Category Archives: Poetry

Learning to Pray

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Swaying walnut trees above the rooftops

Wave golden tipped arms over the

Unmoving great blue heron in 

Frozen pose at river’s edge, patiently

Poised for rainbow trout swaying in

Crosscurrents of pristine ice melt

Smoothing granite composites as it

Laughs its way to gulf and sea where the

Great whales dive for giant squid and 

Sing their base songs of love amidst 

Oscillating feathers of red and blue-green algae.

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Deer attune oversize ears like radar and

The great bear sniffs the breeze as

The golden eagle soars thousands of feet

Above the tiny mouse scurrying along a

Moss laden forest floor above the family of shrews

While over the snow-laden peaks lies a vast 

Desert bejeweled with flower flames that

Burst forth en masse after the rains that

Filled dry wadis, awakened toads from sleep,

And gave drink to antelopes and hares as

Diamond back rattlesnakes sunned themselves.

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The centenarian struggled from his chair

Gripping the walker tightly and slowly

Shuffling out to gaze at Aquarius, great Ea,

His wispy white hair blowing like the burgee

Atop the mast of the anchored schooner

Which itself nods in thanksgiving for the

Gift of the water-bearer; at one with the

Prisoner gripping the cell bars with scarred 

Eyes straining skyward and the bedraggled 

Homeless woman peeking out from under

Old newspaper blankets in the alleyway.

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Children laugh and play in sandboxes under

Monkey bars while seesaws creak for oil,

Daddy’s push swings, mommies on benches

Chat about crumbling empires as cathedral

Bells toll the passing of time, ringing hope

Across the land, and calling the gentle

Cloistered to prayer while, across town

A minaret adhan sings forth and the

Devout face east at the same time that

Phylactery strapped men rock in gentle

Rhythm with prayer books in hand.

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Scent of burning sage, swinging thurible,

Flickering candles, the Yoruba call upon Olodumare,

Indigenous dances in colorful colors, drum beats

Cassock and surplice adorned children

Sing Bach arias that harmonize with the 

The brooks and whales, birds and trees,

Laughter and tears, hearts and minds,

Incantations and prayers, songs and groans, all

Drifting into ethereal realms where seraphim 

And cherubim alike add their voices to the

Chorus of cosmic praise.

Neediness vs. Needing

That all of nature is interconnected is a given. The symbiosis of pollinators and flowers, aspen groves, climate and weather, and gravity and planets remind us that what affects one affects all.

That no person is an island is equally obvious. We are interconnected in thousands of ways. Others are typically responsible for growing our food, generating our power, fixing our broken bodies, and teaching our children. None of us is gifted enough, wise enough, talented enough, or skilled enough to be independent. We grow emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually in connection with others. We need each other for physical survival and emotional wellbeing. There are tasks too big to be accomplished alone. I may perhaps provide some assistance to a homeless person or two; but united, we could, if we really cared, eliminate homelessness. 

It is good and essential to care for, respect, and nurture the natural world and one another. United we stand, divided we fall. E pluribus unum.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 

own were; any man’s death diminishes me, 

because I am involved in mankind. 

And therefore never send to know for whom 

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.[1]

On the other hand, there is a negative kind of need. When need becomes neediness, codependence, clinginess, a sense that I am not whole without a particular other, it is counterproductive and harmful. The essential distinction between healthy interconnectedness and dysfunctional dependence lies in the source of life. 

There is, in my view, only one ultimate source of life and love, and that is God. God is perfect love, the author of life, the source and destination of all that is eternally and essentially good. When I am connected to that source, drawing my deepest need for love, light, life, truth and wellbeing from God, I can in healthy ways love nature, others, and myself. The connectedness to others and nature flows altruistically from me. It produces a sense of deep peace and wholeness; whereas, if I am trying to suck life and love out of a sense of codependent neediness, I will always feel drained, manipulated, and underappreciated.

A telos, a destination of concerted contemplative prayer is to bring us to a place where God is all we need, our singular source of unconditional love and life, where, ultimately, God is the only one we couldn’t live without. We will know we are approaching that destination when we discover growing empathy and compassion within us for all other people, for all living things, for all of creation – an empathy accompanied by deep grounded peace.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the more we relax and let go, the closer we become to others. The less we strive, the more our relationships thrive. The less we cling in neediness, the more we can love in wholeness. The less we “need” someone in the negative sense, the more we can mutually enjoy them.

Contemplative prayer opens our hearts, expands our beings, so that the divine life-affirming love can flow untrammeled into us and out of us to others.


[1] John Donne, MEDITATION XVII Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

“For everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49)

The sky lit up with the streaking fiery tails of

Incoming missiles announcing the day we

All knew would come but chose to ignore.

