Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nativity Poem -- For Christmas Eve

It is the evening
of the birth of God.
Singing &
with gold instruments
the angels bear down
upon the barn, their wings
neither white
wax nor marble. So
they have been recorded:
literal in the composed air,
they raise their harps above
the beasts likewise gathering,
the lambs & all the startled
silken chickens ... And Joseph,
off to one side, has touched
his cheek, meaning
he is weeping ---

But how small he is, withdrawn
from the hollow of his mother's life,
the raw flesh bound
in linen as stars yield
light to delight his sense
for who there is no ornament.

-- by Louise Gluck

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Awaken Your Senses -- Early Reviews

The first reviews of the new book are coming in -- and I couldn't be more pleased. Here are some excerpts!

Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram. InterVarsity ... Modeling the best Sunday School teachers, Bill (Sacred Compass) and Booram (The Wide Open Spaces of God) get close to God via the five senses. The journey could so easily have been a skip instead of a sail; however, they truly manifest the book’s purpose: “to help more of you experience more of God.” The two ministers and workshop leaders accomplish this so well with natural sweetness from the inside, not with treacle glopped on top. Starting with the cover illustrations—a rose, a bird singing treble, threatening thorns, and a bitten pear, each image superimposing on another—the book divides naturally into five parts. ... Within each chapter, the authors alternate essays, their voices nearly indistinguishable except for Bill’s wittier bits; they touch on the personal, such as Booram’s sacred hospital smells. Each chapter includes spiritual exercises. The two cite the Bible’s raising up of the five senses, augmented with quotes from many sensate Christians. It adds up to a deeply pleasing book. -- Publishers Weekly.

Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God J. Brent Bill & Beth Booram ... I had a very early version of this and was so taken with it I told a few folks this summer that it will be one of the books of the year. ... [Beth and Brent] walk us through an array of wonder-full meditations and experiences that combine a sensuous engagement with creational givens---taste, hearing, touch, smell, seeing---and ways these activities can help us know God. There are two things going on here, it seems---helping us be attentive to the world around us, practicing a sensuous worldview and embodied sort of discipleship, and the ways in which this sort of attentiveness can facilitate a deeper relationship with God. Beautiful! I'll bet you know somebody for whom this will be a godsend. It'll wow 'em, for sure. And that cover---you have to see it "for real." Splendid. Kudos, again, to InterVarsity Press. -- Byron Bolger of Hearts and Minds Books.

Awaken Your Senses is now available at local independent bookstores like Hearts and Minds and, of course, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, InterVarsity Press, and more.

Order a copy online in the next five days and I'll be happy to send you a free signed bookplate!

Holiday Blessings!

December -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.

-- by Gary Johnson. From "The Writer's Almanac"

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder


by Mary Jo Salter

Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think
nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins
it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.
We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable
we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,
the last one in the house

we're making of gingerbread.
We'll have to improvise:
prop the two halves forward

like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.

Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.
When she peers into the cold

interior we've exposed,
she half-expects to find
three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read
on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning
inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel
and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap

under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,
Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene
of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary's downcast eyes.
Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young

child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof
with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck
to lug the shutter in,

a page torn from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.

by Mary Jo Salter, from Open Shutters. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. (buy now)

from "The Writers Almanac"

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Karma -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

Christmas was in the air and all was well
With him, but for a few confusing flaws
In divers of God's images. Because
A friend of his would neither buy nor sell,
Was he to answer for the axe that fell?
He pondered; and the reason for it was,
Partly, a slowly freezing Santa Claus
Upon the corner, with his beard and bell.

Acknowledging an improvident surprise,
He magnified a fancy that he wished
The friend whom he had wrecked were here again.
Not sure of that, he found a compromise;
And from the fulness of his heart he fished
A dime for Jesus who had died for men.

-- Edward Arlington Robinson

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

Though crowded be the inn, although God’s son
Is lying in the hay, my soul may enter.
There’s need, on man of flesh, of thoughts that centre
On fleshly things today: here cryeth one.

Who’ll cry one day for us, compared to whom
A queen’s newborn is but a worthless plaything.
This child in manager will fulfil our waiting
Whenas the times are full and ease our doom.

God resteth in our flesh, here fatherless,
In heaven motherless. Word co-creative,
God, Father of the virgin and her native,
Lies in the hay. Rest here and cease thy stress,

My soul, cease rhyming without rhyme or reason.
A mute humility is here in season.

-- by Constantijn Huygens

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

The winter is cold, is cold.
All’s spent in keeping warm.
Has joy been frozen, too?
I blow upon my hands
Stiff from the biting wind.
My heart beats slow, beats slow.
What has become of joy?

