It’s Scary Out Here

“But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion…” – Mark 4:38

Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to wake him up.

You, Peter, have been shouting for a half an hour.
You, Andrew, have been shouting back.
James and John have been pulling on the same rope
in opposite directions. And you’re the experts.

I never thought I’d hear the Sons of Thunder
overmatched by screech of wind and wave.
Shout away, boys. I can’t hear you. You can’t hear you.
For sure the wind can’t hear you and it doesn’t care.

Thomas looks like he can’t believe what’s happening.
Philip, Bartholomew, and Judas all are seasick.
James son of Alphaeus is pretending to be a son of Zebedee,
but he knows nothing at all about boats.

Thaddeus and Matthew are praying beneath the thwarts.
I’m pulling on a rope when it’s handed to me,
and releasing it when Peter, Andrew, James, or John
snatches it away. At least two lines are streaming in the wind.

So, yes, I’m going to wake him up. I can’t believe
he’s not awake already. Peter’s stepped upon him twice,
and Philip tripped on him when making for the gunwale.
He’s soaked with spray amidst the pounding roar.

Maybe he can bring some order to this chaos.
Maybe he can heal the seasick.
Maybe he can bless us in the baptism of death.
Maybe he can just be with us as we drown.

That, at least, would be a comfort. It hasn’t been
a lengthy journey with the Teacher, and I wish
it wouldn’t end like this, but if we drown,
let’s drown together with the Master wide awake.

But man. That guy can sleep.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 4:35-41, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 7 (12).

The image is The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633 – www.gardnermuseum.org : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6812612. The painting is still missing after being stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990.

Of Itself

“The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” – Mark 4:28

I am the seed, cradled in the loving embrace of God.
I am the seed, held in the richness of mercy.
I am the seed, surrounded by blessings.
I am the seed, cracking my shell to grow.

I am the stalk, stretching toward the heavens.
I am the stalk, nourished by my roots below.
I am the stalk, proudly waving in the wind.
I am the stalk, upheld by the ground divine.

I am the head, making space for the seeds.
I am the head, barely aware of the soil that feeds me.
I am the head, dancing among the grasses.
I am the head, confident of my own grace.

I am the grain, ripe and rich and precious.
I am the grain, and I have no memory of the Earth.
I am the grain, the fruit of my own growing.
I am the grain, flying out upon the wind.

I am the seed, fallen now to the dust.
I am the seed, fearing the burning sun.
I am the seed, praying for soil to cover me…
I am the seed, cradled in the loving embrace of God.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 4:26-34, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 6 (11).

The image is by Jim Padgett, an illustration for Read’n Grow Picture Bible Illustrations (Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984); used by courtesy of Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18886335.

Family

“…they could not even eat… …whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness… …’Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'” – Mark 3:20, 29, 35

I can’t quite imagine such enthusiasm,
people so eager to see you, Jesus,
that they drive me away from my lunch.

Yet there was the crowd surrounding your house.
You were far from the lake, no boat for escape,
just skeptical critics and uncertain neighbors.

And family.

I have to admire the gaslighting lie for
its creativity, if not its morality.
“He casts out the demons by power of demons.”

We’d believe it today, you know, Jesus,
just like we believe all those scurrilous tales
about peace through war, about life through death,

About wisdom through folly, about greed is good,
about white wealth is righteous, about injustice is right,
about male is empowered, female is servant,

And family.

Those were harsh words, you know, Savior.
No forgiveness for those who blaspheme against
the Holy Spirit? No forgiveness at all?

Forgive us if we’re just a little bit lost.
We’re barely acquainted with God’s Holy Spirit,
not enough to prevent this unforgivable sin!

As harsh as it was (and it was) to identify you
with the overlord of evil and captain of lies,
could you not forgive their hubris? Their fear?

Did they leave no room for repentance?
Did they step so far from the acceptable
to lose their place among humanity?

And family?

Have I blasphemed against the Holy Spirit?
Have I denied the power of God, of Spirit, of You,
to expand the circle, to welcome the newcomers?

Have I explained blessings of the world as evils?
Have I declared that what is should be,
though you and I know well that it should not?

Have I accepted boundaries that separate
this person from that person, this people from that people?
Have I pronounced as strangers those you choose

As family?

