You shall fear only YHWH your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name (Deuteronomy 6:13) After these things the word of YHWH came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. (Genesis 15:1) For I YHWH thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. (Isaiah 41:13) And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (Luke 2:10) And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last (Revelation 1:17) Fear Full: I tire of fearing Him I have sworn off worship I have no shield I dare not expect a reward My right hand encloses only emptiness While I wait for help My ears ache with listening For tidings of any joy I cannot see beyond my fear Had I a soul, it is but a dead thing And yet, and yet Fear Not: If I just close the book Let theologies lie crumbling Like last year’s leaves Small flowering ajuga Under the maple tree Comforts my eyes Banks of white azaleas On each side of the front porch Shield the house Soldier-straight tall irises Encircling the mailbox Brush my reaching hand The backyard bird Unseen but insistent Sings to me of cheaper, cheaper joy I need no vision beyond this world I need no soul beyond this contentment Here is the first, middle, and last Faith, the fearful first Hope, only hope, the muddled middle Love, the longed for last
[This poem is more or less a meditation on Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, God’s Grandeur]
For Hopkins The work of ah! bright wings Is not to fly Spread wide Snowy white Unmarked unmarred Pristine pure Holy wholly other Above our too dirty world Broken by our own bombs With cratered hope Rubbled dreams Too ruined for rescue Ah, no Those bright wings Wings of the Holy Ghost Do not spread wide To fly, untouched, away But to wrap our brokenness Close, so close That our labored breath Stills As the psalmist’s weaned child Stills On the mother’s breast Hidden within those ghostly Bright wings We yet continue to cry Continue to try For peace That peace We are told That passes understanding Perhaps Perhaps - I dare to hope I try to breathe - Perhaps That peace beyond understanding Is not beyond Those ah! bright wings
Death stood proud Crossed Cursed On the hilltop Rising high above the rocks Taunting, daring Shouting victory For the strong Life awakened humble Shrouded Sacred From beneath the rocks Blessing, caring Whispering love For the weak
At 73 I think I know, finally how to embrace life: Carefully aware of the wounded spots that will cry out if I hug too tightly Those wounds I inflicted with the flicked whip the pointed thorn the hammered nail Too often, I think, I have nailed life to the cross of my expectations hoping to bleed satisfaction from the wounded body raised high on the cross of my hopes nailed hard to the cross of my fears I stood at the foot of the cross of life aghast at my own cruelty Tenderly I lifted life from the cross cradled life in my arms buried life in the garden of my heart enclosed by the stones of my sad knowing And then, again and again, I marveled as those stones proved flimsy no match for the power of life new born but no infant shining forth freed from my tomb Ah yes, again and again have I marveled at life Resurrected Undefeated Glorious Risen Life Until, again and again, I put life on trial and began to look again for the whip, the thorn, the crucifying cross Forgetting or maybe choosing to ignore Life’s resurrection power
I remember Communion round wafer, thinner than paper Body of Christ on the top of my mouth cleaving uncomfortably Don’t ever chew the body of Christ we were warned, although not in those words those way too explicit words we were told Don’t ever let the host touch your teeth so instead, for the rest of Mass back in the pew with my family kneeling, head bowed, hands clasped back straight because slouching was almost as bad as letting the host touch your teeth kneeling so quietly that no one could tell my tongue was busy exploring what was stuck to the roof of my mouth Christ’s body Once I believed in that holy host surrounded by a great cloud of believers I believed that my tongue tasted God Now I just taste bread – and usually pretty pasty bread unless I am at a church where people take turns making rich wholesome loaves to break apart and share not caring if the body of Christ, or whatever those pieces are, touch teeth Yesterday when I was spreading mulch I straightened up and looked around and tasted mulch, the dust of the mulch inhaled and tasted at the back of my mouth, without touching teeth Sometimes now I stand quietly tasting mulch and God
