Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: poetry (Page 2 of 4)

Turning to Before and Behind — A Friday Sonnet

Proper Labyrinth Care

On my parents’ property in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, we built a labyrinth with demarcating stones in a clearing by the gravel road that encircles the lake called Hallowood above which the house sits. I use the possessive personal generously to include myself, for I only helped a little. It was definitely a group project, even if my mom and dad were the main contributors of sweat. There is no sweat contribution needed now, but the project is ongoing. The labyrinth needs to be walked. The labyrinth needs to be prayed. The labyrinth needs to be physically tended by grass-treading feet, stone-replacing hands and stick-removing eyes. The labyrinth will be swallowed by the woods if it is not walked, prayed and tended — all of which are simply done by doing.

The added attention the walking requires in early Spring amplified my prayer as I walked it yesterday. The moss had covered a rock or two. Something had displaced or shifted several of the line stones from their guidance. It was most likely the grandchildren of the labyrinth who walked the way with me, trouncing over the lines as if it didn’t matter (It doesn’t, really; it’s the walking that matters). But it seemed that Winter might have been the culprit somehow, or maybe even emerging Spring. I crouched to uncover hidden stones, and nudged as many drifting ones back into place as I could, placing my feet between their glistening faces on the carpet of moss that was sponging up the Spring snow shower in which I walked. I crouched less often to remove the many sticks that had fallen along the path. I only stooped for the most obnoxious trespassers because there were many and my plodding progress was required for this meditation.

There was power in the walking and the making. Maintaining the physical space added a concreteness to my prayer. This is the main feature of walking a labyrinth in the first place, but it was even better to make the way for future me and future loved ones to walk it, especially for the grandchildren of the labyrinth (my children) who mostly miss what I am doing when I take this journey to the center. One day, I pray they know the power that can be met person-to-person using this walking tool along with many others. Until that day, and for that future — and toward it — in me and them, — I’ll walk it every time I’m here.

I wrote a poem from this moment. I took the photo above in anticipation of what might be said in this sonnet.

Turning Before and Behind

for Ernest Hilbert, a Philly/South Jersey boy like me

Walking the labyrinth and tending the stones,
Tossing the sticks to the side in a crouch.
A bend here, careful mossy step there,
Turning corners with my real flesh and bones —
Making way for making ways to vouch
Safe for Thee my heart. For I’ve none to spare.
Wending in, then unwinding out around —
Deeper, further; wider, nearer; then and now,
Watching step and stone, caring not to miss
A moment or a misplaced line I’ve found,
And knowing as I do it’s walking how
We make the way upon our Way. It’s this:
This wending and tending. Winding to find
In the turning You’re before and behind.

 

As always, you can listen to me read it here

Tumbled Open Good Friday Prayer

It’s Good Friday. I wrote us a poem that’s also a prayer. Hope on a death day. Jesus was the first one, but now they are all that for those who are in Christ. One of Circle of Hope’s blogs celebrates death days of those who have gone before — Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body  . Today, April 10th, we remember Howard Thurman. Join me in this prayer, you can hear me read it below.

Tumbled Open Good Friday Prayer

Graves tumbled open the day that you died,
And darkness fell down where noon used to shine.
The temple shook and all were welcome inside.
Erased, cracked or broken you made every line,
Between death and life, between dark and light;
Between in-and-out, between right and might.

You reversed our reversals; gave us much more  —
So much more than we hoped for. What had you done?
How could we see that your death was a door?
And how can we follow where your victory’s won?
We could die even now, here as we breathe,
And then again, out beyond our own breath’s reprieve.

We will see what it’s like to live on forever,
We will know what we look like with you in our eyes;
We too will tumble and darkness will never
Bring sorrow and sadness, loud angry cries,
But not without now, not some not-here place,
No escape yet from sorrow, no exit but grace.