Forgive me what is unforgivable, which is
to deny the power of divine forgiveness, and
restore me to the blessed community

That you have summoned, symbolized by twelve,
expanding with the centuries imperfectly,
yet still the Church, the Way, the Faith,

The family.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 3:20-35, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 5 (10).

Photo by Eric Anderson.



Peter’s Choice

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” – Acts 10:44

I certainly didn’t expect that.

Look at them. Listen to them. Praising God
in languages I’m pretty sure
they do not understand
(I did that once).

I thought I’d seen and heard it all,
the thunderous voice resounding
on the mountain’s summit,
thousands taught and fed.

The accusation I would soon deny,
soon echoed by my very throat,
“I do not know the man,”
once, twice, thrice.

Familiar voice, familiar face, though
glazed with tears, muted by sobs,
a story I have never told.
It goes too deep.

Tongues a-flickering upon the heads
of friends whose tongues declared
in languages they did not know,
and I, I spoke so, too.

I heard my own untutored voice
declare the truth I had denied,
I knew this Jesus, and I
know his power.

Since then? What miracles! What sorrows.
People healed with no more than
to hear the name of Jesus Christ
roughly spoken in my voice.

The joy of hearing Stephen, face aglow,
speaking with courageous grace;
the anguish then to see him
done to death with stones.

The People of the Way dispersed by Saul,
then – miracle of miracles! – the Saul
who persecuted raised his voice
to praise the name of Christ.

And now I am confronted with a miracle
I hadn’t hoped for (hadn’t asked for)
as Gentiles (Romans for God’s sake)
rejoice in Jesus’ name.

Oh, what to do? I could explain it so:
It looks, I grant you, like the Holy
Spirit, but I’m sure it’s just
enthusiastic show.

Or possibly a consequence of what
they’ve eaten or they’ve drunk.
Too much wine; spoiled food.
Good thing I didn’t eat.

I might not need explain a thing, of course.
The people with me would keep silent
if I did, lest they be left to testify
to what this moment means…

No. No silence. No denial. I have learned…
a bit. “Can anyone withhold the water,”
(with my eyes, I tell them, “No”)
“to baptize the Spirit-filled?”

No silence. No withholding.
God has chosen these to bless.
Bring the water. Cleanse my expectations,
so an expansive future can begin in Jesus’ name.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 10:44-48, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year B, Sixth Sunday of Easter.

The image is Saint Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius by Jan Erasmus Quellinus (late 17th century) – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59323889.

Complicated

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8

The Bible is complicated – Love one another.
Faith requires discernment – Love one another.
Righteousness needs consideration – Love one another.
Perfection results from preparation – Love one another.

In the meantime, I’ll carry on with what I’ve been doing.

Love one another.

A poem/prayer based on 1 John 4:7-21, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year B, Fifth Sunday of Easter.

The image is The Head of Christ Carrying the Cross, a wood sculpture by Heinrich Douvermann (ca. 1520-1530) – Photograph from Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur: object 20603132 – photograph number RBA 608 899 – image file mi10859f02a.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37895066

Two Trials

When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” – Acts of the Apostles 4:7

They tried two people for healing.
They tried one man for killing.

They tried two people who had offered new life.
They tried one man for rebuffing offers of aid.

The two people spoke for themselves.
The one man held his silence.

The two people declared a new truth.
The one man maintained an old, old lie.

The two people walked away free.
The one man was imprisoned in his guilt.

But…

One of the two faced other trials.
He died unjustly upside-down on a cross.

How many trials will defend the old, old lie?
How many will die, their lives uncherished?

In sorrow for the death of George Floyd.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 4:5-12, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year B, Fourth Sunday of Easter.

The image is a detail from Healing of the Cripple and the Raising of Tabitha by Masolino da Panicale (1424). Photo and crop: Cappella_brancacci, Guarigione_dello_storpio_e_resurrezione_di_Tabita(restaurato),Masolino.jpg: see filename or categoryderivative work: StAnselm (talk) – Cappella_brancacci,_Guarigione_dello_storpio_e_resurrezione_di_Tabita(restaurato),_Masolino.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15047438.

Surprise!

They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. – Luke 24:37

Surprise! I’m back!

Why are you surprised?

Mary Magdalene told you, I know. She’s had her demons,
but she can tell a story. Joanna can, and Mary, too,
and if they couldn’t they had company to share the tale
the angels told them. Oh, but no: you didn’t listen,
did you? You called it just an idle tale?

