Category Archives: Poetry

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? Sound cloud

 

The robin

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.