ISSUE No. 20 | April 2022
If you’re new to CULTIVARE we welcome you! CULTIVARE is a monthly field guide for life and faith, brought to you by TEND. Each month we explore a specific “field” – a topic or theme through which we seek to cultivate contemplation, engagement, and deeper understanding. Our guiding questions are:
What are you cultivating in your life?
What fruit do you want your life to bear?
Each issue of CULTIVARE is structured into three parts:
Cultivate: Examines a specific “Field” or facet of life and offers questions to unearth and challenge our held perspective; along with concise kernels of truth which we call “Seeds.”
Irrigate: Explores the ways we nurture our understanding, which varies from individual to individual. We offer six means of irrigation: Art, Poetry, Profile, Film, Essay, and Books.
Germinate: Encourages practical ways to engage in becoming more fruitful and free in our lives.
Our name, CULTIVARE, in Spanish means “I will cultivate.” We hope each issue of our field guide will encourage you to do just that – cultivate new thoughts, actions, faith, hope, and fruitful living. We invite you to dig in and DIG DEEP!
For we are partners working together for God, and you are God's field.
(I Corinthians 3:9)
Our theme this month is GROANING. You read that correctly – groaning. We acknowledge groaning may be an unusual topic to explore but then we are not living in “usual” times (whatever we may imagine “usual” to be). Romans 8 reminds us that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now,” and we see how true that is – from wars to pandemics, to injustice and racism, to loved ones struggling with illness or addiction, to climate change – God’s beloved Creation is indeed groaning, and we would be wise to pay closer attention to it.
The dictionary offers two definitions for groaning:
1. To voice a deep, inarticulate sound, as of pain, grief, or displeasure.
2. To make a sound expressive of stress or strain.
Groaning is no superficial sound or feeling. Groaning comes from deep within us – as individuals, as family members, as friends, as community members. Groaning reveals a soul in pain, grief, longing, or sorrow. Scripture tells us that Jesus repeatedly groaned as he engaged with the pain of this world. Christ groaned on the cross as He suffered and died to redeem a world in pain. We learn from Jesus’ example that groaning is the heart cry of hope.
We invite you to engage honestly and freely with the groaning you personally experience and that you are aware of in others. We encourage you to see groaning as the heart cry of hope that it is. In this issue, we feature an original essay by Andrew DeCort entitled Groaning: Our Love in Pain and the poem The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney. We profile the 20th century saint Takashi Nagai and the artist known as the Cellist of Sarajevo.
In this month when we celebrate the conclusion of Lent and the Holy Days of Good Friday and Easter, we invite you to enter into all that the Holy Spirit calls you to. May we engage with our souls in ways that reflect the encouragement Charles Spurgeon once wrote about: I must pour out my heart in the language which his Spirit gives me; and more than that, I must trust in the Spirit to speak the unutterable groanings of my spirit, when my lips cannot actually express all the emotions of my heart. (DG)
Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. (Psalm 5:1-2 ESV)
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23 NRSV)
[T]he moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. (Romans 8:24-26 MSG)
A handful of quotes to contemplate and cultivate into your life
The best prayers have often more groans than words. (John Buchan)
Our suffering is often the deep soul groaning for the purposes of God in and through us. Mission cannot be fulfilled without love, and we cannot love without groaning and suffering over the brokenness in others’ lives. As a result, we cannot accomplish our mission without suffering. (Gregory Beale)
Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere. (Elie Wiesel)
Learning to live as a Christian is learning to live as a renewed human being, anticipating the eventual new creation in and with a world which is still longing and groaning for that final redemption. (N.T. Wright)
I tried to groan, Help! Help! But the tone that came out was that of polite conversation. (Samuel Beckett)
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
Sometimes I can only groan, and suffer, and pour out my despair at the piano.
Q: Why do Christians need to pray?
A: Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them. (Heidelberg Catechism 116)
Artist of the Month
The Cellist of Sarajevo
Where does one turn when the world is so dark and chaotic that there is little sense of hope? Often the answer for humanity has been the arts, turning to music, literature, and visual art to plug the holes and refill our soul. Vedran Smailovic takes this to its furthest end; this courageous cello player defied the chaotic shelling during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992 during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor for twenty-two days in the rubble of a downtown Sarajevo market after twenty two people were killed in an attack. Asked if he was crazy for playing the midst of the shelling he responded simply, “You ask me if I am crazy for playing cello, why not ask if they are crazy for shelling Sarajevo?” In Smailovic we have a visual of light in the darkness, hope in the midst of hopelessness. As you peruse the links below, hear his music, see him amid shattered dreams, we invite you to contemplate the kindness in using his giftings to give voice to the groaning of his brothers and sisters. (JM)
Article: View Now
CNN film: View Now
Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev, released via Wikimedia Commons.
