Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 48) transports me to star date 45156 on board the USS Starship Enterprise D, where the Next Generation crew has completed its mission to Mudor Five and is ready to enjoy a few days respite. Captain Picard is in the turbolift preparing to give three children a tour of the ship – their prize for winning the science fair. Picard, known for his discomfort around children, is in the middle of an awkard attempt at conversation when something catastrophic happens, and the turbolift starts free-falling. The ship has run into an energy field, a quantum filament, disrupting all major systems. Picard, suffering a broken ankle in the fall, is stuck in the elevator shaft with the children, having to work through his discomfort to comfort them. Deanna Troi is the senior officer left on the bridge, and has to work through her lack of confidence in order to take take command in the crisis. Another crew member stuck in an uncomfortable situation is the Klingon security officer, Worf, who is trapped in Ten Forward, the ship’s bar, with the pregnant Keiko O’Brien. The Enterprise’s unexpected crash has caused Keiko to go into premature labor, and Worf is thrust into the uncomfortable role of delivery guy. With only very rudimentary medical training, he takes a look at his tricorder and tells her: You are fully dilated to ten centimeters. You may now give birth. When things don’t go as smoothly as he expected, he bemoans, My computer simulation was not like this. It was very orderly. He has no idea what to do, other than to tell the wailing and writhing Keiko to bear down and push. By the end of the episode, Troi has made all the right command decisions to save the ship, Picard has a new appreciation for children, and Worf is proud to present a new baby girl to her father, Chief O’Brien.
I don’t know what the star date was when the poem known as Psalm 48 was penned, but it instructs the readers to take a tour of Zion and describe what they see to the Next Generation. The poem includes its own script for a cataclysmic clash. The federation of countries has joined forces against Israel, but their ship runs into an energy field. It’s not a quantum filament (whatever that is), but the image of Jerusalem, a shining city on a hill, that stops the kings in their tracks. It is refreshing to read a bit of geo-political history from the point of view of the poet. The kings had assembled their forces, ready to mount an invasion against the covenant people, and as they advanced they were astounded, not by the assembled Israeli defense forces, armed and ready, but simply by the sight of a holy city where people meditated day and night on God’s unfailing love. The armies fled in terror as trembling seized them, with pains gripping them like that of a woman in labor. Unlike Keiko O’Brien, these military generals had no Warf to give them permission to give birth, and to coach them through the pushing. Their travail ended in defeat, as God’s love for the covenant community protected them, making them secure forever.
From the poetic perspective (similar to the prophetic perspective in this regard), the very presence of God is enough to trust in matters of security and defense. The simple sight of a community of faith focused on love was enough to confound enemies and send them into retreat. Today is a holy day for that community of faith. It is Yom Kippur, the holiest of days for the Jewish people, the day of Atonement. It brings to mind what happened on that day 39 years ago, when a federation of countries, led by Egypt and Syria, attacked Israel in an attempt to regain land lost in the 1967 War. Reading through the history of that Yom Kippur War of 1973, we see the complexities of geo-political struggle, as the conflict represented a sub-plot of a larger drama in the Cold War between the USSR and US, with the various middle eastern countries being played as pawns. Israel won that war, but not because the invading generals caught sight of Jerusalem and were astounded and confounded. It was a matter of A-4 Skyhawks overpowering Mig-17s and M60 Patton tanks withstanding 9K11 Malyutka missiles. That is to say, it was a traditional military conflict settled on military terms, with no need to trust in astonishing sights or powers beyond the gun and shield. This led to Israel’s development of an ambiguous nuclear weapon arsenal, which of course has led to its enemies (namely Iran) playing catchup so they can have their own counter-balancing set of nukes, all leading up to another version of MAD threats – mutually assured destruction. If only Yom Kippur, and Ramadan, and Lent, and all other major seasons of deep spiritual reflection, could lead the major faiths of the world to repent of such madness, to meditate on what the Psalmist calls God’s unfailing love, to once again place our trust in a power greater than any arsenal humanity could ever develop, and to truly give the Next Generation something to look forward to. In this place in history where it feels like our world has crashed against some kind of quantum energy, disrupting all our major systems, it could be that the sharp and shocking pains we are feeling are like Keiko’s labor pains, and our work is to simply keep breathing, to bear down and push until grace and peace and hope is born again in our world.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.