Lightened

“Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” – Mark 10:49-50

He heard the Nazarene was near.
He called the name,
He shouted “Jesus, Son of David!
Come and bring me mercy!”

He saw more clearly than the ones
Who sought to quell his voice.

They sternly ordered him,
But quiet would not serve the time.
“Son of David, come!
Come and bring me mercy!”

He saw more clearly than the ones
Who shortly would declare, “Hosanna!”

They would acclaim a conquering prince.
He shouted for a healer’s power.
They would prefer their preconceptions
To the Way the Christ would tread.

He saw more clearly than the ones
Who sought to sit at left and right.

“The Teacher calls,” the word had spread,
And hearing, he erupted from the ground,
Now lighter in his movements as
His cloak was left a-flutter in the dust.

He saw more clearly than the ones
Who’d take two tunics on the Jesus road.

So Jesus, tell me true,
Because I find myself confused.
Why when he asked to see again,
You said, “Your faith has made you well”?

You might have said, in deepest truth,
“My friend, you see. You do.”

A poem/prayer based on Mark 10:46-52, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 25 (30).

The image is Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus by William Blake – XQENbMVCvBS7kw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22207218.

Rise and Fall

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her…'” – Mark 10:11

“But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.'” – Mark 10:14

Rise and fall, rise and fall.
One minute you set the goal posts high,
to give relationships the dedicated work
we give to our most cherished crafts.

Perhaps you were remembering the potter
Jeremiah watched five centuries before,
who made those errors but reshaped
and did not throw away the clay.

But harsh, Jesus, harsh, to raise the spectre
of a Ten Commandment sin when other sins
like violence defile the marriage bond,
when some receive no options but assent.

Rise and fall, rise and fall.
Another minute and you are indignant
once again, but not with divorcees but friends,
who would “protect” you from the crush of children.

Lower now the barriers, you say,
and let the children come to me,
the heirs, possessors, owners of
the reign of God.

And so they come, the carefully washed
when leaving home, now layered with
a liberal crust of dust, and hardly struck
with the importance of the blessing they’ll receive.

Rise and fall. Rise and fall.
You set our aspirations high, O Lord,
for spouses, friends, and strangers, then
you let them fall, and give the realm of God to us.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 10:2-16, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 22 (27).

The image is Jesus Christ with the Children by Carl Bloch (1800s) – Photo by the Athenaeum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25991809

Nice

“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.” – Numbers 11:25-26

“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.'” – Mark 9:38-40

Within the tent, You spoke to Moses, and
the sixty-eight inside proclaimed
Your word, and likewise two
who couldn’t follow clear instructions. Nice.

Outside the house, You gave the healing strength
to one who followed Jesus without following
the others. John, like Joshua before,
protested. Jesus bade him silence. Nice.

Who, after all, could smother all
the movements of Your Spirit? We
can try it all we like, but still the breath
of God moves as it will despite us. Nice.

But then, it works (or not) the opposite,
for when I’d see Your Spirit wafting wide,
“the word of God was rare those days,”
and just a few declare Your power. Nice.

And so I hear the weariness of Moses, said
to Joshua, “Would that God’s people all
were prophets!” Then the labor of disciples could
be shared, and I might rest a while. Nice.

Oh, Eldad, Medad, unnamed exorcist
of Galilee, may that same Spirit that
empowered you empower more, ’till all
rejoice in holiness and healing. Wouldn’t it be nice?

A poem/prayer based on Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 and Mark 9:38-50, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading (Alternate) and Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 21 (26).

The image is Moses elects the Council of Seventy Elders by Jacob de Wit (1737) – AQGtI5P6nkpYyw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21988106.

The Circularity of Arrogance

“[Jesus] sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.'”
– Mark 9:35

No, I don’t really want to talk about the things
we talked about, not when you’d likely
have preferred we talked about the things
you said, the things we didn’t want to talk
about at all. No, not at all.

I really do not want to tell you, nor
admit, that we were one in mind
to not discuss what you had said,
and in the unity of our denial broke
into an argument of who is chief.

Um. After you, of course.

So really, we’ll just stand in silence, let
our shuffling feet reveal what you
already know without our saying anything
(and have I said just how annoying that
we know you know what we’d prefer you did not know?).

Our lips compress as you confirm you know
(we knew you knew) and tell us greatness is
the thing you said that we’d preferred
to leave unsaid: the first is last, the last is first,
and yes, we know, but honestly…

You know this doesn’t ever work – you know.
You know there’s prideful service just as much
as prideful leadership. You know
that some proclaim their martyrdom of self
as virtue though they only serve themselves.

