Category Archives: Poetry

The Ascension – Jesus is ‘not on sabbatical!’

Icon of the Ascension
Icon of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension, deserves more attention, as we were reminded in last Sunday’s sermon, Is Jesus Really in Charge? Someone has said, “Ascension isn’t Jesus ‘on sabbatical’ until the Second Coming!” It marks, after Jesus’s conquest of death, his cosmic exaltation.

In the Anglican and other traditions, prayers often end with reference to Jesus “who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever, Amen.” He “lives” because of his resurrection, but “reigns” because of his ascension.

After preaching Sunday, I was reminded that Douglas Farrow wrote a whole book on the theology of the Ascension. Here is a wonderful excerpt from his recent article in First Things.

For what does…the Ascension present to us, if not the fact that God has committed to Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth? What does it propose to us, if not a corresponding revision of all our own categories and a reorientation of all our own commitments? What does it rebuke in us, if not our very secularity (in the deceptive, compartmentalizing sense that word has recently taken on)? We no longer know what the “secular” is, if we do not know that the Ascension and the (Second Coming) bracket and define the present age, making it precisely the allotted time for the proclamation to every creature—from the poorest of the poor to the lordless powers who fancy this age as their age—that in fact there is one Lord over all, Jesus Christ, to whom they are called to give their allegiance and so to be saved.

Finally for the poetic among us – a brilliant poem by Denise Levertov: The Ascension

Stretching Himself as if again,
   through downpress of dust
      upward, soil giving way
to thread of white, that reaches
   for daylight, to open as green
      leaf that it is. . .
Can Ascension
   not have been
      arduous, almost,
as the return
   from Sheol, and
      back through the tomb
into breath?
   Matter reanimate
      now must relinquish
itself, its
   human cells,
      molecules, five
senses, linear
   visions endured
      as Man—
the sole
   all-encompassing gaze
      resumed now,
Eye of Eternity.
   Relinquished, earth’s
      broken Eden.
Expulsion,
   liberation,
      last
self-enjoined task
   of Incarnation.
      He again
Fathering Himself.
   Seed-case
      splitting,
He again
   Mothering His birth:
      torture and bliss.

Annunciation, some further thoughts in art and poetry

12th Century Russian icon of the Annunciation
12th Century Russian icon of the Annunciation
Fra Angelico, the Annunciation, 15th Century Italy
Fra Angelico, the Annunciation, 15th Century Italy

The arts help us slow down, and like Mary,
“ponder these things” in our hearts.
Above is a famous Western painting,
along with an Eastern icon.
Below are two poems from two of my favorite poets,
Denise Levertov and Scott Cairns.

 

Annunciation, by Denise Levertov

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
(From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc)

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.

The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.

God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

____________________

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?

Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.

More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
____________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,

only asked

a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–
but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,

when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,

Spirit,

suspended,

waiting.
____________________

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’

Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’

She did not submit with gritted teeth,

raging, coerced.

Bravest of all humans,

consent illumined her.

The room filled with its light,

the lily glowed in it,

and the iridescent wings.

Consent,

courage unparalleled,

opened her utterly.

_ from The Stream and the Sapphire


 

Annunciation, by Scott Cairns

Deep within the clay and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the tinder of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew lights gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a king whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

_ from Slow Pilgrim, The Collected Poems 

“Lament” – A Call to Artists and Poets

“Cry” by Gill Phillips (Used by Permission) In correspondence she notes: “The painting was done in response to an image of a grieving woman during the floods in Pakistan in 2011…it could be anyone, anywhere lamenting for loss.
“Cry” by Gill Phillips
(Used by Permission) In correspondence she notes: “The painting was done in response to an image of a grieving woman during
the floods in Pakistan in 2011…it could be anyone, anywhere lamenting for loss.

I want to remind everyone of a powerful and deeply relevant event coming next month!

Lament – A Teaching Series and Artists Exhibition at Christ Church – November 1-22, 2015.

A large portion of the Bible is the poetry of lament, certainly in the Psalms, but also in the short second book from the time of the prophet Jeremiah called Lamentations. This book speaks out of the unspeakable pain of Israel’s heaviest national tragedy – the physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma of Jerusalem’s destruction in the 6th century B.C. It is “tear-soaked poetry of astonishing beauty and intricacy.” It is also the text from which the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness is derived! (Lam. 3:21-24)

Lament is important for our world today! There is much lament in the face of war, displacement, and injustice. But it must be seen in the context of the Bible’s whole story of redemption in Christ and New Creation to come. Poetry (as in the Psalms and the Prophets) is one way in which lament is expressed. But all of the arts can “give voice.”


So much of our worship can become cover-up: pretending to have emotions we don’t really feel, or smothering the emotions we do. That is not praise. It simply leaves us to pick up our suffering again on the way out—without bringing it into God’s presence or hurling it at him in questioning (but trusting) protest. Spending time in Lamentations helps us learn how to plumb the depths of lament as well as scale the heights of rejoicing. (Christopher Wright, The Message of Lamentations) 

We are calling the artist community of Christ Church, as well as others in our region, to engage our gifts for this pre-Advent exhibition. The art will be displayed November 1-22, 2015 at Christ Church, 1025 Main St. in East Greenwich. In addition to a four week sermon series Lament: Talking with God Through Pain and Suffering, there will also be events for the broader community:

// Opening and Gallery Nights (tbd)

// Cafe Night of music, poetry, and artist description of their work: Friday evening Nov. 13th, 7-9.

