Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"The End of This Year"

The End of This Year

The best place to be is here,
at home, the two of us, while

others ski or eat out. It will be
quiet. We won't watch the ball

fall, the crowd in Times Square.
They will celebrate while here

there is this night. Tomorrow
some will start over, or vow

to stop something; maybe try
again. Here the snow will

fall through the light over
the back door and gather

on the steps. We will hope
our daughter will be safe.

She will wonder what
the year will bring. Maybe

we will say a prayer.

"The End of This Year" by Jack Ridl from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron. © Wayne State University Press, 2013.  (buy now)

From "The Writer's Almanac"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Airplane Poem #2"

Flying into the dark seems
to be my life lately.
Headphones in, tunes
on.  And the sun don't
shine anymore.  Glad
that the One who
guides me
guides the pilot as she powers us through
the light chop
cause the sun don't
shine for her anymore
either, just the light
from the instrument

"Airplane Poem #1"

Flying through Alabama airspace at
30,000 feet remembering
in the mid-October setting sun how
she left
a mark without leaving
a bruise.  Or did she leave
a bruise
deep inside that she can't see or
even know is there?
Clear air turbulence shakes the plane.  My
heart pitches and yaws.  It's been years
and I'm still
a fearful flyer.

"God of the impertinent exile..."

Hagar in the Wilderness
Tyehimba Jess
Carved Marble. Edmonia Lewis, 1875

My God is the living God,
God of the impertinent exile.
An outcast who carved me
into an outcast carved
by sheer and stony will
to wander the desert
in search of deliverance
the way a mother hunts
for her wayward child.
God of each eye fixed to heaven,
God of the fallen water jug,
of all the hope a vessel holds
before spilling to barren sand.
God of flesh hewn from earth
and hammered beneath a will
immaculate with the power
to bear life from the lifeless
like a well in a wasteland.
I'm made in the image of a God
that knows flight but stays me
rock still to tell a story ancient as
slavery, old as the first time
hands clasped together for mercy
and parted to find only their own
salty blessing of sweat.
I have been touched by my God
in my creation, I've known her caress
of anointing callus across my face. 
I know the lyric of her pulse
across these lips...  and yes,
I've kissed the fingertips
of my dark and mortal God.
She has shown me the truth
behind each chiseled blow
that's carved me into this life,
the weight any woman might bear 
to stretch her mouth toward her
one true God, her own
beaten, marble song.

Edmonia Lewis (1845-1907) was an African/Native American expatriate sculptor who was phenomenally successful in Rome. 
Copyright © 2013 by Tyehimba Jess.

Tyehimba Jess is the author ofleadbelly (Wave Books, 2005). He teaches at the College of Staten Island in New York City. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"With the voices singing in our ears, saying That this was all folly..."

The Journey of the Maji

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

"The Journey of the Maji" by T.S. Eliot from Collected Poems 1909-1962. © Faber and Faber, 1974. (buy now)

From "The Writer's Almanac"

"Lo, in the silent night..."

Lo, in the silent night
A child to God is born
And all is brought again
That ere was lost or lorn.
Could but thy soul, O man
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee
And set all things aright.

Source: 15th Century verse

Add your thoughts at inward/outward

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Christmas Sparrow"

Christmas Sparrow

The first thing I heard this morning
was a rapid flapping sound, soft, insistent—

wings against glass as it turned out
downstairs when I saw the small bird
rioting in the frame of a high window,
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of glass into the spacious light.

Then a noise in the throat of the cat
who was hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in the cold night
through the flap of a basement door,
and later released from the soft grip of teeth.

On a chair, I trapped its pulsations
in a shirt and got it to the door,
so weightless it seemed
to have vanished into the nest of cloth.

But outside, when I uncupped my hands,
it burst into its element,
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
then disappeared over a row of tall hemlocks.

For the rest of the day,I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms as I wondered about
the hours it must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spiky branches
of our decorated tree, breathing there
among the metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,
its eyes open, like mine as I lie in bed tonight
picturing this rare, lucky sparrow
tucked into a holly bush now,
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.