 

Poetry and images by Ben White

 

Swallows Show — A Saturday Sonnet

Looking out the window

Dear friends, since the Covid 19 quarantine began, I have spent a lot of time sitting at a little desk I put in my bedroom (now office). My lovely little room has windows which face the lake on which I live.  Newton Lake in spring and summer  is home to a colony of tree swallows which dart across the water in the morning and evening in dizzying patterns.  They make me feel big inside. They “make the water wide” I say in the poem below. Newton Lake is really rather small, and I feel small sometimes too — constricted on the inside; longing for wider spaces, deeper breaths. I find myself wanting more of something specific and external, and everything that is intrinsically me  all at the same time. Creating space inside ourselves for such colliding thoughts to hold their own flight patterns is crucial to the spiritual life. I hope this poem helps you feel that even slightly as much as the swallows help me to feel it.

Swallows Show

The swallows have returned to Newton Lake
To make the water wide from bank to bank
And give a show of living for your sake–
An iridescent praise, a flight of thanks,
A sweeping burst of joy made for your eyes,
For narrow squinting eyes. Now ask how do
They fly to make all those inches realize
Their depth, and the air its true thickness through
The circling swim of a dance just above
The shimmering below. Making wide, too,
Somewhere in you. Some inside dreaming of
A flight like these — so close, so quick, so you,
So far, so flung, so open with your doors,
There’s breath to breathe and sky to fly — there’s more.

 

As always, you can listen to me read it here

 

Alas – A Sonnet for the party we will have

Rainy Day Longing

I sat down this morning and looked out my bedroom window to the rainy water of Newton Creek and wished with all the melancholy of the gray day to be rid of this virus. “Alas” was the word for the feeling. Almost all sigh with a hint of french pity in it’s roots. The perfect word wanted more than just disappearance, the fantasy wandered to the sea and a beach party it seems. It felt good to imagine the future. In the wake of the reverie about God knows how many tomorrows from now, I had a longing feeling that landed again on “Alas.” However, giving my heart to words made me feel less alone.

Alas

Could the spring rain but wash this all away
And make a summer feast so full of love
It spills its season’s banks right into May!
And to pandemic’s fear, a jaunty shove,
Or surge of tide to float this out to sea.
Can falling rain replace the falling sky?
And dancing limbs crowd in again so free —
A swirling wash of salty sway and cry
Made loud and bright — bass, treble up to thump,
Feet, knees and necks, lips , breath and lifted hands,
All these abreast in rhythmic wave and bump.
I’d give up lots to get down with that band,
But May will not be long enough to say, “At last!”
So with mournful sigh (with those who mourn) I say, “Alas!”

 

March 28. 2020 — Image and Poem by Ben White

 

You can listen to me read it here

Poolside – a love poem to many moments and a prayer

Poolside

Heat baking up
Through terry cloth towel —
Drying me up as the sun dried me down.
And red-yellow dancers
Amorphously moved
Between the backs of my eyelids and eyes.
Seal slick hair,
Tufting up in the air
As I turned back from fish into boy.
Sometimes so hot
If I lay there too long
I’d roll right back into the pool.
It must be just right
This transforming heat —
A boy body needs fine attention.
And nothing is new
With memories so old —
I still need that warm transformation.

 

You can listen to me read it here

The Sudden Silences — a Friday Sonnet

The actually physiology of your ears might help you pray in silence. I’m intensifying my contemplative prayer practice during Lent and thinking about how to get above, below or behind the chatter of my churning brain. It has to do with hearing the silence for me. It has to do with tuning in to the sound of quiet, listening to my inhale, listening to my exhale, and letting everything I’ve heard lead me to a state of mind and heart in which I know God is very near. I’m not just trying not to think or speak, I’m trying to listen to things I don’t always hear. I need a daily reminder that I can hear more than I hear and see more than I see. I need to make regular contact with the infinite love that propels my life. The meditation can start with what I’m actually hearing. My experience in contemplative prayer is an occasional sudden woosh of quiet in which the Fullness fills me. Only onomatopoeia serves to describe the sudden sound of silence that precedes my most conscious presence to the Presence. If I remember similar sounds of sudden silence it helps me skip through the initial stage of settling I must pass through every time I sit. Here is a poem to honor those sounds and maybe push my readers through whatever stops them from hearing and seeing more than they yet know they can.

The Sudden Silences

The moment when the starlings start to fly
A sudden hush fills ears to empty brims,
As trees spill noisy swarms into the sky,
Now silenced by their million-feathered wind.