A flash of blinding white light as the

Earth belched out rings of heat that

Caused eyes to melt and towns to 

Spontaneously combust.

We found ourselves standing in a

Crowd of people – Chinese, Russian, American – 

People of all ages, shapes and sizes, all naked,

All stunned, all in a strange place where

Shadows played against walls of granite

And a soft grey mist covered the land

As far as one could see. Millions of us, waiting

The searing white light that had transported us

Here appeared dull in our memories in 

Comparison to the colossal figure before us

That had only the ever-shifting form of fire.

He swung an incense burner with his left hand

It’s coals glowing red-hot, puffs of black smoke

Drifting over us. He reached into the firepot, 

Grasping a handful of coals, holding them for 

A moment or two as he looked out over the crowd.

Without flinching, he crumbled the coals with his

Bare hand, sowed them aloft, and blew 

The airborne embers over us.

It rained a torrent of tiny specks of fire, but,

As they landed on our naked bodies, the 

Resultant pain was more relief than 

Torture. We understood one another’s

Languages; no one was a stranger, we 

Suddenly knew and cared for each other, and,

As the embers faded, strange ethereal music

Rose to a crescendo, as the mist dissipated,

And all the world erupted in bird-song and flowers

And we danced together and laughed with

Animals that spoke and mountains that sang.

One

Beating to windward clutching 

A mainstay, squinting into

Salty wind, eyelids lightly

Encased with a thin layer of brine

Knees flex with each swell

Mains’il and jib trimmed

Halyards and sheets cleated beneath a

Soaring curious ring-billed gull 

Whose eye catches site of a

Bass exactly the right size

For a lunch if only he can

Protect it from avian thieves 

Consciousness melts and 

Boundaries soften as oneness

Washes over me as the seas

Wash over the reefs

Now called into awareness 

Of the transcendent, simultaneously

Intensely conscious of everything and 

Nothing at all 

The sea radiates aqua blue

As sunlight dances along and 

Sky and clouds seem somehow

Brighter, about to burst into song 

Now the individual fragments of

Self, boat, sail, bird, cloud, sea, wind

Dissolve into the whole

No longer me or it, but us

a green fly

From there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. 

(Hosea 2:15a[1])

Incapable of inauthenticity,

Sunkissed leaves sway in a

Summer breeze as a chorus of

Cardinals trill above the spotted

Fawn nibbling on a rose bush;

While the boy, not more than a

Decade old, lies locked within his

Brain, oblivious to mercy.

Wandering, lost, alone, scared

Damp swamp threatening each

Step shrouded in thick darkness

Surrounded by strange and

Terrible sounds of belching

Doom. Fear-frozen arms locked 

Around a cedar trunk, an island in a 

Thick stew of hopelessness.

How did one so young come to

This swamp of Achor where the

Innocent bones of Achan’s 

Children are bleached, where

Devils lurk and shadows run for fear?

What ancestral sin is visited upon him?

Or, what adult transgression has

Teleported him back into childhood?

Elder with a wounded child within

Cries in the night, still clinging with a

Tiny shred of fading confidence to the

Cedar trunk, its fragrance somehow

Soothes and calls his attention to a

Minute green fly looking at him with

Large yellow eyes filled with a

Kindness not seen in his own species

Tiny flies with transparent wings and

Multicolored thoraxes swirl a vortex

Around him, their collective song

Melting fears into wonder; now

Lifting him softly upwards, floating,

Floating toward, now through, a

Portal of blue-green light into ineffable

Wholeness and shalom

Here, dolphins dance and massive

Cetacea spin near kindhearted mermaids

Who never intended their siren songs to 

Lead to anything but genuine awareness of

Those hard truths we distain to face

Because we have not yet learned of our

Belovedness, nor of graces that are 

Woven through the cosmic fiber 


[1] New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Precious Death

I.

My name is Ahyoka. In Cherokee, that means “she brought happiness,” but I have known no happiness. We tried to accommodate, to live like the white man. We dressed in the clothes of the white man, learned his language. We built houses in villages with stores and shops; we tended farms and sold our crops in the market. We had art, music, and culture, religion, and language for centuries before the white man came. The white men called themselves “Christians.” We lived peacefully in what the white man calls “Georgia.”

Then they said an order came from Chief Andrew Jackson. Our homes, shops, and lands were stolen. My mother was one of the women raped. They stole all our belongings. We children hid in the woods, eating roots and berries until they found us. In rags we walked the trail of tears. Our grandparents died on the way. We were “given” land where crops would not grow, and left in squander to starve.

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful ones.

II.