From The Cure at Troy
by Seamus Heaney
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.
The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.
History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.
Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
We have disobeyed the law of love. Joyfully we have hated one another; joyfully we have killed one another. And now at last we have brought this great and evil war to an end. (Takashi Nagai)
On the morning of August 9, 1945, Dr. Takashi Nagai was working in his office at the medical center in Nagasaki, Japan. At 11 A.M. he saw a flash of blinding light, followed by darkness; then he heard a crashing roar as his concrete building, and his world, collapsed around him. What at first he took to be a direct hit on the medical center was in fact the explosion of a plutonium-fueled atomic bomb five hundred yards over the Urakami Cathedral. After escaping from the rubble and receiving treatment for a severed carotid artery, Nagai joined the rest of the hospital staff in treating the survivors…The bomb had killed nearly eight thousand persons and wounded many more.
“On the morning of August 9 the world stood at a crossroads. A decision had to be made... peace or further cruel bloodshed and carnage. And just then, at 11:02 am, an atom bomb exploded over our suburb. In an instant 8,000 Christians were called to God, and in a few hours, flames turned to ash this venerable Far Eastern holy place.”
In the days ahead Nagai witnessed scenes of horrifying suffering. The intense heat near the epicenter of the blast had vaporized humans, leaving only the outlines of their shadows. Hordes of blackened survivors, the skin hanging from their arms, desperately wandered the streets crying for water. Nagai’s own two children had survived, but he found the charred remains of his beloved wife in the ruins of their home, a rosary clasped among the “powdered bones of her right hand.”
Such circumstances might naturally prompt a range of reactions – madness, despair, or the hunger for revenge. Yet, in the days following the explosion Nagai--a devout Catholic--instead expressed a most unexpected attitude: gratitude to God that his Catholic city had been chosen to atone for the sins of humanity.
In arriving at this perspective, Nagai undoubtedly tapped into a spirituality deeply rooted in the consciousness of Nagasaki’s Christian population. Since the time of the early Jesuit missions the city had been the center of Japanese Catholics, and consequently the scene of extensive martyrdom. Over time, Japanese Catholics had claimed a deep identification with the cross of Christ.
Nagai was himself a convert. Born on January 3, 1908, he became a Catholic in 1934. His conversion was prompted by several influences, including the example of his fiancée, who belonged to an ancient Catholic family, his reading the mystic-scientist Blaise Pascal, and a period of deep soul-searching after the death of his mother. Nagai pursued a career in medicine, ultimately entering the field of radiology. In 1941 he was found to be suffering from incurable leukemia, induced by his exposure to x-rays. Nevertheless, he was able to continue his work and in 1945 he had become the dean of radiology at the University of Nagasaki.
In the aftermath of the bombing on August 9 Nagai applied himself tirelessly to the medical needs of the survivors. He stated: “Each life was precious. For all of these people the body was a precious treasure.” But in the face of the enormity of the disaster, he gradually began to see “that if I did not take a comprehensive view of this situation, we would all be engulfed in the flames with the very victims we were bandaging and trying to save.”
Nagai found it remarkable that because of heavy clouds obscuring the originally intended city, the bomb had been dropped that day on Nagasaki, an alternate target. As a further result of clouds, the pilot had not fixed his target on Mitsubishi iron works, as intended, but instead on the Catholic Cathedral in the Urakami district of the city home to the majority of Nagasaki’s Catholics.
“At midnight that night, our cathedral suddenly burst into flames and was consumed. At exactly the same time in the Imperial Palace, His Majesty the Emperor made known the decision to end the war. On August 15, the Imperial Rescript, which put an end to the fighting, was formally promulgated, and the whole world saw the light of peace. August 15 is also the great feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is significant, I believe, that the Urakami Cathedral was dedicated to her. We must ask: Was this convergence of events, the end of the war and the celebration of her feast day, merely coincidental, or was it the mysterious Providence of God?”
The effects of radiation, combined with his previous illness, left Nagai an invalid, barely able to leave his bed. He lived as a contemplative in a small hut near the cathedral ruins, writing books and receiving visitors. Increasingly he came to believe that Nagasaki had been chosen not only to atone for the sins of the war, but to bear witness to the cause of international peace.
“Men and women of the world, never again plan war!...From this atomic waste the people of Nagaski confront the world and cry out: No more war! Let us follow the commandment of love and work together. The people of Nagaski prostrate themselves before God and pray: Grant that Nagaski may be the last atomic wilderness in the history of the world.”
Excerpted from All Saints, by Robert Ellsberg, 1197
“Takashi Nagai’s Life and Message of Peace” an article by Cecilia Bryan, June 23, 2012 View Now
Each month we recommend films focused on our theme
We refuse to accept the politicians’ logic that the problems could be seen as Catholic verses Protestant… The civil rights march was interested in people’s needs.