"Christmas Sparrow" by Billy Collins, from Aimless Love. © Random House 2013.  (buy now)

From "The Writers Almanac" 

"... with my eyes open..."

Belief isn't always easy.
But this much I have learned,
if not enough else—
to live with my eyes open.

I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn't a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness—

as now and again
some rare person has suggested—
is a miracle.
As surely it is.

-- Mary Oliver

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"the only life you could save..."

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

"The Journey," by Mary Oliver, from Dreamwork. © Grove Atlantic, 1996.  (buy now)
From "The Writer's Almanac"

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Autobiography in Five Short Chapters"

1)  I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost . . . I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2)  I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

3)  I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in . . . it’s a habit.
My eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately

4)  I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5)  I walk down another street.

by -Portia Nelson

Friday, December 06, 2013

"I shall not pray to God for you..."

I shall not pray to God for you
for what I think you would
like to have, or ought to have,
of gain or grace or good;
or even for your current dream,
however absolute
lest time should prove we both had begged
for you a bitter fruit . . .
only remember you with love
without the least request;
and God, who loves you more than I,
will do for you what’s best.

Ruth Van Gorder

Thursday, December 05, 2013

"The First Five Things Every Spirituality Writer Should Know" -- A Guest Post by Vinita Hampton Wright

The First Five Things Every Spirituality Writer Should Know

—Vinita Hampton Wright

There are really only so many things that go wrong in writing. After twenty-three years as an editor, I’ve made thousands and thousands of fixes, but often they applied to the same mistakes made again and again. Here’s a short list of issues I encounter often when editing material on spirituality.

Nothing makes up for poor craftsmanship.
I can say this confidently as a member of the publishing community: The number one reason a manuscript is rejected is that the writing just isn’t good enough. With so many manuscripts floating around, editors can afford to be picky and will dismiss so-so writing—usually after reading a paragraph or two. Most readers are impatient and won’t stay with writing that is mediocre—they will click to another blog or pick up another book. Especially now that cyber tools make it possible to generate and publish material almost instantly, writing must be flawless and beautiful to stand out above all the rest.

Save teaching for the classroom and teaching for the pulpit.
People attend a class to learn or go to church to hear a sermon. They open a book or an article for a different experience. Welcome and respect the reader. Give her an experience, not just information. Walk alongside her as a fellow explorer rather than stand in front of her as an authority.

Fiction is about storytelling, not teaching.

If you want to write fiction, then serve the story above all else. A good story will reach the reader’s heart and mind because it is well written, its characters are interesting, and the plot compels the reader to find out what happens next. Good fiction also contains moral, philosophical, and spiritual content, but it must grow organically from the story. Good fiction is not a moral lesson dressed up with characters and a plot; that’s a fable or a parable—and those have their purpose, too, but they are not novels or short stories.

The reader becomes engaged when she has to do some of the work.
Spiritual writing draws upon the reader to add his experience and story to the mix. It invites the reader to ponder and puzzle. Spiritual writing engages the reader, and to engage the reader, the writer must respect and care about the reader. Also, refrain from spoon feeding information and supplying answers; invite the reader to articulate the questions and wrestle with them. 

Personal writing must be transformed in order to work as public writing.

The most powerful writing begins as personal writing—the writer works through an issue, mines wisdom from a memory, or tries to put an experience into perspective. Rarely does such writing automatically translate well to the larger audience. It must go through a revision process before it can be accessible and useful to others. Sometimes the revision is minimal, but more often it’s pretty extensive. When you transform personal writing for public reading, you revise it with the reader in mind, which means that you recede into the background. Which means that some of the material that’s quite meaningful to you will be changed or deleted. In the realm of spirituality writing, this is called service.

Vinita's The Art of Spiritual Writing is now available at fine booksellers everywhere.  It's a must read for any writer -- from beginner to expert.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

"The Art of Spiritual Writing" -- A Recommendation

I'm not new at this.  This being spiritual writing.  My first piece was published in 1979.  My first book came out in 1983.  I should be pretty good at it.  And, I say humbly, I am.

