Starting Over

“Jesus answered [Nicodemus], ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.'” – John 3:3

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” – John 3:19

“You do not understand these things,”
you challenged Nicodemus, and I feel
a comfortable swell of pride because
I understand these things quite well.

As did, I’m sure, the teacher Nicodemus.

Is it so hard to understand
that you demanded people to revise their lives,
begin again, as if they were twice-born?
I understand these things quite well.

As did, I’m sure, the teacher Nicodemus.

The difficulty lies not in the metaphor –
we’ve got that cold – but in the living of
the metaphor, the struggle to begin again.
I understand these things quite well.

As did, I’m sure, the teacher Nicodemus.

Who wants to take a truly brand-new start
when there is so much stuff we have amassed,
such power, such persistent privilege?
I understand these things quite well.

As did, I’m sure, the teacher Nicodemus.

He knew, I know, the comfort of the shadows,
the safe familiarity of precedent,
the bland acceptance of persistent ills.
I understand these things quite well.

As did, I’m sure, the teacher Nicodemus.

My comfort is that you have stated that
God’s purpose is redemption and renewal.
There is always room to start anew.
I take assurance from this well of faith.

As did, I’m sure, the teacher Nicodemus.

A poem/prayer based on John 3:14-21, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Fourth Sunday in Lent – with John 3:1-13 included as well for context.

The image is Jesus Christ and Nicodemus by Matthias Stom, ca. 1640-1650 – https://www.blindbild.com/darmstadt-hessisches-landesmuseum-darmstadt-gemaldegalerie-november-2014/hlmd-matthias-stom/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88614990. I am particularly drawn to the use of the single light source in this painting.

Picking Up

Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. – John 2:15

After the uproar and dispersal,
after the zeal and shouts,
after the sheep and doves
and cattle and bankers
had been driven out:

You know what you’ll see
in the Temple?
The same thing we see
in our Temples.

Tables replaced.
Stalls re-erected.
Coins re-stacked.
Business resuming
in God’s House.

A poem/prayer based on John 2:13-22, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Third Sunday in Lent.

The image is The Expulsion of the Merchants from the Temple (ca. 1568) by Jacopo Bassano, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53240101. Jesus is barely visible in the background of the painting.

Well, That’s Just True.

[Jesus said,] “For those who want to save their life will lose it…” – Mark 8:35

Well. That’s just true.

It’s simply true that life will close for one and all
no matter how we seek to manage and extend it.
No human being lives their life on Earth and fails
to die: including Jesus, as You well recall.

So that’s just true.

I grant you that by effort, luck, and with
a spot of selfishness and pride, a person might
extend their life or live in comfortable bliss,
but You require every person’s soul of them in time.

So that’s just true.

In truth, I struggle more to see how offering myself,
how giving effort, time, or wealth,
how giving life itself,
will lead to life.

You say that’s true.

And so I move upon a cracked and twisting path,
one day embracing vanity,
the next one striving for beneficence,
as if the map were constantly redrawn.

You know that’s true.

O, reassure my heart, my Savior,
that I might in constancy adopt Your course,
not bribed by promise of new life,
but tranquil and serene in hope.

May this be true.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 8:31-38, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Second Sunday in Lent.

I’ll Take the Sign

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” – Genesis 9:12-13

I’m grateful for the promise, Holy One,
to never raise a flood to sweep all life from Earth.

I cannot quite forget, however,
that you did not say we could not do this thing ourselves.

As tides rise higher around my island,
testimony to the human hubris that grieves you,

I am grateful for the sign
that you, at least, keep faith.

A poem/prayer based on Genesis 9:8-17, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year B, First Sunday in Lent. And, er, it’s written late.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Transfiguration Sonnet

Upon the mountain’s height the stones reflect
the sudden glow, not gleaming from the skies
as ordinary light. They are bedecked
with sudden radiance that mystifies.

Now where there were four figures there are six,
and two did not come up the earthen trail.
Three faces wear astonishment transfixed
to see the ancient prophets so unveiled.

The ever-daring one proposes booths
until a booming voice imposes hush,
for listening is like to admit truths
far more than motion taken in a rush.

But were I there, I fear my faltering frame
would hardly dare pronounce Messiah’s name.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 9:2-9, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Transfiguration Sunday.

Studies of the Heads of two Apostles (St. Peter and St. John) and of their Hands by Raphael (1483–1520), at the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. Black chalk touched with white on greyish paper. http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/raphael/studies-for-the-transfiguration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23549943.

Gathered Around the Door

And the whole city was gathered around the door. – Mark 1:33

The city is outside my door, Jesus,
but they are not calling to come in.

They have not come en masse to seek a healer
or a prophet who could liberate their souls.

Oh, one or two, perhaps. From time to time.
If they found solace, they have kept the secret well.

There is enough, in truth, to drive a lesser one
like me to seek the solitude you sought

When morning had not wakened those
whose needs had not been satisfied.

