Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: May 2019

So I Started Writing Sonnets

“As poetry moved slowly off the tongue and onto the page the visual appeal of an approximately square field of black text on a sheet of white paper must have been impossible to resist.  Which is what the sonnet is, first and foremost: a small square poem. It presents both poet and reader with a vivid symmetry that is the perfect emblem of the meaning a sonnet seeks to embody… so a sonnet is a paradox, a little squared circle, a mandala that invites our meditation.”

— Don Patterson
via Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons

The beginning of my sonnet craft will forever be inextricable with the sonnets of Malcolm Guite. He is my muse and my mother, feeding me inspiration and strong food. Publishing these sonnets here is an invitation to you into my mandala, and a prayer for improvement for me. Please give me feedback if you are so inclined.

I enjoy the order of it, the game of saying something just so while striving to say something more than fun. Am I just clever or have a dug a little deeper than rhyme and rhythm? Have I said something worth saying? I’m still unsure, but it IS fun! And often it is revealing to me. The meditation of the making is more than enough to keep going. I hope you enjoy.

 

Blue Whale Buffet
(For Rod)

Blue whale, biggest ever born behemoth,
Whose bite’s much softer than all those who prey,
Whose song sends echoes far below green froth,
And whose serenity seems to us say,
“Can you have trust as one so big as I
Must have to grow so large off tiny krill?”
You, whale, so massive, look me eye-to-eye,
And share with me a portion of that which will
From remnants grow beyond the dinosaurs.
Give me heart beats for miles that thrum with hope–
Mine and ours, as we float and one day soar.
For now, receiving with more “thanks” than “nope”
All that’s given from your creator’s hand,
And not despising when we can’t or can.

 

Moo-oo-oon, God
(January 21, 2019 After the Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse)

Did you realize you made this pink moon trick?
And is it blasphemy to wonder if
The God of all the universe might pick
The constants, hold their decimals from shift,
Then let the rest unwind so unimpinged?
Are you allowed to be surprised by all
You’ve made? Like this moon now shown blood tinged?
Would that offend someone who couldn’t call
Themselves a Christian, or do only those
Self-proclaimed comprehenders really know
Why you designed eclipses white or rose?
Creation made but un-enjoyed — a show
That could be pure delight but willed by most
To be dumb fact or some machine-god’s ghost.

 

Being Seen Seeing

I caught your eyes on me when my own eyes
Were curiously cast and caught on you,
There seated by whoever was that guy
In whose car you o’er the river flew.
And two lanes to your right I glanced across
To see your pretty brake light tinted face,
That’s when perhaps you knew and so you tossed
Your own inquiring look that shrank my grace.
But not before we shared a second locked
As one in two, disarmed and not unsure
Of being seen seeing and yet un-shocked.
I know because you looked again once more.
On eastward slopes of Whitman’s river span,
We knew in silence what no mind could plan.

 

Prohurus’ Pen
(Prohurus is the legendary assistant to John the Revelator)

His words came slowly from a twisted face,
Shaped not by pain but by un-quenched desire.
With all his might he fought to find the space
In which the words and visions would conspire
To full reveal the depth of what he saw
When darkness burst with shining and he went
With Him who called him by his very awe,
On up to where the veil between was rent.
But how to say it well when now was here
And then was all of it in instant blast?
The seals, the lamps, the bowls and holy fear
The beast, the fire and all the crowns off-cast.
John wrung the words from dreaming, shaped them hour
By hour, and we, the channel of this pow’r.

 

Beside Interstate 90 Outside of Sioux Falls Almost Twenty Years Ago

I’m going back to South Dakota soon,
To see the prairie’s amber waving grain,
To stand beside the road and sing a tune
Of ocean’s swirling down history’s drain
But leaving here these waves, this roar and span
For eyes to cast across and somewhere lose
Their place to find it ‘neath their feet again—
Where Earth is solid but she wants to choose
A much more liquid state – to come alive
And shake me off my feet. Do you want to dance?
Shall I fall down on my knees? Should I strive
For footing in these waves or lose my stance
To swim in wonder and Dakota soil –
To dive down deep below this standing’s toil?

 

Haddonfield is Flooded

A geyser of the sweetest joy had built
And built the pressure under their school floor
Until it burst at three oh three and spilt
Across the street and into all the stores.
The flood of smiling children gushing out
Undid whatever dams or dikes inside
Me still intact to hold it back – my spout.
So when their Friday faces were untied
My own resistance too was overcome.
Surprised by joy again with old C.S,
Surprised this could amount to such a sum,
Suburban streets could yield from me excess.
A single tear enough for evidence
That life was better than my darkened lens.