If joy’s gone from my heart
Then it is closed to You
Who made it, gave it life.
If I protect myself
I’m hiding, Lord, from you.
How we defend ourselves
In ancient suits of mail!

Protected from the sword,
Shrinking from the wound,
We look for happiness,
Small, safety-seeking, dulled,
Selfish, exclusive, in-turned.
Elusive, evasive, peace comes
Only when it’s not sought.

Help me forget the cold
That grips the grasping world.
Let me stretch out my hands
To purifying fire,
Clutching fingers uncurled.
Look! Here is the melting joy.
My heart beats once again.

--by Madeleine L’Engle

Monday, December 12, 2011

Birthing -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

How does one birth peace. . .
in a world that seems to prefer the profits of war?
How can one birth hope. . .
in a time when devastation is born of poverty and pandemic?
How does one birth love. . .
in a world whose heart is captive to fear?
How can one birth joy. . .
How can one birth joy?
The plastic manger scene on the front lawn
just doesn't do it!
Birthing is so much more!
It is, and requires. . .
radical intimacy,
prolonged patience,
the coming together of pain and ecstasy,
the joining of our deepest hopes and fears.
Face it,
birthing is a messy business.
And yet this process occurs every moment of our lives:
as our bodies birth cell upon cell,
as our minds birth ideas and dreams into the world,
as our spirits birth. . .
in the midst of labor and pain. . .
as our spirits birth.. JOY!

-- by Mark Unbehagen

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Coming -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
-- R. S. Thomas

Friday, December 09, 2011

Expectans Expectavi -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children's faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.
And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit's exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

-- by Anne Ridler

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Stable -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

The winds were scornful,
Passing by;
And gathering Angels
Wondered why

A burdened Mother
Did not mind
That only animals
Were kind.

For who in all the world
Could guess
That God would search out

--Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Ecce Puer --A Poem for this Season of Wonder

Of the dark past
A child is born;
With joy and grief
My heart is torn.

Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!

Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.

A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

--by James Joyce

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Stay Awake -- A Poem for This Season of Wonder

Stay awake
And for God*s sake
Really I mean it
For God*s sake
Keep your eyes open!

You have no idea when the next thing
Will come around the bend.
The bush may blaze in your front yard.
The waters may part
In the creek out back.
The child who lives in your house
May dance on tiptoe.
Jesus may ring your doorbell
And ask
For a place to be born.

Keep your eyes open
For God*s sake.
You have only begun to see
What needs to be seen.
It is a veritable drop in the bucket.
Water shines even
In an old wooden bucket.

For God*s sake
Stay awake!
Open your eyes!
You have no inkling
When the next thing
Will come around
The bend.

-- by Catharine Phillips
Follow Catherine's poetry/meditations at

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Prophets -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

Once in the Advent season
When I was walking down
A narrow street

I met a flock of children
Who all came running up to me
Saying that they were prophets
And for a penny they
Would prophesy

I gave them each a penny

They started out
By rummaging in trash-cans
Until they found
A ragged piece of silk

It’s blue, they said
Blue is a holy color
Blue is the color that
The mountains are
When they are far away

They laid the rag
On a small fire
Of newspaper and shavings
And burned it in the street

They scraped up all the ashes
And with them decorated
Each other’s faces

Then they ran back to me
And stood
In a circle ‘round me

We stood that way
In a solemn silence
One of the children spoke

It was the prophecy!

He said that long before
The pear tree blossoms
Or sparrows in the hedges
Begin to sing

A Child will be our King.

--by Anne Porter

Friday, December 02, 2011

Mary's Poem -- A Poem for This Season of Wonder

When she heard infinity
whispered in her ear, did the flashing
scissors in her fingers gall
to the wooden floor and the spool unravel,
the spider's sly cradle
tremble with love? Imagine

How the dry fields leaned
toward the news and she heard, for a moment,
the households of crickets --
When she answered, all things shifted, the moon
in its river of milk.

And when she wanted to pluck
her heart from her breast, did she remember
a commotion of wings, or the stirring
of dust?

-- Kathleen Wakefield, from Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry

One Leaf

One Leaf

David Ignatow

One leaf left on a branch
and not a sound of sadness
or despair. One leaf left
on a branch and no unhappiness.
One leaf left all by itself
in the air and it does not speak
of loneliness or death.
One leaf and it spends itself
in swaying mildly in the breeze.

Source: Earth Prayers From Around the World

photo by Brent Bill

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The God We Hardly Knew -- A Poem for this Season of Wonder

No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God- for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Emmanuel. God-with-us.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.