I’m not sure how I’d handle all those people
seeking what I know to be beyond my power

And so confess with sadness that I’m glad
I lack the power, and the crowds stay home.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 1:29-39, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is Healing Peter’s Mother-in-law, from a 13th century manuscript from the Athos monasteries by an unknown author – http://shop.liturgie.de/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5187185.

What Have You to Do with Us?

In my weary moments, I wonder:
What have you to do with us,
Jesus of Nazareth?

Your followers (including me)
have found some other path
than yours. You, after all, relieved
the pains of those you met, while we
who claim your name impose such pain
to “save” our comfort or our power or
this sad deluded shout of “righteousness!”
We shame the poor; we spread disease;
we wrap ourselves in violence.
Were I you, Jesus, I would think
to shed this ill-named Christianity,
to wash it away, perhaps,
and start anew.

In my lonely moments, I wonder:
What have you to do with us,
Jesus of Nazareth?

Oh, sometimes I can feel your breath
upon my shoulder, sometimes feel
your hand upon my arm, yes
sometimes feel you pulling me into
a new direction. But.
Sometimes when evening falls or sunrise lifts
I sense no company, no strong
companion, and I long to know
once more the certainty my memory’s
fragility retains so fitfully
of your once-lucent clarity.

In my awestruck moments, I wonder:
What have you to do with us,
Jesus of Nazareth?

You could dance among the stars;
perhaps you do. I would, I think,
if I were you. You could speak and all
the evils of this world would be resolved.
Yes, bring the braided cords and clear
the temple – well, unless you’d have to lay
your sternness upon me. I’d settle then
for mercy, thank you very much.
No, with the ancient poet I repeat:
What are human beings that you
hold us in your mind; what are
mortals that you care for us?

In truth, I have no ready answer
for my weariness, my loneliness,
or even for my awe.
I can only be grateful, Jesus,
that you have been with us – and are.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 1:21-28, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is Christ heals the possessed by engraver Jan Luyken. In the Bowyer Bible in Bolton Museum, England. Print 4234. From “An Illustrated Commentary on the Gospel of Mark” by Phillip Medhurst. Section D. Jesus confronts uncleanness. Mark 1:21-45, 2:1-12, 5:1-20, 25-34, 7:24-30. Image courtesy Phillip Vere – http://wfurl.com/a6ea272 (.pdf) “An illustrated commentary on the Gospel of Mark”. By Phillip Medhurst. .pdf file, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9393722.

In the Silence

“And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” – Mark 1:18

Here you come again, O Jesus,
striding on the (rocky? sandy? weedy?) shore
to where I’m busy – busy, Christ, I tell you! –
with the labor of your call.

And you – oh, you – you have another call,
I’m sure, to summon me away
from this old fishing style to some new one,
from catching those… well, catching… what?

For if I am a fisher, then I fish the ponds
of fish you’ve caught before, and rarely reach
the waves upon the beach, and never stretch
beneath the ocean billowing.

Instead, I try to show the long-caught fish
just what it is to be a fish of yours,
to be a fishing fish, a loving fish,
a sharing-of-your-loving fishing fish.

As dear Mark left unspoken your
persuasive words to Simon, Andrew, James and John,
I wait within the silence yet to hear
your summons to be…?

A poem/prayer based on Mark 1:14-20, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is a painting of the call of Simon and Andrew in the La Barca de la Fé, Templo Parroquial de San Andrés Buenavista, Tlaxco, Tlaxcala, México. Photo by Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca – https://www.flickr.com/photos/eltb/8399897831/sizes/o/in/photostream/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24055602.

Fig Tree

“Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you get to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.'” – John 1:48

It was long ago, my Savior, that you called me
out from under my fig tree.
Neither then nor now do I pretend to understand
just what you saw.

I strive, Redeemer, to become a person without guile –
sometimes successfully.
I’ve found your awkward knowing words and silences
correct me more than praise.

Still, knowing what you know, you sent the call
to summon me from shelter, and
I came to come and see, and seeing, echoed those old words:
You are the Son of God.

A poem/prayer based on John 1:43-51, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Second Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is Bartholomew the Apostle by El Greco – lAHToi0sj3MVQw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29844192. Nathanael, named only in John’s Gospel, has traditionally been identified with Bartholomew, one of the Twelve in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Repentance

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” – Mark 1:4

I am more accustomed to proclaiming
a baptism of forgiveness, Jesus, a baptism
of the Holy Spirit, a baptism of renewal.

I am more accustomed to confining
the language of repentance to my own
inadequacies, imperfections.

But as the pictures flicker on the screens,
and as the lies continue multiplying, then
I know I must repent a frightened silence, and

I summon up the words of John. Repent, you brood
of vipers, shed delusion, accept truth, and turn
from violent desecration of the nation

that you claim to love.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 1:4-11, the Revised Common Lectionary Alternate Psalm Reading for Year B, First Sunday after the Epiphany, the Baptism of Christ.

The image is Preaching of John the Baptist by Rembrandt – Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41608726.