Category Archives: Poems

Jonah and the Surprising Grace of God

Jonah logo - IMG_0588Jonah is a parable-like story referenced by Jesus to dramatically illustrate the Gospel. You can read this “minor prophet” in 10 minutes, but it challenges us to do the hard work of living the Good News everyday with everyone we meet, especially those (who perhaps like ourselves) seem unlikely to respond to the gift of grace. Listen to the first sermon in this 4 part series here.


Also, here is a poem I read by a favorite writer and poet, Scott Cairns, called The Imprisonment of Jonah that cleverly captures the essence of the story. Listen to the author reading it here. (It is from his collected poems, Slow Pilgrim.)

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – Theological Remix!

img_4331At our Christmas Eve services this year, we shared the wonderful poem/carol by Cheryl Lavornia. She captures the familiar cadence of a cultural classic but re-forms it into a beautiful re-telling of the Greatest Story Ever Told!  Enjoy!


Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the manger,

Not a creature was stirring, not even the strangers.

The cattle were lowing, waiting with the mare,

In hopes that a baby soon would be there.

 

See it all started some nine months back

When an angel appeared to Mary announcing the fact

That she would conceive and be found with child

He would be God’s Son, so meek and so mild.

 

And Joseph, Mary’s spouse, not wanting to make a clatter,

Vowed to divorce her quietly and settle the matter.

But an angel appeared and flew like a flash,

Into his dreams – stopping his fear in a dash.

 

The angel told Joseph the News he should know,

Gave the plans of our God to His creatures below.

“Do not be afraid, for soon shall appear,

God’s Word become flesh, and a light to all near.”

 

This baby they’d been waiting on, now seemed so quick,

So Joseph believed and took Mary, his pick

Off to Bethlehem for the census they came,

To be claimed as David’s descent; called by his name!

 

“Now Adam, now, Seth, now Abram and Isaac,

On Jacob, On Judah, on Boaz and David!

To the top of God’s family, to those answering His call,

Now make a way! Prepare the way! Here’s a way for all!”

 

As angels before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

So up to the mountain-top the messengers flew,

To some shepherds…. and their little sheep too !

 

And then, in a twinkling the sky was their roof

And the host of angels offered some proof.

“Fear not, for behold, good tidings abound,

Good news for all people in Bethlehem’s found.”

 

“He’s dressed in swaddling cloths, from his head to his foot,

In a manger, this small baby lay put.”

The angels sang, as to heaven went back,

“Glory to God! Peace on earth; now get up and pack.”

 

Their eyes, how they twinkled, those shepherds so merry!

So they left the sheep sleeping, taking what they could carry!

The outcast, the child, the old women low,

The leper, the stranger, and all who had woe.

 

They hurried to the manger, they barely could breathe,

Their hearts were encircled with hope like a wreath.

As they spied Mary & Joseph,  they slowed down their run,

What did peace look like;  the Christ child, God’s own Son?

 

He wasn’t chubby or plump, but a real human babe,

How odd that a king be born in a stabe.

A wink of Mary’s eye and a twist of her head,

Soon gave them to know – they had nothing to dread.

 

They spoke not a word, but marveled at God’s plan,

To save humankind through Jesus, the Son of Man.

This babe would be hung up, pierced hands and toes,

But would soon conquer death, when he arose!

 

So Mary and Joseph, shepherds and kings,

All testify to the joy  that this night of nights brings!

Jesus came to stop death and sin’s dark plight,

So we can exclaim, “Happy Christmas to all,

Jesus is setting things right!”

                                             _Cheryl Lavornia, Copyright 2010

“Mark My Word!” (Jesus)

16-10-30-ccbe-matthew-jesus-master-teacher-009Matthew’s Gospel is filled with the challenge and promise of taking Jesus’ word seriously! To live as if Christ has inaugurated the Kingdom on earth (because he HAS!). In this sermon, we looked at one of the many radical sayings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He calls us to be “Unoffendable!” (to borrow a word from a recent book title.)  Click here to listen to the sermon.

 


Enjoy this wonderful sonnet  by Malcolm Guite called As If.

Matthew 5:42  –  Give to the one who asks you, and from the one who would borrow from you, turn not away. 

The Giver of all gifts asks me to give!

