[Placeholder] for Thanks

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If I were to thank you, God,
(I guess I should)
I’d be specific.
“Thank you for [this].”
“Thank you for [that].”
“Thank you for [this other thing].”

Like that.
Explicit.
Clear.
“Thank you for [my stuff].”
“Thank you for [my life].”
“Thank you for [my loves].”

If I were to thank you, God,
specifically,
as I guess I should:
“Thank you for [joy].”
“Thank you for [rescue].”
“Thank you for [success].”

Just wait, O God,
and I’ll sum up my blessings
(your blessings, come to think of it):
“Thank you for [today’s sunrise].”
“Thank you for [today’s lunch].”
“Thank you for [last night’s rest].”

Specific. Clear. Deliberate. And…
All about me, isn’t it?
Where are others’ joys?
“Thank you for knowledge.”
“Thank you for strength.”
“Thank you for food.”

More general, for sure,
but Hannah raised the thanks
of all creation with her own:
“Thank you for children.”
“Thank you for life.”
“Thank you for justice.”

And since I thank you, God
(as well I should),
I thank you for…


all.

A poem/prayer based on 1 Samuel 2:1-10, the Revised Common Lectionary Hebrew Bible reading for Year B, Proper 28.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

As We Embrace Destruction

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Holy One, God of life,
as we your living images
embrace destruction,
worshiping the tools
of death, counting cartridges
and corpses…

Please do not leave us to
our tragic, evil ways.
Embrace the fallen, comfort the grieving,
and wash away our willful sin
with Your angry tears.

Amen.

A prayer in sorrow for those killed at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, on November 8, 2018.

I Don’t Want to Light Another Candle

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I wrote this song in October 2017 after fifty-nine people died, slain by a lone gunman in Las Vegas. Interfaith Communities in Action sponsored a prayer service at Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo. We read every name. We lit a candle for every life taken.

Just last week we held a similar service, remembering eleven killed at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And today, twelve have died in Thousand Oaks, California.

I don’t want to light another candle.

I Don’t Want to Light Another Candle

I don’t want to light another candle.
I don’t want to spark another flame.
I don’t want to curse the crushing darkness
remembering another body slain.

[Chorus]
For the world is all aglow with candles
as bright as the noonday sun appears,
and we can see the swelling of the ocean
overflowing with the rivers of our tears.

I don’t want to light another candle.
I don’t want to read another name.
I don’t want to shout into the halls
of magnificence and power,
“Why must it always be the same?”

[Chorus]

I don’t want to light another candle.
I tell that my grieving days are done.
I don’t want to count the dead and injured
when the number that’s too high…
is one.

[Chorus]

Let me look up and see
God’s rainbow sailing through the sky:
a promise made of rain and sunshine
that all will be well by and by,
all will be well by and by.
Oh, God, may all be well…
by and by.

Copyright © 2017 by Eric Anderson

All She Gave

IMG_4781Just two small coins – but coins of value, true,
not just the jingling metal that betrays
my presence with each step, the coins I will,
unthinking, toss upon my bureau at
day’s end, to languish unregarded and
unwanted, not to cross another palm
to settle my just debts. No, these small coins
would buy a loaf of bread, or maybe two,
to make a meal, to stave off hunger, bring
another anxious day comforting close.

Just two small coins – but coins not changed for bread,
nor flour, nor wine, nor clothing, nor for rent –
coins placed, their mild ring near lost amidst
the clattering rain of donors’ waterfalls.
The merry ring of silver and of gold,
coin falling onto coin, a music of
the givers’ generosity. Clink, clink:
her coins descend, to vanish from the sight
of those observing, buried by the stream
and weight and hue of coins worth more than hers.

To vanish from the sight of all but you,
the teacher come from Galilee, who sees
not just the copper, buried now beneath
the gold and silver, but the bread and wine
unpurchased and the ragged seams unsewn
for want of thread. You feel as hunger gnaws,
you hear her as she lifts her plaintive call
for “mercy on a widow.” Then you turn
to your disciples, and remind your friends
of what it means to offer all you have.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 12:38-44, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Year B, Proper 27.

