Category: Poetry

Coming Up Wanting

michigan lake sunset

It seems to me the world is coming up wanting, hungry for answers, certainties, and the desire to believe that “everything is going to be alright.”

We come up wanting, as we scroll down social media posts, searching for a quote, a video, or a joke to give us an answer to the incomprehensible world in which we live.

We come up wanting, as we find our way onto our same pew every Sunday morning and read through liturgy without seeing the words, and say “amen,” when in all honesty we didn’t really begin to pray.

We come up wanting, as we race through our meals in order to get to the practice, the game, the recital, and try not to forget the appointment, the meeting, or the phone call.

We come up wanting, as we wake before dawn, and wonder why in the world we are awake and as we lie there, our old friend Anxiety snakes her veining cold fingers around our brains and whispers, “worry, worry, worry.”

We come up wanting, because our desires have been hijacked by the world and voices that clamor for our attention.  The voices that tell us that if we aren’t worried, we are irresponsible and that if we aren’t working, we are lazy and that if we aren’t consuming, then we are lacking..

The alternative to all of this wanting, is to strive to live of the world, instead of in it; to find a way to swim up, out of the deep surface, into the light above.

There once was frog who lived in the bottom of a well and he would look up to blue circle above and sing praises of the entire universe, believing the universe to only to be that one, blue, round ball.

How limited is our thinking and our understanding of the universe and the world in which we live?  Are we all little frogs at the bottom of our wells?  How do we see beyond our own limitations?

Imagine for a moment that our desire is Christ’s desire.  Imagine for a moment that our breath was Christ’s breath.  Imagine that our worry was Christ’s worry, would he worry about such things as we?  Would he work for appreciation and recognition?  Would he check his phone while in the middle of prayer?   This is not the cliché question, “What would Jesus do?”  It’s more than that. It is rather the question,”What do you desire?”

If we desire peace beyond all understanding, we will seek his Word. So that when the storm hits, and the worry comes, and the panic paralyzes, we find ourselves anchored in an indescribable steadiness.

If we desire joy,we will seek his face. So that regardless if the day is happy or sad, joy like a light that never goes out, remains.

If we desire God, we will seek the stillness of His breath.  And in stillness, we discover that God’s breath breaks  through all that suffocates and holds us down.  The breath breaks apart the clutch of our wanting and whispers, “hush, hush. hush.”

Do Not Tell Me

 

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For those who have suffered trauma.

 

Do Not Tell Me.

 

Do not tell me this is part of God’s plan.

Do not tell me God will make something good out of this.

Do not tell me God will not give me more than I can handle.

Do not tell me that it sucks and then change the subject.

Do not tell me that you don’t know why God would let this happen.

Do not try to convince me that there is a God, if I am doubtful.

Do not judge me for my doubt.

Do not be afraid of my tears.

Do not shy away from my pain.

Do not fear my suffering.

Do not try to understand that which you cannot comprehend.

Do not take on my pain, my grief, my loss, my anger.

Do not turn away.

Do not fear my pain.

 

Be with me.

Be here.

Be a witness.

 

That is all you need to do.

 

Where the Soul Rests

stormy lake

Where the Soul Rests

See this old sign?

It looks pretty beaten up doesn’t it?

Its weathered a few storms,

and survived.

It’s watched vacationers come and go.

watched them

awe at the Eagle,

listen for the loon

be still for the mother deer and her fawn.

This is the place where my soul rests.

It’s the place

where I want my ashes spread

where my truest self is known.

A place of rest and restoration.

A place of peace and imagination.

A place of simple hope.

It’s how I imagine the Kingdom of Heaven to be.

Do you know where your soul rests?

Where your soul is the most content?

Like a yellow lab who always brings back the ball….Where does your soul return?

Think on these things. Think about your soul.

Have you paid attention to it lately?

Do you know where your soul rests?

Beware.

If you go to your soul and you allow yourself to be restored, you will see where you are lacking. Like the missing letters in this old sign, you will see where you have been battered, weathered and worn.

You will see the pain.

The weathering of life.

It’s not the same, but you are still there.

Do you know where your soul rests?

Go there.

And be at peace.

 

 

Make it Sound Like America

Make it Sound Like America.

I heard a recording of Aaron Copland working with an orchestra and conducting his famous piece, Appalachian Spring.  He explained how it should sound this way, “Make it sound like America,  don’t play this like Tchaikovsky, make it sound more bouncy, less sentimental and more…cool.”

I love this piece of music, and sorry to say, I feel very sentimental about it. I walked down the aisle on my wedding day to Simple Gifts. The first movement always makes me cry. (Hit “play” now if you haven’t already).

