Celeste Lasich: Poet’s timeless words still touching readers
“I took to church a happy 4-year old boy holding a bright blue string to which was attached his much loved orange balloon with pink stripes. Certainly a thing of beauty, if not forever, at least a joy for a very important now. After a teacher tells him, ‘Balloons don’t belong in church,’ he asks his mother, his lip a bit trembly, ‘Why aren’t balloons allowed in church? I thought God would like balloons.
“Where did we get the idea that balloons don’t belong in church? Where did we get the idea that God loves gray and sh-h-h-h and drab and anything will do? I think it is blasphemy not to appreciate joy in God’s world. For God so loved the world. Surely that is a cause of joy. Surely we should celebrate Good News! That God loved us that much. Where did we ever get the idea that balloons don’t belong in church?”
Ann Weems’ poem “Balloons Belong in Church” captured my imagination the very first time I read it as a teen, feeling a soul deep “yes” to her powerful and simple affirmation of all that Church is called to be and do. It was my first “sermon” for Youth Sunday in my home church, a challenge and affirmation of the faith to which I longed to give my heart. It still speaks to me in timeless truths of faith, celebration, justice and love.
I never met Ann Weems and still, in considering the many gifted prophetic women who have been my spiritual mentors, I realized Weems has been a spiritual mentor throughout my life.
Her poetry collections, “Kneeling in Bethlehem” and “Kneeling in Jerusalem,” have been for decades my guiding star through the seasons of Advent/Christmastide and Lent/Easter. Her “Resources for Creative Worship,” “Reaching for Rainbow” and “Searching for Shalom,” are dog-eared and bright with florescent page markers.
“Psalms of Lament” gives voice to heartbreaking grief and faithful lament following the death of her beloved “happy 4-year-old boy” Todd, who was killed walking home from his 21st birthday party. In the forward to “Psalms of Lament,” her friend Walter Brueggemann writes, “Weems’ gift as a poet is to move the listener in and through what is personal to her, so that the poem touches each of us in our concreteness and in our commonness.”
Ann Weems was a Presbyterian writer, speaker, liturgist and worship leader who died in 2016 at the age of 81. Her writing was deeply rooted in the scriptures and in the daily lives, both joys and sorrows, of the people of God.
She once said that writing was, for her, a spiritual exercise, a form of prayer in which one can imagine what might be and, in the writing, help it become true. Her writing continues to “help it become true” as her timeless words spark faithful imagination offered as acts of worship and love.
The Rev. Celeste Lasich is the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Hays.