The Wind is Against Us

We left you there upon the mountain, Lord.
The safest place for you – or well, for us –
well insulated from the crowd’s demands
for things that we, in truth, cannot provide.

If you are there upon the mountain, Lord,
then you will not repeat those awkward words,
“You give them something now to eat.” With just
five loaves of bread at hand (as well you knew).

If we had known about that pair of fish,
well, that would surely make the difference
in our well-meaning cluelessness. “Bring them
to me,” was all you said, and all were fed.

So you are there upon the mountain, Lord,
and when we have once more resumed our breath,
when we are not so weary carrying
those baskets full, we will be there for you.

But now that you are on the mountain, Lord,
we find that we cannot return to you
with quite the ease we promised. Now a wind
opposes our return to land and you.

We’d rather be upon the mountain, Lord,
instead of struggling with our oars and sail
to make some headway into this head wind.
How can we find your presence once again?

But now the wind blows from the mountain, Lord,
and with it moves a terrifying shape,
a figure of the dead and of our deaths,
to take us from your side for now and ever.

“Take heart!” we hear. “Do not now be afraid!”
Oh, these, we know, are words of angels, heard
by those they summon to great deeds, the likes
of which are not within our feeble skills.

And, “It is I!” you cry, O Lord, a word
of doubtful reassurance. Who is that
who walks upon the gale-tossed sea? A ghost
we comprehend; a Savior, not as much.

But when you were upon the mountain, Lord,
we strove to come to you despite the wind
and now see you come to us, and how
can we do other but to meet you here?

So call us from the mountain, Lord, and call
us from the heaving sea, and may we take
our faltering steps upon the waves and reach –
and find – and grasp – your outstretched loving hand.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 14:22-33, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Proper 14 (19).

Panel from a Christopher Whall window in Chipping Warden, Northamptonshire. Church (St Peter and St Paul). Photo by jmc4 Church Explorerhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/52219527@N00/5384683573/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18275704.

Midnight Wrestling

Hoarsely breathing.
Sweat’s aroma growing.
Taste of dust across the teeth.
A shapeless silhouette against the stars.
Muscles aching, skin abrading, jaw clenched tight,
we wrestle to the dawn.

In ignorance I strain.
In ignorance I fumble for a hold.
In ignorance I push or pull or pivot.
In ignorance I gasp for breath, inhale, exhale,
and beg for blessing, beg for name.

Is this you, God?
Do you produce this ache
by dislocation of my frame?
Is this the silent panting struggle with Creation?
Is this you, God?

No name.
Just a name for me,
a name for a devoted wrestler, but
I weary of the struggle, weary of the pain,
weary of the ignorance.

If you must put
your arms about me once again,
might it be a parent’s warm embrace
and not to separate my fragile, aching bones.
Oh, bless me as I am.

A poem/prayer based on Genesis 32:22-31, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Proper 13 (18).

Drawing of Jacob wrestling with the angel by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov – http://religionart.narod.ru/gal9/photo45.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9087629.

Poor Farmer

I don’t think much of your agricultural practice, Jesus.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…”
a farmer who leaves the weeds amidst the wheat,
and only separates the two at harvest.

Well, let me tell you, Jesus, that the weeds
are not just growing peacefully beside
the wheat. They steal the water, hide the sun,
choke the grain. The wheat begs your relief!

“O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me!”
“Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?”

I need a farmer who will bring me aid and comfort
from the spreading weeds of greed and folly
ravishing the struggling grain of your own planting,
LORD. “I hate them with perfect hatred,” indeed.

Unless…

Unless, of course, I let the Psalmist’s prayer
take root within my heart and blossom there:
“See if there is any wicked way in me;”
test me to see if I grow like the weeds.

Ah, now I am less eager for your justice
or your retribution or your weeding. Now
I am content to grow in peace however fragile,
to become, I pray, your wheat and not your weed.

“See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and Psalm 139, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading and Psalm for Year A, Proper 11 (16).

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Where is the Laughter?

Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me…” – Genesis 21:6

Where is the laughter, O God?
Where is the delight in your created multiverse?
Where is the wonder that bubbles up
in human beings rejoicing?

But who can laugh in days like these?
Who can laugh? Four hundred thousand people
now have died around the world?
One hundred thousand of our closer neighbors?

Yes, who can laugh in days like these,
when the essential work and heightened risk
and sickening and dying falls upon
the people burdened by the sin of racism?

Yes, who can laugh when clubs and shields
and “rubber bullets” strike, when tear gas
drives the ministers from holy ground,
when violence asserts the mantle of Christ’s Church.

Yes, who can laugh, for who can breathe?
Who can laugh, for who can see for tears?
Who can laugh, for who do so through a mask?
Who can laugh, for who can see their neighbor smile?

The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh?…
Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

O LORD, let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,
and we
will
laugh.

A poem/prayer based on Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Proper 6 (11).

A stained glass window in the Collegiale Notre Dame de Dinant in Walloon, Belgium. Photo by Vassil – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17808949.

Unholy Dominion

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

I look to Your face, O Righteous and Holy One.
It should be beaming bright as noonday sun,
and in its radiance my eyes should be dazzled.
Then why instead do Your hands obscure Your face?
Why does Your forehead tremble? Why do
Your shoulders shake? Why does a river run
from both Your eyes down to Your feet?

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet…

Why do the heavens wail? Why does the lightning strike?
Why do Your eyes flash amidst Your tears,
rising suddenly above Your trembling hands?
Why do Your brows draw together
in holy wrath arising from Your sorrow?
You have made us, after all, a little less than You.
We stand in crowns of glory and of honor.

