Prayers After YouTube

[We have to create peace and reason within our own hearts and homes. Madeleine L'Engle]
We made a decision
A few weeks ago

Not to stop watching
DCI Banks and Bones
NCIS and The Durrells in Corfu
Those wonderful shows
Where crimes are solved
Arguments are resolved
Happily ever after happens
In less than 60 minutes
Each night

But one night a week
We tell YouTube to educate us
About food insecurity
Climate change
Sustainable farming
How to feed nine billion people
Many of whom want more red meat

But also India
India, with one-fifth the land of the United States
And about the same population as China
We tried to imagine 2 million people
Instead of 150,000 in our little city
Wearing masks, trying to keep distance

Today, just a little while ago, I said
“YouTube Israel Palestine history”
(OK, I admit I added “please”
But I muttered it quietly)
What we saw was instructive
But not hopeful
The narrator seemed to think
It would be more hopeful 
If we only understood
That it was not a religious conflict
Just a land and water rights conflict

So my prayers, morning and night,
Are somewhat angry these days
I know the world is as it has ever been
And my awareness has little to do with
The goodness or troubles of God’s creation

But it has everything to do with 
My own creation of peace and reason
Within myself, within my home
How do I model myself --
In love, justice, mercy -- 
On an all powerful omniscient Creator
A divine person who, I am told, is my 
Personal lord and savior
To be welcomed into my heart
But who does not protect Their own creation?

Fear, Fear Not

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

The Work of Wings

[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
As the psalmist’s weaned child
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 -
I dare to hope
I try to breathe -
That peace beyond understanding
Is not beyond
Those ah! bright wings


At 73
I think I know, finally
how to embrace life:
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

Until, again and again,
I put life on trial
and began to look again
for the whip, the thorn, 
the crucifying cross

or maybe choosing to ignore
Life’s resurrection power

Tasting God

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

What Leads Pines to Sigh

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

If Not Now, When

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

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?