The Fountain from which every good thing flows,

The Life who spends himself that all might live,

The Root whence every bud and blossom grows,

Calls me, as if I knew no limitation,

As if I focused all his hidden force,

To be creative with his new creation,

To find my flow in him, my living source,

To live as if I had no fear of losing,

To spend as if I had no need to earn,

To turn my cheek as if it felt no bruising,

To lend as if I needed no return,

As if my debts and sins were all forgiven,

As if I too could body forth his Heaven.

(Guite’s blog site is a treasure. Check it out)

Barabbas and the Great Exchange

Jesus and PilateWe begin Holy Week. Sunday’s sermon dealt with a well-known but quickly dismissed character named Barabbas. A deeper kind of exchange takes place beyond the cry of the mob! Listen to the sermon here.

Come to any or all of our three nights of the Easter Celebration of the Arts!  Each night opens at 6 with a special event at 7 . Wednesday is the Cafe music and poetry night; Thursday at 7 is a lecture on Christian Discipleship and the Arts; and Friday at 7 is our Good Friday Worship Service.

My meditation on Barabbas and Jesus led to this poem that I shared for the Arts Celebration. The sermon will aid in understanding the nuances.


Barabbas

But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)  Luke 23:18-19

 The terrorist has a name: Bar-Abbas
“Release Barabbas!”  “Crucify Jesus!”
son of the father
For The Son of the Father?
Anti-messiah, you choose
O mob of pseudo-Jews?
Two accused of insurrection
King for a day or resurrection?
The prisoner swap is strange
Invisible is the real exchange
Brutal, Beautiful, Bold
Slaughtered Shepherd for the life of the world!
Sorrowful Comforter
Wounded Healer
Jesus, among the criminals
Still among the criminals.

 

Let yourself be moved!

Advent Lessons and Carols @ Community of Jesus
Advent Lessons and Carols @ Community of Jesus

Advent ushers us into a feast for the senses that CAN lead to “spiritual ecstasy,”  (instead of  just sensory overload!)

I’ve been working through a wonderful book of poems by Luci Shaw called Scape. I came back today to this one called Ec-stasis. It’s from a Greek word from which we get the word “ecstasy” or literally being “beside oneself.”

Read the poem over more than once and let it sink in. I’m struck with how all our senses are conduits that God built in: to “move” us; to displace us from our ruts; to transform us. In Shaw’s words, we are “engineered for transformation!

from Ec-stasis

The music…
is described by the announcer as
moving, touching, powerful. As if
even as we listen, we’ll get shoved
around, displaced, our senses
turning us to another orientation.

So, maybe this is what is meant for us –
to be ready to be unsteady, unhinged,
beside ourselves, constrained by magic
to know the world new, to be
transposed, dislodged, ready for
realignment, reintegration.

Bring whatever it takes – for sight,
for hearing, touch, taste, sense
of smell, spirited imagination, any of
the ways we’re engineered
for transformation.


I hope that if you are local, you will join with us at Christ Church this Advent and Christmas. We are exploring the tensions of living where God has brought – and brings – A Light in the Darkness.

Here are the details for All Things Christmas.

Content “like a weaned child…”

content lambAs a sequel to Sunday’s sermon, Enough, and  our last post on Contentment, I share this reflection from Psalm 131. It is a beautiful picture of our satisfaction being rooted more and more in Christ.

O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.  Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.  (Psalm 131:1,2)

Like A Weaned Child – Ed Miller

 

As a weaned child rests upon mother

Is content, on her bosom, to lie,

Has abandoned the tears and the tantrums,

Over things that could not satisfy;

So, my soul is reposing on Jesus,

Without thoughts of the gift or reward.

What a glorious foretaste of Heaven–

Being weaned from this world, to the LORD!

 

There were times when I questioned His purpose;

And His patience was put to the test;

When I harbored hard thoughts of His wisdom;

And mistakenly thought I knew best.

But His love wore away my resistance,

I was drawn by invincible grace

From the blessings that held my affections,

To Himself, and His tender embrace!

 

I don’t bother myself with great matters;

I’m at rest, and my heart is not proud.

I’m content with whatever He gives me,

And I’m thankful for what is allowed.

God is getting me ready for Heaven,

As He draws me from this world apart;

I’m awaiting, with joy, for the weaning

That shall bring me at last to His heart!

 


I heard the author of this poem ask an important question:
Q – Is there anything better than Mother’s Milk?
A – Mother!

