Category Archives: Poetry

Turning

Paul ran away up the forest road
until our voices echoed into the fall
demanding he stop.
Nana labored down the way,
irresistibly tempted to run with his youth.

When Lulu picked up a bright red leaf,
she held it up for inspection,
insisting we stop —
our time suspended in glory,
in gratuitous art, strewn on the Temple floor.

I wanted to climb the fallen trees
to honor how they once stretched to the sky
then came to a stop:
their roots upended in crisp air;
the hole awaiting snow coming to fill the wound.

We thought we might make a root ball home,
roofing the pit to keep out the looming darkness.
But we had to stop
and motor back through the leaf storm
to warm climbs of normality as the world turned.

Lend me a hand Francis

Lend me a hand, Francis,
and pull me onto the road
leading to the sun, sunrise and sunset,
ending up who-knows-where in trust.

Take my hand, Jesus,
and pull me out of the sea
ebbing into the past, sunset to sunrise,
leaving behind who-knows-what to trust.

The road is fearfully new.
My doing had a lot of being in it.
Now my being must discover what to do.
The tide of yesterday inevitably pulls out.

Take my hand, Francis,
and walk with me on the way –
you who stopped wondering where you were going,
and help me listen to the birds sing.

Lend me your hand, Jesus,
and keep me from sinking –
you who became small and suffered so in love,
please make my way full of your heart song.

The road is wonderfully new.
I feel guilty for sleeping eight hours last night.
I’m a kitten on grass in a strange backyard.
The tide of tomorrow is pulling down my castle
as the sun dawns on another Francis Day.

You in my mother: A psalm for Mother’s Day

50th Anniversary song

When I call you “Mother,” Lord,
I don’t often think of my mother.
She seems to have kept her spirit locked away.
At least she never revealed it to me:
Rebellious, willful, resigned to being bad,
Bravely sailing on her own path with her sailor.

I should take another look
And find you in her nature and love.
I seem to have missed you as I turned away
And left her wondering where my faith took me:
Rebellious, willful, resigned to go new ways,
Bravely sailing on my own path with my Sailor.

But You were in my own backyard
As well as in the endless dawn —
In her laughter, optimism and perpetual pluck,
In her courage and friendships and hospitality,
In her wonder, curiosity and righteous fury:
Making a cake, talking to the dog,
Loving a game, having a chat,
Keeping the peace, playing a prank.

You found me on my mother’s path
And I met you in my mother’s fashion —
In all the playful ways you have turned to me,
In the way I see you finding me funny:
Rebellious, willful, we resist the ways of the world,
Bravely sailing on everyone’s path to fullness.

I don’t know Mom’s destination.
But I have seen your destination in her,
And mine.
And I give thanks.

Lockdown grief and joy

We’ve been packing up our house for quite a while. Now we are at the last moment before the move this week. So that was disorienting enough!

Then Covid-19 stole the best together-times of the year: the sunrise meeting for Resurrection Sunday and the parties afterward. Gwen and I usually have a party. I was sad enough about moving and missing things until family and friends started telling us how much they were missing things with me! So on the most joyous day of the year, I was sad, too.

Angie sent over a video that made me cry for joy and tear up for sadness because a flash mob was praising God in the mall but we can’t do that together right now.

So that’s how it is this year. The lockdown finally got to me on Easter. But it feels kind of fresh, too. On Good Friday, I wrote the poem that follows. I thought I’d put it out there again, now that I know even better how we all have a bittersweet taste in our mouths: sweet from Easter candy and bitter from Easter coronavirus. Things may never be the same for us this year, because of joy or because of sadness, but Jesus will be our joy and ever with us in our sadness.

On Friday, my thoughts turned to the terror and ecstasy of birth. I’ve got a feeling we are all being cleansed in a way by this strange, communal experience of “social distancing” and the threat of catching the virus.  I know I feel like something new is being born. It made me think of another notable birth I experienced.

My wife was as big as a barn.
Her water broke with a flood
and the twins rode the river.

The birthing room was a bedlam:
our household peeking in,
a class walking through gaping.

Crazy, wondrous — jolt after jolt.
The first twin came out blue,
The next surfed out, tubing it.

Grief — surrounded on the table.
Joy — held by a slimy ankle.
I was suspended between.

The blue baby pinked up enough,
the flying one tucked up next.
And the birth-threatened love lived.

All was well again.

Awake at 3, the night bird sang;
I’m awake to listen.
And then the siren sounded.

The song of love met the tragic:
a tulip pushes up,
a loved one moves through the veil.

Our grief is budding out this year
like an unknown blossom
in a dystopic garden.

Our birthing room is a bedlam:
Peeking, pushing, pinking.
We are suspended between.

All will be well again.