When, that is, I remember to write right.  Which I don't always do.  I'm working on a rewrite of a book now -- the first submission was too dry, too teach-y and too heady.  Not enough heart to make anyone want to read it.  Not personal enough to make anyone care.  Not relevant enough to the reader's experience.

I could have avoided all that had I had Vinita Hampton Wright's new book, The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose that Engages and Inspires Your Readers.  As it turned out, the book came after dark last night, whilst I was in the dark about how to "fix" my manuscript.

Instead of continuing the struggle to beat my book into shape, I read Vinita's book.  Straight through.  And, as I did, I kept thinking, "Yep", "Indeed", "A-ha", and other such things.  It wasn't so much that I learned a lot of new things.  Rather Vinita's book reminded of everything that I knew but had somehow forgotten to practice.  Yikes.  I'm keeping it beside me as I go through my re-write.

The first two chapters alone are worth the price of the book --

  • What Does It Mean to “Write” Spirituality?  
  • The First Five Things Every Spirituality Writer Needs to Know

Other chapters are just as helpful and include:

  • How to Make Your Story a Story for Others
  • What Authenticity Is and Why It Matters
  • What You Can Learn from Other Spirituality Writers
  • Simple Ways to Make Your Writing Better

I am not going to tell you what Vinita says about these topics.  What I am going to say is, "Read this book!" It doesn't matter whether you're new to writing or an old hand like me -- you'll find this little collection of writing wisdom helpful.  It will take you further down your journey to writing well -- guided by an excellent practitioner of this craft to which many of us feel called.

-- Brent

On Thursday of this week Vinita will be guest blogging about her book here on Holy Ordinary.  You won't want to miss that.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

"Let us give thanks for a bounty of people..."

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;
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, as 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 other, plain as potatoes and as good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels Sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem
Artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For 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, and
who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.

~ Reverend Max Coots 1928-2009 
Reverend Max Coots passed away in 2009 after a long and full life. He served as the Minister Emeritus of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Canton, New York

Giving thanks for all of you in my life! -- Brent

A Thanksgiving Reflection

Photo by Brent
This is the time of year I love living in the Midwest, more than summer, spring or winter, which each have their own charm.  But fall has a particular beauty.  The landscape is alive with wonderful color, and I don’t just mean the trees in places like Brown County.  I mean the fields and woods that adorn the countryside.

The sunlight is softer, this time of year.  And this softer light is golden, transforming the ordinary into extraordinary, helping me see the richness of life around me.

That’s why I love driving around Indiana at this time of year,  I drive and watch the light play across the countryside – field stubble casting shadows along the dirt, bare black tree limbs silhouetted against a royal blue sky, clouds puffy and white floating serenely along.  .

But I feel a sense of connectedness with the land and that sense grows stronger every year.  Yes, I was born and raised in the city and I often proclaim the wonders of that existence compared to that of my country cousins.  But the fact is I loved visiting the farms of our rural families.  And my father was a tramper of fields and forests.  We often were out and about.

That’s one reason I am happy about our house.  Nine years ago, the home site was a tangle of briars, thorn trees, and poison ivy all tangled in old fences.  Mark Peterson, Mike LaPorte, my dad and I began clearing all that Thanksgiving weekend, getting ready for building.  We worked in the rain and mud and cold and snow.  We cut, we sawed, we pulled bushes out with the tractor.  All through that work, I smelled the scents of farm and field – clumps of mud clinging to boots, wood smoke from burning limbs.

Then, as the house was being built, I’d hike back and work, watching the seasons move through – budding spring, humid summer.  Now we’re eight years in the house, and watching fall ebb, knowing winter is coming. 

I love it.  And more than that, this move and this time of year helps me remember that I am connected to God’s good earth all the time – from witnessing it’s visual beauty to partaking of its sustenance with every mouthful of food I eat.

God's faithfulness, to me, is evident in the changing seasons.  Crops are planted, grown, and harvested.  The soil rests over winter.  Though the face of the earth changes, God does not.  God watches over it all, and has for eons, and is faithful.

We question that.  Sometimes when life is good, we imagine that it is good solely from the sweat of our brow or our own efforts.  I cut those trees and mowed the field for the view – not God after all – forgetting that all I have comes by the grace of God in the first place.