So even were we to have spoken of
the greatest servant soul among us
(after you), we still would have been puffing up,
not building up. Do you not see
the circularity of arrogance?

I see despair has crept across your face,
the desperation as you take the hand of… wait.
You mean it’s just that simple? Serve the child?
Serve the growing child? Serve the child that’s grown?
Serve the child – and so we serve our God?

A poem/prayer based on Mark 9:30-37, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 20 (25).

The image is Jesus and the Children, a Carolingian fresco on the north wall of the nave of the Monastery Church of St. John in Müstair, Switzerland, ca. 825. Image file from James Steakley; artwork: unknown – Jean Hubert et al., Europe in the Dark Ages (London: Thames & Hudson, 1969), p. 152, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6941409.

Don’t Tell Anyone

He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. – Mark 8:29-30

Could I become your follower
without the burden of a cross?
The walk would be so easy then,
a spiritual stroll, an amble down
the garden path of soul, refreshed with rain.

Could I become your follower
and leave aside the self-denial?
I look around and see so clearly that
a number of your followers have done
this very thing. As I could, too.

And I could cheerily obey your word
to keep my silence, tell nobody
of your puzzling riddles: save my life
by losing it? Lose my life by saving it?
I can produce such nonsense without help.

But what temptation do I have for you?
Now Peter tried by loyalty and love
to make you do what you, right near the end,
preferred: to let the cup go by
and take the simple way of power.

You turned away from tempter’s lure.
You took the road. You dared rejection, found
rejection. You were faithful unto death.
Now through that course, temptation has
no power over you forever more.

In these five stanzas, though, you’ll find
temptation has its power still, not over you,
but over me, to choose the words which ask
the least of me, and leave aside the words
which ask my height and depth.

Reluctantly, then, Sufferer
of Calvary, I lift the burden of
the day, and hope it is, indeed, a cross,
and that a Simon of Cyrene might help
me bear it to the place where life meets life.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 8:27-38, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 19 (24).

The image is Christ Carrying the Cross by Titian (ca. 1585). Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15501461.

Not Cool

“But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.'” – Mark 7:28

Really, Jesus. Is this you at your best?
First you tell a woman desperate
for the health and healing of her child
she is an animal, a dog.

Not cool.

And when the crowd has brought
a man disabled, hard of hearing,
hard to understand his speech,
did you ask what he wanted? No.

Not cool.

I grant you that we get these stories
at some distance from events.
Perhaps you used a kinder phrase
to tell this woman that you would not help.

Still: not cool.

Perhaps when you withdrew with the
disabled man, you asked (somehow),
he understood (somehow), and so
you knew you’d do what he’d desire.

Still: not cool of Mark to leave that out.

We’re left uncertain from these words
whether a deaf man is as fully human
as a woman of another race
who had to claim humanity of you.

Not cool.

And we could use your clarity amidst
accursed reasons to dismiss
humanity by race, by gender, or
by disability.

Not cool.

Whatever demon tormented the girl
was nothing to the demons we embrace.
Whatever deafness afflicted the man
was nothing to the way we will not hear.

Not cool.

So Jesus, I must ask you this:
to exorcise the demons we acclaim,
and cure the deafness of our hearts
when we would not be healed.

Not cool: but oh, so needed.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 7:24-37, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 18 (23).

The image is Cristo e la Cananea (Christ and the Canaanite Woman) 16th cent. by Ludovico Carracci, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35849286. Carracci’s depiction of this story has great movement. As is not uncommon in artistic depictions of this scene, there is a dog behind the woman in the lower left corner.

One Question

[Jesus said,] “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother…'” – Mark 7:10

Just one not-so-simple question, Jesus.

When my mother died, I was two hundred seventy miles away.
When my father died, I was nearly five thousand miles away.

When my mother died, I was a college student, attending classes.
When my father died, I was a pastor, leading worship that morning.

Did I claim my education (toward ministry; I knew it then) and
Did I claim my work as corban, given to you, at their expense?

Did I honor my mother according to the commandment?
Did I honor my father according to my love?

A poem/prayer based on Mark 7:1-23, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 17 (22).

Photo by Brendan Anderson.

Weighed Down

“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” – Ephesians 6:11

“Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.’ So David removed them.” – 1 Samuel 17:38-39

Truth? You want me to wear truth?
That’s a heavy burden to carry on the belt.
My hips are groaning just to think
of carrying the truth. I cannot walk with these.

