Smooth Stones

This morning I heard the story of David and Goliath on the wonderful app Pray as You Go

It seems obvious that the corona virus is the Goliath we need to slay.  We have been using our best weapons against it. But what has been happening in the ranks? Argument over strategy. Polarization. Broken trust.

I am reminded of the Scripture that tells us not to fear what can kill the body but what threatens the soul (Mt 10.28). Community based on deep mutual trust is the locus of our collective soul.  Erosion of that is the greatest threat.

We need to pick up our stones smoothed by time, readied by ancient forces. We need to heed Jesus’ teaching that small things make a big difference (seeds, yeast). Tiny weapons made of love and compassion, used extravagantly because the supply is abundant. Practiced daily, in all situations. Aimed strategically at the brow of the monster, claiming our power as sons and daughters of God.

We are called not to give up. “Strengthen your weak knees” and “pursue peace with everyone” (Heb 12. 12, 14). Claim the power of love that could not be erased by a cross, the resurrection power (Eph 1.19-20) that is ours to wield not with argument and force but with mercy and patience, forgiveness and encouragement.

We are in a battle, but it is not one whose victory is in conquering one another. In this battle of kinship vs. animosity we will find ourselves drawn together, galvanized by divine love that flows through us to manifest the ways of God that the world will one day recognize to be its native self.

Lay down your sword. Pick up the smooth stones of love: compassion, listening, helping, giving. Aim them at the enemy: the foolish giant that cannot destroy our care for one another. Humble instruments that neutralize the insidious forces of discord. Their power is limited. Our supply of hope is inexhaustible, our love unstoppable, grounded in the One who holds us all. 

A quick note: If you enjoy my blog, would you consider sharing it? My intention is to write and post more this year, and I hope my words can reach those to whom they may be of help.

Stars

This week we celebrate Epiphany, when the magi were drawn to the house where the child Jesus could be found. I truly doubt that they knew why they were kneeling by those little feet and giving precious gifts to someone so small, but I like to think their hearts were softened by the trip and the unexplainable longing that drove them there, and they could do nothing else in the moment.

Epiphany is a reminder to look up more often, above the fray and the routine. Take a break from your thoughts and ambitions, away from your worries and fears, above the noise of your life’s background music, and look up at the stars. We live in an unimaginably huge universe that is held together by Great Love that sees us and invites us to dream what is possible with that Love as our driving force and deep comfort.

Abraham
The stars were his promise 
to carry him on his sojourn 
past the skeptical glances 
and his own fear 
through the waiting 
despite domestic squabbles 
to a son and 
a bloody altar and 
a legacy of trust.

Magi
The star was their invitation 
to a new way of seeing 
beyond their charts 
and ancient incantations 
to a child who held the key 
to a new way of being 
at home in this world.

Harriett
The North Star was God’s eye 
seeing her to freedom 
steeling her resolve 
the fire of courage required 
to forge safe passage 
out of hell.

Twinkle, twinkle heaven’s stars 
calling me to stand in awe 
of creation’s endless scope 
seeds of wonder 
coins of hope.

Annunciations

...her humble self a hearth divinely wrought...

For some reason this year, I can't stop thinking about the annunciation, so here's one more before the incarnation is the focus of our celebration.
She thought herself unnoticed, ordinary 
until the gaze of Joseph lit a flame 
of love and new awareness in her spirit, 
an inner warming when he said her name.
And then a shocking, wondrous invitation, 
a privilege and burden never sought.
The fiery figure offered explanation:
her humble self was hearth divinely wrought.
The darkness of our weary lives is broken, 
our waking dreams found small beneath the light 
of holiness that kindles hope unspoken, 
quickening the fire of new-found life.
When once we simply thought our hearts betrothed, 
we find ourselves enlightened by Great Love.

“O Dayspring”

I’m posting a poem I wrote last winter, because today’s O Antiphon leading up to Christmas is “O Oriens” which means O Dayspring. This one was published in Lyrical Iowa 2021.