Photo of two U.S. pennies by Eric Anderson.

All Saints 2018

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My mother and father in 1962.

I’ve seen a number of “Name your saints” queries this year. If they’ve been common in previous years, I missed them. Call it selective attention, or selective ignorance, or… something.

This year I noticed.

At Church of the Holy Cross, we observe All Saints Sunday on the weekend prior to November 1st (other churches seems to favor the Sunday after). We have a well established ritual. We name those who have died in the year since the last observance, toll the church bell, and friends or family members come forward to light a candle.

I’ve always been struck by the deliberate pace of this service. For most of my career in New England, we in the liturgy-crafting profession have labored for efficiency in worship, brevity where at all possible. “Keep the service moving,” we tell ourselves.

Not here.

Our Chair of Deacons read each name slowly, clearly, deliberately.

Then, the crashing tone of the bell flowed in from its perch just outside the sanctuary.

Then, a pause.

Then, some person, some people, stood from their seats and bent their steps forward. They stood before the unlit candles, took one, or two, and bent their tips into a waiting flame. They placed the glowing taper in its row, and maybe paused… before returning to their pew.

They sat.

And only then did the next name sound.

When all the names had been read, the congregation queued, returning to the sanctuary’s front, to light additional candles in memory and love and honor of those who had died in prior years. When they had finished, and I took my place to speak a final prayer of love and sorrow, the sanctuary glowed in daylight and in candlelight.

I’ve always lit a candle or two during that last portion of the service. Friends, family members, church members have departed from my life and gone to God. I’ve honored them with a flame or three.

This year, however, I stood for a name.

Our Chair of Deacons read his name: “The Reverend Lynn Anderson.”

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A family vacation in the summer of 1982.

The bell tolled.

I stood. I hadn’t far to walk — I’d come down from the chancel and taken a seat in the front pew — but I took those few steps to the taper-laden table and chose my candle. My hand trembled as I held the wick to the flame. I placed the candle in its holder. I paused. Then I took the few steps back, and sat.

My heart had broken open.

My father, Lynn Anderson, died on July 1st. He was eighty years old. He’d grown up in the hills of western Massachusetts, where his body now rests. The grandson of a Swedish immigrant, he was the first of the family to attend college. He married my mother, Maren Simonds, in 1962. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics education from the University of Michigan. Mom, with a master’s degree in biology, ran tests in a medical laboratory.

He and my mother loved each other — and they frustrated each other, too. In the 70’s they chose to do something about it, and deepened not just their relationship with one another but their parenting to their sons. They went on to become national team resource couple for Marriage Encounter, offering others what they so prized.

Shortly after I learned to drive, my mother had a melanoma growth removed. I remember thinking it was convenient that I had my license just when she needed a chauffeur. The cancer, however, had already hidden elsewhere. In the spring of 1983, I came home from college once to visit her in the hospital after a tumor paralyzed her. I came home a second time for her funeral.

I’ve been lighting a candle for her in my heart — whether I used that metaphor or not — for over 35 years.

Dad had to finish raising two sons, one in college and one in high school, without the love of his life, the love he’d worked so hard to nurture and preserve. He succeeded. We each got our college and graduate degrees (Christopher emulated Dad and earned a Ph.D.). We both married. My wife and I blessed him with his grandchildren.

In the meantime, he also heard the call of God, and turned from classroom teaching and school administration to the ministry. He got his M.Div. eight years after I got mine. He served small churches in Connecticut as an interim pastor — long tenures (for an interim), reflecting the challenges of finding pastors for small congregations. After retirement, churches sought him as a favorite supply preacher when their minister was away.

