Tempest Prayer

20170908 Irma

God of the eye of the storm,
the list grows.
Houston’s population
wading, swimming, weeping
at the floods. Those swelling
waters carried homes and hopes
and lives away along a lengthy
stretch of seacoast and
inland.

And now, O God, the winds
and waves sweep over emerald isles,
carrying away so much
and leaving tears.
Barbuda, Antigua,
Saint Martin, Anguilla,
Tortolla, the Turks, the Caicos,
Puerto Rico, La Española,
and moving still…

Cuba…

Florida…

With another storm
advancing just behind.

As winds rage, the ground shakes
Chiapas, buildings crumble,
the bereft mourn.

O, God, for all who weep
beneath the storm,
above the rocking earth,
I ask your tender grace
to catch and hold their tears.

And God, I ask
for all who weep
beneath the storm,
above the rocking earth,
that you equip my hands
and hands of millions
with your power to help
and heal.

Do what I cannot do, O God,
help me do more than I am able,
for your weeping children.

Amen.

Satellite image courtesy National Hurricane Center. Give here toward disaster relief through the United Church of Christ.

After the Funeral

IMG_0008The sun was setting well behind my back
(And well behind the mountain)
As I stood for just a moment
And looked up upon the sky
As mourners made their way
From sanctuary’s words of comfort
To the kitchen’s comfort foods.

And there, upon the gray-clad cloud,
A crystal band a-glow.

Too small, this sight, to capture with
The sensors of the pocket camera.
I doubt too many noticed it at all.
It lacked the hues of saffron or of crimson:
Just a top-lit arc of argent, glowing
With reflected sunlight, in a corner
Of the sky.

I thought: It is no wonder
We imagine heaven in the clouds.

Wherever it might be you gather souls, O God,
Wherever you have welcomed this dear man,
And others dear, women and men and everyone,
May it be as glorious, or even more,
As this fair gleaming, beaming from the cloud.
And thank you for this brief reflection
Of a glory promising your grace.

Thank you, God, for light on clouds.
Thank you, God, for light in hearts. Amen.

In memory of Kenneth Susumu Tanouye, after whose funeral I saw this light upon the clouds, and with love for all those who have gone from our care to God’s.

The photo does not particularly resemble the light reflected in this poem. It’s more dramatic — which is a virtue of its own, and so it won its place here.

Jesus, I Hope Your Holy Saturday was More Restful Than Mine

Skovgaard-ChristusImReicheDerTotenBut it probably wasn’t, was it?
Peter says you went and spoke to the “spirits in prison,”
And dear old Dante Alighieri
(Along with plenty others)
Deduced that that meant Hell.

My goodness, how we name your Holy Days.
“Good Friday” when you struggled, suffered, died;
And “Holy Saturday” for time you spent
In an unholy place, as far as you could travel
From the streaming light of God.

“No rest for the wicked,” runs the phrase,
And no rest for the good, it seems,
To take your harrowed soul, and harrow Hell,
Summon hopeless spirits from their separation
And restore them to the light of God.

Perhaps our naming instinct chooses
Better than I thought – it was a Holy Saturday
For spirits held in prison. O blest deliverance,
And blest Deliverer, to break their separation
And restore them to the light of God.

Come, Jesus, on another Holy Saturday
For there are spirits bound alive
By slavery, by wealth, by greed, by bondage to a drug or pride.
O blest Deliverer, come break their separation
And restore them to the light of God.

Holy Week: Palm Sunday Stones

IMG_2064Let the stones cry out, O Lord, for we are stunned to silence.
Let the cobbles of uneven paving end their reticence,
Break their stillness (does the shout of rock sound like a cracking?),
Raise their voices. Let the stones cry: “Save us! Lord, Hosannah!
Blessed are You who come to bring salvation of our God!”
Crackling praise. If loud enough, perhaps it might drown out
The heaving of our weeping.

We weep for children poisoned by the falling bombs in Syria.
We weep for warriors slain when missiles came to them with death.
We pray for people walking, standing, falling as the truck rolled on.
We pray for people worshiping, and waving palms, recalling You
And how devotion shattered in concussed reverberation.
Let the stones cry out, because your people’s voices
Have been called to weeping.