But why are you surprised?

I walked for miles toward Emmaus.
Cleopas and (sorry, I forget the name)
spent hours with me, fire in our feet
and in our hearts and then I broke the bread.
Which they just told you, right?

So why are you surprised?

You didn’t listen when old Simon there,
my so-rock-headed friend, said, “I’ve seen him!
Jesus lives!” He doesn’t have the gifted tongue
of Mary – no, not yet – but still you might
have done the favor of believing him.

Yes, why are you surprised?

Did I not tell you once and twice and so
and on again, again, again, that death
would come and death would go and I
would rise to come and speak with you?
And you are fearing ghosts, for heaven’s sake.

Sigh. Why are you surprised?

All right. You’ve heard the story thrice, and nope.
So here I am. You see me? Unconvinced.
I’m speaking right? You stubborn… argh.
Try touching. There’s even wounds to see
and feel; there’s bones beneath the skin.

No. You are still surprised.

For pity’s sake, can we move on from this?
I’m hungry. Have you anything to eat?

A poem/prayer based on Luke 24:36-48, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Third Sunday of Easter.

The image is Christ Appearing at the Apostles’ Table by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308) – http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/d/duccio/buoninse/index.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3925674.

One of the fascinating literary features of the Gospels – more in some, less in others – is the way the evangelists let the Twelve stand in for the uncertainties, ignorance, and earnest-but-not-educated yearning of their readers. As a result, the Twelve (Eleven in this passage) have something of a slapstick comedy feel to them. When they become figures of wisdom, authority, and talent in Acts of the Apostles, it comes as something of a literary (if not spiritual, thanks to the Pentecost event) surprise. In tribute to their earnestness which is also ours, I offer this… “Try and catch up with me, will you?” version of Jesus.

Touched

“So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.'” – John 20:25

Stretch out your hand, Jesus.
Mine is stiff and still.
Stretch out your hand, Jesus.
I dare not reach to you or anyone.

I have no need to touch your scars.
I see those well enough.
I have no need to deepen your wounds
(except that I already have).

No, stretch out your hand to me, Jesus.
This season has been long and lonely.
Stretch out your hand, Jesus,
so I may feel your gentle touch.

A poem/prayer based on John 20:19-31, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Second Sunday of Easter.

The image is Reunion – Thomas and Christ by sculptor Ernst Barlach (1926). Photo by Wolfgang Sauber – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36069401.

For Easter 2021: How Could the Story End?

What I’m Thinking is a brief weekly reflection on the upcoming Scriptures – except when it becomes What I’m Singing.

How Could the Story End?

They stepped out in the morning’s shade
Bearing the spice mixture that they’d made.
How will we roll the stone away?
Is a question they don’t need to ask today.

[Chorus]

How could the story end?
Grieving/mourning/searching for a cherished friend?
No, the story goes on past the closing page:
Jesus Christ is risen!

They found that things were not as they had been.
The stone was rolled aside and they went in.
With startled face they heard the word
That Jesus’ resurrection had occurred.

[Chorus]

They left in fright and who could blame them
If they kept silent lest the story shame them.
But someone told and someone told and so we all know:
That Jesus Christ is risen!

[Chorus]

A poem/prayer based on Mark 16:1-8, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Easter Sunday.

All Spirits

For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does. – 1 Peter 4:6

I would wish you a restful Holy Saturday, my Savior,
a Sabbath to honor God’s rest in Creation,
a Sabbath to honor the leisure of freedom,
a Sabbath between work done and to be done.

Yet this one verse of Scripture bewildering
rings also with promise and grace,
that your love would encompass not only
the living, but also raise up the dead.

We honor the dead in our memory,
unless we seek to excuse the living,
and then we defame them, abuse them,
discard them as surely as Pilate intended for you.

So Jesus, I pray you forgive my hope
that your Holy Saturday set aside rest
to welcome all spirits, once living, still living,
into the new life for which you had died.

A poem/prayer based on 1 Peter 4:1-8, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year B, Holy Saturday.

The image is The Harrowing of Hell by Michael Burghers (1647/8–1727) – Copied from the 1904 work “Plays of our Forefathers” by Charles Mills Gayley, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3434524.