(Bernadette Devlin, 1969)
Northern Ireland is one area that reminds us not to be foolish enough to believe that Christianity serves only as the cure and not also at times as the source of people’s groanings. Belfast chronicles the life of a Protestant family during the chaos of 1969 in which a significant dividing line exists around whether one is Catholic or Protestant. It poignantly portrays the groaning felt by a nation, and specifically felt by Buddy, the 9-year-old boy who narrates and reflects upon his experiences. In Belfast we find reminders that groaning often surrounds the basic needs of belonging, safety, and home, needs that transcend age and religion.
From PBS/ NOVA
If you or your loved one struggles with addiction, you know what it feels like to groan. In this documentary film hear firsthand from individuals struggling with addiction and follow the cutting-edge work of doctors and scientists as they investigate why addiction is not a moral failing, but a chronic, treatable medical condition. Easy access to drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and even prescription medications like OxyContin has fueled an epidemic of addiction—the deadliest in U.S. history. Now, science is revealing how addiction affects the brain, and top experts are gathering evidence about how we should address our drug problem, from embracing evidence-based treatments to rethinking public policies. (Premiered October 17, 2018)
Five Examples of Han in Korean Culture
In this short film, producer and CBC Radio host Eunice Kim explains the Korean idea of han.
한 (han) is more than a single word or concept, rather a defining characteristic of the Korean people who longingly but perpetually await the resolution of their shared (at times vicarious) experience with suffering, grief, grit, trauma, regret, rage, and injustice. It is a Langstonian
dream deferred, symbolized in the basement of Bong Joon-ho’s Academy Award winning film Parasite, the haunting lyrics of 아리랑(Arirang) - Korea’s unofficial national anthem beloved in both the North and South, and most poignantly in the countless historical foreign invasions, tribute, humiliation, oppression and since the Armistice of 1953, the geopolitical tear through the heart of the Korean Peninsula which is still legally at war with itself.
Groaning: Our Love in Pain
By Andrew DeCort, PhD
My world shook, and I began to groan.
The text on my phone said that Aaron had died of cancer. Years before, his younger brother Matt, who was my best friend, had died in a terrible car crash. As Aaron fought for his life, my friends’ beloved mother told me through uncontrollable tears, “I cannot bear to lose both of my children!” She said that God couldn’t let this happen, and we prayed earnestly against it. But the unbearable happened again.
This text arrived in the midst of our global pandemic, which was taking millions of our loved ones, irrespective of our fragile identities and borders. My wife Lily and I were in Ethiopia, our beloved home which remains locked in the world’s most devastating civil war. Displacement, destruction, and death were our community’s daily meditation. Amid pandemic and war, we ourselves were sheltering in a safe house due to the enraged death threats I was getting because of my work seeking to build bridges between polarized leaders. And then Aaron, an ocean away but in the heart of my heart, shattering like shot glass.
We groaned, and groaned; and groaned. Our world felt like a lachrymose onion, peeling only to reveal yet another layer of loss and grief, again and again. We groaned for Aaron’s wife and children, for his parents, for Matt, for the families who lost loved ones to Covid, for our terrified neighbors amidst the hell of war, for ourselves and our ambient sense of devastated ruin, near and far.
We groan when the pain is too excruciating for words, when our inner ache is overwhelming and we don’t know what comes next or how we will survive it. We groan when all we really have is a storm cloud of tears, unanswered questions, and a volcanic cry of distress exploding inside. We groan when we love and hope and rebelliously, defiantly refuse to stop loving and hoping, despite the pain.
Groaning is a red thread in our experience and across the Bible. The Hebrew people groan in their slavery (Exodus 2:23-24). Job groans with the death of his children (Job 3:24). Jerusalem groans amidst a devastating invasion (Lamentations 1:11). The prophets groan with injustice (Jeremiah 45:3; Ezekiel 21:6).
But Paul goes further, into a mystery that keeps faith credible for me: God groans (Romans 8:23-26). And this means that our groaning is part of a divine labor, a holy travail at the heart of reality, what Kierkegaard called a covenant of tears with all who suffer. Somehow our groaning – our embodied revolt against destruction and separation – is a wordless trace of our immortal, indestructible togetherness with God (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).
Of course, God’s groaning doesn’t make ours any less grueling. But we don’t groan alone or without hope. And we don’t need to deny or suppress our groaning. In fact, allowing ourselves to groan together, united in pain, may be one of the greatest forces for healing in our world. It’s an honest intercession that says we’re hurting and need compassion and don’t want others to suffer.
Somehow our most intimate agony can become a birth place that opens to new beginnings of life that we can’t fully imagine but irrepressibly long for. Groaning is the sacred protest of divine love in pain.
Let us groan together with God until there is no more suffering or separation.
