Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Light slips through..."

Room in Antwerp
Dust covers the window, but light slips through--
it always does--through dust or cracks or under doors.

Every day at dusk, the sun, through branches,
hits a river's bend & sends silver slivers to the walls. 

                        No one's there to see this. No one.
But it dances there anyway, that light, 

        & when the wind weaves waves into the water 
it's as if lit syllables quivered on the bricks. 

        Then the sun sinks, swallowed by the dark. In that dark 
more dust, always more dust 
                        settles--sighs over everything. 

There is no silence there, something always stirs 
not far away. Small rags of noise. 

Rilke said most people will know only a small corner of their room. 

I read this long ago & still don't know how to understand 
that word only, do you? 

                        Where are you? I think of you so often  
and search for you in every face that comes between me & dust, 
me & dusk--first love, torn corner from this life.

Copyright © 2013 by Laure-Anne Bosselaar. Laure-Anne Bosselaar is the author of three books of poetry. Her most recent is A New Hunger (Ausable Press, 2007). She is also a translator of poetry, working in Flemish and French. Bosselaar teaches at Pine Manor College.

Of the Meek, The Strong, Poems ... "And they're gone like smoke..."

Here are two pieces by two of my favorite poets (and songwriters, in the case of Leonard Cohen). Grace-filled, literally and figuratively.

Who the Meek Are Not

              Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
              in the rice paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
              make the wheat fall in waves
they don't get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
              nun says we misread
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
              To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
              in a meadow, who—
at his master's voice—seizes up to a stunned
              but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power
              in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
              and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.

"Who the Meek Are Not" by Mary Karr, from Sinners Welcome. © Harper Collins, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
From "The Writers Almanac"

"Ballad of a Runaway Horse"
(Leonard Cohen)

Say a prayer for the cowgirl her horse ran away
She'll walk till she finds him her darlin' her stray
But the river's in flood and the roads are awash
And the bridges break up in the panic of loss.

And there's nothin' to follow nowhere to go
He's gone like the summer gone like the snow
And the crickets are breaking her heart with their song
As the day caves in and the night is all wrong.

Did she dream it was he who went galloping past
And bent down the fern broke open the grass
And printed the mud with the well hammered shoe
That she nailed to his speed in the dreams of her youth.

And although he goes grazin' a minute away
She tracks him all night she tracks him all day
And she's behind to his presence except to compare
Her injury here with his punishment there.

Then at home on a branch on a high stream
A songbird sings out so suddenly
And the sun is warm and the soft winds ride
On a willow tree by the riverside.

Ah, the world is sweet and the world is wide
He's there where the light and the darkness divide
And the steam's comin' off him he's huge and he's shy
And he steps on the moon when he paws at the sky.

And he comes to her hand but he's not really tame
He longs to be lost she longs for the same
And he'll bolt and he'll plunge through the first open pass
To roll and to feed in the sweet mountain grass.

Or he'll make a break for the high plateau
Where there's nothing above and nothing below
It's time for their burden the whip and the spur
Well she ride with him or will he ride with her.

So she binds herself to her galloping steed
And he binds himself to the woman in need
And there is no space just left and right
And there is no time but there is day and night.

Then she leans on his neck and whispers low
Whither thou goest I will go
And they turn as one and the head for the plain
No need for the whip oh no need for the rein.

Now the clasp of this union who fastens it tight
Who snaps it asunder the very next night
Some say it's him some say it's her
Some say love's like smoke beyond all repair.

So my darlin', my darlin' just let it go by
That old silhouette on the great western sky
And I'll pick out a tune and they'll move right along
And they're gone like smoke and they're gone like this song.

Say a prayer for the cowgirl...

My favorite version is from Emmylou Harris' "Cowgirl's Prayer" album.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Can I witness the Rapture/ and still..."

Muffin of Sunsets

The sky is melting. Me too.
Who hasn't seen it this way?

