Got a call yesterday from a friend who asked: What does it mean to belong, and what is belonging? Among the more important questions we can ask ourselves, given that belonging is what each of us longs for and sacrifices so much to find. I managed a few sentences on the phone but after hanging up decided to write out some thoughts in search of clarity.

There seem to be different kinds of belonging.

First, there’s biological belonging. This has to do with family relations. These relations are biologically based and irrevocable. Regardless of how good or bad the relationship is, a biological relationship can’t be revoked. I’m not sure if this makes it the least or the most interesting form of belonging because, as I’ll suggest in the end, the truest realizing of personal belonging is indeed belonging which is irrevocable and indissoluble.

Second, recreational belonging. This would be based on shared interests and abilities. You may belong to a chess club or a local choir. The terms of the belonging are your ability to perform the skill that defines the group. So here belonging is performance based. If you can’t do what defines the group, you don’t belong.

Third, there’s vocational belonging, not all that different from recreational belonging. You work for a company and so belong to the company or to this or that department within the company. The terms of the belonging are spelled out in your contract. This belonging is also performance based. Fail to abide by the terms of your contract and you fail to belong.

Then there are deeper more meaningful forms of belonging.

Fourth, marital belonging, a belonging which is, at its best, based on mutual love and respect and shared values and purposes. This belonging realizes itself far more deeply in us, and as us, than recreational or vocational belonging. The terms of this belonging are the love that unites the two who are married. In the end, however, where love and acceptance are conditional (as divorce makes painfully clear), marital belonging becomes performance based as well.

Fifth, there’s what we might call relational belonging. Two people develop an emotional or life bond that unites their hearts. It is based on mutual and unconditional love and respect. Here one belongs not to a team or a company or even a vow or contract of marriage, but to the other. Such belonging can certainly occur within marriage, but it needn’t require marriage, nor is is always present in marriage. This belonging is the heart and soul of true friendship. It was Aristotle, I think, who defined a friend as “another self,” a copy or separate version of one’s own soul. You see yourself in the other and they see themselves in you. Each values and loves and cherishes the life of the other unconditionally. Friendship, when it realizes its deepest potential, is the truest form of relational belonging. Its terms are unconditional love.

Now for the controversial part. Human beings all fail to love others in some measure. No human being loves (or even can love) another as truly and deeply as that person deserves and needs to be loved. I’m going to suggest in a moment that only God can love us in this unfailing and fullest sense. But when it comes to belonging as we know and experience it among ourselves, we are always in state of some failure. However truly one may realize the love and value of another, that other person’s value will always exceed whatever one has done to affirm and celebrate it. Belonging – as far as we can know it among ourselves – is always partial and broken, however deeply we may feel it at the time. There always remains a deferral of desire, value, and longing which anticipates the more, the truer, the final, etc. This is because human desire, like human value, is immeasurable and limitless, and can rest finally only in an immeasurable and limitless object. This, it seems to me, is why all forms of belonging mentioned thus far (except biological belonging) are performance based and tend to dissolution under the pressure of human weakness and failure.

Finally, ontological belonging. All the forms of belonging described here, with the exception of biological belonging, are approximations of the truest belonging imaginable, ontological belonging, the belonging which is ‘Being’ itself. For me as a Christian this is the belonging which is God in the fullness of his own being, in whom immeasurable and limitless value, on the one hand, and existence, on the other, are one and the same, suffering no deferral of desire or its satisfaction. Perhaps this trinitarian belonging could be listed first above, since all other forms of belonging are lesser reflections or approximations of it.

belong2What else might we say about what it means to belong? I suggest relational belonging is humanity’s highest form of participation in the belonging which is God’s own life. This belonging involves:

Knowing. To belong truly is to know truly, and to belong fully is to know fully. One does not belong (with/or someone in the relational sense) if one does not know the one to whom one belongs and if one is not also known by the other. Truth and transparency make relational belonging possible. If you don’t really know the other, or are not really known by them, you don’t belong. It is one thing to say you love another when you don’t know the other. It’s another thing to truly know the other and still love them. Marriage teaches us this. We start out madly in love but not always knowing as fully as we feel. As we come to know our partner more, our love is put to the test.

