Like the Noonday

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.”
– Isaiah 58:9b-10

“[Jesus said,] ‘You are the light of the world.'” – Matthew 5:14a

I’m trying, Jesus, I am surely trying
(and don’t think I can’t see and hear and feel
your smile twisting as you think
“Oh, yes. You’re definitely trying… all my patience!”).

I’m trying to remove the yokes. I pray
that you are seeing more success with that than I.
I’m trying to refrain from speaking evil, even if
it means I must lock down by tongue to silence.

And I’m trying, surely trying, Jesus,
to direct my pointing finger solely to myself,
to take the blame when it is mine,
and not add strife with blame to others.

But.

I’ve got to say that my hard-won restraint
has not been echoed widely, has it?
You and I both know that finger-pointing is
activity in which a multitude delights.

While I am struggling with my guttering light,
a horde of people praise the shadows, and
to my astonishment, they call the shadows light.
No hungry fed, no naked clothed, evil celebrated.

My finger itches, Jesus, with the urge to point
and then shout out (as once Isaiah was directed)
with trumpet calls: “For shame, you hypocrites!
You do not shine, you hide the light of God!”

And then I breathe in deep, down to the belly, as
I contemplate your failures, Jesus, in the world.
You called them out, the hypocrites who taunted you
as your light shone upon the torturer’s cross.

I’ll do my best to shine, I will. I’ll try.
I’ll feed that guttering wick and shield it from
the howling winds as best I can. But man…
My finger itches, Jesus. Yes, it surely does.

A poem/prayer based on Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading and Gospel Reading for Year A, the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

On Pigeon’s Wings

“…and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'” – Luke 2:24

“…for my eyes have seen your salvation…” – Luke 2:30

Bearing their eight-day-old sons, two-week-old daughters,
the parents bring their sacrifices to the priests.
Each brings a pigeon or a dove, but some a lamb.
Those leading lambs wear finer clothes
than those who bear two turtledoves.
The gift is what they can afford.

One couple, bearing pigeons and a son,
are told that they have been anticipated.
An elder man accosts them in the Temple court
to celebrate their child’s role in Israel’s salvation.
“A light for revelation!” now he cries,
but also, mother, know your heart will ache.

The couple might have edged away,
but from another side a woman comes,
another elder, face well lined with years.
She comes and praises God for this small child.
He will, she promises, redeem Jerusalem.
She praises what she knows she will not see.

The parents fade once more into the crowd,
and those about are well content to let them go.
Their clothes were nothing fine; their feet
were travel-stained, and their sacrifice would be
no more than pigeons, what a family offered
when they lacked both power and wealth.

A pity that a pious, virtuous crowd
was blinded by
a pair of pigeon’s wings.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 2:22-40 the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, the Presentation of the Lord.

The image is a mosaic of The Presentation in the Monastery of Hosios Loukas, Distomo, Greece. Photo by Hans A. Rosbach – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8943645.

Distracted

“With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8

Look, God, I’m happier when you are vague,
when there’s some wiggle, some uncertainty,
when I can find a space to justify
the things I want, I’d rather, do.

Or, better, when the clarity shines on
the things that hide the errors of the days behind,
that shield me from their consequence,
excuse me without need to change my course.

Look, God, I’m wise enough to leave the lambs
and rams behind. I’ll make my sacrifices with
my time (and maybe with my treasure; we will see).
I don’t intend to buy your favor, no.

Intend to, no. Attempt to… that’s a yes.

You have told me, God, what things are good,
and I have heard, and taken them to heart,
and held them close, and meditated on them, and…
sometimes I’ve done them. Sometimes I have not.

‘Cause damn it, God, your justice is beyond me,
beyond us, so it seems. Your love of mercy breaks
my heart with all its blinding brightness. How
can I do other than come humbly to you on our walk?

So that is why I pour my time into the almost just,
the near-to-mercy, all the things that don’t quite work.
With all this busyness, how could you notice, God,
that am running round, not walking by your side?

It’s easier, you see, to place my energy
upon the altar as a sacrifice of praise
than to do justice well, to love with steadfast mercy, and
walk humbly with the God of my salvation.