--by Oscar Romero

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Into The Darkest Hour -- A Poem for This Season of Wonder

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

-- by Madeleine L’Engle

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Antiphon for the Virgin -- A Poem for This Season of Wonder

Pierced by the light of God
Mary Virgin,
drenched in the speech of God,
your body bloomed,
swelling with the breath of God.

For the Spirit purged you
of the poison Even took.
She soiled all freshness when she caught
that infection
from the devil's suggestion.

But in wonder within you
you hid an untainted
child of God's mind
and God's Son blossomed in your body.

The Holy One was his midwife:
his birth broke the laws
of flesh that Eve made. He was coupled
to wholeness
in the seedbed of holiness.

-- Hildegard of Bingen

Monday, November 28, 2011

Noël -- A Poem for This Season of Wonder

by Anne Porter

When snow is shaken
From the balsam trees
And they’re cut down
And brought into our houses

When clustered sparks
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night
In ordinary windows

We hear and sing
The customary carols

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common

But there are carols
That carry phrases
Of the haunting music
Of the other world
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet’s message

Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies
Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices

They look at us
With their clear eyes
And ask the piercing questions
God alone can answer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanks for a Bounty of People

Again, at Thanksgiving, I post my favorite poem (by Max Coots)

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:

For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are.

Let us give thanks;

For generous friends...with hearts...and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends, as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we've had them;

For crotchety friends, sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, as plain as potatoes and so good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes;

And serious friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;

And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, but who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter.

For all these we give thanks.


Let us all give thanks, this holiday time, for friends no matter their type and God’s graciousness in giving them to us. People who are made in God’s own image, come to bless us. I am grateful for you!

-- Brent

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Would THIS Jesus Say? A Caption Contest

"I tell you, Trump, it is easier for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God than to find a place to park my Rolls in Manhattan..."

Add your contribution as a comment!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Sacred in Each Other

Out of Touch

Rabbi Michael Lerner

When people have learned to de-sanctify each other, to treat each other as means to our own ends, to not feel the pain of those who are suffering, we end up creating a world in which...terrible acts of violence become more common. This is a world out of touch with itself, filled with people who have forgotten how to recognize and respond to the sacred in each other because we are so used to looking at others from the standpoint of what they can do for us, how we can use them toward our own ends.

Source: Tikkun magazine

Add your thoughts at inward/outward

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lost Quaker Journals: #9 -- John Greenleaf Whittier

From the archives of the Association of Bad Friends. All rights reserved.

WALT WHITMAN, on a summer's day,

Lolled ‘round the meadows sweet with hay.

Singing, of himself in his merry glee

Whilst worthy men crafted poetry.

Leaves of grass shall soon turn brown,

While other poetry still resounds,

'Tis songs sung of heroic human quest

Not some nameless longing filling WW's breast.

From whence do his strange thoughts bubble up?

Perhaps too much soma in his small cup?

He speaks of the grass and flowers and trees,

But never leaves his dingy cities

And low of cattle, and song of birds,

Are sounds his ears have rarely heard

Alas for poetry that’s a bunch of fudge,

I’d rather be a rich repiner than such a drudge!

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: "Whitman wrote again!"

Ah, well! for real poets some sweet hope lies

That his work be greeted by a printer’s denies;

And, in the here and now, angels may

Keep his “poems” from the light of day!

I hope, if I ever have some institution named after me, that nobody finds this journal of my really heartfelt poetry. Alas, that would be sad.

-- JGW, Ninth-month 19, 1860

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lost Quaker Journals: #8 -- Walt Whitman

From the archives of the Association of Bad Friends. All rights reserved.

Ninth-month 19, 1860 --

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
not Vermonters,
And rejoice that I do not write,
Rhyming poems like JGW -- Moll Pitcher, Barbara Fritchie, Maud Muller, bah...
The saddest words of tongue or pen are not "It might of been" but are
"It not ought to have been" but Whittier penned it anyway.

I loafe and invite my poems,
I lean and loafe and brew my soma, but not for some churchly-hymn.

My poems, every poem of my poems, form'd from this soil, this air,
Not some rhyming dictionary or nights spent playing Scrabble,

Creeds and rules of poetry I hold in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but should be quickly forgotten,
I freeform my lines, no slave to format, I permit myself to speak at every hazard,
Poetry without royalty check (unlike that other Quakerly poet), filled with original energy and my own self!