It was this question, posed to Copland that has gotten me thinking…

How does America Sound?

I know how I want it to sound.

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I want it to sound honest, pure, genuine, gritty, and lovely.

 

 

 

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I want it to sound hopeful, peaceful and life-giving.

 

 

 

 

rainbow in the dessert

 

I want it sound like a rainbow in the desert.

 

morning

 

Like a morning, unblemished.

 

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Like gratitude.

 

This is how I want it sound, and maybe it does some places.

But it also sounds

tired

hungry

pillaged

polluted

plastic

fractured

violent

abused

divided

I do not believe we can hear America without hearing all of it.

Today, on this Fourth of July, as you watch a parade, eat watermelon, wave flags, set up lawn chairs, and hear the sizzle of a fire cracker, listen.  Listen,

How do you think America sounds?

 

 

Sucking on Denial: Five Poems

We suck on denial like we are trying to resuscitate a dead body, praying life will return to it.  Nothing comes, but we keep inhaling it anyway because the alternative is too painful to bear.

I

“I don’t want to talk about it!”  the preteen cries.

“Rainbows and Unicorns! Rainbows and Unicorns! Lalalalala!

I don’t want to talk about it!”  Flailing on the bed, she hides her head in her pillow.

“But we need to talk about it” the mother insists.

“We need to make sure you have things packed in your backpack,

just in case

something happens.”

“What’s going to happen?!

It’s not going to happen!” says the voice from inside muffled pillow.

“Ugh…..It’s not FAIR!” 

“It’s life. It’s happens to everybody.”


 

II

“The doctor visit did not go well. They are going to stop chemo.  There is nothing more we can do. They say it’s time to call in hospice.”

“We don’t need hospice,

                                     I can take care of you.”

“There is so much to do.

                                   I want you to be o.k. before I go. Everything has to be in order.”

“We will talk about it tomorrow…

                                     Can you eat something?”

“I  have no appetite.”

                                      “Neither have I.”


III

We are going to have to decide what to do about Mom.

She’s fine.

She’s not fine.

She’s fine.

Dad, she got lost in the grocery store.

That happens.

Not every week, Dad.

She’s fine.

Dad, you can’t take care of her.

Yes I can.

I’m worried about you both.

Don’t worry.

We are fine.

She’s fine.


 

IV

Dude, get out of bed. It’s 12:30 in the afternoon.

What’s wrong with you?

Nothing.


V

Please don’t leave.

There is nothing more to say.

Will you be back?

No.

Maybe I will see you tomorrow


How do we replace denial with acceptance?

What courage is required?

What peace must be known?

What hope must be seen?

What prayer must we say?

Give us the strength to  accept the truth of our lives. Give us the courage to accept the story that is our life. Not as we want it to be told, but as it is written.  Let our stories be real and authentic, raw and painful, beautiful and organic.  Let our stories come from tears and loss, triumph and truth.  Let us not feel shame in our failures, but feel strength in our perseverance.  Let us breathe in truth of who we are and where we are and what we are, so that we may become what we are to be.

michigan lake sunset

 

 

Dear Mr. Keating,

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Dear Mr. Keating,

I never got the chance to tell you that you were my favorite teacher.

Yes, I know you were only my teacher for 2 and 1/2 hours.  But seeing as I watched you teach cute prep boys at least 25 times, I have been  in your class for at least 75 hours.

Every time  I visited your class, I was inspired to read poetry, to suck the marrow out of life, to remember that one day I would be food for dandelions and above all to Seize the Day.

Because of your class, I tried to walk with my own gate, change my perspective and to embrace my dreams.

You had a compassion and perception toward your students that I always imagined you had towards me.  You inspired me to love language, to think, and not use the word “very.”

You had an energy for teaching and passion for liturgy that inspired me to open the works of Whitman, Keats and Bronte.

Thank you, Mr. Keating.

I hear that you are gone.  I hear that you were terribly sad and felt you could not face the demons in your life.  You know, many of your students have felt the same.  You were never alone in your darkness.

I wish you knew what a difference you made in so many lives.  Your humor. Your compassion. Your understanding of humanity.

There will never be anyone like you.

Unless we become more like you.

Unless we push the boundaries and allow ourselves to be silly and candid, goofy and vulnerable, compassionate and inspired.

I will seize the day, Mr. Keating.

I will seize the day.

I will seize it for you.

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O Captain! My Captain!

Walt Witman

1
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
    But O heart! heart! heart!          5
      O the bleeding drops of red,
        Where on the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.
2
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;   10
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
    Here Captain! dear father!
      This arm beneath your head;
        It is some dream that on the deck,   15
          You’ve fallen cold and dead.
3
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;   20
    Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
      But I, with mournful tread,
        Walk the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.