Sometimes we question it, out of our troubles, like Job.  We wonder if it is true and try to understand the mind of God.  We would do well to remember the questions of God to Job – “Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!  Who stretched a measuring line across it?  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone -- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”

“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges?…  Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?  Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?  Tell me, if you know all this.”

“What is the way to the abode of light?  And where does darkness reside?  …  Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail?  What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? …  Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens?”

“Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades?  Can you loose the cords of Orion?  Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?  Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?  Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?”

“Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?”

God asked Job these questions because it was important for Job to remember that God was not his enemy as he was coming to believe.  This encounter with the Lord was not to say why Job was suffering, but to learn, by faith, that God was his Creator, Sustainer, and Friend.

This is something we forget, but the Psalmist reminds us that the earth does not.  “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;” the psalmist sings, “let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’  Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!  Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

Singing trees, jubilant fields – these things we take as poetic language.  Things that don’t really happen.  Or do they?  Could it be that the golden light that transforms field trash into something of beauty is a way the fields are being jubilant, reflecting God’s light back to him?  Could the graceful, waving naked limbs of trees be hands uplifted in praise to God?  Maybe that’s all bit a mystical, yet we each could use a bit of the mystery in our lives, for true encounters with God are more than slightly mysterious.

Of course, what makes the countryside beautiful and rich are the memories it evokes. And inevitably entwined in those memories are people.  The people whose woods I walked in.  The families whose haylofts I played in.  The folks, past and present, who molded my life.  I remember Grandpa and Grandma Bill, Uncle Johnny, Uncle Burt, Aunt Orie, cousin Ernie, and on and on.  A parade of Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, and pastors also march past.  As do people from the present.  Not a farmer myself, the seasons of my life have been blessed by a rich bounty of people, not crops.  And I am richer for them all.  They have been the jubilant fields and singing trees, singing “for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  They planted the seeds of faith in my life and watered them and watched them grow.  Some of them have sung the song of harvest home.  Some I get to see daily.  Regardless, they continue to bless me.

God’s land and God’s people are intricately interwoven.  Even those of us who rarely venture outside the city limits are tied to the earth by strong bonds and a bounty of people.  And this season is about giving thanks for that bounty to the gracious God who loves us more than we can imagine.

I came across a thanksgiving poem the other day that expresses that thought better than I am able.  It’s by Max Coots and says:

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people.

For children who are our second planting, and, though they grow like weeds and 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, as 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 as good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbage, 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 throughout 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, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;

For all these we give thanks.

 Let us give thanks, this holiday time, for golden light, good friends, and God’s graciousness. May we open our eyes to jubilant fields and singing trees.  Soaring clouds, be they white or gray with rain.  Winds warm or chilled by the north.  People who are made in God’s own image.  Let us give thanks and “sing for joy before the LORD.  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"a language carved in the shimmer of stubble..."

Photo by Brent

I have been trying to read
the script cut in these hills—
a language carved in the shimmer of stubble
and the solid lines of soil, spoken
in the thud of apples falling
and the rasp of corn stalks finally bare.

The pheasants shout it with a rusty creak
as they gather in the fallen grain,
the blackbirds sing it over their shoulders in parting,
and gold leaf illuminates the manuscript
where it is written in the trees.

Transcribed onto my human tongue
I believe it might sound like a lullaby,
or the simplest grace at table.
across the gathering stillness
simply this: “For all that we have received,
dear God, make us truly grateful.”. 

---Lynn Ungar, Bread and Other Miracles

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lord of the harvest, Lord of the field...

photo by Brent
On Sunday we sang a Thanksgiving song that was new to me.  I really liked it and so want to share it with you, my faithful reader ("Hi Mom!").

Lord of the harvest, Lord of the field, 
give thanks now to God in nature revealed. 

Give thanks for the sun,
the wind and the rain.
And thanks for the crops
that feed us again.
The corn safely cut is gathered inside.
We thank you, O Lord, that you can provide.
Lord of the harvest, Lord of the field, 
give thanks now to God in nature revealed. 

