A Lenten Success

I try to avoid patting myself on the back in public – but if I don’t, what is social media for?

For some years I have chosen to follow two parallel disciplines each Lent. One is a fairly straightforward decision to refrain from something during the forty-six days of the season (I include the Sundays for this). I’ve given up fast food, beer, soda, computer games, and similar kinds of things (though never coffee – never coffee). I have almost never been able to successfully repeat one of these, so I generally have to choose something new and different each year.

The second discipline, on the other hand, is to take something on. I’ve followed exercise programs and prayer cycles. Frequently I’ve done creative projects with photography or poetry. In fact, my weekly Lection Prayers are an outgrowth of one Lenten season. I simply kept going with them.

This year I set a goal I was not certain I could achieve. I decided to write a song each week of Lent.

Although my repertoire of compositions has expanded greatly over the years, the truth is that I don’t write songs all that often. I was astonished when I counted the songs I’d written in 2021 and came up with a dozen. For me, songwriting requires a good deal more time, concentration, and focus than most other writing projects. I have and do write to deadlines, but I generally prefer to follow some kind of inspiration when it comes to music. I usually am happier with the results.

To set a goal for songwriting which is half my output in the previous year – in six weeks – well. I wasn’t sure I could do it.

I did give myself some space. I did not insist that each song be composed within an assigned week. All I required was that there be six songs by the end of the season. Nor did I impose any subjects or themes on them. The songs would be what they were, and they could fit into the sacred or the secular as it came along. I also knew I’d write one anyway: I’ve made a habit for a few years now of writing something for Easter. Still. Six songs in six weeks?

Friends, I did it. And… all six have now been performed and are available on YouTube.

Wisdom, Feed Us

Premiere performance during the Community Concert of March 11, 2022.

Dream of Peace

Premiere performance during the Community Concert of March 25, 2022.

Come On, Guitar

Premiere performance as A Song from Church of the Holy Cross, March 23, 2022.

Creature of this World

Premiere performance as A Song from Church of the Holy Cross: April 6, 2022.

As We Bring Him Down

Premiere performance during Scripture and Poetry for Good Friday, April 15, 2022.

Walk, Mary, Walk

Premiere performance during What I’m Thinking #259, April 18, 2022.

Let’s Pause, Thomas

“Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.'” – John 20:27

Let’s pause, Thomas.

Ignore, for now, the jealousy inside.
They saw. You didn’t. That’s how these things go.
Some are in the wrong place at the right time,
others in the right place at the right time.

Pause and let it go, Thomas.

Did Jesus not show signs enough
for anyone? Can you not leave
to others this new sign? Must you claim it, too?
How many would accept their friends’ report?

Just pause, Thomas.

For if you make a jealous declaration,
demanding what the others all have seen,
you risk commitment to the course
they’re on, a course of hardship and of pain.

So think, Thomas.

This sight and touch will drive you far from
Galilean lakeside breakfasts. It will take
you over tossing seas to strangers who
will, some, believe your words – as you did not your friends.

Just think, Thomas.

Your jealous energy will turn to zeal
and you will find a sharpened spear
awaits you there, three thousand miles
from home. So pause. And think.

Before you speak.

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

The image is Santo Tomás Apóstol (Apostle St Thomas) by El Greco (ca. 1610-1614) – HQFzobTvKDaFzQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29844110.

Scripture and Poetry for Good Friday 2022

The video will premiere at noon HST on Good Friday, April 15, 2022.

These seven poems and the song are based on Scriptures associated with “the Seven Last Words of Jesus” – strangely, there are eight lessons. The video includes reading of the Biblical texts, reading of the poems, and performance of the song, “As We Bring Him Down.”

First Reading: Luke 23:26-32

You strode those streets to teach,
to worship and to heal.
You strode those streets to cast
the moneychangers from the Temple courts.

And now, with failing strength, you stumble up the street,
too weak to bear the instrument of death.
Where once you rode in festival parade
they follow you to mourn for what has been and what will be.

Second Reading: Matthew 27:33, 34, 37

I’m sure that Pilate knew just what he said.
This is what happens to the ones who claim
they have no emperor but Caesar.
King of the Jews? Claim the title if you like,
but know that title brings you only here,
to die upon a cross, not reign upon a throne.
So Jesus, claiming spiritual rule, will offer up
his spirit to the Roman callousness and fear.