The lost moleskin

I had a new moleskin in which to write poetry. I have lost it in the chaos of my house as we get ready to move. The reality inspired my psalm today.

I had turned a poetic page
to pencil in a new moleskin:
…..one free of lines,
…..one more expansive and new,
…..one now completely out of view.

I wander my boxed-up world
unpacking what now can’t transport:
…..a book I never read,
…..a folder rarely needed,
…..a move now fully impeded.

Yet here we sit in disheveled mess –
quarantine, lockdown, stay-at-home test.
And you resolutely show your face:
the smallest touch,
the sweetest look,
the ease of much,
the weird Facebook.
In all the church
now all online
the birds on perch
sing all the time.
And there is joy in our messy place.

My moleskin will rise in time,
A witness to what can’t be seen —
…..an order like the dawn,
…..one more expansive and new,
…..one now completely out of view —
by me, not You.

Don’t let the change horse get away

We’re weeks away from things that may not happen till who knows when –.
…..the coronavirus contributions to life make former anxieties seem odd.
Somehow, it seems like it is a new world and all we can do is change –
…..like Covid-19 is a means to reorient us like Peter meeting Sapphira:
the old order of greed and lies generating control and oppression
…..meets the new order of “You all manifestly don’t know what you’re talking about.”

So it seems like a good time to change,
…..since that horse has left the barn.
Chase it down and ride it.

Seeing a disease as a blessing may not be welcomed without a fight –
…..even among  you friends who are kindly used to me, and still love me.
But somehow we were consigned to a locked room for self examination,
…..and I can’t bear the thought of watching the entire Netflix catalogue.
Instead, I am face to face with the traits with which I was bored anyway,
…..And your voice seems clear, “You manifestly don’t need to be as you were before.”

So it seems like a good time to change
…..in ways that did not seem likely.
It’s a post-Covid world.

Let there be peace on earth.
…..May the disease teach us all the lessons people are learning, like me.
But let it begin with me.

It is always risky to look at the past and be inspired to leave it
…..because the past contains all those reasons you never change.
And it is risky to write a psalm that implies one is changing by the end of it,
…..since it could easily idealize a process that is more pea patch than lab.

Yet it seems like a good time to change
…..in ways that defy assessment –
with you on a wild ride.
…..May the disease teach me all the lessons people like me are learning
like your Spirit is moving.

 

Would you like to hear me read it?

The robin

robin and car

We drove our car with guilty stealth
Lest someone see us risk our health,
Risk the virus for a glimpse
Of children and their children.

By my son’s drive the robin stood
And unmoved stayed, although he could
See a tire tread head his way
With piercing eye and wisdom.

I thought that he would surely fly
Afraid, like me, someone  would die,
Escape the germy humans
With their faulty, big machines.

I spoke my awe with words quite kind
And asked him what he had in mind.
He chirped and looked me over
And then calmly hopped away.

Today I woke with sweaty palms
And birdsong singing springtime calm,
Singing peace on earth for all
God’s children and their children.

And here I stand before my tire,
A chirp, a song, a thought quite dire,
A choice to stand and listen
As the Lord produces dawn.

 

Maybe you’d like to hear me read it.

 

The bellows: A psalm for my troubled friend

bellows

The relationship wounds me.
Loving them winds around my minutes
like a prickly vine.
My bleeding alarms me.

My arms are open wide —
sinking beneath the surface,
still as a rock on the bottom,
watching my trouble float downstream.

When I go by their door again
I want to turn the knob and risk —
resenting their inattention,
terrified of their illness.

My hands are on my heart;
my arms embrace my torso —
cradling that poor child in me
who is feeling old, aching fear.

We will hold their hand
and accompany me and them,
and accept the longing
for security and trust.

Letting go and letting in
is the bellows of spiritual fire;
the breathing of prayer keeps me alive
as I face all my dying places.

Kindness by Naomi Shahib Nye

Sometimes I find poems that I want to keep. So I thought I’d add them to your collection, as well. This one by Naomi Shihab Nye invites us into the great grief of the world. In the communal cup of loss we share we find our deepest kinship with each other and the living world and beneath it, the kindness of our creator leading us beyond, the movement of Jesus through the world into eternal life after loss.

Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? — Romans 2:4

Kindness -- Naomi Shahib Nye

Kindness
Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

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Poetry power: How art might make a difference

Poetry has a lot of power. Sometimes we put it to music, sometimes we recite it plain. It matters. Beautiful, heartfelt, sometimes prophetic or even harsh words still matter. In the age of alternative facts and people hacking our clouds of data, the poets draw us to deeper truths that are beyond the reach of tyrants, bean counters and hairsplitters. It has always been that way, right back to that huge poetry book in the middle of the Bible.