“Hosannah!” “Save us!” Cry it, stones, as Jesus makes his storied climb
Beneath the venerated gates, with steady step of his swift-borrowed steed,
The one he chose to honor Zechariah, “Humble, riding on a donkey,”
Yet still a declaration of his majesty. Cry it, stones, though your voice be muffled
By the palm leaves strewn upon your surfaces, by the cloth
That’s laid across your seams. Cry it, stones: “Hosannah! Save us!”
Because our voices have been lost to weeping.

Upon your humble mount, O Jesus, what comes to your ears?
The ears of One divine and human? Do you hear our sobs
Across the centuries, though muddled in the mix of cries,
“Hosannah! Save us! Bless us with salvation from our God!”
Their cry, the cry of stones, the cry of desperate humanity,
Is ours. Save us, Lord, from all the evil we would do:
Because our voices have been lost to weeping.

Inviting Questions

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Christ_and_the_Samaritan_Woman_-_Google_Art_Project

What would you ask of us, O Jesus, by
Our well of Jacob? How would you secure
Our trust, invite our glance to catch your eye,
Persuade us of your power by flesh obscure?

We keep the treasures of our souls at depths
Much like a well’s, and hide them even from
Ourselves. The treasures! Though our halting steps
You know from rising dawn to setting sun.

What may we ask of you, O Jesus, by
Our well of Jacob? What great secrets tease
From you, who’d see our downcast spirits fly
From mountain to the ever-rolling seas.

With questions let us comprehend your grace
That others may in you find, too, their place.

This poem was written for a sermon of the same title to be preached on March 19, 2017. As it happens, it didn’t make it into the sermon after all.

The image is “Christ and the Samaritan Woman” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, painted ca. 1311.

When the Tempter Quotes Scripture

tentaciones_de_cristo_botticelliThis poem was written as part of a sermon (of the same title) delivered at Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo, Hawai’i, on March 5, 2017.

Did a quaking pulse accompany
You to the Temple’s zenith, Jesus?
With the Tempter?
Did your sandals slip or grip the cedar of the ridge?
Did your mortal soul take hold, just for a moment,
To protest:
“Tempter, you have lifted me too high”?

Ah, now you hear the words of sweet assurance:
“On their hands the messengers of God
Will bear you up,
No bruise will mar your angel-guarded feet
As gently they regain the comfort
Of the ground.”

Across the ages, words of Psalmist’s faith.
And did they challenge You to step, to leap,
To dive toward ground?
For just a moment, did you fail to see
The test it posed to God, and see instead a test
Of your own faith?

We know your story’s ending, Jesus,
How you deflected Tempter’s texts
And Tempter’s taunts
How you refused to put God to the test,
How you refused the bread and realms which were
In truth, your own.

We know this story’s end was the beginning,
Taking your unbruised feet to Galilee,
Samaria,
Jerusalem and Bethany and to the courts of Pilate
Where those feet were bruised and pierced by nails
For love
Of
Us.

Christmas Prayer 2016

img_1767When Christmas falls on Sunday, it’s not just any service. It’s not just any Sunday service, and it’s also not just any Christmas service. Though every worship experience should connect with the heart and soul, Christmas truly demands it, and it also demands that we step outside the “usual” – since God did precisely that by coming to Earth in Jesus.

Thus this song, which was the pastoral prayer this morning. Mele Kalikimaka – Merry Christmas!

[Chorus]
Come to us, Christ Child
With the wailings of a newborn
Interrupt our sleep with an infant’s shrill demands.
Let us clothe your flailing arms with hope for all tomorrows.
Let us feed your hungers for deep peace around the world.
Let our arms enfold with the tender love of mother.
Let us sing a lullaby of joy
As our Christmas prayer:
As our Christmas prayer.

Your family fled from Herod
So we pray for refugees
May the ones oppressed by rage and fear
Soon shout that they are free.
You were given gifts by magi
So we pray we might be wise.
When we turn away from suffering
Redirect our eyes.

[Chorus]

As you grew from child to teacher
So we pray for all to learn
The depth of your compassion
And the love for which we yearn.
From your first hours in the manger
To your triumph over the grave,
Give us hope and confidence
You were born on Earth to save!

[Chorus]

Let us sing a lullaby of joy
As our Christmas prayer,
As our Christmas prayer,
As our Christmas prayer