Third Reading: Luke 23:35, 36; 23:34, 39-43

How strange a criminal, whose deeds “deserved”
a death of torture, understood the reign of God
much better than the priests, much better than
the Roman Governor, much better than the monarch,
better even than the ones who followed Jesus.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
For Jesus, entry to that realm was not through gates of stone,
but gates of death. Beyond those gates our eyes
see only shadow, but to his, and to this criminal,
the shadows have been thrown by brilliant light.

Fourth Reading: John 19:25-27

Your friends look on, O Jesus. See?
Your mother Miriam: she weeps with Miriam
and Miriam. She will not urge you to a wedding feast,
not now, or prompt you to transform the vinegar
of death into a vintage rich with life.
Instead, as scarlet stains your hands and feet,
you transform stranger into son,
and woman into mother. Here amidst
the panoply of power and of hate,
you fill the purifying jars of love.

Fifth Reading: Luke 23:44-45

Who could not bear to watch from heaven?
Was it the sun, ashamed to the Savior die?
Was it the moon, unable to divert its gaze?
Was it the angels who had praised Messiah’s birth?
Or was it simply that the clouds must gather, too,
and witness bear, and mourn, and weep?

Sixth Reading: Matthew 27:46

Forsaken the Anointed One.
It seems so strange
that Son of God, Messiah
should cry out in
abandonment – or…
Does it?

Do we not hear the question echo
down the years, the centuries, and on,
“I was your God, and you my people,
and you turned away.”
We worship a forsaken God.

Seventh Reading: John 19:28-30

I could not blame you, Christ,
if you let “It is finished” be
your final word. You only came
to do us good, and we?
We desecrated you,
we desecrated the tree
on which we watched you die.

I could not blame you, Christ,
if you decided that we had
rejected your salvation – for we did –
and now could live in suffering – as we do.
And you, who stood for truth, nearly let
us live the lie, but you could not let
“It is finished” be the end.

Eighth Reading: Luke 23:46

“As We Bring Him Down”

The calloused feet that trod the miles.
The mobile lips the formed the smiles.
The fingers that bathed his friends’ toes
Are still – are unmoving –
Are released from the world and its woes.

[Chorus]

Hold him gently as we bring him down.
Throw aside the bitter thorn crown.
Lay him in the cloth we could find.
The world has been cruel to the kind.

The sparkling eyes that held yours in peace.
The worker’s hands that feared no disease.
The ears that heard more than we knew
Are still – are unmoving –
Are now just memory for a few.

[Chorus]

The open arms we have crossed on the chest
Where the loving heart beats not in his breast.
Draw the fabric across the dear face
So still – so unmoving
Oh to see it again. Oh to find such a place.

[Chorus]

Cross-posted at holycrosshilo.com.

Poetry and music © 2022 by Eric Anderson

Hold Still, Mary

Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. – John 20:10-11

Slow down, Mary.

You’ve made the trek three times this morn.
Once slowly, drawn reluctantly but certainly
to this one place, a garden you would water
with your tears.

Slow down, Mary.

The second trip you ran with panicked feet,
aghast with loss and injury.
What had they done with Jesus?
Death by torture – wasn’t that enough?

Slow down, Mary.

You might have beat the fisherman
in that footrace, except you’d run the race
before already, and the other one?
Who could outrun the one that Jesus loved?

Slow down, Mary.

You sought their help. You might have guessed –
I’m sure you did – that they’d no help
to give. Now, Joseph might have known,
and Nicodemus might have helped, but not these two.

Slow down, Mary.

Let them return, uncertain and afraid,
until they bring their friends together.
You: wait. Take one more look into
the empty tomb. Ignore the words of angels.

Slow down, Mary.

If his disciples cannot help, nor angels,
sweep your tear-swept eyes across the garden,
and see if there is one who says your name,
to whom you’d cling until the sunset comes.

A poem/prayer based on John 20:1-18, the Revised Common Lectionary Alternate Gospel Reading for Year C, Easter Sunday (Resurrection of the Lord). 

The image is Mary Magdalene, a digital Proundism image by Koorosh Orooj – http://profoundism.com/free_licenses.html http://profoundism.com/free_licenses_mary_magdalene.html, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108033456. The original image has much more precise detail than the lesser resolution one displayed here.

