Tag Archives: Poetry

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.

Kristen and the Sword of Wendell Berry

I have been meaning to tell this little story about Kristen for a few weeks. The Monday after resurrection Sunday seems like a good time to tell it. Our good feeling of new life is going to meet up with our schedules. The resolve we honed with our Lent disciplines is going to meet up with opposition. The week after Easter can be such a let-down because we get tested and we don’t meet the test as well as we would like. So I thought I would offer you a story about how Kristen got tested met the test. I think of her up on her soap box quite often, making herself heard among the big loud men speaking for the empire. I appreciate her example, because I also need the courage to open my mouth and speak my heart. Like her, I am also confronted with a world that desperately needs what has been lavished on me in Jesus.

She was doing a summer internship last summer at a farm in Massachusetts. It was some, wonderful organic farm that invites the kids up to do some work, get themselves dirty and get reconverted to humanity. One of the farm’s outlets for their produce was the farmer’s market in a village nearby. Kristen went along to help sell the kale and whatnot.

It happened that the village had a good Massachusetts tradition of having a “speaker’s corner.” When there was a farmer’s market, they set up a place where people could exercise their right of free speech. Since it was near the Fourth of July, speakers were feeling especially patriotic and quite a few people were getting up to say something. The rhetoric was tending to lean Tea Partyish.

One man got up and read a familiar paragraph: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. — That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it…”

He thought that the government was doing a relatively admirable job of securing our rights with its various wars. He exhorted the crowd to support the troops. Kristin was not having it. She had been reading Wendell Berry. She was about ready to join Shalom House for a couple of years (at least). So she decided to get up on the soapbox and speak back with poetry. She whipped out the sword of Wendell Berry and said: 

The year begins with war.
Our bombs fall day and night,
Hour after hour, by death
Abroad appeasing wrath,
Folly, and greed at home.
Upon our giddy tower
We’d oversway the world.
Our hate comes down to kill
Those whom we do not see,
For we have given up
Our sight to those in power
And to machines, and now
Are blind to all the world.
This is a nation where
No lovely thing can last.
We trample, gouge, and blast;
The people leave the land;
The land flows to the sea.
Fine men and women die,
The fine old houses fall,
The fine old trees come down:
Highway and shopping mall
Still guarantee the right
And liberty to be
A peaceful murderer,
A murderous worshipper,
A slender glutton, Forgiving
No enemy, forgiven
By none, we live the death
Of liberty, become
What we have feared to be. — 1991 – I

Her new friends at the farm we a bit concerned. Not only were her listeners the prospective buyers of farm-fresh organic tomatoes, they later told her that they were not entirely convinced that the villagers would not do her harm if she kept reading her poetry. But sometimes when Kristen gets going she needs to complete her thoughts. So she kept going and closed with this: 

 Now you know the worst
 we humans have to know
 about ourselves, and I am sorry,

 for I know you will be afraid.
 To those of our bodies given
 without pity to be burned, I know

 there is no answer
 but loving one another
 even our enemies, and this is hard.

 But remember:
 when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
 he gives a light, divine

 though it is also human.
 When a man of peace is killed
 by a man of war, he gives a light.

 You do not have to walk in darkness.
 If you have the courage for love,
 you may walk in light. It will be

 the light of those who have suffered
 for peace. It will be
 your light. 

1995 – V To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzak Rabin, November 6th 1995.

Thank God for people with the courage to share their heart for peace! Jesus died on the cross for reconciliation with God and others. Jesus pointedly did not raise an army to achieve his ends. Jesus rose again and continues to rise in people who have the courage to be the light. The light comes from being at peace with God. But peace with God that does not make peace on earth doesn’t really have much to get up on the box and say, does it? Let’s meet our tests this week with audacity and hope.

Expecting Daffodils

Gwen and I often share “psalms” with one another. She appreciated my little, Lenten, snow-day meditation, so I thought you might be able to use it, too.

When trouble comes, I will persist
in looking for a sprouting crocus.
I will stubbornly listen
for a bird singing in the cold.

And yes, I will feel a bit guilty.
I will stand before the sadness tribunal
and be judged out of order.
I will be questioned by the magistrate of misery
and have no answer for my happiness.
The logic of the law of the land will cry out
and I will again feel a bit crazy.

But You have the words of eternal life.
And though tempted by death at times,
you provide a ram.
Though slipping from my tight rope,
you catch me in your net.
Though today seems impossible,
you will come again.

I am surprised that trouble surprises me
as I am watching for daffodils.
I am absurdly unprepared
for anything but salvation.