Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Bridge

pedestrian bridge overmouth of river hull

In so many ways in the gospels Jesus strives to bridge those gaps in understanding and acceptance which keep individuals and groups apart. In his words and actions he spans the chasms of prejudice and self-interest which divide his contemporaries. The passage from John set for Sunday is a neat example of this: the lavish devotion of Mary in anointing Jesus with expensive oil and the sharp rebuke which this draws from Judas, who sees this as a waste of a precious resource which could have been sold to benefit the poor, means that Jesus finds himself caught between two seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints.

This is a draining and demanding place to stand. Bridging such gaps is an essential work of grace and one which Jesus does not shirk. His love spans hatred and persecution and even death itself. But for the rest of us such redemptive bridging can take all that we have to offer and more. This is why I am so drawn to a telling phrase in Sundays New Testament reading from Phiippians 3; verse 10 reads like a real cry from the heart: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.” Bridge-building requires nothing less than this if the anger, hurt and mistrust which so deeply divides our world is to be spanned.

In “The Bridge Poem”, Donna Kate Ruskin explores the cost and the strain which so many bridge-building people bear. It is written from the perspective of someone at breaking point. Perhaps it will build bridges of understanding and insight between those for whom the task is too much and those who consistently demand too much of them.

I've had enough 
I'm sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things 
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody

Can talk to anybody
Without me


I explain my mother to my father my father to my little sister 
My little sister to my brother my brother to the white feminists 
The white feminists to the Black church folks the Black church folks 
To the ex-hippies the ex-hippies to the Black separatists the 
Black separatists to the artists the artists to the my friends' parents. .

Then I've got to explain myself

To everybody 
I do more translating 
Than the Gawdamn U.N.

Forget it 
I'm sick of it

I'm sick of filling in your gaps

Sick of being your insurance against 
The isolation of your self-imposed limitations 
Sick of being the crazy at your holiday dinners 
Sick of being the odd one at your Sunday Brunches 
Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people

Find another connection to the rest of the world 
Find something else to make you legitimate
Find some other way to be political and hip 
I will not be the bridge to your womanhood 
Your manhood 
Your humanness

I'm sick of reminding you not to 
Close off too tight for too long

I'm sick of mediating with your worst self 
On behalf of your better selves

I am sick 
Of having to remind you to breath
Before you suffocate 
Your own fool self.

Forget it 
Stretch or drown 
Evolve or die 

The bridge I must be 
Is the Bridge to my own power
I must translate
My own fears
My own weaknesses I must be the bridge to nowhere 
But my true self 
And then
I will be useful.

From This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua, 1981


In her comment Rachel very kindly shared ‘The Bridge’, a poem by Seamus Heaney, which I gladly include here:

    Steady under strain and strong through tension,
    its feet on both sides but in neither camp,
    it stands its ground, a span of pure attention,
    a holding action, the arches and the ramp
    Steady under strain and strong through tension

Sally has also written a superb poem ‘to bridge a gap’ based on this post.


  1. Dave - an incredibly strong poem, thankyou. It resonates - as much in family life with two teenagers as in ministry.

    My predecessor in this appointment gave me a card as I took up my ministry here. It had a photo of an old stone bridge on the front, and, along with his good wishes there was a quote from the poem "The Bridge" by Seamus Heaney. In full, the poem reads:

    "Steady under strain and strong through tension,
    its feet on both sides but in neither camp,
    it stands its ground, a span of pure attention,
    a holding action, the arches and the ramp
    Steady under strain and strong through tension."

    It was a great and wise gift. The "span of pure attention" is a phrase that reminds me of Christ's ministry. It also reminds me that when I am overtired, my attention wanders and I stand with my weight on one side. And that's where the problems can start.

  2. Rachel - thank you for introducing me to Seamus Heaney's marvellous poem. What a wise and thoughtful gift to have been given. I will add it to the text of the post. :-)

  3. Loved this post, the photo and the poem. Thank you