A poem/prayer based on Micah 6:1-8, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is “High priest offering incense on the altar, as in Leviticus 16:12,” by Illustrator of Henry Davenport Northrop’s Treasures of the Bible, 1894 – http://www.lavistachurchofchrist.org/Pictures/Treasures%20of%20the%20Bible%20(Moses)/target20a.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6611903.

The Smaller Boat

“…Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” – Matthew 4:22

It’s the same boat. It’s the same net.
It’s the same lake. It’s the same fish.

They all seem a little smaller now.

They always were too big for this small beach,
my “Sons of Thunder,” louder and more
vigorous upon the lines than even I,
the Thunderer himself, had been.

Brash? I’ll say, and I’ve been brash and more.
We should have seen it coming, I expect,
when two such souls as she and I
brought similar selves into the world.

We tried the obvious and useless, yes we did.
“Please use your inside voices!” at a roar.
They laughed when they grew old enough
to see the irony, and laughter filled the house.

It filled the village and the beach and echoed
to the skies, the laughter of these two,
and if two parents, sober citizens, could not
join in, well, we smiled and smiled and smiled.

They always were too big for this small beach,
but still, I never thought they’d step away
to follow a poor traveling preacher or
take up a life of shouting out for God.

I’m glad, although I grumble at this pile
of nets awaiting my attention and repair.
This teacher can expand their lives and minds
and souls. The nets and fish and boat… will not.

My breathing settles in a gut-deep sigh.
I’ll claim the tear is sand blown in my eye.
There’s more room in this boat than just a while ago,
so how has it grown smaller in that time?

It’s the same boat. It’s the same net.
It’s the same lake. It’s the same fish.

They all seem a little smaller now.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 4:12-23, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, the Third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is Jesus calls James and John from their boat; their father Zebedee stands behind them. Woodcut, date and author unknown. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Jesus calls James and John from their boat; their father Zebedee stands behind them. Woodcut. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Author’s note: I need to credit two writers with renewing my thinking about Zebedee and this scene and I commend their work to you: Melissa Bane Sevier’s essay “Left Behind” and Maren Tirabassi’s poem “Zebedee (portrait of the original empty-netter).”

Following the… Lamb?

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. – John 1:35-37

How peculiar.

It’s not so startling for a shepherd to
be following a lamb in all
its wandering immaturity.
But for adults now seeking spirit,
for a growth developing within:
How is “Lamb of God” attracting?
How is “Lamb of God” inviting?
How is “Lamb of God” revealing?

Still, John the Baptist recognizing
Jesus (majesty concealing),
summoning disciples from his
gathering to Jesus’ circle
only just beginning, made
the “Lamb of God,” inspiring,
the “Lamb of God,” empowering.
So “Lamb of God”: now following.

How peculiar, and how right.

A poem/prayer based on John 1:29-42, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is The Baptism of Jesus by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios (ca. 1295 – 1317) – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106761431.

Epiphany 2023

So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

Robert Frost, from “Choose Something Like a Star”

Side by side they march across my media screens:
the images of travellers who, bearing gifts,
will praise an infant in all ignorance
of how his royalty will manifest, and

The images of violence incited by repeated lies,
of broken windows, hangman’s noose, Christian symbols
raised in blasphemous approval
of both praise and blame that went too far.

On this Epiphany I pray for an epiphany,
for light to penetrate the hearts lost in the shadows,
for wisdom to once more display itself in giving,
for a jealous would-be ruler to, for once, step down.

While power battles power still (if with less flash grenades
and tear gas clouds), I’ll turn in prayer to One
who manifested perfect power in its weakness:
a radiant love that flickered like a star.

Photo by Eric Anderson

Radiant

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. – Isaiah 60:5

Teach me to recognize radiance, O God.
Teach me to revel in brightness of spirit.
Teach me to raise up my voice in rejoicing
for radiance seen with the soul, not the eyes.

Teach me to recognize radiance, O God.
Teach me to gain it in greatness of heart.
Teach me to glorify generous spirit,
the radiance seen with the soul, not the eyes.

Teach me to recognize radiance, O God.
Teach me to mirror a magus of old.
Teach me to make free of marrow and mind, and
the radiance seen with the soul, not the eyes.

A poem/prayer based on Isaiah 60:1-6, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Epiphany.

The image is Awake My Soul by Mike Moyers, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57138 [retrieved January 5, 2023]. Original source: Mike Moyers, https://www.mikemoyersfineart.com/.