Incarnation at Dawn

The dark tendrils of the old maple
are framed as a detail within the
angles of the sunroom window.
The blue beyond them is a canvas
light-years deep.
Such is the texture of everything we see,
flat in the glance,
limitless on closer inspection.

Today the image draws my attention
to the groundedness and the reaching,
the tension of incarnation.  Altogether here
while reaching, always drawing life
from both dimensions

and, I suppose, more than the two
but something deeper still, as seen now
by the lightening of the sky.
The dimensions of the branches
come into focus, rich-textured.
Word made flesh in my backyard.  

Advent 2021: Mary

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
(Luke 1:26-37)



My whimsical design is inspired by The St. John’s Bible, where gold signifies the inbreaking of God’s presence, and butterflies hint at the appearance of angels. I used a homely, quilted background for Mary, a humble young woman who teaches us how to receive God: with an open heart.
Choosing

What made me notice her? 
When I pulled out my camera 
the other children swarmed, posed, 
leaned in to see the result.  
The wives of the village chief 
sauntered over to see what the fuss was all about.
But she hung back.
Others clamored.
She watched, 
curious, timid.
I prayed for her, convinced 
the Divine had shone a spotlight on her 
for my benefit and hers.
I named her Jolie. I could see 
beauty under the grit.  
I wonder what became of her.  

Mary was not the kind of girl 
you’d notice, didn’t seek attention, 
only something interesting 
to feed her curiosity.
When the strange figure delivered 
the news of God’s favor 
she checked the room 
where her sisters slept nearby 
to make sure he was talking to her.
Nobody else was awake.

Okay.
How many others took a pass before 
you got to my name on the roster?
Because I am definitely not a first-string player.
Not your mother-of-the-anointed-one type.
I hate parades.

Never mind. 
If what you want is somebody who will 
blend in, 
won’t get the big head, 
just willing to do the job,
then I guess I’m your girl.

Where do I sign?

Advent 2021: Joseph

Annunciation to Joseph

Steady, old boy.
You can believe your eyes.

Admit it.
This is not unfamiliar, this 
mystic hope that 
shimmered in the shadows that day 
as the sawdust settled under 
your restless feet.

You can believe what her ears 
heard, what she told you, 
how the messenger revealed 
the mystery’s shape hidden 
within her innate devotion.

You can do this.

The raw material of your trust 
is seasoned, solid, 
ready for your skilled hands 
to make something useful, 
something beautiful.
Construct it with her 
grace as cornerstone.  
Together make room for the child 
whose keeping is 
your heart’s unnamed desire.  

Advent 2021: Elizabeth

Advent 2021: Elizabeth
I couldn’t tell you 
when it went absent 
without leave but 
one day I noticed it was 
gone. The last shred of 
possibility 
slipped out 
the door. 
 
You adjust.

The sadness becomes mortar 
for a wall just high enough 
to keep the dream from getting in 
finding its old place 
where it fit in so well 
until 
it didn’t. 
We resigned ourselves to 
a good enough life.

But then—years later, mind you—
he came home from Jerusalem
out of breath and out of 
words to explain himself.
He kept making the same 
frantic motions 
desperate for me to understand.
When he finally settled down 
we played a guessing game: 
he acted out a story 
that began with routine but 
ended with surprise.

I laugh when I think of 
his exaggerated gestures 
his repeated look of goofy astonishment 
his tears of frustration 
before I blurted the unthinkable 
and the joy knocked us 
onto the floor in a tangle. 

It’s been quiet around here 
for months
except when we smile at one another 
and a gust of hope stirs, 
rearranges our secret.
One day it blew down the last 
remnant of resignation.
I can tell you the exact moment 
because it was the day I felt 
a tiny breeze 
fluttering in my womb.

Advent 2021: Isaiah

(The “Prompting Creativity” posts have been moved to a page by that name. Find it in the menu.)

This year I will focus on the stories of several players in the big story of the incarnation.

