Face to Face

Never since…

There has been no one like Moses, but then really,
has there ever been another like, well, anyone?
In all the majesty of wonder, the greatest wonder yet
may be: that I am I, and you are you, and though we share
some ninety-odd percent of our genetic code
with cats (though Moses might not like to hear it) we
are one and yet distinct, unique and ever linked.

…whom the LORD knew face to face…

Of whom is that not true? Oh, You who knew
me long before I breathed the air, You to whom
the streams of time are not a straightforward
cascade, who dances on the river-foam of years,
for You, the face is less effective than a mask
in hiding what we in delusion think is “privacy.”
You know us soul to soul – soul to soul.

He was unequaled…

Ah, yes. Now there, I must confess and so agree,
I am no Moses. What soul has found release
from bondage or captivity though my essay?
Perhaps, at best, a mind has passed an obstacle,
a heart found comfort or a soul relief.
No Moses I, nor many (any?) of Your people.
May one and all take up the staff to set Your people free.

A poem/prayer based on Deuteronomy 34:1-12, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Proper 25 (30).

The image is “The Death of Moses” by Phillip Medhurst. Digital image by Philip De Vere – https://www.flickr.com/groups/the_phillip_medhurst_collection_of_bible_prints/pool/phillip_medhurst_bible_pictures, Philip De Vere is owner and curator of the prints in the User:Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations. Medhurst’s purchase and collation of prints illustrating the Bible (“The Phillip Medhurst Collection”), now housed at Belgrave Hall Leicester, was made possible by (and was within the terms of) the Kevin Victor Freestone Bequest. See https://www.flickr.com/groups/the_phillip_medhurst_collection_of_bible_prints and https://www.flickr.com/groups/phillip_medhurst_bible, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44942429.

Facing Faces

God: “…but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:23c)

Jesus: “Whose head is this…?” (Matthew 22:20b)

Faces clattering as coins descend
to bounce and roll across the counter;
faces whispering as fingers count
the bills, exchanging paper for some goods.

Faces flicker on the screen, three up
and three across to form a game
or set the stage for stories, echoed now
in tiny screens within a telephone.

Faces sheltered in the swaddling cloth
of masks, reducing by some meaningful
amount the risk of illness and of death
to me , to you, to those we love.

Faces twisted now by scorn and rage,
by privilege and power and by pique,
faces streaked with tears as faces
lacking breath are given to the earth.

Faces sighing from exhausting toil,
faces bright with gratitude for love,
faces furrowed with confusion,
faces that conceal the hearts within.

Each day I face the faces, Holy One
(if just the one that gazes from the glass),
and every day I long for one bright face,
O God, the one I cannot see and live.

Some day.

Some day.

A poem/prayer based on Exodus 32:12-23, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading and Matthew 22:15-22, the Gospel Reading for Year A, Proper 24 (29).

The image is a denarius from the reign of Emperor Tiberius. Photographed by: York Museums Trust Staff – This file has been provided by York Museums Trust as part of a GLAMwiki partnership. This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48143736.

If Only I Weren’t Distracted

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,

I used to call them “Squirrel Days,” O Jesus.
Before I moved here to this island without squirrels,
it was my tag for days when concentration
failed, when focus flailed, when even consciousness would fade.

whatever is just, whatever is pure,

It’s funny how the unimportant can assume
such prominence and even over what is right
before me. Who needs the phone to ring or text to buzz
when adolescent disappointments still possess me?

whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,

I cannot even concentrate upon the evils, cannot choose
which one is worst, which ones are worse, which ones
are dangerously proximate. Sufficient for this year
are evils, rages, suffering arising in a single day!

if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,

Incarcerated children, children still not reunited with their parents,
refugees denied a hearing, tear gas fired at civilians,
a pandemic dismissed despite two hundred thousand graves,
a tax break for the rich and no relief for those now unemployed.

think about these things.

Oh, I’ll try to follow Paul’s advice, dear Jesus, but
I am… somewhat… distracted.

A poem/prayer based on Philippians 4:1-9, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year A, Proper 23 (28).

Distracted photo by Eric Anderson.

I Pray for a Miracle

O, God,

I pray for a miracle.

I pray for weary bodies to find strength
and in resilience live beyond a virus.

I pray for souls who lack compassion
to find empathy for suffering.