Accepting. This includes loving, affirming, valuing, celebrating, being present to the other and inviting the presence of the other – all unconditionally. If once you really know someone you reject them or are rejected by someone when they come to know your faults, weaknesses, and struggles, then you didn’t belong to them, nor did they belong to you.

Sharing Life. If someone really knows you and accepts you as you are but doesn’t share his/her life with you, there’s no realization of belonging. To belong is also to participate in the life of the one you know and accept, and to have that person participate in your life. Sharing life, I suggest, is sharing our histories, dreams, fears, hopes, values, and desires. It’s what we’re made for but seldom find.

Lastly, we can only belong to God. No human being can be all this to another, not perfectly. Only God can know us completely, know every condition, and so only God can love us absolutely without condition. And since this is so, we can only belong to God. We say we belong to each other, but as I take it this just expresses the measure to which we participate in and approximate God’s knowledge and love of us.

That Shekinah smoke


Me and the Lord, we close, tighter than the tightest,
Stay in that Shekinah smoke, higher than the highest, the
Abyss of the Void doesn’t frighten in the slightest, ‘cuz
In the darkest times, that’s when the Light shines the brightest.

Nothingness is our nature, ‘being’ is a Grace-gift,
From the Lifter of our Heads, a holy face-lift,
Made over in the Maker, not the Makeshift,
Journey through the Infinite in time without a spaceship.

Don’t get it twisted, though, I still know how pain feels, my
Dreams walked in and out of my life in the same heels,
Tried to chase ‘em but kept slippin’ on the same peels,
I lost it all, life went off the rails like some train wheels.

I even had the thought of just ending it,
But the Voice of the Lord came suspending it:
“Ok, you asked for more Grace, and I’m lendin’ it, but
Till you die, Christ-Crucified, and you keep defending it!”

So I lost a dream or two, but I got the Prize,
I went to school of Unlearning and forgot the ‘Wise’,
My mind is blown daily, but I bet the Lord is not surprised,
He said a broken heart with contrition he would not despise.

So, I stand, broken and yet I’m still whole,
for my Beloved, soft-spoken and yet I’m still bold,
Blazing with the Flame of Glory, yet I’m still cold,
Stayin deep in the Pocket of Presence like a billfold.

(Dwayne Polk)

Reppin’ the Kingdom


Heard this beat and I had to get it pronto,
Eat it like steak with potatoes and cilantro,
The Lord’s the Lone Ranger, I’ll be the Tonto,
Reppin’ the Kingdom from Texas to Toronto,

I Am aka the Head Honcho,
Raining down Grace, betta get yourself a poncho,
I’m Ricky Ricardo and this beat’s my bongo,
Runnin’ it like OJ in a white Bronco.

Bump it, Ima keep goin’, the Spirit’s in me, Livin’
Water, let it keep flowin’, no fear in me, Givin’
Love, let it keep showin’, deep in the focus
Like mud, but I keep growin’, like a lotus.

So I’m standing tall in Imago Dei,
You can have the world, baby, I’m OK,
I got my mission, and I’m stayin’ in position, so when
God starts to wishin’, I listen and obey.

(Dwayne Polk)



Free-fall in ivory black of night with not a soul beside,
No wind to pace my sure decent, no echoed cry to mark the ride,
No shout of warning from below, nor from above a last Adieu,
No compass and no map in hand, no starlit sky to see me through.

No memory can ease the fear as Shame’s grip ever tightly holds,
And I, recounting all the steps by which I hid within its folds,
Cried out for help and strained to hear only Winter’s silent voice,
And so am falling ceaselessly, the consequence of my own choice.

But when all hopes at last expired, and I still falling through the dark,
A face appeared and, falling with me, made no gesture or remark,
But only saw me, and I in seeing knew, I was beheld and known,
And being seen could only mean that I in fact was not alone.

His eyes and voice were one and fixed as to my fading form his glance,
Undisturbed and free of threat from all my loss and circumstance,
Spoke faith and love and hope within my thinning ghostly mortal frame,
Assured me he would never leave, and as he spoke he said my name.

What poetry then can reproduce his presence which in me construes
Falling into friendship and from loss my liberty renews?
Would I give up such brokenness if it meant milder grace to gain?
I’d say surely not, and recommend to you the same.

