The past 7 months have been filled with anguish – like I have been floundering in some raging socio-emotional current, washing up in tatters from time-to-time on unfamiliar and desolate shores. Depleted. This week, God has mercifully filled my cup anew, like the long-awaited rain that is at this very moment beginning to patter. I extend this prayer to you, not because “I am back,” but to share my small ration of hope in the waiting. jfig
Prayer of returning...day 2CuppedJesus, i return
to you, this morning
small gift of hope, cupped
in upturned palms
like a bird, ready
For you...i offer
it back—this infant gift
to scatter like seed;
it lies safe in your benevolent hands.
My heart rests—abandoned
to you...dawning revelation of all creation.
I wait peacefully
If you'd like a scriptural context, Isaiah 8:20-22 speaks of anguish. And Isaiah 9, the revelation of dawn.
time studies us intently
a thoughtful potter
slowly moving clay
who holds the minutes
and the clay, and
each of us?
surely only a grasp unbreakable
can fashion porcelain
I saw friends today, and last week - some of whom I hadn't seen in a long time. We are all different, never going 'back' to exactly the same. Old benchmarks of our knowing one another will be important in allowing us to catch-up quickly. So will listening, really listening, to where each of us has hung out and taken sustenance through these long seasons of 'social disconnect.' It feels important, as this poem hopefully indicates, to know how we are formed, and reformed throughout life; to have this grounding knowledge of oneself, and be able to articulate it in a way that allows others to know us, too. I hope, that in addition to being emptied out, you have been filled up during these long months of processing grief and uncertainty and probing questions of justice. I hope you have been filled up with the life-giving sustenance of that which matters. The theme keeps coming back - of all the things that matter, one of the most essential, is you.
On Our Knees
We were not meant to know this evil.
We are on our knees
trying to stem the tide
of that which we were not
meant to know.
hands inept—ravaged and torn.
We were not meant
to bear in tender flesh
such intimate knowledge:
evil's searing pain,
prolonged stench of indelible ash.
This knowledge would betray us.
We grabbed the limbs of self-deception
eager to climb her rungs
shaking loose like pollen
clouds of arrogance, brutality
convoluted delusions of entitlement.
Voracious we climb. Why???
Still we are on our knees
flood held— just shy of our consumption
by unhidden promise
stretched out before Noah
We have been meant, always
to wear the knowledge of God's Presence—garden green
but sadly trade for sheep's clothing
We are the wolves.
Set down thy thirst and fisted fork!
BEHOLD the deeds of the Lord
see the work of his hands—
they, too, are naked and torn.
We are on our knees...
For months, with so many of you, I have listened to cries of distress across our nation and asked, What is wrong with our humanity? Probed the more puzzling question, How did we get here, still? And wrestled with the disturbing, How am I complicit? I find myself begging for hope that will reach beyond my own boundaries and capacity. The title “On Our Knees” comes from this hint of desperation. Our collective answers to these questions appear to fall far short of understanding; and the days appear to grow darker… My thoughts return again and again to these passages: Genesis 2 and Isaiah 5. Genesis 2 which describes Eve reaching for what she thinks is an edible fruit, but missing the end of the sentence… She misses it again in Genesis 3, when Satan clearly states, ” Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil(emphasis mine).” Oh, how we want to be like God; in control and power and knowing. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…“1 And Isaiah 5 – a detailed litany of our continuing misguided appetites. I like Isaiah 5 because it does not tell me that I am all wrong. It tells me, because you do this, you still hunger and thirst. It gives me a list from which to choose; and I only have to absorb in my skin, the woe over which I trip. From its core, Isaiah 5 is also actionable. These passages have provided space from which to begin to understand what I see, feel, hear. Slowly, this reflection is beginning to shed light on where I act entitled, in my interactions with neighbors and friends, in the check-out line and with my spouse… I have friends who are convinced they play no part in systemic racism. I understand—it is frightening to consider the ramifications.
Self deception has no respect for color. We have poured in buckets of every hue imaginable. I believe it is important to ask ourselves the disturbing questions. Midst much chaos, it has helped to have some sense of where to begin. I hope you find these passages helpful as well.
1) Genesis 3:16,17. The Holy Bible, ESV 2001 by Crossway, Wheaton, IL. (www.esvbible.org)
Genesis 2:9,16-17; 2:25; Genesis 3:5-6
Isaiah 5, particularly 8-24
Genesis 2:16-17 But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
In the waning light of hope,
you are seen...