Righteousness? You want me to wear righteousness,
to face the world with generosity presented
as my face? I can’t imagine feeling any more
vulnerable than that. I cannot walk with these.

Faith? You want me to bear faith?
I tell that, as bucklers go, faith wears a little thin.
The barbed and flaming arrows pierce it through
even as I strain to lift it. No; I cannot walk with these.

Salvation? You want me to wear salvation?
This one sounds good, I grant you, but it bows the head.
I’d rather revel in my sovereignty than yours,
which makes me bow. I cannot walk with these.

The hardest of all to wear are the shoes
that make me ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
Where might they take me? Into what risks?
And what protection do they offer? None.

No and no and no. I cannot walk with these.

And yet… I try.

A poem/prayer based on Ephesians 6:10-20, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year B, Proper 16 (21).

The image is Philistine Shields and Spears from The pictorial Bible and commentator: presenting the great truths of God’s word in the most simple, pleasing, affectionate, and instructive manner, by Ingram Cobbin, Daniel March, L. P. Brockett, and Hesba Stretton. Image obtained through the Internet Archive Book Images – https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14763830682/ Source book page: https://archive.org/stream/pictorialbibleco00cobb/pictorialbibleco00cobb#page/n301/mode/1up, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43907449.

That’s Asking a Lot, Jesus

[Jesus said,] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:51

I, well…. Jesus, I do not approve.

The metaphor is… gross.
For me, the living bread
is molding in the back
of my refrigerator.
Whoever eats that bread
may never die because
the penicillin analogues
within it will suffice
to sweep the viruses
and bacilli away.

The metaphor is gross.
Not stopping there, you up
the stakes, from moldy bread
(OK, my imagery) to feast
of cannibals (and that,
my Savior, is entirely on you).
Though not quite two
millennia have passed
with broken bread/Christ’s body,
it’s still a foul thing to say.

The metaphor is gross,
not just for what it pictures,
but for what it then demands.
Your flesh, our bread? Then you
are what sustains, on you
we must rely, in you we find
our nourishment, in you
we live our life. No wonder they
protested, knowing that you claimed
the place and power of God.

The metaphor is gross,
the message so demanding, that
despite my many years of faith,
despite my years of leadership
within the Church, the gathering
we grossly call your body, I
still hesitate, still wonder: Can
a human body really mediate
for God? Oh, I believe,
but help, I pray, my unbelief.

A poem/prayer based on John 6:51-58, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 15 (20).

The image is Feeding the Multitude by Daniel of Uranc (1433) – photograph by Michel Bakni, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98280902.

Plenty of Room… For the Devil

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. – Ephesians 4:26-27

Jesus, I’m banging my head against a wall here…
(Figuratively. I’m not banging it literally… yet…)
Truth and gracious words and tender hearts
are not winning the day.

In a global pandemic, governors forbid that schools
require that their students learn in masks.
For God’s sake, why?
Are we to be instructed by a flood of death?

Death of children, death of parents, death of uncles,
aunts, kupuna. An unmasked Masque of the Red Death,
a viral dance through classrooms, buses,
homes, cafes, churches, and… through mortuaries.

Oh, look, as patients struggle for a breath
and hospitals require more beds
and look, the dying count is rising, too,
and truth and gracious words don’t cut it.

How could we possibly grieve the Holy Spirit more
than with this wholesale exercise of folly,
denying the urgent summons of her wisdom,
favoring the clarion call of limitless greed?

For greed has won the day, mammon taken the prize,
to summon workers back to risky work,
their children back in virus-sharing schools,
so owners profit more than they will pay.

The cause of education? That’s a laugh.
We find that educators are not valued
for the things they teach our children – but
to keep them while their parents work.

Six hundred fourteen thousand dead
in this country alone; four and a quarter
million dead around the globe and some still claim
the danger and the cost are fiction.

A falsehood that belies that we are truly
members of one body, interwoven
over oceans, nations’ borders, and our
prejudicial, harmful acts,

Connected not just in pandemic
but in ordinary time, connected
because the suffering of one
will lead to suffering for all.

We do not imitate our God in truth.
Though Christ, in love, gave himself up,
we still insist on offering up more lives
for lives, for greed, for power, for evil.

A poem/prayer based on Ephesians 4:25-5:2, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year B, Proper 14 (19).

The image is The angel of death striking a door during the plague of Rome. Engraving by Levasseur after J. Delaunay. https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/70/48/4b5c28e57609137dd2009ae490f2.jpg Gallery: https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0010664.html Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-03): https://wellcomecollection.org/works/p8gxfxrp CC-BY-4.0, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36456028.