The moment when you surface from the wave–
Quick roar and dive replaced by quiet now,
This loud emergence from the barrel’s cave,
When soundless voice of awe suggests you bow.

The moment when the fading ember tone
Of singing bowl’s long resonance goes out,
And I am left with silent thoughts alone
To snuff, so I can hear the Silence shout.

These moments come to mind and ear, thank God,
To aid my aim to trust Thy staff and rod.

 

You can listen to me read it here

Images and poem by Ben White

First Flight – another Friday Sonnet

Here’s a sonnet trying to capture a moment and make it more than it was, and exactly what it was. It was with a bird, of course. Happy Friday!

First Flight

The hawk’s flight flew me as we went along
Together for a pair of football fields
In perfect flapping union. I’m not wrong
To say so even though I had to yield
To traffic as he whirled away from view
And my quick craning neck could Oh! But catch
A fading sense of where he must have flew.
But let my mind be forever feather etched,
May flying be remembered as my own,
May that correlation of car and wing
Persist among the things my heart has known,
And may whizzing wheels forever sing
Of more than locomotion on a road —
Of soaring joy and glory overflowed.

 

You can listen to me read it here

Poem and image by Ben White

 

Master, where are you staying?

If Unseen

Man turning around on the street,

What did you forget?

Unaware I’m watching,

You skip

The show that lets us know

You aren’t a lunatic.

 

No finger to your temple,

No shoulders shrugged,

Or arms outstretched,

No palm to the forehead,

Or even an expression.

You just turn around

To get your keys,

Or find your government ID.

No one’s watching you but me

And you can’t see I see —

Or maybe you don’t care?

 

And if that’s the case,

Master, where are you staying?

 

You can listen to me read it here

 

Sleepwalkers – a Friday Sonnet

Sleepwalkers

for George MacDonald

When darkness burns a hole in all our views,
And knowledge-ash-curled edges seed dismay,
Can we know anything we know we knew?
Will you show us all and call this today?
We see few truths with heartless, burned out eyes;
Twice-seared with every disappointment first,
And second by the fire’s condemning lies.
These leave us twice blind with nothing but thirst
To guide us stumbling on dark wisdom’s feet;
We’re senselessly grasping all with death’s grip,
Our sockets sooted, our hearts incomplete,
Mistakenly naming as oceans each drip.
Dawn bright, O Dayspring, name this as night–
Shine on and show us our shadowy sight.

 

Poem and photo by Ben White (Thanks to Gwyneth White for her assistance)

 

You can listen to me read it here

Is Love Enough? A Poetic Meditation

Will the simplicity of loving my neighbor communicate everything I want to tell the world about Jesus? Will it communicate the same to me? It seems too small, and my particular love seems especially too small. Can love be enough? Jesus says so, but wondering never hurt. This is a bit of a ditty with all it’s “rhymes with cheer” and “enoughs.” I wrote it at Camp Men-O-Lan on a retreat with the Leadership Team of Circle of Hope. Our agenda was loving each other as we enter our next era of leadership, and Circle of Hope’s Daily Prayer that morning had a quote from Teresa of Avila that I wanted to be true:

The surest way to determine whether one possesses the love of God is to see whether he or she loves his or her neighbor. These two loves are never separated. Rest assured, the more you progress in love of neighbor the more your love of God will increase.” — Teresa of Avila

You can hear me reading the poem on Soundcloud here.

Enough of Love?

Wondering if love can be enough–
Real enough, in-gear enough
To make the Presence clear enough–
Of God’s Come-Near-Us-Son?

If my little love coheres enough?
Have I made him our dear enough?
Do I revere enough
To heed my Peerless-One?

Wondering if I’m sincere enough,
When loving all those near enough,
To my expanding sphere enough,
To please my Dearest-One?

And will those I love have ear enough?
See him as premier enough?
Escape the cavalier enough
To open up and hear The-One?

Wondering if my heart appears enough
To see his eyes come clear enough–
Lifting us from drear enough.
To glimpse the Eyes-of-Care

Can I allow this love to steer enough?
Can I persevere enough?
Can he cast out my fear enough
For me to trust the Prize We Share?

Thanks for reading. I’d love your feedback.

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