In Advent we realize that the birth of Jesus is part of a bigger story, thousands of years long and eternal in scope.  It includes the prophecies of people like Isaiah, who lived 2800 years ago, centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.  He was an ordinary man whom God tapped to be a prophet in Judah.  Judah was a small nation with mighty nations surrounding it.  The only way the kings thought they could stay safe was to make the best alliances with those other powers, and to fight against the enemies of their so-called friends.  Their security was shaky, based on the whims of other kings and conquerors.
	Isaiah kept telling them that they should trust God, but they wouldn’t listen.  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, they say.  Better the chariots and horses you can see than the God you cannot see. Better the idols of those other strong nations, even though idols were made of wood or stone and could easily be broken apart, worthless and powerless to do anyone any good.  Isaiah said that God would make a light shine in their darkness if only they would trust God.  (Is 9.2)
	The thing is, the upper classes in Judah did not see the problem.  They were prospering, albeit at the expense of the poor.  They simply chose not to think about how vulnerable they were, how their security was built on a shifting foundation.  
	Their situation sounds too familiar.  We feel secure if we don’t think too hard about our situation.  But when we do, the news about riots and lootings, disease and rising prices closes in on us, making life feel darker and darker.  Blocking it all out is its own kind of darkness.  My own sense of helplessness to do anything about these events sometimes makes me feel panicky, given to despair when I lie down at night. The darkness is real.  
        John said that Jesus was the light who came into the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.  No matter how depraved the criminals, nor how bad the diagnosis, nor how frustrating our economy and politics and conflicts, nothing and nobody is beyond the scope of Jesus’ light and the power of his love.  His light shows what is true and his love heals all brokenness.  

Isaiah
In those days the people thought him crazed 
for saying things were gloomy when they weren’t.
Their bellies full, their fortunes had been made 
and regularly sacrifices burnt 
to make a show of opening to God 
while turning a deaf ear to those whose cries 
were heard in heaven, many lacking food 
and suffering the cost of rich men’s lives.  

The prophet saw the thin veneer of pride 
that covered fear and deeply harbored sin, 
how rulers schemed to have themselves allied 
with power that would vanish in the wind.
In him the dream persisted, clear and strong 
of God who made them all and loved them long.
The Advent of Jesus

He came
to help us see 
that there is more than this 
that joy is not small 
confined to new toys 
or proper thinking

He comes 
standing ready to lift 
me out of the angst 
that masquerades as normal 
to distract me from the urgent 
to see the trail of frost on the pane 
the bluejay’s haste
the curve of the cheek 
on the neighbor’s child

He will come again 
this fresh afternoon 
when I sit down to listen to 
her earnest ramblings 
and notice the way she 
keeps her hands 
in her threadbare pockets

Pallbearing

Funeral of Eunice Mechler, October 25, 2021
What is the heft of a quiet life 
that her grandchildren carry today?
More than the weight of a mother and wife 
as they solemnly march to her grave.

They bear the imprint of soft, storied arms 
from her lifelong earnest art 
honed by the tasks of family and farm 
and a gentle, loving heart.  

Heavy their hearts as the memories gel 
and the tears of loss consume, 
but lighter their steps at the thought of her smile 
that accompanies them to her tomb.

The worker performs his lowering job.
Her children toss earth on the chest 
containing her form but never her love 
that survives to inspire and to bless.  

We Remember Him

Graveside 10-3-21

As we settle our collective breath
and feel the veil gently
gliding open for a holy glimpse
a bird calls from the sidelines
the sky weeps silent tears
the air faithfully allows itself
to be filtered into eulogy and prayer
the tear-soaked soil receives
collects along with all who will enter
its moist embrace
alive with dead things.

Sing!
Accept the way of things.
Sing the Love that holds it all
the bird and the words
the soil and the souls.
Weep the Love that knows.
Breathe the Love that gives the bird her song.
Live the Love that sees beyond
the humus of this moment.