In my native Ghana, my name, Nyamékyε means “gift from God.” I was given that name because my mother was long childless. I was the answer to her prayers. I grew strong in our village. My father was a mighty hunter. I was given in marriage to a handsome man who was also a hunter. The entire tribe rejoiced when I gave birth to Quaashie. Quaashie means Sunday. We often name our children after the day of the week they were born. Quaashie was a strong, healthy boy. 

I was sitting on a log by the river outside our village nursing Quaashie one warm afternoon when they threw a net over us and we were trapped. They beat us and packed us into a large boat. We lay chained on shelves with others inches below and above us. From above, the excrement fell down on us. We were covered in dung and sweat. The white men took us out of chains every few days, brought us up on deck, dumped salty water over us, then raped us. My vagina bled and my belly hurt. We ate horrible tasting swill. When we finally reached shore, they stood me, holding Quaashie, naked on a block wearing chains. White men stuck their hands in my vagina and squeezed my breasts. They spoke strange languages.

I wailed when they ripped Quaashie from my arms. I never saw him again. I never saw my husband again. I never saw my mother, or father, or villagers again. Chained, I was thrown in a wagon and taken to what they called a “plantation” that was land stolen from native people like me. The white people are Christians, but not like what our preachers tell us. The one they call “master” rapes me every week. I have born three babies by him. They have all been sold away. And here I must pick cotton under the overseer’s whip until I die.

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful ones.

III.

I am Adinah, which means “gentle delicate one” in my native Poland. We are Jewish. My daddy was a professor of literature at the university. My mother was a concert violinist in the symphony. I had a little brother named Aleksander. Our home was filled with fine art, books, and music. Daddy’s library had tomes from floor to ceiling. His big mahogany desk always covered with papers. A large globe sat on a stand in the corner. A baby-grand Steinway sat in our drawing room. We all played it. My mother practiced her violin for hours every day. The sunlight streamed through curtains and danced off the crystal chandelier. 

There were screams in the streets the day the Nazis came and kicked open our door, seized each of us, then looted our house, stealing all of value. They threw us into trucks, then packed us like cattle onto trains. I never saw my mother, father, or little brother ever again.

The camp had barbed wire and men with guns who called us names and said we were not human. They were Christian and called us “Christ-killers.” They said we drank blood at our feasts. Women in tan uniforms yelled at us, beat us, kicked us. We were packed into drafty wooden buildings. We slept on shelves like slaves on a ship. We dressed in rags. Most of the girls and women in my bunkhouse died of cold or starvation. Others were taken for “medical research. We never saw them again. 

A foul-smelling smoke wafted continuously from chimneys and ash fell on us all. I remember the nauseating feeling I got when I learned it was the ash of humans like me.

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful ones.

IV.

The brutal Russians and the helpless Ukrainians are Christians. My name is Yuriy. I am Ukrainian. I am 14-years old. Invading Russian soldiers stopped my father Ruslan, and me when we went out for humanitarian aid. We raised our hands. We were unarmed. They shot my father dead. He was shot twice in the chest, right where the heart is. Then he fell. They shot me in the arm. As I lay on the ground, they shot at my head, but the bullet went through my hood.

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
    our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For you have delivered my soul from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling.
I walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.

    
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful ones.

LRT 9 April 2022. Scripture is from Psalm 116, NRSV. The story in section IV comes from the BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60989121

Relentless Love (a meditation on Psalm 107)

How long had she been wandering?

Alone, lost, confused, disconnected 

From her true self, unable to find her

Way into authenticity?

How long had he been in this dungeon?

Chained in dark dampness, warmed only

By vermin vying for crumbs of stale bread?

Addiction’s vile tentacles wrapped around his spine?

How long had her body been wracked with pain,

Shivering and vomiting, sweating, delirious?

Attached to dripping tubes and whirring machines

While physicians prodded, poked, and ignored?

How long had they endured this eternal hurricane?

Tossing the tiny ship to the sky,

Plunging it to hell, chaos, darkness, 

Watery grave from which none return?

How long must they withstand this tyrant?

Suffering the brutal oppression of bitter totalitarianism?

Where no one dare call their soul their own,

And injustice sits enshrined alongside of greed?

