press), was published as a finalist in the New Women’s Voices competition. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature,Brown Alumni Magazine,The Mochila Review, Texas Poetry Calendar 2014 (Dos Gatos Press), Deep Waters (Outrider Press), The Heart of All That Is (Holy Cow! Press), and Mercury Retrograde (Kattywompus Press), among other publications.
A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program, Emily has led creative writing workshops for youth at schools, libraries, and community centers in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, and South Africa. She has also mentored underserved teens through Girls Write Now, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the next generation of women writers. A freelance editor and visual artist as well, she lives on the border of Brooklyn and Queens.
Emily Ruth Hazel is a Spark and Echo Arts 2013 Resident Artist
This poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.
Tagged with: emily ruth hazel • Ephesians 5 • Ephesians 5:25-33 • Genesis 2 • Genesis 2:21 • Genesis 3 • Genesis 3:1–13 • John 18 • John 18:37–38 • John 3 • John 3:8 • lies • poetry • resident artist • Revelation 22 • Revelation 22:17 • runaway • the church