// Panel Forum with discussion on the place of lament in worship and its implications for compassion, mercy, and justice (tbd)


What’s Next?

// Contact Linda Anderson at Christ Church (lindaa@christchurchec.org) concerning your desire to contribute and which form(s) of art you anticipate submitting (painting, photography, poetry, music, fiber arts, etc.)

// Deadline for submission of all forms of art is Friday, October 23rd.

(The arts team of Christ Church reserves the right to select those pieces appropriate to our venue.)

// Here is a PDF version of the event description for downloading.


I’m so excited for this opportunity for the artists in our communities to use their gifts to express the truth and beauty of God’s Kingdom. Please pass this on to others. You do not need to be local to submit your work.

Lyle

A Rage Against Ageism

flourish_printToday I led a forum over lunch with more than 40 of our wonderful seniors at Christ Church. The presentation and discussion was called, Flourishing in the Fourth Quarter. We discussed healthy attitudes toward aging and God’s pushback against the cultural voice that says “aging equals diminishment.” (more of the content in a later blogpost)

I shared a poem, written in 2012, and since some asked if I was going to make it available – here is a re-post. (You might want to put a little “rap beat” in your mind as you read it!)


A Rage Against Ageism

“Old age?”
Just a stage?
Turning the page?
Try to assuage?
No! Call me the Sage,
…my children.

Time to retire?
Wait for the pyre?
I’ll call out that liar.
I still aspire.
My desire has never been higher
…to fully live.

This is prime time,
not borrowed time.
Get off the dime!
I can still rhyme;
yes, the chime
…is still ringing.

This next station
Is not forced vacation,
graduation or capitulation.
It’s preparation for the consummation!
So help prepare the generation
…yet to come.

I wanna see a legacy.
No more fantasy.
I’ll live in reality,
loving with totality,
true piety and simplicity.
…Glory!

 

c. 2012, Lyle Mook

(A version of this poem has been accepted as part of the Wickford Art Association’s Poetry and Art exhibit, July 24-August 16, 2015.)

Not like any other Week!

Rembrandt 2“Holy Week” (Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem through Resurrection Sunday) is so called because it marks the climax of God’s Grand Story of Redemption. It is Holy – “Set apart!”

Here are some ways to engage this week as truly set apart, holy, special:

Come to as many of the services and Arts nights as possible. [Our vision for an Easter Celebration of the Arts is happening in a big way!]

THE SCHEDULE:

Sunday of the Passion / March 29 / “Jesus or Barabbas?”


Wednesday / April 1 / Celebration of Arts Exhibit and events begin
6-8:30 pm Gallery Open
[7-8:30 Cafe Night – Readings / Music / coffee / tea / refreshments]


Thursday / April 2
6-8:30 Gallery Open
[7-8 – Lecture/Forum – Beauty Will Save The World: Christian Discipleship and the Arts – I will be presenting a short lecture / followed by responses from some of our artists / time for Q & A]


Friday / April 3
6-7 Gallery Open
[7 pm Good Friday Service of Worship in the Sanctuary / reading and experiencing Jesus’ Last Hours before his death / Holy Communion ]


Sunday / April 5
7 am Sunrise Service in the church sanctuary
9 & 11 Easter Celebration Services at Cole Middle School
[The Gallery will be open after each service with refreshments in the church Connection Cafe]


Be sure to read and meditate deeply on the Passion story. Read one or more of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ final week leading to the cross:
Matthew ch. 21 ff
Mark ch.11 ff
Luke ch. 19:28 ff
John 12:12 ff



I close with a prayer from Howard Burgoyne, Supt. of the East Coast Conference of our denomination:

My prayers for each of you as we advance into Holy Week where the passion of Jesus blossoms fully is that you too will discover the sustaining grace of God’s word and Spirit in your life, to the extent that the devil departs, angels attend you, and your…ministry relaunches in the power and promise of the Risen Christ.

Poetry and Art Exhibit July 25 – August 17

*Poetry & Art FlyerTonight is the opening of a unique exhibit at the Wickford Art Association in North Kingstown, RI. It brings poetry and art together.  Forty painters and forty poets who wrote in response to each painting will meet for the first time tonight before the exhibit opens. I had the privilege of having a poem selected.

The painting I chose to respond to is of a father and son walking reflectively on a wooded path. The technical term for this endeavor is Ekphrastic Poetrythe conversation between two pieces of art. The writer interprets a work of visual art and then creates a narrative in verse form that represents his or her reaction to that painting, photograph, sculpture or other artistic creation. 

My poem came originally from the scene in our front yard pictured below. I called it Rope Ladder Relic. A relic is something tangible from the past that points beyond itself. It not only takes you back in memory but also opens you up to those ‘sacred encounters’ that have lasting impact.

rope-ladderHere is the poem and a picture of the tree and rope ladder in our front yard:

Rope Ladder Relic

There is a great tree in front of our house.

