Poetry, Politics

i hear you call, apophatic theology

I Hear You Call, Pine Tree by Yone Noguch

I hear you call, pine tree, I hear you upon the hill, by the silent pond
where the lotus flowers bloom, I hear you call, pine tree.

What is it you call, pine tree, when the rain falls, when the winds
blow, and when the stars appear, what is it you call, pine tree?

I hear you call, pine tree, but I am blind, and do not know how to
reach you, pine tree. Who will take me to you, pine tree?


One of the best things I did this summer was sign up for the Academy of American Poets’ poem-a-day. Through this daily email, I’ve been introduced to more diverse and eclectic poets, beyond my usual, yet still utterly amazing Francis Choi and Mary Oliver.

Today’s poem by Yone Noguchi knocked me to the floor. It leaves me with many questions. Is the pine tree calling out to the writer personally or to anything or anyone who will listen? Is this call actually a command? Does the call change depending on the environment of the pine tree (i.e. rain, wind, at night)? The blindness of the writer too is curious at the end. Are they blind to the call, as if they need an interpreter to translate? Why would the speaker ask the pine tree for a companion, if they don’t even know what it is saying in the first place?!? This poem fills me with such content while at the same time has me wanting more.

What attracts me to this poem is the sense of mystery and what I believe to be an apophatic theology poetic style. The call from the pine tree is never understood fully. The writer thinks the pine tree is talking to them, yet doesn’t know with any certainty. In the apophatic tradition, God can only be understood as beyondness. For example, God is beyond any human conception of love or goodness. God is beyond being. I’ll have to think further on this metaphor of God as pine tree. 

Yet, the last question still lingers: “Who will take me to you, pine tree?” Perhaps it is not a person at all, but an experience. The experience of mystery. The experience of beyondness. Or perhaps it is a person, but not an interpreter of the call, but someone just to hold our hand. Perhaps.



Christainity, Liberation Theology, Philosophy

radical desert theology and subverting the norm II

This past weekend I attended and participated in Subverting the Norm 2 in Springfield, MO. Over 200 people were in attendance, and radical theology was preached by the speakers. I spent much of the time in conversation with people who were just introduced to the tenants of this form of theology. Peter Rollins, Jack Caputo, and Kester Brewin spoke for the majority of the conference. They differ on a few issues and approach to theology and the church. I appreciated what each of them brought to the table.

After the conference, I went out with my newly made friends and we talked about the event in postmodernism as well as sacred anarchy, the working church, and what can we bring home to our churches. It was as enlightening as the conference, but isn’t that the point of conferences. They provide a space for dialogue and reflection with fellow peers. If that is the case, STN2 did a fine job.

When I woke up on Sunday morning though, I didn’t want to think about radical or postmodern theology anymore. I knew that when I got home, I would have very few people to share my findings. So I took the day to relax and not to think about theology. This led me to tourist attractions, a.k.a. Bass Pro Shop, and a beautiful park where I journaled.  I started to relate postmodern theology with the theology of the early church. Both practitioners are figuring out how to (not) speak of God, Christ, God’s Spirit, church, etc. as well as find ways practice it in their lives.

The early church wrote and rewrote theology based on their context. This is why church leaders were deemed heretics or unsound after they had died because the church leaders in the next generation(s) thought that they had it wrong. This happened to St. Origen, Justin Martyr, Mister Eckhart, etc. Looking back, we can see the trends and genealogies of the early centuries, and we still have much residue of modernism that we must rid ourselves. We should be listening to the first people who practiced a radical theology: the Desert Mothers and Fathers.

desert father and jesus

They lived out their theology in community, love, and spiritual practices. Thomas Merton deemed them anarchists who lived on the edge of society, living as if the Empire didn’t exist and proclaimed God’s kin-dom. Were these early radicals privileged? Yes, they were, but surrendered that privilege to live without possessions. They made their living farming, sharing land and wisdom. For us following in the tradition of the Desert Theologians and postmodern theology: How does radical theology look in the cities? How does it look like in our American Empire? We are swimming products of neo-liberal capitalism, should we attempt to open the commons again? Finally, since debt affects many people, how can we live beyond debt into a fuller life?

Theology is shaped by power structures, privilege, and popularity. Postmodern theology recognizes this and attempts be open about their struggles and hopes.This is why it is gaining traction in churches. Some churches practice a communal hermeneutic, read Rollins, and even create their own parables/liturgy. I find much hope practicing new ways of being church. What if we would do both: imagine new ways of the divine as well as read the margins of tradition. We have become more ahistorical than I would like to be and think that these early theologians would be of good help. May we continue to question, doubt, experience, experiment, and practice love in our communities.