Beauty and the Beast

In an earlier post, “Beauty will save the World,”  I highlighted the last section of the poem by Czeslaw Milosz called One More Day. Milosz lived through the horrors of attrocities in 20th cent. Europe. He draws attention to the reality of moral absolutes built in by God. In light of the current raw evils that seem to  flood over us, I find the whole poem timely and poignant.

One More Day

Comprehension of good and evil is given in the running of the blood.
In a child’s nestling close to its mother, she is security and warmth,
In night fears when we are small, in dread of the beast’s fangs and in the terror of dark rooms,
In youthful infatuations where childhood delight find completion.
 
And should we discredit the idea for its modest origins?
Or should we say plainly that good is on the side of the living
And evil on the side of a doom that lurks to devour us?
Yes, good is an ally of being and the mirror of evil is nothing,
Good is brightness, evil darkness, good high, evil low,
According to the nature of our bodies, of our language.
 
The same could be said of beauty. It should not exist.
There is not only no reason for it, but an argument against.
Yet undoubtedly it is, and is different from ugliness.
 
The voices of birds outside the window when they greet the morning
And iridescent stripes of light blazing on the floor,
Or the horizon with a wavy line where the peach-colored sky and the dark-blue mountain meet.
Or the architecture of a tree, the slimness of a column crowned with green.
 
All that, hasn’t it been invoked for centuries
As mystery which, in one instant, will be suddenly revealed?
And the old artist thinks that all his life he has only trained his hand.
One more day and he will enter the core as one enters a flower.
 
And though the good is weak, beauty is very strong.
Nonbeing sprawls, everywhere it turns into ash whole expanses of being,
It masquerades in shapes and colors that imitate existence
And no one would know it, if they did not know that it was ugly.
 
And when people cease to believe that there is good and evil
Only beauty will call to them and save them
So that they will still know how to say: this is true and that is false.

(from  Unattainable Earth, and also New and Collected Poems 1931-2001)

Prayer: What Difference Does It Make?

prayer_screenOur summer series at Christ Church asks some hard and honest questions about Prayer and our practice of it. Today we explored the relationship of God’s Spirit and continual prayer. God invites us into a love relationship that is intended to push back the lesser and competing loves that cry for our allegiance. [Sunday’s sermon audio is here.]

Some suggested resources on growing in prayer:

Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference.

Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.

Jerry Sittser (author of A Grace Disguised), When God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayer.

Frederica Mathewes-Green,  The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God.

We prepared for Holy Communion this morning with a poem from George Herbert: Love III

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

 

 

Capturing an experience – ‘Already but Not Yet’

photoThis is a more personal post born out of our trip to Saipan for the wedding of our son Nathan and Isa our new daughter (who was born and raised in Saipan!) The poem below may only be for me to capture the experiences of culture, history, beauty, and family. But hopefully it can speak to you as well. The picture here relates to the poem.

Saipan is the largest of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The native people group and language is Chamorro. The culture is wonderfully hospitable and family oriented. The island was occupied by the Spanish, Germans, Japanese, and is now a U.S. Commonwealth. A decisive and terrible battle was fought here in World War II with American forces defeating the entrenched Japanese army. The Island of Tinian, 3 miles away, was the place from which the Enola Gay took flight to drop the first atomic bombs.

Three large military cargo ships are stationed near Saipan, just off-shore and have become a ‘permanent’ part of the landscape visible from the main beaches. They were part of the lasting impression that became a metaphor of sorts. Here’s the poem that has helped capture my experience.

Already, but Not Yet
(Saipan ~ Summer 2013)

Another taste of Pacific paradise:
Sunset addictions satiated;
Encore after encore…
“Just wait – there’s more!”

Cultural senses brimming;
History to learn, and learn from.
New daughter, new village;
My familial cup overflows.

And these giant ships offshore?
Keepers and Intruders of the Peace.
“USS Never-move”
dubs the Chamorro Elder!

Yet each evening’s masterpiece
Melts them into strange beauty.
Outdated specks on the canvas
of New Creation – coming.

Poetry Monday – Humility and hope in a broken world

narniaI try to always read some poetry on my day off – my Sabbath Monday. This poem by Anne Porter struck me in a unique way. It reminds me of my part in the brokenness inflicted by sin. My “blind complicity” as she says in the third stanza. How I dismiss people in their wounded state, “as if I were not one of them.”

The last lines remind me of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan’s resurrection ushers in the spring of the New Creation!

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded 
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.

“A Short Testament” by Anne Porter, from Living Things.
reprinted in The Writer’s Almanac