Growing up in the treed hills of western Pennsylvania, with two loving parents, my farm-based childhood was anything but oppressed. My father was present every day, and my mother, at 89, still lives a determined life of empowering others, though no one ever called it that, way back then. I have been slow to add my voice to the out-cries of women oppressed, though I feel its alarm bells viscerally. Now it is Holy Week 2021. I walk the stations of the cross, neither scholar nor historian, but a disciple, like so many others. I am startled at what is whispered, the juxtaposition of Jesus' statements in the following verses, echoing even now, with great resonance. Mine are just one pair of ears, but with grateful heart, I share it here - the utter compassion of a Savior who invites us to 'keep watch' as he re-writes history. In his own darkest hour, he keeps watch himself; and continues to do so while we wait, between the cross and His resurrection of life.
As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19: 37-40
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26: 38-39
And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23: 27-31
In the waning light of hope,
women wait, bewildered
A few dare to believe—
the probability of change
Resolute voices cry Hosanna
but palmed branches bend
serrated question marks lying in the dust.
History has not been kind
Does anyone know? Does anyone care?
Jesus falls on his face
Do his fists pound the earth?
If it is possible—TAKE THIS CUP AWAY
love poured out, to the
Over his shoulder
'Women, do not weep for me,
but for yourselves...your children.
You are seen
in my very last breath.
You are seen
In my very last breath
hanging between sons' choices gone awry.
Love poured out, as
thieving Satan steals.
You are seen
in my very last breath
as humankind betrays its own flesh
again and again and again.
Women, do not weep for me
History continues to be unkind
will ream the linings of your hearts
You are seen—when do the stones cry out?
When do the stones cry out?
You are seen.
Those Who Make Room: I admire those who, like Barbara Brown Taylor, can give their full attention to sacred ritual, and still abide in the real world of laundry and garden chores. About Ash Wednesday, she said that she felt a sudden urge to ask for more, more ashes; only to realize that it was not yet her turn for a full taste of death. Apparently, like Paul (and you and me), at that moment she still had work to do. She juggles perfectly, though. Ashes applied, she notes that she still has time for the common courtesies of please and thank you, between her and her God. Only a taste of death… How can I sustain reverent regard while keeping pace with dirty dishes and dirtier socks; Please and Thank you, and Yes, Lord, all in one breath?
I want to give Lent my attention, to recognize that something deep and personal, and earth-shattering is happening in the church calendar of life and death and legacy of sacrifice. I do not want a gimmick—because faith is much, much more than gimmick for getting through our days. I remember the time astute Aunt Ruth, at 89 years of age, told me that she no longer felt it necessary to give up chocolate for Lent. Coming from her, it was delightful discernment, besides the rescue of chocolate! Holding reverence feels less like giving up something, and more like opening up to something, so that whatever matters settles deeper, and whatever is unnecessary falls away from dis-use. Like so many religious observations, perhaps Lent raises more questions than it answers. Sometimes Suffering is one of my questions.
might be invitation
NOT to be minimized—
but perhaps made more
by what it costs to enter in.
Pain and sorrow
weave a surprising Hora.
'Havah Nagilah;' ribbons of intimacy spool
in and out the Godhead
as life and death tell their story
of who God is.
might be invitation
And we are invited to hold the ribbon?
strips down the bark of our defenses.
lay to rest
our ill-conceived notions
and cling to what is real.
jfig March 2021
Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, p 77.
Wikipedia references Psalm 118:24 as inspiration for the lyrics of Hava Nagila; but the whole of the psalm resonates with the intertwining of life and death.
And because it feels scary to leave you with suffering wide open – Blossom
slow seasons of steady nutrition
infused through slender stems.
Blossom may mean wait,
and while you wait
hold open your heart.
Your petals will take on
"Winter" may ask you to suffer
hardship of storms
attrition: leaves lost to blight
infringement of priorities.
Take in the pale delicate notes
of that which gives you life.
This is my prayer for you.
Suffering is not easy—in any form.
In its season you have yet to bloom.
we are all going to fit at table
we will have to scoot
Everyone will be talking at once
is not just the grandchildren.
We are going to have to sit—forward/back
nestled in to fit the (ahem)
extra-wide flanks of our attitudes.
We will need to squirm
long enough to smell the perfume
of our differences.
We might pause
lest we forget.
Look for a moment neither at ourselves, nor one another
beyond our voracious want ;
then dig deeply into each his own gratitude.
grace, please pass the...
Extend one's hand.
Pause our recitation—where another should find his
and dig deeply into each his own.
How can I know where another should find the grace of gratitude
without first hearing his story?
This 'Grace' could take a long time
passed hand to hand
If something must spill,
Lord, let it be grace.
Something must spill...
We are going to have to
if everyone is going to fit at table.
Permit me, Lord
Permit me to love you, Lord
in spite of weary, bedraggled form—my own.
Permit me to love you, Lord
in ways that stretch the narrow, fearful hardenings in my heart.