Weeping Stones

Kamokuna, Hawai’i, August 18, 2016

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’ As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it…” – Luke 19:29-41

If you had brought the crowd to silence, Lord,
and made the air to still so stones could speak,
would they have cried aloud their praise?
Or would they have, instead, shed tears of grief?

Red, flowing tears, as hot with loss
as ever streaked a human face,
as hot as those you tasted on the cross,
as scarlet as the blood you shed.

They flow, these tears of Earth, today
from vents beneath the salty sea,
from fissures high upon the mounts
and far downslope in forest glades.

You wept to recognize that people will
not do the things that make for peace.
The stones in chorus weep to see
our violence laid hard on you.

And when the scarlet tears encounter salt,
the heat of sympathy explodes in sand,
black sand, gray cinder, groaning now
to bear the land extending into sea.

Weep stones. Weep people, weep. Weep all
Creation. In the confluence
of scarlet tears and human tears
we build new land on sable sand.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 19:28-40 (plus verses 41-44), the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Sixth Sunday in Lent, the Liturgy of the Palms. 

Photo by Eric Anderson

Confused

Isaiah 43:16-21 with the reactions of the original author.

Maybe.

Thus says the LORD,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.

Ah! I hear you, LORD.
The army that destroyed Jerusalem
shall find destruction like
the chariots of Pharaoh overwhelmed
by falling walls of water,
extinguished surely like a wick.

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.

Wait. What? But you…
But you just brought it up.
And now you want me to forget
what you just said? I… No. I can’t.

I am about to do a new thing;

All right. A something new. But I don’t see
why I should spend the futile effort
to forget the thing you did before,
the thing you just recalled to mind
yourself. You did. You know you did.

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Well, since you ask… No! I don’t perceive it.
It hasn’t happened yet. Um. Right?
For here we are in Babylon and scattered round
the circuit of its walls. We languish here
as exiles from our homes, and all we see
are walls and spears and brutal troops.

Now, we could do with a repeat of Exodus.
A plague or two or three or ten, or wait:
would you consider, for these Babylonians,
to raise the volume to eleven?
I have no doubt that Nebuchadnezzar will
exhibit his hard heart as Pharaoh long ago.

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

Well, that will be a thing. I see.
Instead of crossing water now,
a waste of desert lies between
the ill of our exile and the blessings of
our homeland far away.
So will you strand the Babylonians
in wasteland waterless as we
rejoice for lack of thirst?

The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people.

Now just a minute there. That doesn’t sound
like rivers flowing just for us,
and not for them.

the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Now, are you sure this message is the one
you really want me to proclaim? Because
I see a central problem here with this “new thing.”
The old thing worked quite well, you know?
It got us out alive, and kept an army off our back.
These flowing rivers sound quite nice, except
that flowers and rushes will not slow pursuit.

Oh, bring us home and you can count on praise.
But LORD, I just don’t see it. Nor will they.
Call us weary of you if you like,
but what will freedom look like when it comes, and when?

A poem/prayer based on Isaiah 43:16-21, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Fifth Sunday in Lent. 

The image of Isaiah is by an 18th century icon painter – Iconostasis of Transfiguration church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3235458.

The Elder Child’s Proposed Agreement with the Prodigal-Loving Parent

“[The elder son said,] ‘But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'” – Luke 15:30

This agreement is between [REDACTED], the head of the family, hereafter called PROGENITOR, and [REDACTED], the elder child of the family, hereafter called HEIR.

PROGENITOR agrees that HEIR will be the sole heir to PROGENITOR’s property, and that no other living family members will have further claim upon PROGENITOR’s property at the time of PROGENITOR’s death.

PROGENITOR agrees that HEIR will have appropriate access to PROGENITOR’s property during PROGENITOR’s lifetime, including appropriate board and housing. “Appropriate” will include no less than two and no more than five larger events for HEIR and HEIR’s friends to celebrate each year.

HEIR agrees to labor on the property as directed by PROGENITOR unless PROGENITOR’s directions are to the detriment of the property. Disagreements as to welfare of the property will be resolved by discussion between HEIR and PROGENITOR and will not be referred to any other living family member.

HEIR agrees that the ring, clothing, and foodstuffs provided by PROGENITOR to a living family member have been provided and do not need to be restored to the estate.

HEIR consents to come to the celebration for the recently returned living family member. HEIR promises to speak and act according to common standards of politeness.