I pray for those augmenting their own power
to embrace compassion and its sharing.

I pray for those obsessed with their self-image
to be filled with overflowing love.

I pray for those in pain of injury
to be comforted in justice.

I pray for those dismissive of their neighbors
to be startled at the gifts their neighbors share.

I pray, O God, for miracles
to erupt within the human soul.

Keeping Ten… Or Not

“All pay heed! The Lord! The Lord JEHOVAH, has given unto you these fifteen [Moses drops one tablet and it shatters] – Oy.

Ten! Ten Commandments for all to obey!” – Mel Brooks as Moses in History of the World Part I.

If you had given us fifteen commandments, God,
we would have kept them… even worse.

You shall have no other gods before me.

Except for wealth and power. Except for claiming
our self-righteousness. Except for comfort.
Except for what fulfills a moment or a day.

You shall not make for yourself an idol…

Except for units of exchange. Except for statues
celebrating history founded in illusion.
Except for pale-pigmented skin.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your god…

Except to justify oppression. Except to conjure up
Your favor of injustice. Except to claim
that wealth and power, even evil, are Your will.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

Except for the essential workers. Except for those
we will not pay a living wage for their six working days.
Except for those at home we do not pay at all.

Honor your father and your mother…

Except for those the stresses of the world overwhelm.
Except for those whose errors are still lesser than their love.
Except for those we choose to lay aside.

You shall not murder.

Except for those we find a threat.
Except for those whose nations we oppose.
Except for those we fear.

You shall not commit adultery.

Except upon intense desire in a moment.
Except upon a disappointment with the spouse. Except
when something better comes along.

You shall not steal.

Except to maximize my profit over others’.
Except to minimize my workers’ compensation.
Except to claim Your work is mine.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Except to emphasize my righteousness and power.
Except to render powerless the ones in opposition.
Except to maintain structures of oppression.

You shall not covet…

Except… every damn day.
Every damned day.
Every damnable day.

If you had given us fifteen commandments, God,
we would have kept the other five… even worse.

A poem/prayer based on Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Proper 22 (27).

The photo “Broken stone” by smallcurio is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Grapes Inherited

Sour grapes – that’s our phrase. “It’s just sour grapes.”
We use it to disguise injustice.
We use it to to discredit injury.
We use it to avoid accountability.
“It’s just sour grapes,” and therefore we
bear no responsibility.

For Jeremiah and Ezekiel, however,
sour grapes were something that passed on,
with parents’ sour sufferings
experienced by children. “As I live,” said God,
“this proverb shall no more be used.”
That’s true – but the proverb’s truth remains.

The child of the refugee is hungry.
The child of the battered woman cries.
The child of the homeless has no home.
The child of the oppressed is marked.
The child of the person of color
wonders when their life will matter.

Will we blame you, O God,
that we reject the refugee, that we
refuse the see the signs of the abuse,
that we permit a child to be homeless,
that we accept oppression and
we give excuses to this violence?

Of course we will.

And you will say, to quote Ezekiel,
who wrote from exile in the shadow
of the walls of Babylon, who knew
disaster from the inside and from out:
“Repent and turn from your transgressions,
or iniquity will be your ruin.”

And so it is.

A poem/prayer based on Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, the Revised Common Lectionary Alternate Reading for Year A, Proper 21 (26).

Icon of the prophet Ezekiel attributed to Terentiy Fomin from Vologda – photo by shakko, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8828814.

And Now: Two Hundred Thousand

How does one even start to grieve
for ten, for twenty, for a hundred?
How does one even start to grieve
when headstones reach a thousand?

How does one even start to grieve
at tens of thousands, fifty thousand,
when the interring earth is flying,
the crematory flames arising?

How does one even start to grieve?
One grieves for one, each one,
a precious human soul, and with
a hand of comfort, weeps.

Two Tambourines

I wrote this piece as part of a prayer/poem/song conversation with Maren Tirabassi, reflecting on the crossing of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) and Song of Miriam in Exodus 14 and 15. Links to the other pieces in the conversation are below.

They told us to hustle; no time to leaven bread
“Take only one bag or all of us are dead.”
The strap is over my shoulder as I flee from Egypt land
with a tambourine clutched within my hand.