Stenosis of dismay
temporarily halts my pursuit of holiness.
Help me to run—swift pursuit;
your open arms stretched wide
between twin pillars of Christ's Kingdom,
righteousness and justice never failing.
May incense arise, my known 'poor spirit,'
bent now to pour oil
and light the flame.
Reverence and need entwine, curl heavenward
their soot a cure for my unknowing.
I exalt your holy name,
my Lord and my Redeemer.
“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
Do you want to be a wise-man
behold the light
that marks Christ's coming?
Dare to migrate...
Do you want be a wise-man
pursue the One
who brings the light
first spoke it into being?
So you want to be a wise man???
Summoned before the face of oppressive power
choose to depart by a different way
choose to be governed by justice and righteousness?
Might I be a wise-man
Believe you are who the prophets foretold.
Oh, Holy Prince
your peace transcends temporal security.
we kneel at your cradle of wisdom.
May we be wise—and willing
journey far to rejoice in the light of your presence.
"Opening theirtreasures they offered Him gifts..."
Grant that I might unwrap such gold, this frankincense and myrrh
'Knowing You to be immeasurably who You say You are.'
Might I, newly wise
knees to earthen floor
and worship the newborn King.
Last week, the song ” Do you Want to Build a Snowman,” from the movie “Frozen” kept popping into my head. Followed by the wise men. Surely one could find more fitting comparative verse for the Prince of Peace! But the real question of this poem points toward a place of child-like longing that lingers forcefully in many of us, What part do you want to play in the story of Jesus? And the morechallenging grown-up question, What relationship with him, do you wish to have?
The content of this poem is carefully gleaned from Isaiah9:1-7 and Matthew 2:1-12. It stops me in my tracks to read the prophecy of Isaiah 9 moving toward conclusion with, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…to establish it and to uphold it with justice and withrighteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” ( emphasis mine) To not only end there, but to start there; to uphold there. What do you think establishes peace and why?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him… John 1:1-3a
In the beginning...
our begging souls long with time-distilled
for what, we toil to know.
In the beginning...
before light and darkness shaded the landscape
with~ rooted essence
of God's first transcendent Word.
In the beginning...
the deep land of mankind
looking over her shoulder; remembering.
some spring trickles deep in my soul.
One's thirst awakens
in search of seed of all creation
Longing for company ~ the Divine spring
With a germ that nurtures life.
In the darkening winter days leading into Advent, an astonishing amount of light has shone. Beautiful days of sunshine and frost’s sparkle. Small gifts of kindness that burst onto 2020’s scene of blatant uncertainty. Scripture passages that speak of thirst have stood out to me with references to mankind’s misguided attempts to fill life’s deep needs with distractions that do not sustain. Still, they are part of the journey; but what part? Our longings, reconfigured in pandemic, point to deep thirsts within. Thirst, and the scriptures that evoke it thematically, seem ponder worthy for a season. I’m trying to learn to ask the questions and let them echo a bit, rather than offer pre-packaged answers that do not resonate with where you might be in your story. Thanks for showing up here, I’m delighted to have your company. jfig
Such beauty waits beyond the slash heaps
One climbs their ruins—no small feat
for one feeling small.
Yet reddening corpuscles absorb air
those that have not carried oxygen
for long seasons of treachery.
Treachery the lie
that small ones have no strength.
None of our strength is our own...
'Tis gifted or granted, imagined
for purposes far beyond
even our most benevolent inclination.
And yet, cells have not forgotten
how to carry this breath of life.
Lift the veil on beauty's unfolding
her wonder un-reconciled to loss.
Maker has seen to that
with measured infinite supply.
None of our strength is our own...
As one feeling small, I might hide. I do hide – afraid of what others will think of me. But the Maker hides me with his very being; miraculously conferring holiness, strength, life, hope upon this fragile frame. Psalm 27 says that the Lord hides us in is tent, the place where He dwells. The Hebrew root is shineth. The Lord hides us in the awesome and devastating place where his being radiates with glory and majesty. Really???
Midst both my own journey, and the privilege of walking a bit with others, I often grow impatient (and fearful). Why does healing and the transformation that comes with it take so long? How are we to endure? This poem is in no way meant to minimize the pain you might be in, as you wait. It is meant much like a prayer, to stand in the gap with and/or for you, and look for the light of Jesus’ coming to rescue those He lovingly created in his image. I pray He will lift you into the strong beauty of His Presence, and keep you safe.
Lord God, sometimes we cannot believe for ourselves, that there is any reason to hope. And yet, here we are – still breathing the breath of life, that only you could have breathed into us. And so, we wait together, not just for you, but upon you, with the belief that you are who you say you are. Sustain us in hope, even as you sustain us by your mighty hand, we pray.