ROUTINE

I spent the weekend with my 96-year-old grandmother. My time with her has gotten me thinking about time and gentility and patterns and memory.

With deep humility, I am posting two poems on aging. The first one I wrote and the second is written by my favorite poet, Wendell Berry. I hope he won’t mind sharing a page with me.

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ROUTINE

What day is it?
Sunday.
Oh, Sunday.

Her gaze turns to the window and the cobalt sky.
Long spaces of silence slow time.
The clock chimes.

I took all of the medicine,
but there wasn’t a red one.

You did it right.

No! There wasn’t a red one.
I needed to take a red one.
There wasn’t a red one.

Newspapers unopened.
Reader’s Digest unsealed.
Dusty television, ignored.

A robin lands on the window sill,
confused at his reflection,
who might that other bird be?

What day is it?
Sunday.
Oh, Sunday.

The clock chimes.
The bird flies away.

THERE IS NO GOING BACK, Wendell Berry

No, no, there is no going back.

Less and less you are that possibility you were.

More and more you have become those lives and deaths

that have belonged to you. You have become a sort of grave

containing much that was and is no more in time,

beloved then, now, and always.

And so you have become a sort of tree standing over a grave.

Now more than ever you can be generous toward each day that comes, young,

to disappear forever, and yet remain unaging in the mind.

Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.

(Wendell Berry, from “Collected Poems)

So That’s, That.

Suddenly, the poinsettia look droopy, the tree is out-of-place, the pants are tighter, the checkbook lighter, the earth quieter and the new calendar busier.

I find poetry to be my closest friend in this season of transition, this time of “oh my Lord, I have so much to do….sit still, rest, chill out and….holy cow I am so behind!” So to alleviate some anxiety between the demands of “to do” and “to rest” I find that poetry helps. These are my favorites.

Every year at this time I pull out this poem by Auden:

Well, so that is that, Wysten Hugh Auden

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes –
Some have got broken – and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Leftovers to do, warmed up, for the rest of the week –
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully –
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

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And then my friend, only because I read him every day:

The Future, Wendall Berry

For God’s sake, be done
with this jabber of “a better world.”
What blasphemy! No “futuristic”
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this, though they
foretell inevitably a worse.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.

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Ring Out, Wild Bells, Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

as printed in The Book of Christmas by Hamilton Wright Mabie, 1909

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And then,

Psalm 90

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling-place*
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3 You turn us back to dust,
and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.

5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

7 For we are consumed by your anger;
by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end* like a sigh.
10 The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.

11 Who considers the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you.
12 So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

13 Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

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Blessings to you and your loved ones in the coming year.

November.

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The Artist is changing pallets.

Naked branches provide a new landscape.

Deep shades of blues, purple, periwinkle
cover the sky like blobs of tempera.

Bright colors fade.
The earth slumbers under a blanket of browns.

Crisp winds brush past
dabbing cheeks pink.

It’s a time of turning inward.
To the dormant and the quiet.

Allow life to change color.
Pay attention.

You too are being recreated.
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The Church in the World Today

You-Are-the-Body-of-Christ

It helps, now and then, to stop and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise
that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are the workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

*This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Utener of Saginaw in 1979 in dedication to Bishop Romera

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I am finishing my final days of a doctorate class on Church in the World today. The objective of the course is to study the changing landscape of Christianity around the world and to think about ways we educate our congregations on these changes. We talked about mega churches, evangelical churches, churches in the global south, African churches, Korean churches, International churches, Reformed churches and home churches. We have fractured the church in so many ways, the body of Christ looks like shard glass. I wonder if all of these diverse and beautiful ways of worshiping and reading the Bible and praying was the purpose or the painful side of Pentecost. The more we break off, the more we need to stay connected. Ironically as difficult as it is to engage in inter-religious dialogue it is even more difficult it is to engage in ecumenical dialogue. How strange that we find ourselves in competition with each other.

I like big churches. I like small churches. I pretty much really like church. I am in no way interested in competing with them. I am interested in being in community with God’s people. I am interested in acknowledging our common interests, desires and hopes for building the Kingdom of God on Earth.

I think it would do us well to remember the words of Paul “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Did he know when he wrote this letter to the Galatians that we would still be trying to live out that vision today?

It’s a humbling truth that nothing we do is complete and the kingdom of God is always beyond us.

I have no idea where the church going, but I do know that our desire to please God, pleases God. I also know that we aren’t perfect. But we are enough.

We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Amen