On Our Knees

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
intention desperate
flood held— just shy of our consumption
by unhidden promise
stretched out before Noah

And kept.

We have been meant, always
to wear the knowledge of God's Presence—garden green
but sadly trade  for sheep's clothing
choosing, still.
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...

jfig    4/2021

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.

Bravely, jfig

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.”

“Genesis 2 (NLT) – So the creation of the.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 24 Apr, 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/gen/2/1/p1/s_2001&gt;.

Isaiah 5:12b “but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands.”

“Isaiah 5 (ESV) – They have lyre and harp.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 24 Apr, 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/isa/5/12/p1/s_684012&gt;.

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

Prayers for 2021: Scoot

 
 
 Scoot
 
 If
 we are all going to fit at table
 we will have to scoot
 down...in...over.
 Everyone will be talking at once
 Holy bedlam
 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
 but stay
 long enough to smell the perfume
 of our differences.
  
 We might pause
 say 'grace'
 lest we forget.
 Look for a moment neither at ourselves, nor one another
 but outward
 beyond our voracious want ;
 then dig deeply into each his own gratitude.
  
 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
 dribbling
 passed hand to hand
 messy.
 If something must spill,
 Lord, let it be grace.
 Something must spill...
  
 We are going to have to 
 scoot
 down...in...over
 if everyone is going to fit at table.
  
 jfig     1/2021 

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.

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

Grey

What if the dawn is grey
holding on to dying threads of darkness?
Alabaster beckons...
but first, we must know how to hold its worth.

Clouds transpose; lifting and boiling
not violently - they are pale
but changing nevertheless
some with great rapidity.

If we humans then, are momentary
one dare not miss the momentous occasion
to observe the sacred: translucent wisps in eternity.
Stand - still and reverent to acknowledge what God has done.

"God, you say. Where is He?"
He holds the clouds
sometimes covering what we cannot bear
(were never meant) to see.

"Peel back," He roars
Can you not fathom
the righteous bedrock
of my creation?

A gentle tutor:
"Beauty is kindred to peace...
My hope, will not disappoint...
Think on it."

Aaah, and much of the time, my friend
hope is pale, pale grey
It's time-hammered pewter a translucent pane
mercury glass between God and man. 

jfig   11/2020

This poem is dedicated to my cherished friend Donna, a gift-bearer of HOPE.

For more in-depth reflection, this poem draws from the following passages: Job 38-42; Philippians 4:8-9; Isaiah 5:12; and if you are feeling brave, Romans 5:5 and preceding.

2020:Beacons

Darkness is not prevailing

Covid 19 fell like an avalanche
wiping out practices of life as we knew them.

Racial unrest surged—
the dam broke:its torrents of pain and violence
carving tortuous new paths through community.

Brick and mortar rubble:
fires and tornadoes, and air-sucking anxieties
darkened the atmosphere.
But darkness is not prevailing.

Real people unfolded wallets and schedules from their safety nests
the kindling of kindness burgeoning in their chests
as match to wick
kindness set candles of compassion aglow
in the darkness - like question marks.

Kindness is the middle child
sweetness by which the Spirit of Holiness tutors us
in how to live
and grow
hemmed in, yet disconnected from one another

Middle child in the house down the street
kissed the Stone called Selflessness, and asked
Mommy, how can I help?
Nickels and dimes gleam in the grand scheme of things
winging like iridescent butterflies.

Hidden neighbors, hungry for righteousness (it's taste not wholly familiar)
felt the palpable thirst of colored skin
and asked the Keeper of the storehouses of snow and hail,
Won't you fill the deep racial crevasse?
Shovel in hand, Won't you fill...?

A stick cross middles the hill 
marginalized outside of town;
outside of belonging or protective walls, outside of resources.
A lone transceiver picks up the signal of hearts in distress. 

Kindness kindles
Compassion roars into flame - jumps another crevasse.
It is finished.

We are the embers of this eternal flame
from which hope is born, and reborn

Kindling of kindness finding the margins—Hope is reborn.

jfig   10/2020

Often we feel marginalized, either in our distress; or in our ability to help. I've experienced both this week, my energy dampened by weariness and discouragement. When I sent out a quiet distress signal, asking people for help, it was the small measures offered with kindness, that made a huge difference and reset my outlook. An email saying I am praying for you, a shared moment of laughter, a flower intentionally put in my hand and another gently taken from it all pulled me back from the brink of despair, and filled me with both gratitude and hope. There was some chocolate, too. But since it is still in the wrapper, it was the kindness of the gesture and NOT the chocolate that made my heart happy. 
We are all on journey, some aspects long and wearying, others glorious and exciting. You may get to travel only a short leg with someone. Remember the kindling. Another's matches may be all wet.

Ephesians 2:4-7 says that God gifts to us the riches of his mercy and grace...in kindness toward us through Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus, might we, by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, celebrate and emulate God's gifting of kindness toward us, and thereby become couriers of his mercy and grace. Amen