The trees ripe with fruit
stand proud in the sun,
we gather them now
that summer is gone.
For yours is the wonder, yours is the power.
Yours is the glory of fruit and of flower.
Lord of the harvest, Lord of the field, 
give thanks now to God in nature revealed.

So in all our plenty,
help us to see,
the needs all around whatever they be.
With food for the body, strength for the soul,
it’s healing and caring, making them whole.
Lord of the harvest, Lord of the field,
give thanks now to God in nature revealed.
("Lord of the Harvest" by Jancis Harvey)

One reason I liked it so much (beside the obvious) is the line "The corn safely cut is gathered inside."  A week ago I watched the corn in the field next to Ploughshares Farm get safely cut.  I stood out in the middle of the field while Doug Cook combined around me.  And, while standing there, I thought of the nation's farmers who feed us and others (as I don't grow my own!).  I also thought -- and rejoiced in -- how these fields and the corn and beans and all feed more than just humans or livestock.

As I stood there, a great rustling took place around me and out of the uncut corn ran two of the fattest raccoons I had ever seen.  Doug spotted them, too, and was not quite as amused as I was that they had found a feast in his corn.  Other critters ran from the approaching John Deere, their summer/autumn home slowly disappearing around them.  They all looked well fed.

The next couple of days I witnessed other animals feasting in the field.  A pretty doe was nosing through the field, shoving aside corn stubble to get to ears that had been missed by the combine due to having been knocked down by two huge wind storms two weeks ago.  Flocks of birds settled in clouds of blackness among the rows of sheared stalks and squawked and cawed and chirped their way looking for kernels.

Lord of the harvest, Lord of the field, 
give thanks now to God in nature revealed.


Monday, November 25, 2013

"The cloud remembers being elephant, camel, giraffe..."

What the Heart Cannot Forget

Everything remembers something. The rock, its fiery bed,
cooling and fissuring into cracked pieces, the rub
of watery fingers along its edge.

The cloud remembers being elephant, camel, giraffe,
remembers being a veil over the face of the sun,
gathering itself together for the fall.

The turtle remembers the sea, sliding over and under
its belly, remembers legs like wings, escaping down
the sand under the beaks of savage birds.

The tree remembers the story of each ring, the years
of drought, the floods, the way things came
walking slowly towards it long ago.

And the skin remembers its scars, and the bone aches
where it was broken. The feet remember the dance,
and the arms remember lifting up the child.

The heart remembers everything it loved and gave away,
everything it lost and found again, and everyone
it loved, the heart cannot forget.

"What the Heart Cannot Forget" by Joyce Sutphen, from Coming Back to the Body. © Holy Cow! Press, 2000.  (buy now)

From the "Writers Almanac"

Friday, November 22, 2013

"Whose tune do you think the planets are singing..."

The universe does not
revolve around you.
The stars and planets spinning
through the ballroom of space
dance with one another
quite outside of your small life.
You cannot hold gravity
or seasons; even air and water
inevitably evade your grasp.
Why not, then, let go?
You could move through time
like a shark through water,
neither restless or ceasing,
absorbed in and absorbing
the native element.Why pretend you can do otherwise?
The world comes in at every pore,
mixes in your blood before
breath releases you into
the world again. Did you think
the fragile boundary of your skin
could build a wall?
Listen. Every molecule is humming
its particular pitch.
Of course you are a symphony.
Whose tune do you think
the planets are singing
as they dance?

Lynn Ungar
Source: Blessing the Bread

Monday, November 18, 2013

" I get a kind of nostalgic craving for it..."


There's a young couple in the parking lot, kissing.
Not just kissing, they look as though they might eat
each other up, kissing, nibbling, biting, mouths wide
open, play fighting like young dogs, wrapped around
each other like snakes. I remember that, sort of, that
hunger, that passionate intensity. And I get a kind of
occasionally, for the food of my childhood. Baloney
on white bread, for instance: one slice of white bread
with mustard or Miracle Whip or ketchup-not
ketchup, one has to draw the line somewhere-and
one slice of baloney. It had a nice symmetry to it, the
circle of baloney on the rectangle of bread. Then you
folded the bread and baloney in the middle and took
a bite out of the very center of the folded side. When
you unfolded the sandwich you had a hole, a circle in
the center of the bread and baloney frame, a window,
a porthole from which you could get a new view of
the world. 
nostalgic craving for it, in the way that I get a craving,

"Baloney" by Louis Jenkins, from Tin Flag: New and Selected Prose Poems. © Will o' the Wisp books, 2013.  (buy now

From "The Writer's Almanac"

Monday, November 11, 2013

"her great feathered cross..."