There, on the horizon lies the bright city

Garden city

City of lights

City of peace

City of connectedness

Freedom city

Beloved city

City of health and vitality

Peace and equanimity

Justice and joy

City with foundations 

Whose architect and builder is God

Redeemed from wandering, into the fellowship of the city

Redeemed from bondage, chains, and prison into freedom and light

Redeemed from sickness and pain, into health, vitality

Redeemed from the storms of watery chaos into safety, peace, equanimity

Redeemed from oppression by evil rulers into familial freedom

The unwavering, 

eternal, 

universal,

unconditional

steadfast love of YHWH never ceases.

a river of grief

Most every spring the river would flood.

we were used to it, but as Greed 

continued to destroy the Garden, 

the rains came earlier and

earlier, and more and more 

intensely, which concerned us,

yet we learned to live with the new

normal. After all, the old log house

was built on poles sunk deeply into

the earth. worst case scenario, we’d 

sip chardonnay, gaze into the forest

and simply wait for the water to recede. 

in the dark hours of early morning

the crash came with shattering glass

smashing porcelain, and twisting metal.

everything paused at 45 degrees as if the

cabin stopped to bow respectfully to Queen River

like a conquered general surrendering his army.

We momentarily breathed relief 

a deafening crunch as if a malevolent giant

was crumbling up the house like a piece of 

scrap paper – splinters and shards,

missiles and spears, dust and plaster,

a sucking sound, a roar, sliding, sliding,

now swirling into the raging muddy river

wet, cold, freezing, gasping, grasping,

panic, desperation, no breath to scream

on and on, day after day, more panic,

so cold, so alone, so afraid, raging waters

churning, churning, churning, 

scraping rocks too cold to bleed, too afraid to live, 

mind numb, limbs blue, vision blurry

how long? 

(i was swept downstream in the angry river 

for centuries by shape-shifting Achelous, the

progenitor of Sirens, who was whipped into wrath 

by the self-indulgence of evil wizards)

there is no timeline for grief

society’s grid is nonsense.

the raging flooded river carries

each one on a different journey,

a journey that never ends,

that transforms the heart

for good or for ill.

after many years, the river widened.

the current, while strong,

seemed less ferocious, less angry, less

determined to drown me,

the water warmer now,

almost pleasant in spite of still

carrying remnants of broken

homes and lives, and the bodies of 

dreams and hopes and loves

only on a chart can you see where this river

empties into that river which empties into

that gulf, which feeds that ocean, for, in reality

it is all one, from mountain springs fed by melting snow to

streams and brooks, to the mighty breakers that

spray lighthouses, it is all one

we are all one

impossible to determine when it happened exactly,

but one day, still floating, now on my back,

warm sun on my face, rocked gently by the currents of

mother river, i realized that this river of sorrow that

i thought was surely my death, carried me until it 

emptied me ever so gently into 

My True Self

Meditation from 2 Timothy — Paul in prison writing his last letter

Does one ever get used to cold darkness,

To hard and bitter clay atop icy bedrock?

Many a time have I been in this place, in

Other places and at other times, all

Different and exactly the same – 

Chained to walls, or once to soldiers

Alas, no more

A chill so deep, chattering teeth,

Blue lips and fingers, numb feet and toes,

Shivering, fetal position, rags and excrement

Damp stench of urine, fever, and human dung

No bars, windows, doors, visitors, except the

Sentry with bowls of slop twice daily,

Nauseating and unidentifiable

Rags only, festering sores, oozing pus,

Eyes burning and blurry, without 

Cloak or scrolls or parchment or quill 

No companions except the rats that

Race across my legs, looking for a

Drop of gruel. They look at me with the

Longing eyes of brothers

Abandoned. Alone. Always alone.  

They are ashamed of me – 

Criminal, incarcerated, forsaken by

God, guilty, must be guilty of

Something, otherwise, 

Why would he be there?

Chained and alone?

Surely, if God were for him

Mighty angels would have

Snapped the chains and stunned the

Guards – no, he is deserted by God,

Cast off for heresy – absurd to think of a

Kingdom that welcomes whores and pimps and

Pagan curs 

God has his reasons for leaving him there – 

Prosperity, wealth, success, victory, conquering 

Come to the ones with whom God is pleased

Surely, they say, what goes around comes around, and

He is only eating his just desserts

So, distance yourself, they cry, lest you too

Sit in chains

The end is near. 

The executioner’s axe is sharp.

There is no victory. 

No parade. 

No strong finish. 

No miracles. 

No deliverance. 

No kiss of grace or touch of love in

The damp – only the wails of 

Distant prisoners being dragged to

Stakes and crosses and chopping blocks

So their blood can oil the machine, or,

Depending on their choice,

Mingle with the pascal mystery

And then …

He comes

I see no visions

No flashes of light this time

No audible voice this time

But he is here, and I, 

Enveloped in perfect Love,

Am not at all alone.

And all is well

Warmed by grace

Embraced by acceptance

Enlivened by divine smiles

Held by everlasting arms

At the universe center

I lay me down to sleep.

What’s God Up To? A look at 3 poems in 1 Timothy

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