“Following God…and Abandoning”


Here’s a poem that haunts me. It has been on my mind especially as I have been preaching through the book of Jonah this month. In worship we have been living inside this fantastic(al) journey, full of poignant loss, forgiveness, and anger.

(I abandonedtrying to help Rilke be more gender inclusive. It is for me significantly the lost relationships of intimacy that make the poem true, neutering the pronouns seemed to strip the dinner table of any diners…)


Sometimes a man rises from the supper table

and goes outside. And he keeps on going

because somewhere in the east there’s a church.

His children bless his name as if he were dead.


Another man stays at home until he dies,

stays with plates and glasses.

So then it is his children who go out

into the world, seeking the church that he forgot.

– Rainer Rilke


Jesus warns (in surely one of his least preached upon quotes): “I come to separate mother from daughter and father from son.” It feels tragic – hardly the message we tell our congregations. And in Rilke’s lines there is this same surprising leave taking from family in the name of spiritual questing. This is a true, but sad poem.

Which sad paragraph am I supposed to prefer? Children blessing my name as if I am dead? Or dying inside plates and glasses and forcing(?) the children out into the world I forgot? It seems as dad I die either way; but I don’t think I can abide dying within the plates and glasses, so then…abandonment?

Is leave taking, often received as selfish pre-occupation and cruel abandonment, the predicament of those who would be Real Seekers? Do we only manage the spiritual path on our own, leaving what is familiar (and maybe familial) behind?

And then, are our Sacred Cows, the ways in which we cannot bear to stray from the orthodox ways, the very paths we inadvertently push our children onto? In Rilke’s poem is it even possible to be progressive enough?

There is a tension in this poem that lies beneath orthodoxy and the promises we give our children about Life with God. This Sunday I am going to spend a little time there too. Faith is too important to leave to Sunday School and convenient answers. To match the journeys our lives actually outline we need something far more muscular and mystical, something more relevant. It’s adult stuff, so don’t tell the kids, or your Inner Child.

Or heck, tell em. It might save everybody some time later on…

Hope to see you in worship, (you can catch a recording of the sermon under MP3s on the pull down menu above)


Pastor Don

2 thoughts on ““Following God…and Abandoning”

  1. Just wanted to say that it was difficult to understand what you’re talking about on your post and all I can ask if “what’s the cultural context for what Jesus was talking about?” Taking it out of context like that it could mean pretty much anything.

  2. Thanks for reminder about contexts! Jesus had a radical message about a following that supercedes familial ties (which were the norm). This is hard for us to affirm and I wonder if we are ready to be as bold in our personal spiritual quests. I think Rilke knew something about it.

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