Pink between the castlework 
of buildings.

Pensive syrup
drizzled over clouds.

It is almost catastrophic how heavenly.

A million poets, at least,
have stood in this very spot,
groceries in hand, wondering:

"Can I witness the Rapture
and still make it home in time for dinner?"

Elaine Equi is the author of numerous books of poetry including, Click and Clone (Coffee House Press, 2011). She lives in New York City where she teaches at the New School.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"They say their names all night..."

Iowa City to Boulder

I take most of the drive by night.
It's cool and in the dark my lapsed
inspection can't be seen.
I sing and make myself promises.

By dawn on the high plains
I'm driving tired and cagey.
Red-winged blackbirds
on the mileposts, like candle flames,
flare their wings for balance
in the blasts of truck wakes.

The dust of not sleeping
drifts in my mouth, and five or six
miles slur by uncounted.
I say I hate long-distance

drives but I love them.
The flat light stains the foothills
pale and I speed up the canyon
to sleep until the little lull
the insects take at dusk before
they say their names all night in the loud field.

"Iowa City to Boulder" by William Matthews, from Search Party. © Houghton Mifflin, 2004. 

Reprinted with permission. (buy now

From "The Writers' Almanac"

Monday, May 20, 2013

Spring Song

Spring Song
by Sherwood Anderson

In the forest, amid old trees and wet dead leaves, 
   a shrine.
Men on the wet leaves kneeling.
The spirit of God in the air above a shrine. 

Now, America, you press your lips to mine,
Feel on your lips the throbbing of my blood.
Christ, come to life and life calling,
Sweet and strong. 

Spring. God in the air above old fields.
Farmers marking fields for the planting of the corn.
Fields marked for corn to stand in long 
   straight aisles.  

In the spring I press your body down on wet cold
   new-plowed ground.
Men, give your souls to me.
I would have my sacred way with you. 

In the forest, amid old trees and wet dead leaves, 
   a shrine.
Men rising from the kneeling place to sing.
Everywhere in the fields now the orderly planting 
   of corn.

A Light Left On...

A Light Left On

In the evening we came back
Into our yellow room,
For a moment taken aback
To find the light left on,
Falling on silent flowers,
Table, book, empty chair
While we had gone elsewhere,
Had been away for hours.

When we came home together
We found the inside weather.
All of our love unended
The quiet light demanded,
And we gave, in a look
At yellow walls and open book.
The deepest world we share
and do not talk about
But have to have, was there,
And by that light found out.
"A Light Left On" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems. © Norton, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now

From The Writers Alamanac.

Photo by Brent

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Quakers, Church Planting, and Haviland, Kansas

I had the privilege of making a trip to one of Evangelical Friends "holy cities" last week.  I grew up among Evangelical Friends -- though those good Quakers might not be all that excited about it, I am a product of what used to be called Ohio Yearly Meeting -- Evangelical and is now known as Evangelical Friends Church -- Eastern Region.  And that's where I learned of a bastion of Evangelical Bible training located in Haviland, Kansas.  It was then known as Friends Bible College.

Today it's Barclay College and its president, Royce Frazier, is a long-time friend of mine, dating back to our youth ministry days.  Royce and his faculty and staff are doing fine and innovative work at Barclay and are reaching out to equip Friends beyond their student body and local constituency.

One of the ways they are reaching out is the reason I was there (after many years of finding excuses not to visit this very small town in the middle of Kansas!).  Barclay College's Jim LaShana and his staff put together the "National Friends Church Multiplication Conference."  The conference was billed as a a "Church Multiplication Conference for previous and potential church planters, church and denominational leaders, students, and anyone else who has a heart for church planting and fulfilling the Great Commission through the Friends Church. The conference will feature inspirational messages, 'best practice' workshops with speakers who have 'done it' from around the country, and time for fellowship, synergistic networking, sharing, and dreaming."  As the coordinator for FGC's New Meetings Project, I thought I should be there.  I wanted to be other folks who care about spreading the Friendly message as much as I am.