A new inspiration: Malcolm Guite

Last week I rejoiced to find a new poet I would have liked to meet twenty-five years ago: Malcolm Guite [his blog]. I passed around a speech of his [All Things in Christ].  I asked Joshua to teach me how to lift an interview I heard on a Mars Hill Audio Journal CD in which he brilliantly deepened any art director’s capacity to develop our weekly liturgy [deep, obscure and so useful: Part 1, Part 2].  Mostly, I appreciated his mostly simple poetry that seems well-tuned to connect with people in the present day. Here is an example I passed around. Too bad the weather is so nice — it would be even more useful in our usual February misery.  (click on the title and hear him read it!):

Because We Hunkered Down

These bleak and freezing seasons may mean grace
When they are memory. In time to come
When we speak truth, then they will have their place,
Telling the story of our journey home,
Through dark December and stark January
With all its disappointments, through the murk
And dreariness of frozen February,
When even breathing seemed unwelcome work.

Because through all of these we held together,
Because we shunned the impulse to let go,
Because we hunkered down through our dark weather,
And trusted to the soil beneath the snow,
Slowly, slowly, turning a cold key,
Spring will unlock our hearts and set us free.

Martyrs: earth, wind, fire, water — click the picture to view the installation

We have our own inspiration to share

I suppose most of us already appreciate how powerful art can be.  We don’t produce it to to have an argument, for the most part; we just do it because we are creative like our creator.  But art is its own argument, as it inevitably leads people beyond their situation and beyond their present understanding and touches the places where we love and love God.

Our long-term plans as a church include an arts cooperative of some sort because we want to encourage each other to touch people deeply in the Spirit. We already have our Audio Arts team, our events devoted to lifting up artists, our art directors who imagine our worship each week, and many wordsmiths, like our pastors. We’ve begun our cooperative — we always have big ideas and it is amazing how many of them come to fruit! I see artfully acting on our big ideas as one of the things we can do to stay sane, go deeper and prophesy in this weird time we are experiencing.

Malcolm Guite, the Bible, and all my creative friends who are reading this, inspired me to write another poem, myself. What’s more, I am going to share it.  It comes from my morning prayer yesterday as God met me in my questions and in my longing to experience what is next.

Jesus laid hold of me

You are not busy
but you are always working.
I am not sure I will master that
or am even sure about the aspiration.
But I long for a sense of timelessness
as I lay hold of that
for which you laid hold of me.

You are not impatient
but you are always creating.
I would like to see endings
but not despise beginning again.
I long for a sense of calm attention
as I lay hold of that
for which you laid hold of me.

In my little prayer, I turn to praise
and I am raised and drawn to care
and led beyond what wears and harms
by gentle arms that find me here.

You are not confused
but you are always relating.
I would like to wake up trusting
instead of needing so many songs.
I long to sense my deepest self
as I lay hold of that
for which you laid hold of me.

In my little prayer, I turn to praise
and I am raised and drawn to care
and led beyond what wears and harms
by gentle arms that find me here.

Laughing out loud

The rain feels like the tears of the world today
and it is wobbly and foggy,
like me stumbling into the daylight
still blurry and choked up over Birth of a Nation.

The rain reminds me of people in Haiti
and they are ruined and soggy.
They are stumbling into the morning
traumatized again and asking “What happens next?”

Puddles fill up
with marital woes,
unprocessed fears,
unresolved conflict,
hopeless situations
and broken systems.

Yet I am so at peace in my comfy chair
listening to the rain, feeling the pain
and trusting You, thanking You.

The rain whispers of oceans filled with favor
and it is unfathomable to me.
I keep stumbling into it like a grandson
wobbling around on the walk, arms raised, ready to swing.

And I am so at peace in your loving grasp,
flying in the rain, splattered with pain
and trusting you, laughing out loud.

Solstice thoughts and prayers

My favorite days of the year! Living in the light!

Here are a few thoughts and prayers to enjoy as the sun sets:

Moments of great calm
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great role. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
Prompt me God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.

R.S. Thomas

Think of it, all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody…what a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, intelligible, perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges…Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.

Thomas Merton

Give us some evidence, Lord.

I picture the upper room
filled with 20somethings.
A few old heads are there with Mary.
But Peter may be the only one as old as Jesus.
Like me in high school
their concrete brains need some proof
that all this talk is not just a head trip.

Give us some evidence, Lord.
Seeing is believing for us.
And we see more on TV in an evening these days
than most people in the past
needed unseeing in a lifetime.
Give us evidence today.

There will be 20somethings in their rooms,
still hiding from the authorities,
still screening out all
but the most determined old heads,
just a few, like Peter, who get Jesus.
But even they are secretly being attacked
by doubt, by unmet hope, by 5000 ads selling death.