Mary’s Treasury

The Birth of Jesus – Luke 2:1-20

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. – Luke 2:19

Treasuries, they say, are filled with gold.
The mansions of the powerful protect the rooms
whose contents build the edifices which enclose them.

A treasury, they tell me, is the due of you, dear child,
a message from the heavens (though it strangely smells of sheep),
and so I lay your well-wrapped form in straw.

An angel spoke to me, he did, and told me not to fear.
I thought his greeting odd, but much odder was his word,
to tell me that I would become the mother of a King.

A mother I’ve become, but what royal babe is so
conceived to summon those suspicious eyes?
They’ve followed me for months, though not to Bethlehem.

A mother I’ve become, as witnessed by my groans and pains,
by midwife, by my worried Joseph, by the ox
whose manger I’ve now stolen for my infant’s bed.

The bloodied rags have vanished, whisked away
by midwife’s hands. I tell you, it is hard to hold
to memories of angels as a child crowns.

They came, then, those poor wanderers of the fields,
abandoning their flocks by night to see a child
in a manger. A child. A Savior. A Messiah King.

They spoke of angels singing in the skies,
they spoke of glory shining all around them, and
they spoke of peace, God’s peace, for all.

In honesty, I’d like to know the reason that
the angels sang to shepherds, not to me, this night,
since Gabriel’s words have faded in this place.

I’d like to hear the angel once again assure me that
the treasury of royalty will be my son’s someday,
that he will grow and thrive and save and rule.

For now I must content myself with angels’ echoes
in the voices of the poor. For now I must content
myself with pondering their words within my heart.

An inn without a room. A stable and a manger.
Angels’ voices echoed. Son, your treasury tonight
contains no gold. Instead, it is your mother’s heart.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 20:1-20, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, the Nativity of the Lord (Proper I).

The image is The Birth of Jesus with Shepherds. JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48387 [retrieved December 22, 2022]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).

Mary Silent

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 1:18

What should I, could I say?
His mind had closed. His ears had stopped.
No words I’d say would sway him.
What could I, should I say?

I tried; you know I tried.
I knew the difficulty of belief,
e’en with the confirmation of by body –
What could I, should I say?

He stomped away. I knew
that, unbelieved, I’d be
abandoned – quietly but sure.
What could I, should I say?

The very morrow he returned
much chastened by a dream.
It’s nice to be believed, I said.
What could I, should I say?

But Joseph, damn your faith
in dreams of angels, but refusal
to believe the one who loves you.
What could I, should I say?

And Matthew, you whose pen
could not record a single word
of mine, I wish you’d learned from Luke.
What could I, should I say?

So silenced, I rely upon the child
I bore to speak the words
I spoke to him, and which he magnified.
What could I, should I say?

He spoke of liberation and
he spoke of resurrection and
he spoke of God’s triumphant day.
So can I, must I say.

Author’s note: Matthew did not quote Joseph in his Gospel, either – but Joseph takes all the initiative and makes all the decisions which carry the Holy Family from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 1:18-25, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Illustration of Joseph dreaming and Mary reading, woodcut attributed to the Second Master of Delft (ca. 1480-1503). Digital image by Rijksmuseum – http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.35552, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84341678.

What We’re Waiting For

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” – Matthew 11:2-3

The clarity that comes with voices in
the clouds soon fades. The vibrant colors of
the golden sun, the azure river, and
the argent billows in the air transmute
to foggy grey as time saps confidence.
So ask the question, John, as well you may:
“Are you the One? Or must we wait to see
One you proclaim as I once proclaimed you?”

With you I bend my ear to the reply:
Look well, stern messenger of God. The ones
who could not see now see. The ones who could
not hear now hear. The ones who, ill, had lost
community and home have been restored.
The poor are cheered to hear good news proclaimed.

And so we see, and so we hear, dear John
the Baptist (caught in Herod’s snares), that one
has come to claim anointing by the One,
and not to seize a throne, or start a war,
or set himself apart from us. He’s come
to heal. He’s come to preach. He’s come to bring
us freedom from the cradle to beyond
the grave – a life for you, dear John, and me.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 11:2-11, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Third Sunday of Advent.

The image is John the Baptist Thrown into Prison from Le Mont Ste. Odile, Alsace, by © Jörgens.mi/wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31709349.