So off I went to Kansas.  And while Haviland is hardly a thriving metropolis (population 701), it was pleasant and filled with friendly Friends and others. And the conference was worth the trip.

I enjoyed seeing this place that I'd heard about for so many years.  And it was fun to look at the photos of graduating seniors through the years -- and recognizing many of  them (well, the names, if not the faces.  But then I look much different than my college picture, too!).

The highlight of the conference was the networking.  It was especially helpful.  It was good to talk with others who had the same passion for healthy, growing, and new congregations that I have.  The meal time and break conversations were especially deep and meaningful.

I found the main speaker, Bruce Redmond, interesting and challenging.  I appreciated his piece on the "varieties of church plants" (including core team plants and house churches).  And the piece he passed out titled "Build Movement, Not Ministries" resonated with my thinking.  I didn't agree with everything he said -- but then, I rarely agree with anybody else but myself.  And sometimes I'm not sure I agree with me.  The workshops that most interested me were "Bi-Vocational Church Planters: A New (Old) Way to Start Churches," "Cross-cultural Church Plants," and "Missional/Incarnational Communities). 

One thought that kept coming to me while I was there was what do Friends have to offer in planting new congregation.  Why should we bother to plant new congregations?  What do we as Quakers have to offer that the Nazarenes, Wesleyans, et al do not that justifies our separate existence as a people of God? 

There was a lot of talk by about our (Friends) Christian faith, but not so much about the value of our Quaker distinctives. 

I do worry that some Evangelical Friends have devalued the peculiar nature of Quaker faith by constantly emphasizing the claim that we are Christian first.  I have no problem saying Quaker faith (especially in certain sectors) is Christian (I am!) -- but we are Christians of a particular persuasion. Just as Lutherans, Wesleyans, or Nazarenes are. But, if we don't retain the Quaker distinctives, what possible reason is there for the Friends church to exist? We may as well lose the name Friends and become community churches or join another denomination.

I don't think that's the answer, though. There is a renewed interest in the things that Quakers stand for.

In a small way, that is evidenced by the number of books of mine that sell -- mostly to non-Friends. Another is growth of unprogrammed Friends (the only group of Quakers that is showing growth instead of loss. It's a modest 4%, but better than the double digit losses that other groups are recording).

Another is the fact that 80-000 to 100,000 people a year visit FGC's Quaker Finder site looking for a Quaker meeting or church.  As an aside, ALL Friends congregations should be listed on it. It's not just for FGC meetings -- a church can note that it's pastoral, FUM, EFI, etc.

Another is that 30,000 people a day take the Belief-O-Matic quiz on and many of them (around 6,000 or so) come out liberal or moderate Quaker -- and we have no organized means of reaching.

I understand the Evangelical concern that if we don't emphasize that we're Christian we'll lose something valuable and part of the core.  We need to recapture the vision of Fox, Fell, Woolman, Gurney, Kelly, Trueblood and others and revision it for the 21st century. We have an ancient/modern faith that is available to all and which leads to transformed lives. To not point people to it is to miss a mission field right here at home -- a people who are hungry for an authentic spiritual experience directly rooted in the Love and Grace of God and not bound by tight doctrinal creeds. As Fox himself said, our call is to lead people to the presence of Christ and leave them there. Let the Holy Spirit work and work at the speed that is right for the person -- not to issue theological tests for correct doctrine.

So the questions continue: 
  • Do we trust Christ to teach his people himself? 
  • Or God to defend God's self from unbelievers?
  • Or the Holy Spirit to lead people aright (instead of awrong!)?

I’m glad I had a chance to attend.  It was a good experience for me.  It was great to see old friends and meet new ones.  I, as always, needed my thinking challenged and stretched.  And the questions are ones that I will continue to wrestle with -- both professionally and personally.