You stand. I fall. My face is to the ground.
Your glory is too wonderful for me, too great
Your anger, and too great Your grief.
Your foot descends to hover just above
my neck. “Is this,” You ask, “dominion you
would choose? It’s not? Then why,” You whisper,
“do you force it on My children?”

A poem/prayer based on Psalm 8, the Revised Common Lectionary Psalm Reading for Year A, Trinity Sunday.

Detail of a large gypsum relief showing the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III placing his foot on the neck of an enemy. From the North-West Palace, reused in South-West Palace at Nimrud, Iraq. ca. 728 BCE. The relief is now in the British Museum. Photo by Dr. Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90697184.

Pentecost 2020

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

They were together in their humiliation.
They were together in their grief.
They were together in their rage.
They were together in their humanity.

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind…

A man bleeding, collapsing on the road.
A woman dying in her own apartment.
A man gasping that he couldn’t breathe.

And at this sound the crowd gathered…

They gathered to grieve.
They gathered to protest.
They gathered to demand.
They gathered to declare their humanity.

Amazed and astonished, [the crowd] asked…

They asked why you deserved this.
They asked for submission to violence.
They asked for time for the process.
They offered… nothing.

…In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.

God made us children.
God made us adults.
God made us human.
God made us the equal of anyone.

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

Do you have to ask?
If you have to ask,
how can you know?

But others sneered.

Oh, yes. We have heard this before.

But Peter… raised his voice and addressed them, “…This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…'”

We will declare the justice of the Creator.
We will declare the injuries of the Created.
We will demand the justice of the order.
We will defy the structures of the racists.

May everyone who calls on the name of the LORD be saved.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 2:1-21, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Pentecost Sunday.

The image is “Pentecost” by JESUS MAFA. Used by permission under Creative Commons Attribution/Noncommercial/ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Help of the Helpless

Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land. – Psalm 68:5-6

I am grateful, O God, to know
the people for whom You labor,
the people for whom You care.

You care for the homeless.
You care for the resource-less.
You care for the refugee.

I am grateful, O God, to know
the people for whom You care.
Do You wonder why people do not?

A poem/prayer based on Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, the Revised Common Lectionary Psalm Reading for Year A, seventh Sunday of Easter.

The image is a portrait of Tomomichi Yuuki, “Mizuhan portrait”, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64228756.

Orphaned

[Jesus said,] “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” – John 14:18

Technically, I have been an orphan now
for twenty months and three. My mother died
as I was starting to believe that I
was an adult – perhaps, of course, before
I had achieved that title – in the waning months
before my second decade reached its close.
It seems so odd to be now older than she ever was.

My father lived much longer, though afflicted so
in latter years by Parkinson’s Disease, he could
not make the trip to visit me, his eldest son,
in the Hawaiian Islands. The flowers of this place
adorned his passing when I wish they could
have welcomed him as honored guest.
But he greeted eighty years with such a smile.

So I have been left orphaned well into
my middle age, a kinder fate than many folk
endure. If none of us were perfect in our love,
we had at least the grace to learn and grow,
to love anew when older means to love had passed.
So Jesus, if you would, come visit me, I pray,
for I am orphaned, and I weep for your embrace.

A poem/prayer based on John 14:15-21, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, sixth Sunday of Easter.

The photo is of my father and my mother on their wedding day in 1962; photographer unknown.

This poem/prayer fails to honor the woman my father married in 1995; they met while both pursuing M.Div. degrees at Andover Newton Theological School. She has been the mother-to-an-adult my own mother could not be. My son said it best. His grandfather had had the privilege to marry the love of his life twice.

All I Ask

[Jesus said,] “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” – John 14:14

I’m asking.

I’m asking for deliverance from a virus.
I’m asking for deliverance from all-encompassing folly.
I’m asking for deliverance from the demands of greed.
I’m asking for deliverance from injustice.

I’m asking.

I’m asking for deliverance from my loneliness.
I’m asking for deliverance from my narcissism.
I’m asking for deliverance from my burdens.
I’m asking for deliverance from my sin.

I’m asking.

I’m asking for deliverance from my grief.
I’m asking for deliverance of the world’s grief.
I’m asking for deliverance of the world’s violence.
I’m asking for deliverance from… it all.

I’m asking.

What say you, Jesus?
Shall we wait at this table until it comes to pass?
Here, at least, we have the bread to sustain us…
Except that it has not been broken yet in you.

A poem/prayer based on John 14:1-14, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, fifth Sunday of Easter.

The image is The Last Supper by Jacopo Tintoretto – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15542032.

Reassure Me

It’s dark.

This is a valley of shadows.

This is a valley of death.

My grief and not my cup runs over.

Too many earthly shepherds flail
with rod and staff;
they maim and kill their flock,
and leave the predators untouched.

My enemies enjoy the feast
that I will never taste.

This is place from which I cry,
“De profudis clamavi ad te!”
“Mimma’amaqqim qeratika!”
“Mai loko o na wahi hohonu,
ua kahea aku au ia ‘oe!”
“Out of the depths I cry to you!”

Reassure me with your implements
of protection, Holy Shepherd,
for the night is long. I am afraid.
I turn my prayers to you.

A poem/prayer based on Psalm 23, the Revised Common Lectionary Psalm Reading for Year A, fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday.

Image of The Good Shepherd by Luca Giordano – http://www.gallery.am/hy/database/item/6772/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20019538.