Seen

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

“Luke 19 (ESV) – As he was drawing near already.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 3 Apr, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/luk/19/37/p1/s_992037.

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

“Matthew 26 (ESV) – Then he said to them.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 3 Apr, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/mat/26/38/p1/s_955038.

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

“Luke 23 (ESV) – And there followed him a.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 3 Apr, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/luk/23/27/p1/s_996027.

Seen
In the waning light of hope,
women wait, bewildered
A few dare to believe—
the probability of change
Passover

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
very.last.breath.

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.
Disconnect.

Women, do not weep for me
History continues to be unkind
will ream the linings of your hearts
and wombs.
You are seen—when do the stones cry out?
When do the stones cry out? 

You are seen.

jfig     4/2021

Thickets

Straight and narrow:
it seems we have been advised
to stay.
It should not
surprise, then
that life's journey
braves the thicket
and the swamp
the deep, dark womb of forest
where the seeds of living are formed.

Straight and narrow
climbs the cliffs
hanging on in terror
to feel oneself sustained
again, and again
by the wise, tenacious 
love of God.
Do not skirt the thicket;
its briers frame
this fierce, improbable beauty:
the God Who Loves'
abiding embrace.

Dear Reading Friend,

A sharp contrast was drawn for me this week, between the orderly neatness of having it all figured out, and the messy struggle of ever-clambering to keep hold of the shirttails of God. I felt, deep in that place between stomach and gut, that I would rather choose messy; continue to sport all the scratches and mud splotches evident of the potentially infectious encounters of pursuing God wherever he leads, than wear the polished veneer of having stayed behind. I’m sharing these poems to invite your pondering, but perhaps also to bolster my resolve. Godspeed, Jfig

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

“Matthew 7 (ESV) – For the gate is narrow.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 27 Mar, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/mat/7/14/s_936014.

Messy
i did not anticipate messy
mountains of laundry
the stain of anguished tears
for there are some that drip from a mother's heart
that stain one's shirt forever.

i did not anticipate seeing
when we each vowed, "I do"
sullen dark corners inside the hallways called me
no solvent could touch,
save grace

messy, this creosote
of banner borne, blood yet fresh
on the beams of his cross
my need sticky, with
splinters and nails

little did i imagine
his agony of stretch
nor such tedious debridement;
things Creator would not 
have me (w)bear

chafing - cautious dismantle
to recover image;
His Love
emblazoned on my heart.
messy.

jfig     3/2021

Those Who Make Room: Sometimes Suffering

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.

Sometimes Suffering


Sometimes suffering
might be invitation
NOT to be minimized—
but perhaps made more
PRECIOUS
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.

Sometimes suffering
might be invitation
And we are invited to hold the ribbon?

Harsh circumstance
strips down the bark of our defenses.
Requiem:
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





Blossom

To blossom
takes time
slow seasons of steady nutrition
infused through slender stems.
Fragile.
Blossom may mean wait,
and while you wait
hold open your heart.
Your petals will take on
astonishing hues
of God-love.

"Winter" may ask you to suffer
hardship of storms
attrition: leaves lost to blight
and insects,
infringement of priorities.
Take in the pale delicate notes
of that which gives you life.
Breath-taking.
This is my prayer for you.
Suffering is not easy—in any form.
In its season you have yet to bloom.

jfig     3/2021

Permit me, Lord: a prayer for 2021

 
 
 
 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.
 Amen 
 and amen.

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

“Matthew 5 (ESV) – Blessed are the poor in.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 9 Jan, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/mat/5/3/s_934003.

Wise Man

 
 

 Wise Man
 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
 and reckoning
 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.
  
 Mighty Counselor
 we kneel at your cradle of wisdom.
 May we be wise—and willing
 journey far to rejoice in the light of your presence.
  
 "Opening their treasures they offered Him gifts..."
 Wise men.
 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
 fall
 knees to earthen floor
 and worship the newborn King.
 
 jfig     12/2020 

Dear Reader,

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 with righteousness 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?

“Isaiah 9 (ESV) – Of the increase of his.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 14 Dec, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/isa/9/7/s_688007&gt;.

With

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

With

In the beginning...
our begging souls long with time-distilled
thirst
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
sprawls parched
looking over her shoulder; remembering.

Living water
some spring trickles deep in my soul.
Craving more
With

One's thirst awakens
in search of seed of all creation
Longing for company ~ the Divine spring
With a germ that nurtures life.

jfig     12/2020

Dear Reader,

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

“John 1 (ESV) – In the beginning was the.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 5 Dec, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jhn/1/1/s_998001.

If you liked this reflection, you might also appreciate Christian Lindbeck’s sermon on John 1:1-18; accessible here: Light in the Darkness | Week 1 – Hillcrest Church (hcbellingham.com)

Unveiling

 
 
 
 
 Unveiling
 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...
  
 jfig     10/2020 

This poem derives from figuratively carrying Psalm 27 around in my pocket, for long legs of life’s journey. You can access it here: “Psalm 27 (ESV) – Of David The LORD is.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Oct, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/psa/27/1/s_505001&gt;.

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.

Luke 4:18,19

Trajectory

Trajectory
 
 
Persistent ripples
scribe the surface of Bagley lake
evidence
that life breathes,
expectant,
beneath the season's fleeting veil.
 