Andrew DeCort is the author of Practice Flourishing: The Spirituality of Jesus (forthcoming) and co-director of the Neighbor-Love Movement. He holds a PhD in Ethics from the University of Chicago and has lectured at Wheaton College, the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, and the University of Bonn. His first book was Bonhoeffer’s New Beginning: Ethics after Devastation.
Each month we recommend a book focused on our theme
The Sun Does Shine
Anthony Ray Hinton
New York Times bestseller and 2019 Moore Prize winner The Sun Does Shine, is a heroically agonizing and ultimately redemptive autobiography of Anthony Ray Hinton, who was released in 2015 after nearly thirty years of solitary confinement on death row. Intimately, justly, and mercifully written, readers will inevitably fail to contain the deep groaning rising up from the saddest chamber of our heart, the deepest pit of our stomach. Despite Hinton’s eventual exoneration and ultimate release, you may end up as we did, lamenting and protesting in tortured collective disbelief this epic and regretful failure of the criminal justice system.
Practical suggestions to help you go deeper into our theme
1. REFLECTIVE QUESTIONS ON GROANING
Devote some time and thought to these reflective questions on our theme:
1. What would you say are the dominant emotions you feel in a given day?
2. How have the past few years affected your sense of trust, hope, and joy?
3. Have you let yourself grieve recently? Or sat at the feet of Jesus and/or with friends
and deeply engaged the chaos, instability, and loss of the past few years?
4. Do you have “normative” rhythms (journaling, prayer/reading, etc.) that have gotten lost
lately? What inner reality might you be attempting to ignore by skipping these contemplative practices?
5. When the world feels chaotic, where do you turn for comfort and security?
Are your coping mechanisms working?
6. Have you been to a spiritual director or counselor recently? We encourage considering this in light of the incalculable weight and strain we have all experienced through relational loss due to our experiences of Covid, social injustices, political separation, and literal war.
2. CREATION IS GROANING – Sojourners
Romans 8:19 tells us that “creation groans” and science suggests that the industrial and technological eras may be increasing these groans. We recommend this article from Sojourners as a contemplation of the way sin is affecting God’s handiwork and what we might do to join our Creator in restorative practices.
3. THEY CALL THIS FRIDAY GOOD – First Things
As we celebrate the culmination of Lent and Holy Week this month, we recommend these biblical reflections by Peter J. Leithart to better understand why they call Good Friday “good.” As Leithart concludes: How can you defeat a God who transfigures rejection into reconciliation, who choreographs a pageant of injustice into the salvation of the world?
4. MUSIC OF HOPE
Sometimes we simply need hope proclaimed over us as the The King’s Singers do in Abide With Me, “Help of the helpless, O abide with me.” When God abides with us in the midst of our pain and despair, we are able to “Hold on (pray on, sing on) just a little bit longer,” as Bobby McFerrin and The Kuumba Singers call us to do.
The King’s Singers (Abide With Me): View Now
The Kuumba Singers (Hold On): View Now
5. PRAYER WHILE GROANING
Adapted from Canyon Road (p.70) by Kara Kristina Reeves
O God, my soul groans and waits for you.
You are my only hope.
My Rock, my Refuge, my Strong Tower,
in you I hide.
Keep me safe this day.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV)
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Images used in order of appearance:
1. FIELD: August Friedrich Albrecht Schneck; Anguish, 1878; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
2. SEEDS: A painting is seen around the site where a shell landed during the 2010 North Korean attack on the island of Yeonpyeong, which lies on the South Korean side of the Northern Limit Line. Damir Sagloj/Reuters
3. ART: Banksy, Rage, The Flower Thrower, 2005, located on the side of a garage in Jerusalem on the main road to Beit Sahour, Bethlehem
4. POETRY: Auguste Rodin, The Clenched Hand, Bronze, modeled by Rodin in 1885, cast in 1925 by founder Alexis Rudier
5. PROFILE: Scott Erickson, Sorrowful Saint, 2016, available for purchase at the artist’s website: https://scottericksonartshop.com/
6. FILM: Unification Bridge, Imjingak Park, United Nations’ DMZ command post; credit to Jay Tindall
7. ESSAYS: Caspar David Friedrich; Eldina Ruin, 1825, released via Wikimedia Commons
8. BOOKS: Paige Bradley, Illumination, Third Life, Bronze w/electricity, available for purchase at the artist’s website: https://paigebradley.com/
9. DIG DEEPER: Lily DeCort, Loss and Hope, 2022, used with permission of artist
10. ROOTED: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Pieta, 1876, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
TEAM CULTIVARE: Duane Grobman (Editor), Lori Andrews, Elizabeth Bolsinger, Billy Brummel, Ben Hunter, Eugene Kim, Andrew Massey, Rita McIntosh, Jason Miller, Jason Pearson (Design: Pearpod.com)