The Heron

Whenever we noticed her
standing in the stream, still
as a branch in dead air, we
would grab our binoculars,
watch her watching,
her eye fixed on the water
slowly making its own way
around stumps, over a boulder,
under some leaves matted against
a fallen log. She seemed
to appear, stand, peer, then
lift one leg, stretch it, let
a foot quietly settle into the mud
then pull up her other foot, settle
it, and stare again, each step
tendered, an ideogram at the end
of a calligrapher's brush.
Every time she arrived, we watched
until, as if she had suddenly heard
a call in the sky, she would bend
her knees, raise her wide wings,
and lift into the welcome grace
of the air, her legs extending
back behind her, wings rising
and falling elegant under the clouds:
For more than a week now
we have not seen her. We watch
the sky, hoping to catch her great
feathered cross moving above the trees.

"The Heron" by Jack Ridl, from Practicing to Walk like a Heron. © Wayne State University Press, 2012  (buy now)
From "The Writer's Almanac"

Monday, November 04, 2013

"Silence and Shots" -- A New Way of Planting Quaker Meetings?

A friends of mine sent me an article on "Church-In-Pub" from NPR the other day with the question, "New idea for New Meetings Project? Just kidding, . . . maybe!"   Since she's the clerk of her meeting, she didn't feel like posting it publicly, though she did note, "I have noticed that the rum soaked cranberry salad always disappears quickly at pitch-ins!"

As I read the article I was reminded a photo my brother-in-law Paul sent me a few months ago (on the left).  "Spiritual Shots" in Frisco, TX.

The article reports "With mainline religious congregations dwindling across America, a scattering of churches is trying to attract new members by creating a different sort of Christian community. They are gathering around craft beer. ... Some church groups are brewing it themselves, while others are bring the Holy Mysteries to a taproom. The result is not sloshed congregants; rather, it's an exploratory approach to do church differently."

Doing church differently is something that Quakers have been doing for years.  Well, differently from other Christian congregations.  Perhaps, though, it's time to begin to do something differently from where we've been doing it.

Notice I said "where," not "how."

I think we've got a good bit of the "how" correct -- when we do it right.  But lately we've been largely locked into worshiping in the sort of place that our founding Friends railed against -- a set building.  A "steeple-house" as Fox referred to the churches of his day.  I wonder what he would say about our meetinghouses today?  True, few of them have steeples, per se, but have they become a hindrance rather than a help in being Friends?

Now I admit, I truly love our little meetinghouse.  There's comfort there.  Community there.  Deep worship there.  But I also note that there are few visitors there.

And so when I read the NPR article, I remembered John Camm and John Audland preaching where ever they could -- including the pubs of the day.  They went to where the great people to be gathered were already gathering.

Hmmm, that's a thought.  To take the Quaker way to places where people who would be sympathetic to our way of faith and life are already present or disposed to visit.  "Quakers at the Co-op"?  "Spirit at Starbucks" (whilst Starbucks may not be thrilled w/ a bunch of coffee-swilling Quakers, that's who they're named for (Starbuck in "Moby Dick")?  "Silence and Shots" at the local craft distillery?  Well, we're probably not ready for that or to serve Old Quaker Whiskey.

But what are we ready for?  And where are we ready for?  Is it time to go where "they" are rather than wait for "them" to come to where we are?  Where we are may be fine for us already gathered.  In fact, it may be the perfect place from which to launch an outreach effort at the natural foods cafe, jazz club, playhouse, bookstore, etc.  And where we are may be ideal for folks who are attracted to the Quaker way through our efforts at those public places -- it may be just perfect for entering a loving, caring, worshipful community of faith and going deeper spiritually.

Where is Spirit calling you?

-- Brent