The pines sigh only with the wind Until the poet climbs the mountain And hears their silent sighs Do the pines sigh Because they want more That “once I was loved but now he is gone” sigh Or do they sigh in contentment That end of a day well spent sigh Or perhaps they sigh with relief The cake is out of the oven and well risen sigh Or perhaps they sigh with satisfied love After a long but not particularly deep Telephone call with a grown child sigh Or do they sigh for God? Do they pine for the divine? Perhaps they sigh Because they caught sight of God Tangled in their branches Held fast in their roots
Now is the time for the world to know perseverance carries us to other worlds to sow compassion carries us to each other to forget all that it thought it knew to regret all that it thought was progress to despair of ever getting everything right to repair some of what it got wrong to stay still when all we want is movement to pray when all we want is talk Now is the time for me to know perseverance that carries me into old age to sow compassion that carries me towards others to forget all the times I hated myself to regret all the times I hated others to despair of ever loving well enough to repair the damage of not loving well enough to stay still when all I want is movement to pray to pray to pray Quiet now listen now hope now wait now open now To a holy, wholly-other God beyond my words beyond my time bound never by my command to speak but only ever speaks to my silence My non-thoughts go to a God not of my making who waits beyond the knowing of the world whose silence proves her very existence Now is the time for me to remember that the world never knows “Columbus found a world and had no chart save one that faith deciphered in the skies to trust in God was all his science and his only art”
I have only just begun to know that I know nothing. All of my theologies are not God, but only pretend, in their arrogance, to know God. What does it mean to begin to know that I do not know, can never know the limns and limits of a supreme being? A god encompassed within my knowing is no God at all. What can I do? (This "I" that I do not always know) How can this mysterious I pray? How do I avoid the golden calf, the tall white man nailed to the Roman cross in Christian churches usurping the small - almost certainly smaller than the usual now – dark Palestinian Jew? Ah, there is so much unknowing to accept. How shall the unknown "I" worship the unknowable divine without losing both? I think I shall go walk in my garden, spread mulch under the azaleas, admire the upright daffodils and the drooping Lenten roses, search, uselessly, too early, for signs of Solomon’s seal, smell the spiked rosemary, feel the fuzzy soft sage, fill the wheelbarrow again, mulch the walkway to the back garden, with its stream and pond, its shade and benches its too rarely used yoga platform. Then I will go up and check on Mom, go to the store for sweet potatoes to fix for dinner tonight with the turkey breast Woody is frying. I think I shall rest from knowing and pray from doing.
What gentle house wren longs to be a flashy cardinal? Do drooping Lenten roses wish for daffodil’s bright height? Will bare-branched poplars murmur against budding maples? How can thyme be content when rosemary grows so tall? What thinks the scampering squirrel of the wandering deer? Are bees satisfied with hives or do they long for nests? And why, dear God, in all your creation must only humans be cursed with envy?
Everything that happens is sacred Sure, sure, so the poets, philosophers, priests and popes say Everything is sacred Have they ever, I wonder, shit in their pants while in the grocery store Because their bowels don’t know that only the toilet is sacred to them Have they ever lost their temper and screamed at their sister over the phone Because their anger doesn’t know that only self-control is sacred Have they ever had to look at the chewing tobacco spit out on the sidewalk Because the old man doesn’t know that, well, that chewing tobacco is never sacred Unless lung cancer and COPD are sacred But washing out my mother’s soiled underwear That I feel is sacred Getting angry at injustice, at deliberate ignorance, cultivated and cherished That I feel is sacred Caring for that lonely old man, even though he stinks of tobacco Even though you hate his smell and his beliefs and his unknowing arrogance Just because he is himself That I feel is sacred Do you agree, God? Or can you see the sacred in my own dirty underwear In my embarrassment Can you see the sacred in my unwise anger In my estrangement In my temper Can you see the sacred in that heap of sodden chaw In over-plowed fields In feeding lots In caged children Is there a divine powerful enough to help me see the sacred in the ordinary in the profane