In the early years, it seemed so sickly.
We shuddered to think of it crashing down;
what our roof would become if a storm overcame it?
We needed that tree to survive and it did.

Our boys loved the tree and one day
claimed a divine right to climb.
But our tree is not a climbing tree;
too few branches, too far apart, too big to get little arms around.

Undeterred, they found a rope ladder from an old fort,
and attached it somehow to the oversized limb.
Finally reaching the Monster’s first floor
a modest platform emerged.

It was a slum compared to the dream house they imagined;
but a marvel of neighborhood development nonetheless.
They weren’t Spiderman and Tarzan
but laws of gravity and timidity had been overcome.

Years and years have passed, yet the rope ladder remains;
One of those eyesores you don’t see and forget to remove.
It’s ‘a ladder to nowhere’ it seems.
Looking closer, I see all my children, climbing.

Day 28 of Lent – Seek His Face!

Scott_Cairns_Idiot_Psalms_smToday, a poem by Scott Cairns. I’ve been leisurely working through his latest work. It reflects Isaiah’s vision of the prophet’s 6th chapter and Psalm 27:8 – You have said, “Seek  my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Notice especially  the wonderful description of humble repentance, “I stoop to find my knees.”

With unclean lips, at least, and yea
with unclean hands, encumbered heart,
congested, lo these many years,
with no small measure of regret,
and sin’s particulate debris,

With these and countless other dear
impediments, I stoop to find
my knees. And on occasion You,
Whose dimly figured Face I dare
pursue to searing clarity,
have condescended, acquiesced
to grant what little I might bear.

(from Idiot Psalms, New Poems, p.35, by Scott Cairns)

 

What only ‘Sabbath time’ can do – learning from Wendell Berry

wendell_berry-247x300 copyWendell Berry is one of my favorite poets. For 35 years he has been writing what he calls Sabbath Poems. They are crafted mostly outdoors; on-foot walking his beloved Kentucky hill farm on Sundays. He has published some of these in different poetry volumes, the first of which was A Timbered Choir (1979-97). Now, he has two new poetry collections, one this dayof which is dedicated solely to his Sabbath poems. It’s titled This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems.

The introduction is a beautiful essay on the importance of Sabbath.

I deeply enjoyed reading it on my ‘sabbath’ today:

Here is his description of practicing sabbath, and what can happen there – though not automatically, and not without attention and intention.

In such places, on the best of these sabbath days, I experience a lovely freedom from expectations – other people’s and also my own. I go free from the tasks and intentions of my workdays, and so my mind becomes hospitable to unintended thoughts: to what I am very willing to call inspiration. The poems come incidentally or they do not come at all. If the Muse leaves me alone, I leave her alone. To be quiet, even wordless, in a good place is a better gift than poetry.

On those days and other days also, the idea of the sabbath has been on my mind. It is as rich and demanding an idea as any I know. The sabbath is the day, and the successive days honoring the day when God rested after finishing the work of creation. This work was not finished, I think, in the sense of once and for all. It was finished by being given the power to exist and to continue, even to repair itself as it is now doing on the reforested hillsides of my home country. 

We are to rest on the sabbath also, I have supposed, in order to understand that the providence or the productivity of the living world, the most essential work, continues while we rest. This work is entirely independent of our work, and is far more complex and wonderful than any work we have ever done or will ever do. It is more complex and wonderful than we will ever understand. (p. xxi-xxii)

Are you making space for ‘Sabbath time?’

Thinking of myself less

I just had the intense enjoyment of several days with a life-long friend and missionary. His endless stories of being available to the”Everywhere present Jesus” in-spired me! I’m again reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem ending:

Every day you have less reason
Not to give yourself away.

Mary Oliver versed it another way in a poem from Evidence, p. 39:

I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then love the world.

And in prose words, Tim Keller has a wonderful small book with a much larger title. My favorite quote:

“…The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy. 

p.s. It’s 99 cents on Amazon in the Kindle ebook version. Buy it!

Poetry Monday – Preserving our experience

Poetry is the intensity of our experience;
a way of recognizing and preserving our experience.

Christian Wyman

I agree intently! I thought I would share one of the first poems I wrote that “intensified my experience”- in this case, a Mission Trip. I was in Czechoslovakia with an international assembly of Navigator teams helping to visit believers in then closed countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.  We could not take pictures or exchange addresses for security reasons. After 5 incredible weeks we re-assembled in Vienna and I desperately wanted a way to remember. I turned to simple poetry. Every time I read it, I am immediately  brought back to the events that these simple words helped preserve. Others who have been on trips such as this echo the feelings expressed.

Slavic Tears

The last day together;
bowed heads around a humble table;
hearts brimming with varied emotions;
sweet recollection, sad resignation.

Those first few days never allowed for this moment.
So hard to say the words:
“I may never see you on earth again!”

We prayed for one another
and our homelands;
understanding the language of every other prayer.
We needed no translation –

and I wept in Slavic tears.

[Czechoslovakia, 1980]