Move among us so people can remember,
so they connect the dots
when they feel the sun a certain way,
or empathy makes tears well up,
or music calls out their worship, or a baby laughs,
or they learn to pray, or learn to care or think.
And there you are in the every day, unceasing.

We know you don’t forget us.
So don’t forget us.
We shouldn’t need more evidence.
So gives us more.

Peace. Be still.

Last night’s yearning to be a “non-anxious presence” leads me to offer my psalm for last Sunday. Peace be with us all.

Mother God,
I am feeling tossed by the ferment
of men thrashing around in my small lake,
upsetting my vessel,
commandeering it on a Zimbabwe road,
steering it from a secret church committee,
upending it with their loud philosophizing.

Yours is a “still, small voice,” indeed,
I hear speaking to the waves I fear
as I am powerless in the wake:
“Peace. Be still.”

I hope you have the whole world in your hands.
But I fear that, for the moment,
you are holding those who are reborn.
We are your unlikely brood,
crammed on the kayak of your church,
like the grandkids headed for the beach:
some trailing along in life jackets
or trying to swim it on their own,
an armada of babies
awaiting
the next huge man to rock us with a cannonball.

Your voice seems small, indeed,
if I only want a foghorn in a murky world.
Teach me to rest in your arms,
in you: my life jacket, my Nana,
my strangely unsinkable boat,
my peace, among the waves.

Thank God my faith is not all in my head.

Last Sunday we welcomed Jesus to raise us up with him. It seemed like a lot of people at the meeting really meant it when we shouted “He is risen indeed!” But I suspect others weren’t into it, or just watched me shouting. Their “mind” had the upper hand. They did not engage their body at all. Maybe they didn’t even come to the meeting. Why bother? They keep their “religion” in a private space in their head. Whatever love might be in that head, in concept, is left unexpressed. In fact, some other love is probably the object of their de facto worship, although they might not notice.

Welcome morning

That’s OK. Today is another day. And this week, as well, is loaded with opportunities to live in the spirit of Anne Sexton’s poem:

Welcome Morning by Anne Sexton

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
dies young.

Hello there

for some people, it is all mentalIt may embarrass some people to hear the poet say: “in the spoon and the chair that cry ‘hello there, Anne’ each morning.”  It is so something, so immediate, so heartfelt! So many of us have our faith stuck in a mental construct; we’re arguing about principles in our head and fearing we don’t have it all right yet so we better not commit. Our silverware is certainly not talking to us! Others of us are trapped in a “worldview” that is a bit more human, but is still a philosophical construct by which we compare and contrast who we are with others and from which we draw a politically sanctioned identity, so we think sorting that out is about all the meaning we get — and all we do is sort. We would certainly think twice before we announced to the public that we were overcome with joy this morning at breakfast! It just wouldn’t fit the self-concept.

Last week, during the holy week, the commemoration of Jesus’ last week, when history is offered a restart, we were invited to put our mental dialogue in its place and find joy in our own pea-green house, in our own bodies, walking alongside Jesus, who is God ennobling and redeeming our true selves as the author of creation and its restorer. Like him, for the joy set before us, we endure the cross.

Move with my loves

If you have a mental faith, Holy Week probably seemed like a lot of time spent on redundant material. If you are training your body to move with your loves, you may have awakened every day, like Anne Sexton, and said,

“So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.”

circle of hope, philly, philadelphia, south jersey, churches, love, hope, Jesus, Christian

On each day of the holy week we made a special, communal, concerted effort to “paint a thank-you on” our palms, and so get our bodies moving in the direction of our salvation. We moved through darkness into light, not just in our thoughts or beliefs, but in our hearts and time with those we love in the creation we feel. And so we trained our hearts for joy and opened our days to grace. We were saved, not in theory, but in fact.

There were words and thinking, of course, but, as I am prone to saying, “It does not really matter what happens, it matters that I did it.” What I do ends up being the liturgy of my loves. Thus Sexton’s poem is so profound because she realizes that even her breakfast is charged with God’s presence and should she fall on her knees by her table it would be an appropriate action that would unleash the joy stored up in the meal. How much more profound was the “breakfast” of Holy Week, as we knelt before our common table of grace and looked forward to the joy of Easter morning: these birds, these seeds, this realization that I am welcomed into eternal joy, and this “God, this laughter of the morning!”

God help us, we do not coerce anyone to do what we plan as Circle of Hope, so I am not trying to get you to come to meetings! We would not risk driving you into another bout with all the shoulds the mental overlords have caused you to resist as you rebel against their science and social construction. But, again this week, we are offering a lot of ways to express your loves with people who love you. We have a lot of ways to cooperate with the reorientation of our desire towards true joy. Just being with your cell or making it to the Sunday meeting might get the ball rolling or keep it rolling —  if you don’t just think about it, of course.

[The original post appeared at Circle of Hope.net]