HEIR makes no promises about honest celebration.

PROGENITOR agrees to accept HEIR’s appearance at face value and make no further attempts to further relationships with any other living family member.

Signed: ____________________________________ _______________________________________

Note:

This agreement was never signed. The draft bears a hand-written note that says, “Let’s talk. Dad.”

A poem/prayer/contract based on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday in Lent. 

The image is a photo of L’Enfant prodigue, a sculpture by Félix-Alexandre Desruelles (1889). Photo by Sebastien Dusart – https://www.flickr.com/photos/sdusart/6785594060/in/set-72157630752173188/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30424005.

Towers and Trees

[Jesus said,] “‘Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.'” – Luke 13:4-5

Boy, you’re cranky again today, aren’t you, Jesus?
Somebody asks a simple question, “Did you hear
about those Galileans slain by Pilate?” and
the Jesus train goes off the rails. Did anyone say anything
about the reason that they died? I mean, did anyone
say anything to place the blame?

So… we thought it. Yes. We thought it. But
that’s not the same as saying it, you know.

It’s not like Pilate slaughters innocents… well. Much.
OK, he’s chief of all the Roman goons. Chief goon.
Yet still you know that people say and do the stupid stuff
that gets these goons riled up. They played their part,
these Galileans, sure as anything you’d name,
and brought destruction on themselves.

Although it must be said they likely didn’t deserve
all that, struck down at prayer.

Who’s setting the direction of the conversation now?
Nobody mentioned towers in Jerusalem.
Nobody blamed the souls extinguished when
Siloam fell. Still – there must have been a reason, right?
Does it make sense for chance and malice to
strike down so many lives like this?

And really you will tell us, tell me, tell humanity
that they did nothing wrong – but we will earn our deaths?

Boy, you’re cranky again today, aren’t you, Jesus?
You will not fool me with this fig tree figure here.
“No fruit,” I hear from more than you. “What good
are you?” is standard people looking-down-the-nose
address to their inferiors. And I, and you,
have been called fruitless many times.

But wait – the story turns. Who is this gardener to save
the tree, to stimulate its fruit?

Who is this gardener, and will this gardener
soon come to nourish me?

A poem/prayer based on Luke 13:1-9, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Third Sunday in Lent. 

The image is Le vigneron et le figuier, The Vine Dresser and the Fig Tree, by James Tissot (ca. 1886-1894) – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.82_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10957360.

A Prayer for Peace, March 9, 2022

I offered this prayer as the Invocation for the March 9, 2022, meeting of the Hawai’i County Council. I can’t claim this is the prayer exactly as I prayed it – I didn’t write it in advance – but this is certainly close.

E pule kakou. Let us pray.

O Holy One, we pray for peace today. We pray for peace in our minds and our spirits, because it is in that peace that wisdom and compassion emerge. We pray for peace in our homes, so that our community may find its foundation in love. And we pray for peace in the world, especially in those places where the peace is broken: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Tigray, Yemen, and other places where the violence is less but the grief is just as deep. We pray for peace, O God, in our world, in our community, in our homes, and in our hearts.

Amen.

Apologies to the Fox

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me…'” – Luke 13:32

Many years ago and many miles hence,
I’d follow the gravel track that ran
between the cemetery’s graves, and out
onto the trails that curved their way
throughout the woods of southern Maine.

Before I’d reach the trails themselves,
a grassy field rose up, just slightly,
to a mound, and that was where
the foxes had their den. I’d see the vixen
guarding, and I’d grip the dog’s leash tight.

I’m sorry, foxes, that in another time
and many miles hence, a prophet spat
your species as an epithet, describing
a cruel monarch who had threatened him.
His deed was none of yours.

I’m sorry we dehumanize each other by
insulting other species, as if they, if you,
with your behavior matched the cruelty
of a tyrant. Your prey dies for food.
Our prey dies for pride.

I’m sorry, fox, and wolf, and pig,
and bear, and vulture, too. The greed
and violence we lay on you is ours,
and ours alone. And so, I painfully write:
“Go tell that human.”

A poem/prayer based on Luke 13:31-35, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Second Sunday in Lent. 

The image is Christ before Herod Antipas (1st half of 17th cent.) by Nikolaus Knüpfer – Web Gallery of Art, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15497001.