-Walt Whitman,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Being Attentive -- Two's by Two

After looking at singular things for a few days, I decided I would try to be attentive to "two"s -- and started on Twos-day (okay, bad puns are singular). I thought that being attentive to twos might be a bit more difficult. After all, there are many ones -- but how many twos are there?

As I brushed my hair (yes, I have some hair that still needs tending) in front of Nancy's dresser, I looked down and noticed our senior pictures sitting on her desk. No, not senior as in the age we are now, but senior as in seniors in high school. Two very earnest looking teenagers looked back at me from their formal professional black and white portraits. I said a prayer for those teens as I thought of how their lives were turning out to be far different (speaking for myself at least) than they imagined they would as seventeen year olds. I wished God's blessings for and on them.

As I moved to my chest of drawers to pick up my wallet, keys, and superfluous comb, I saw another set of senior pictures -- those of my sons Ben and Tim. I see those pictures (and another just behind them of the boys as very young boys) every day. But today I saw them afresh and as a possibility for the primary speech of prayer. As I reflected on their lives (Ben as business man, husband and father in Japan and Tim as good, kind Hoosier fellow), I prayed silently -- God knows the words I would speak could I really name the longings of my heart for these young men.

Spotting -- and praying for -- twos has been a bit easier than I thought. Two women just jogged by my office window. Two strangers that I was able to bless with a little prayer, though they, I am sure, will never know that they were being prayed for. Nor do they need to.

The prayers and attentiveness benefit me (singular) as much as them (twos), I am sure. The act of being attentive throughout the day is opening me to a richer prayer life than my usual "Thank you" or "Help me" or other simple prayers. It also feels more "me" than when I try to pray the hours (which is not my tradition) or try some other prayer practices that just don't quite fit the Bill (so to speak).

I wonder what other twos God will place before me to notice this day?

-- Brent

Monday, September 12, 2011

Stay for Pay: Church/Meeting Growth -- The Bad Friends Way

As many Friends, good and Bad, know, I (Brent Bill) have thinking about ways to revitalize Quaker life (not the magazine!) in the 21st century. Thus I've offered my "Modest Proposal" series (visit it here or download a pdf of it here).

But, of course, those writings are very deep and thoughtful and practical. Not much fun, I guess. Association of Bad Friends co-clerk Jacob Stone and I (with help from our Bad spouses) have come up with some other ideas in the past -- such as the inclusion of the Quaker Whoopee Cushion as a way to enliven Meeting and perhaps attract a more fun-loving bunch of Seekers.

Whilst those earlier ideas were great, the newest one from the Research and Development Sub-committee of the Advancement and Outreach Committee of the International Association of Bad Friends for Meeting Expansion and World Domination (Corporate motto: "We see a great people to be snookered") is simply stupendous.

We call it "Stay for Pay."

Simply put, Quaker meetings will begin paying people to attend Meeting for Worship.

Brilliant, isn't it?

Instead of taking an offering during or after worship, local meetings will pass out cash to attendees. Below is the proposed payment schedule:



Attend Meeting for Worship (entire service)


Give good vocal ministry (5-7 on clerks’ scale)


Give great vocal ministry (8-10 on clerks’ scale)


Give outstanding vocal ministry (leaving people crying, laughing, ready to march on DC, etc – without mentioning anything about God or Jesus or John Woolman)*

*unprogrammed meetings only


Give outstanding vocal ministry (leaving people crying, laughing, ready to go door to door on evangelization campaign, etc – without mentioning anything about how God or Jesus is your best Friend and made you rich)*

*programmed meetings only


Vocal ministry (other than the outstanding category, which has obvious criteria) would be rated Olympic style, with three or four clerks holding up signs with their scores for the message.

It's a win/win situation. Meetinghouses will be packed and a family of four will walk away with enough money to go do something enjoyable on Firstday afternoon! Who could ask for more?

And the best part -- it's not going to cost any money! That's right. Every Friends meeting seems to be sitting on some stash of endowment cash that they can't spend. Here's an opportunity to put the proceeds that have been piling up for the past one hundred years in the Phoebe Ann Mosley Memorial Straight Shooters and Outreach to Indigent Orphans of the Spanish American War Fund to work. The legal team of Stone, Bill, Stone, Stone, Stone M O'Gwynn will be glad to help with the details of modifying the conditions of the endowment.

For more information on this amazing program and how your meeting can franchise this opportunity for its use, contact us at 1-666-BAD-QUAK.

-- Brent

On Being Attentive -- Daily Miracles


By Walt Whitman


Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet
and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim--the rocks--the motion of the waves--the
ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

Thanks to Jacob Stone (Walt Whitman scholar and aficionado extraordinaire) for sending this to me.

-- Brent