A River

“[Jesus said,] so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” – John 17:26

I imagined I saw Jesus. He was kneeling by a river.
I walked up close behind him. He didn’t say a word.
“Oh, Jesus, have you heard of all the children who lie slain?”
He never turned his head; he said, “I’ve heard.”

“Why are you kneeling by the river?” I demanded of his back.
“There are children who need saving, there is evil beneath the sun.
In churches and in grocery stores the blood must surely shout.
He never turned his head; he said, “It shouts.”

“What will you do then, Jesus? Will the churches,
temples, stores, and schools be stained with blood?
Will we sup full of horrors every day of life?”
He never turned his head; he said, “You shouldn’t.”

I fell down there beside him, and I found the river’s source
as a torrent ran from Jesus’ streaming eyes.
“How can you bear this suffering?” I begged him with my tears.
He turned his head, and softly asked me, “How can you?”

A poem/prayer based on John 17:20-26, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Seventh Sunday of Easter.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

A Woman from Thyatira

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia…” – Acts 16:9

“A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira…” – Acts 16:14

I’ve got to hand it to you, Paul.
Some of us struggle with visions.
It’s hard to believe God’s directions sometimes.
“Go here! No, not there. I mean here, over here!”
It would be clearer if God didn’t
use pronouns alone.

But you saw a man from Macedonia.
(I’ve always wondered: how did you know?
Was there a look in the eyes? Or a pattern
of jewelry? Or an only-in-Macedonia,
for-a-limited-time-only, get-it-now haircut!)
You saw him. You said: “Let’s go.”

So far, so good. If my sense of God’s spirit
were only so clear as to know which “there”
was “here.” But “Come to Macedonia!
Enjoy the sun! See the crowds!
Hang out by the river and help us!
Bring the word!” That even I understand.

Now here is where I really hand it
to you, Paul. For there by the river
in Philippi, leading city of the district,
you found no men of Macedonia,
but women. And their leader Lydia –
was from Thyatira, near where you’d just been.

God’s visions can blind us, you know,
when we read them as anything
other than metaphor. You met a woman
from Thyatira in Asia, not a man
from Macedonia, and you recognized
God’s promises fulfilled in her.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 16:9-15, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Sixth Sunday of Easter.

The image is Lydia of Thyatira by Harold Copping – https://www.meisterdrucke.de/künstler/Harold-Copping.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84021913.

Hindering God

“[Peter said,] ‘If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?'” – Acts of the Apostles 11:17

Look at them, God. Look at them, Jesus.
Listen to their voices praising your names.
It does my heart good – well, mostly it does.
It’s also made my heart stop, you know?

For a time it all seemed so clear –
in retrospect, why should I have thought that? –
with the Holy Spirit giving me words
and gathering the people in.

We grew so fast! Not everyone
was ready for our size. Well, nobody
was ready for our size. Some thought
they’d hide their selfishness within the crowd.

Our sharing started to collapse. We tried
enlisting serving people then to serve.
Who knew that they, like we, would call
attention to themselves so fatally?

It seemed like such a good idea
to take this trip, to visit Lydda,
get the summons to relieve the grief
in Joppa over Tabitha.

But now… a nightmare in the house
of Simon. Scads of creatures I have pledged
I will not eat, and a voice declaring
these things clean three times, three times, three times.

I get it now. Whatever might be said
about a wider diet, it’s a wider church
that’s on the menu here in Caesarea,
with Latin tongues extolling God.

But… what a shambles this will be.
We’d barely started with our own,
and they have hardly come together yet.
We haven’t learned to truly love each other.

However deep Cornelius’ faith – I’m sure it’s deep –
how will he find acceptance in Jerusalem?
I find my heart is in my mouth right now
to share his table, eat the Gentile meal.

That’s bad enough, as I think most will come around.
This fellow Saul, the one who sees things differently,
I have a feeling he will be their advocate
as fiercely as he once denounced both them and us.

But…

These Greeks and Romans will reshape this church,
and sometimes that will be just fine, a shedding of
the weight imposed by ancient custom we
no longer need and should not bear.

If only he were just a simple tradesman, this Cornelius,
or worker of the soil, or fisher of the sea.
Instead he is an agent of the Empire,
oppressor’s instrument against us.

Yes, that will change this church, this Way.
The day will come, I’m sure, when some will see
us as oppressors, not oppressed, and ask
if this is what our Savior taught, and how we love?