[Chorus]

I will ring my tambourine as I dance along the shore.
I will shout the joy of freedom over welling waves restored
while another tambourine is sinking in the marsh
and the wailing widows of Egypt mourn.

They called out the soldiers, their chariots and spears.
Will we go back to servitude or will our graves be here?
At the hip of a chariot driver a tambourine has room.
He brought it to celebrate our doom.

[Chorus]

The walls of water billowed as slogged through mud and weeds.
Will we lie in murky graves or will we all be free?
The waters took the army in the moment of our need
and left a tambourine fouled in the weeds.

[Chorus]

A live performance by Eric Anderson from September 16, 2020.

Horse and Rider Thrown into the Sea (Eric Anderson)

For World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2020 (Maren Tirabassi)

Drawing of a tambourine by Biblioteca de la Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias del Trabajo Universidad de Sevilla – 1004173. Uploaded by clusternote, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26967109.

I Got a… Denarius

When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received [a denarius] the usual daily wage. – Matthew 20:9

“I got a rock.” – Charlie Brown in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Nobody hired us. You could say I didn’t try.
At least, I didn’t try the ones with work.
I promise you I tried the ones that didn’t,
at least the ones who said they didn’t.

Another day of working to find work;
another day of working without pay;
another day of wondering just how
the evening’s meal will come together.

“Why are you standing here so idle all the day?”
“I’ve chased the ones who will not hire
from this end of the marketplace to that.
So now, I stand, because there is no hope for work.”

Or is there?

Now that was just an hour ago. I worked
to pull the weeds and stake the vines,
but to be honest, darkness came too soon
to make much impact on this vineyard.

Darkness came too soon to make much impact
on the emptiness of my larder.
Darkness came too soon for work to be
rewarded with enough to keep our lives.

But look: there in my hand. The owner
of the vineyard has presented me
with a denarius, a coin whose worth
will keep us fed today, perhaps tomorrow.

I run back to the marketplace
for oil and flour, beans and dates.
My family will not believe
the owner’s generosity – I hardly do!

Behind me I hear quarrelling.
I pay no mind if others’ eyes are evil.
My family will eat tonight
because someone was good.

I usually imagine Jesus’ parable from the perspective of the all-day workers, the ones “who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” For this poem/prayer, I thought I’d choose another point of view.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 20:1-16, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Proper 20 (25).

Photo of a denarius by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=534248.

Horse and Rider Thrown into the Sea

“…and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” – Exodus 14:30b

“Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.'” – Exodus 15:20-21

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

I can’t imagine where they found the energy
to sing, to sound the tambourine, to dance.
My feet are lead; they sink into the marshy mud
that runs along the reedy shore.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

We were not last in line, but close enough
to feel as if we were the least in all of Israel.
No doubt the chariots and archers were not close
enough, but we could feel their breaths upon our necks.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

I ran, we ran, we galloped through the slime and muck
and knew – and knew – we were too slow. We were
too late. We were too weak. We knew – we knew –
that swords and chains and whips would be our lot.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

Then suddenly we climbed the bank, the shore
had made its way to us, it seemed, lest we
expire before our limbs had carried us to it.
And still we heard the cries of the Egyptians.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

With trembling I reversed my gaze to see
the sword that shortly would relieve my life,
and saw the waters closing, heard the malice
of Egyptian voices carried off by wails of fear.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

And now… I cannot summon up the strength
to sing, or dance, or beat the tambourine.
When breath returns, perhaps I will be strong
to sing a song of thanks that now I do breathe free.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

The churning waters have devoured the Egyptians.
The shores are strewn with all the corpses of the drowned.
One gazes up at me with vacant eyes, no more
surprised than I to see I live and he has died.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

So when I sing, dear Lord, in celebration of this gift
may I remember to regret the slain. Though ill
was their intent, and evil was their goal,
they, too, could claim the title of your children.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

Oh, will a sunrise ever come, O God, that sees
the power-filled renouncing their prerogatives?
When slavery in all its forms is done? When death no longer rules?
When no one casts their eyes on corpses,

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea?

A poem/prayer based on Exodus 14:19-31 and Exodus 15:1b-11, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading and alternate Psalm Reading for Year A, Proper 19 (24).

The image is Miriam’s Song by Samuel Hirszenberg, Center for Jewish History, NYC – https://www.flickr.com/photos/center_for_jewish_history/3560756375/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41533409.