Divine Location

For my friend Al Kimel, inspired by his lack of interest in Bulgakov.

Dr. Kimel’s in the house, rhymin’ on toppa Classical,
Ain’t no fugitive runnin’ scared, but he ain’t too elastical,
But at’s OK cause his heart is seekin’ the right place to go,
Passionate bout the glory of the Master’s face. You know,
Al is all about Dionysius and his apophatic trill,
Ain’t got no analytic use, but it’s existential skill,
Transcendence all up in yo face, got no place to hide,
Can’t reduce it to a syllogism, but we gonna let that slide
Cause the heart is made for more than logical notation,
Desire’s final end? The divine location.

O Anchoress

norwhichI stumbled into Malcome Guite’s site and am loving his sonnets. This one, written for Julian of Norwhich (on the occasion of her feast last month, May 8), first drew me in:

Show me O Anchoress, your anchor-hold
Deep in the love of God, and hold me fast.
Show me again in whose hands we are held,
Speak to me from your window in the past,
Tell me again the tale of Love’s compassion
For all of us who fall onto the mire,
How he is wounded with us, how his passion
Quickens the love that haunted our desire.
Show me again the wonder of at-one-ment
Of Christ-in-us distinct and yet the same,
Who makes, and loves, and keeps us in each moment,
And looks on us with pity not with blame.
Keep telling me, for all my faith may waver,
Love is his meaning, only love, forever.

You keep thrillin me


Here we are — alone. It’s just you and me.
It’s cool when we out on the town, but I love our privacy;
I need your presence to myself, guess I’m selfish,
But your love breaks me outta my shell like a shellfish.

Feelin’ you so much I can barely stand it,
All of my being — you understand it, you command it;
Talk to me softly, even when you’re killin’ me,
I feel no fear, the way you keep thrillin’ me.

Intimacy unparalleled, every moment’s a lifetime,
With you I die a thousand deaths, and you my only lifeline;
Unity with you is my one and only pleasure,
Divin’ deeper into you, lookin’ for my treasure.

(Dwayne Polk)

Like a Ducati


Spirit like a symbiote, permeating my body,
Give me inner strength like doing spiritual pilates,
Flowin’ in the Spirit, ridin’ low like a Ducati,
Taste and see the Lord is good, betta than manicotti.

Lord, preserve my sanity, cuz we live in an asylum,
We some crazy species, think we need another phylum,
The President speaks stacks of lies, and the people pile ‘em,
Evangelicals past and present, cannot reconcile ‘em;

Me and broski just stay focused, going for the long run,
If you lookin’ for some fake believers then you done found the wrong ones,
Drunk in the Spirit, you’d think that we had some strong rum,
Strength is in our weakness, we only stand in the Strong One; the…

World may find me bat-ish crazy, but just look at my surroundings,
People layin’ foundations without inner grounding,
Even as climate change prepares to give us a poundin’,
Lord, I pray we fall forever in your River, drownin’.

(Dwayne Polk)

Fiending your presence


Addicted to the Presence I’m fiending,
Falling in love, I’m careening,
Feels just like I’m dreaming,
Hot under the collar, I’m steaming;
But I stay on froze, keeping my
Cool from the head to the toes, acting a
Fool among the friends and the foes. Never a
Tool for the lies that I oppose.
I can’t get enough. You betta know that,
Wanna reap all your grace, so I sow that,
Tryin’ to stay in the Big Picture, like I’m Kodak,
Love in my heart, exploding – no blowback.
I can’t let you go, because I
Have no other place to go, gimme your
Spirit, then I’m sure I’ll glow,
Teach me your wisdom, then I’m sure l’ll grow.

(Dwayne Polk)

Risen indeed


Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, and yet
The face of Christ is also seen in the neighbor in need, may the
Power of resurrection come to kill all the greed, help us to
See those who bleed, help us to
Free to be freed, help us to
Really receive, believe, achieve, and conceive of the Spirit
Who breathes, retrieves, relieves, and intercedes; he
Movin’ like a centipede, got us
Lovin’ all our enemies, got us
Flowin’ in his energies, while he
Showin up in our inner me’s.

(Dwayne Polk)