Dad and Shirley 2009

The Rev. Shirley Anderson and the Rev. Lynn Anderson

He also met and married the love of his life — again. During his seminary years, he gave his heart to Shirley Sherman and she gave hers to him. They filled one another’s spirits. They shared house and home.

So there are my treasured saints this year. Others called them Lynn and Maren, Dr. Anderson and Mrs. Anderson, Reverend Anderson. I called them Mom and Dad.

My heart breaks that they are gone. My heart sings because they lived.

And I know that my Redeemer lives, and in my flesh I will see God. (Job 19:25-26)

 

In the Silence

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“After that no one dared to ask him any question.”
— Mark 12:34

What had you to say that was so special, Jesus?
Not much. Just: “Love your God,” and “Love your neighbor.”
Hardly original. Hardly profound. Hardly unheard,
or unthought, or unsaid, or unique.
Not much. Just: “Love your God,” and, “Love your neighbor.”
That. That is all.

And after that no one dared to ask you any question.

Ha! I’ve got questions, Jesus, yes, I’ve got questions.
Like: “What does it mean to love God?” After all,
this Blessed Creator needs nothing of me.
What have I to offer the Author of
Everything? “Love.” Love? Seriously, love?
That. That is all.

And after that no one dared to ask you any question.

Ha! I’ve got questions, Jesus, yes, I’ve got questions.
Like: “Who is my neighbor?” (Oh, wait, you answered
that one, so…) “What does it mean to love
my neighbor?” Got you there, now didn’t I?
Except, of course, I know when I’ve been loved…
That. That is all.

And after that no one dared to ask you any question.

Neither, then, my Savior, will I dare.
Why? I know the answers. All you did
was call me to the roots, the ground, the soil
of my faith, the seed which bears within it
the flower and the fruits of… love.
That. That is all.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 12:28-34, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Year B, Proper 26. The commandment to love God is found in Deuteronomy 6, and the commandment to love the neighbor is found in Leviticus 19.

Photo of a seaside naupaka in blossom by Eric Anderson.

The Man Who Defined His Healing

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O, let me play God, God.
Or at least let me play Jesus
in homage to his own classic performance
as Jesus of Nazareth in:…
The Man Who Defined His Healing!

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
OK, that wouldn’t be my line, but what a line it is!
What better way to grab for Christ’s attention
(my attention, if I get the role)
than to use that risky title of Messiah?

And then, O God, I’ll hear the shushing crowd,
that doesn’t want to risk the Roman wrath
and refreshing lack of discrimination
in the application of most deadly force —
they’ll kill everybody —

with cool consideration wrinkling my brow.
I’ll let it build — “Have mercy!” “Oh, be silent!” —
and at the height of tension, stop, and say,
“Now call him here.” Take note, dear God:
“Now call him here.” He takes those steps himself.

As word arrives, he rises — leaps, perhaps
(You’re the director) — in my direction,
guided by the helpful (and confusing) shouts
of those around, in chaotic compensation
for the eyes that cannot lead him here.

And here he is, brought here himself.
He made it happen, instigated what’s to come,
cried out for me, cried my name,
cried my title, cried for mercy. And now,
what can I do but ask: “What do you want?”

It might be healing for his eyes,
it might be dinner for his family,
might be that someone remember his own name,
not just the patronymic
“Bar Timaeus.” “What do you want?”

As he names it, God, to see again,
You can let Your camera linger
on my softening eyes, compassion and
respect commingled, love in echo
of Your own. For power, though:

we’ll have to count on Your Most
Special Effects Department for its work.
And then, ’tis done. He has achieved
the goal for which he struggled, shouted, strode.
With his healed eyes, he’ll see the tears in mine.

I hope, director God, that You won’t choose
to pull the camera back to show the crowd,
but rather, as they cheer, let the picture linger
on this man, and me, and pan down to our feet
as, side by side, we take the Way together.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 10:46-52, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Year B, Proper 25.

The underexposed photo of a sunset in Kona was taken by Eric Anderson on October 13, 2018.