What will we tell them in that day?
In welcoming the ones the Holy Spirit called,
we welcomed also all the power we had feared,
and holding it, rejoiced, as the Spirit drained away.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 11:1-18, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Fifth Sunday of Easter.

The image is Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius (1709) by Francesco Trevisani – http://www.istrianet.org/istria/illustri/trevisani/works.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1804538.

What Is This I’m Wearing?

[Simon Peter] turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. – Acts of the Apostles 9:40b-41

Just a moment, now… what’s happening?

Someone is here – no one has been in here in quite some time.
I hear him breathing and… is that a murmured prayer?
I think I’ll let my eyes stay shut
and puzzle this thing out.

This doesn’t quite feel quite like my bed. That’s what
I last remember and – oh, my! – I felt so bad.
The aches, the failing strength, the fear.
I struggled so to breathe.

Who is this man beside my bed? It’s not
the doctor, sure. I know his sounds.
Why is there no one else?
What’s that I hear?

Beyond the door are quiet sobs, the kind
I’ve made when weeping had near run
its course, and the springs
of tears were running low.

That’s Martha’s weeping; that is Miriam’s.
Is Anna there? Joanna, too? The widows, then,
my friends. But why are they
not here, where this man is?

Could he be a physician, better than
the one I had? So it must be.
My breath is so much easier
than it had been. Oh, yes.

Oh, now. His murmuring, his prayer
has reached its end. Although my eyes
are shut I feel his gaze, and…
is that a smile I feel?

Then: “Tabitha, get up,” in soft
but roughened voice, as if
he was more used to shouts
above the roaring sea.

Just: “Tabitha, get up,” and so I might just choose
to let my eyelids rise – them first, you see –
and take a good long glance at this
more capable physician.

Yes: “Tabitha, get up,” but wait. Before I do,
with all my friends beyond the door,
one burning question to resolve:
What is this I’m wearing?

A poem/prayer based on Acts 9:36-43, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday of Easter.

The image is San Pietro resuscita Tabitha, Saint Peter Raises Tabitha, by Fabrizio Santafede (1611). Digital capture by Deca16894 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106100094.

Luke’s account of those attending the body of Tabitha lacks any names; I’ve used women’s names found in the New Testament for Tabitha’s friends. The story clearly states that Simon Peter asked everyone to leave him alone with her body. For whatever reason, the artists’ depictions of the scene routinely ignore this.

Three Days

For three days [Saul] was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. – Acts 9:9

Well, that was quite a shock.

One moment I was striding, filled with confidence
and rectitude, the next:
Flat on my back, blinded by a light,
deafened by a voice.

I suppose I needed such a shock.

Is there a greater barrier to learning something new
than certainty? I fear not.
I was so certain, knew beyond all doubt, that
this Jesus movement was a fraud.

Well. I learned.

And now I wait and wonder: what is next?
“You will be told.”
Oh, good. And yet not good, for what may I expect
of One whom I oppressed?

Or those who followed him?

How strange to find expansion of the soul
in clouded sight?
I had created my own spirit’s shroud, of course,
but now I see.

Metaphorically, that is.

Now to be truthful, God, to whom I pray
with greater clarity
since vision failed three days ago, I thank you
for this time of rest.

I am not ready for the tasks you might
require of me, or
the penitence I must perform for those
who do not trust me.

Why should they, after all?

I am not ready yet for much beyond
extended monologue
to you, here in this house along the
Straight Street of the city.

Here I will pray and breathe.

And when you find me ready, Lord,
with eyes still dim,
or eyes as comprehending as my soul,
I’ll take your road.

I’ll follow you.

Amidst the daily noises of the street,
what’s that? A knock.
What’s that? The voices by the door.
What’s that? A hand.

A voice that calls me: Brother Saul.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 9:1-20, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Third Sunday of Easter.

The image is The Conversion of St Paul by Caravaggio, found in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. Photo by Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44143233.

There is some suggestion in the writings of the Apostle Paul (he used that Greek version of the Hebrew Saul when writing his letters in Greek) that he did not fully regain his physical sight after this experience. In 2 Corinthians 12 he spoke of a “thorn in the flesh,” suggesting a disability without describing it. At the close of Galatians (6:11) he wrote, “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!” Though that might be due to unfamiliarity with using a pen, it might also be because of poor eyesight.

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.

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.