Painstaking intent
flows along ages-old trajectory.
The Foundation of the world stretches ancient fingers
toward the fullness of time.*
Beginning to the end;
the end itself—endless.
 
Float, if you must
beneath this moment's sky
her sun not wasted.
Nor is winter's gloom,
though we tend to hasten time.
Who knows where our Spirit God hovers?**
 
jfig    9/2020
*Ephesians 1:4-10; **Genesis 1:2

Ephe. 1:3,4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

In August, my Covid19 hiking buddy and I made it to the Mt. Baker Wilderness Area to circumnavigate the string called Bagley Lakes. Though not the most acclaimed hike in the area, its raw beauty still spoke volumes. Questions surfaced, just as they have in the past: are these really lakes, or just snowmelt puddles; and what is the difference? You can see right to the bottom – old logs and a dearth of fish. So what is the point, if you see the air for two of twelve months, with no trout nor tadpoles, and the rest of the time are covered up as if you didn’t exist by layers of ice and snow? Two things refuted my skepticism: Even though the water was crystal clear, the ripples were determined, not just from the wind, but from underneath. In its abbreviated season, the free-running water was determinedly going somewhere. And (2) in retrospect, we felt ourselves a part of the scenery, not merely observers. We could see where our footsteps had traced just 30 minutes prior; right there exactly. We were part of this day’s wilderness story, in a way that my companion visibly understood.

The reminder that any season, whether brief, seemingly benign, or harsh to the point of devastating, can still be part of God’s purposeful trajectory is hugely comforting to me. We don’t get to measure the seasons; they seem to take measure of us. But we can look across the valley to see where we have been; experience some surprise to see others who trudge there now. We can revisit the pages of story: how God’s triune company and unwavering intent have transformed us en route. I hope the thought that your story is not outside God’s trajectory, is comforting to you as well. Sincerely, jfig

Questions in the Margins: Hold You in My Heart

This poem is written to and for persons of color, your family and friends, in response to expressions of persistent pain and suffering you experience due to racial injustice.  In the Book of Philippians, Paul and Timothy write, “I hold you in my heart,” to the believers in Philippi. Believers who at least symbolically, were among those Paul had previously persecuted, even unto death. This poem is loosely patterned after that prayer.  Philippians 1:1-7

Hold you in my heart

 

I hold you in my heart

reaching out blood-tinged hands

across the barriers of history

to gather broken pieces of your soul

out of the ashes.

I don’t presume to

‘put you back together’

but to hold your story

as the sacred missive it is,

and lean with you toward

One Who Can Heal.

 

I hold you in my heart

defenses momentarily unlaced

by a glimpse – mere glimpse

of your suffering,

the color of your blood

draining ochre into the soil

on which we now stand.

Stand?

Nay, walk…

for this is a journey;

wretched soil for all of us

to leave behind.

 

I hold you in my heart

examining the color of mine

to ask where it might celebrate—yours.

wake late to the dream

birthed out of your nightmare;

that the passages that carried you through the night to freedom

might tunnel through the dark once more

bring me to your door

in a fellowship of love, art

music, work, laughter

and the overarching  grace of Christ’s righteousness.

 

I hold you in my heart

(it takes such a long while to quiet its thunderous beating)

I purpose to wait;

to not simply acquiesce

in verbal acknowledgement of complicity,

but to wrestle with the discomfort

until I can hear the faint, strengthening beat

of life’s muscle in your chest.

This is a labor of love.

 

I hold you in my heart

Your freedom is not for sale

Truth is, one cannot buy, nor sell, freedom;

Our freedom was purchased

before black or white or red ever set foot on this shore.

But I would like to scour stains

of what it has cost to realize your freedom,

by the washing of your feet;

pour the oil of joy instead of mourning

into the fissures in your soles

that black feet might dance once more.

I hold you in my heart

jfig  6/2020

RW joy hearts

jfig     6/2020

The journey to acknowledge white privilege has been messy for me.  If it were not for confidence in the grace which Paul describes, I doubt I could engage the difficult questions. #stillonjourney

Scripture reference is Philippians 1:1-7 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001, 2007, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Questions in the Margins: Vigil

 

Barn

 

Vigil

Visceral despair—

to feel oneself abandoned

by the human race.

This crisis is not in the streets,

where twin daggers of hatred and despair

fell souls

before a body ever hits the ground.

Crisis is in our hearts

each blooded muscle seen

by the holy eyes of God,

first with love,  then with untainted justice.*

To be mourned is the heart that has so swelled with fear,

then hatred; another who so fears judgement

that neither can beat in rhythm with their Creator,

synchronized…in the brother/sister-hood of humankind

by the recurring image (image) ((image)), of God.

 

What do I know—of fear?

That is part of the problem.

If I am uncommonly awake with it now,

may its shallow gasp turn to vigil;

keeping watch, prayer-like

over others like me, if only in that they, too, bear the image of God.

Prayer-like, because my prayer alone, is not big enough for this;

must be joined by other choirs.

Fellowed, not by default

but by inventive grace

that keeps one on her knees

patellae buried into soil rich and deep

where mighty oaks might grow.

Once there invaded

the poisonous oppressions of sin,**

but I have seen a flower—

gentian purple,

sprout and flourish

against a broken bed of shattered rock.

 

My bent frame

can see

just that far. ***

jfig     5/31/2020

 

* Php 1:1-7

** Isaiah 61

***Isaiah 58: 6-12