 

I Guess It Was the Spirit

“Why did you talk to me?” Ty asked my friend Tre over text later that afternoon.

Tre answered, “We prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide us and that’s what happened.”

Well, Tre, that’s not exactly what it felt like.  But why wouldn’t it be true? What does my feeling have to do with the reality? Why am I praying for that (because I definitely did pray for that) if I don’t think it will happen? Why do I wonder if it did happen the way I asked for when it happened? Tre was teaching me something about life in the Spirit.

Thanks, Tre

Tre is 25 (more than 10 years younger than me) and he is my teacher. He is on staff with Intervarsity, a parachurch college ministry that wants to help evangelize campuses across the country. He was heavily influenced by Intervarsity’s work when he was a college student (not that long ago) and now he has dedicated his life to starting new chapters in our South Jersey Region. He started one at Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC). I’m helping him start one at Rowan College at Gloucester County College (RCGC) . And he has designs to start one at Camden County College in the fall. I love this guy!

He recently wrote, “A question for us to bring to the Lord is ‘Lord, what is it you want to do at RCGC? What do you want to do through us? God, give us a authoritative vision for how to mark your campus. Give us courage to act, the power to love, and unity in purpose.” That’s a good prayer! Have you ever prayed anything like that?

Our confidence does not come from our confidence. Our courage does not come from our courage. The places we inhabit are not our places. It’s all God’s.

When I walked up to Ty in the cafeteria I didn’t think about it too much. He was sitting by himself and did not have earbuds in or even a phone out. He seemed available and approachable so I gravitated toward him. We kind of freaked him out because it seemed so timely. He had been thinking (even dreaming) about his relationship with God a lot recently and he wasn’t sure what all that meant. Ty (whose name I changed for this story) didn’t really connect to the Bible Study that Tre and I  started, but his response to our invitation has me thinking about the stories I tell and the possibilities of the Spirit that I might be missing.

How The Bible Tells Me So

Here’s a favorite story about evangelism in the Bible:

Acts 8:26-38 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

These fantastic things get told in such a matter of fact way. There isn’t much editorializing. Luke (the writer of Acts) doesn’t say, “And Philip was freaking out” or “He wasn’t sure what to make of this strange urge to go stand by a chariot on the side of the road.” It is simply “The Spirit told.” That’s how Tre tells stories, too!

How I Tell Me So

I want to believe that Philip’s experience with the Spirit is very similar to mine. My experience is fairly ordinary — I prayed with Tre, then I walked up to the first person who seemed approachable and talked to them about this Bible study I wanted to start and we got into a pretty cool spiritual conversation that the person really needed to have. If I were in Philip’s place I might of told the story like this:

Best version of Philip yet from “AD Kingdom and Empire” #bringbackAD

Ok, so the Angel thing was undeniable. I can’t describe him to you, but he was like a man, but obviously not. When he spoke his lips didn’t move but it felt like the words spoke me. So I knew what I had to do.  I went where I was sent. (Having a sense of our sent-ness is really important, right?). When I got to the Gaza Road I had barely been walking for 20 minutes when this whole entourage of important people came rolling out of the city. I figured this is what I had been sent for so I walked beside the chariot as close as I could and when he started reading Isaiah out loud I was like, “Of course!” And then bing, bang, boom — first non-Jewish follower of Jesus. Whaaat?!

That’s how it feels for me. When two of the eight or so people who came to our Bible Study this semester decided to follow Jesus for the first time, I’m like “Whaaat?!” It shouldn’t have “worked.” It wasn’t that good. I didn’t have this dynamite sense of God’s power rushing through me the whole time. (BTW Have I ever felt that?) It doesn’t all make sense, so it must be the Spirit.

Be Sent

I got sent to RCGC. Tre really just pulled me all the way in before I could really talk myself out of it. And I’m so glad he did because I got to participate in some real Spirit stuff. RCGC is God’s. People there are looking to make a relationship with God. I don’t know what is going to happen next. This is fun! Pray for what happens there next semester.

And pray that you might feel sent somewhere yourself. Not just to start Bible Studies or one of Circle of Hope’s Cells but to bring whatever you’ve been given to where you find yourself. It is your sense of sent-ness that I desire most. Your home with your kids all day, your lunch break at the falafel truck, your early morning weeding at the community garden Wherever you are, be sent.