Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Agrapha--- by Maria Mayo Robbins

I am very pleased to offer you a poem written by a doctoral student at Vanderbilt Divinity School whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know while teaching there from time to time.



Peel back the layers of me,
I am stratified.
I am Mark, I am Special M, Special L.
I am Q.
I am red and black beads,
I am hazy grey and pink.
Touch me, I am words on a page.
I am redactions. I am parts.
I am the idea of a man.

I am waiting for the end of the world.
I am creating a new social order.
I am marginalized. I am privileged.
I am radical egalitarianism.
I am patriarchy.
I am academic words and original-language texts,
Aramaicisms and multiple attestations.
Why is the truth of me so heavy?
I am a tortured body, naked, hanging there.
What is heavy is my staggered breath,
the weight of my own body suffocating me,
the stares of those who watch me suffer and die.
I am the reports of the eyes that see me.
I breathe one last breath and then
I become a story.
I am dead already, but you ravage me.
Your scholarly sentences pierce my skin,
a grammar of spears.
My god, my god.

Peel back the layers of me, I am a fruit
you will never core.
I am scrolls, codices, best-sellers.
I am your prophet and your seer.
I am your profit and your livelihood.
I give your life meaning, yes, even you.
Artists cover my waist with
your strips of imagined cloth,
but you strip me,
reconstruct me,
excavate me.
I am two-thousand years exhumed,
and when will you let me decompose?
My god, my god.

Peel back the layers of me, I am gospel, story, narrative.
I am criteria of authenticity. I am social context.
I am the mysterious agendas of implied authors,
the attentive ears of implied audiences.
I am oral tradition.
I hang lifeless on a cross.
You pierce me, and black beads spill out.
With my last breath, I become nothing but
black beads, black beads.
My god, my god.

I am your tower of Babel, the confusion
of your paragraphs and theses and tomes.
I tear up your academic temple,
overthrow your tables.
I am logos and logia.
I am the word become flesh, and the work
of your hands turns me back into words.
The church releases me like a dove,
and I soar. You catch me with strings of phrases,
and I drift slowly down, a spirit body, ethereal.
I am a wisp of smoke in your windless sky.
I am nothing but ideas and air.
You breathe me in, and somehow I sustain you.
My god, my god.


But look, I am you, and I am unashamed.
I walked, I walked, and everywhere I went,
I tried to peel back layers.
I died, and I became the story of God.
Now you are the stewards of my details,
preservers of my name.
Peel back the layers of me, tell me who I am,
because I never knew.
I listen, I watch.
Into your hands, I commend my story.
I hope you unravel me, because my life
and my death are tangled and gnarled.
If I could, I too would peel back layers,
cut my own skin like a fisherman, and out would spill
the special letters of the alphabet that spell me
and spell you still.

Translate me out of this language I don’t
understand, tell me about my native tongue.
Could I read and write?
Tell me who they say I am.
Reveal me, scholars, teachers –
you shower me with divinity
with every book you bind.

Peel back the layers of me, I am waiting.
The parousia happens daily.
I come and come again with every class
you teach, every argument you construct,
every phrase you coin. You keep me alive.
The resurrection is the Jesus Seminar,
the unintentional cathedral and its
circle of high priests,
controversies and decisions and
the constant invocation of my name.
If I didn’t mean something then,
I know I mean something now.
You, in your academic temples,
cut carefully with your pens,
your dexterous fingers peel gingerly back
the thin thin layers
and there will always be more layers.
Show me how alive I am.
Stratify me.
Reconstruct me.
I am yours.

Maria Mayo Robbins
December 11, 2002


Aaron G said...

Beautiful words about the living and wondrous story! “There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."

Viola Jaynes said...

What a beautiful poem. I just read your essay on "This I Believe" and was very moved by your story. Thank you for your courage, your strength, and most of all, thank you the love you have in your heart for God, spiritual matters and His people.