“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.

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.

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 
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 
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.  

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


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.

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.  

Seed of Israel

The sins of the fathers
are tenacious 

there has been a reckoning,
a washing in the river
to a new awareness,
a new name reminding him
of that long night of struggle,
grasping desperately to the past
and finally letting go,
with a blessing, no less.

Ten sons had learned their lessons well,
living into a new iteration 
of deception and manipulation,
greed, competition.

Joseph and Benjamin were younger,
brought close in the evenings,
as Papa recounted his foibles, feats and failures
from the other side of the Jabbok.
With new sight 
he connected the star-dots,
that ladder of angels
appearing in the night sky of his memory,
recalling the tale of Father Abraham
under that same sky of promise.

Understanding finally bloomed
within himself
as he planted the star-seed of trust
in a boy who would need it to grow 
in the well,
in the prison cell,
and bloom once again 
in a palace far beyond
Jacob’s wildest dreams.

Morning Inspiration

I Arrive Late

I arrive late.
The avian chorus is halfway through the morning program.
Tiny wrens trilling,
crows demanding attention, 
a catbird offering its scratchy exaltation.
The cardinal’s whistle, occasional and sweet.

Their song and the stillness they celebrate
accomplish my intention,
the daily challenge of heart-opening
that requires study, prayer, writing,
the diligent quest for communion with the divine.

The birds don’t know about theology.
They simply offer their voices
to the music of presence,
unstitching the veil to reveal
the cathedral of
this fragile, fulgent moment.      

The Energizing Flow of Creativity

“Do not underestimate the thrill of trying.” –Julia Cameron

            Mixed media art has always captivated me.  I marvel at the imagination and creativity of those who bring together a variety of elements to interact and cohere to stimulate the viewer with the outcome.  A bird rests on a torn edge of newsprint, and its song breaks into my thoughts.  A disembodied hand offers a gift.  Colors are layered, inviting me to pause and look more deeply into myself.

            Would I like working with these materials?  I’ve gotten hooked on it, but it took me some time to gather the courage to try it. 

            My first attempts at visual art were assignments in a college class.  My initial drawings were so light that they could hardly be detected a few feet away.  What was the point if nobody could see it? I had to be bolder. Charcoal drawings were assigned, so there was no choice to display my work for others to see.  Gradually I gained a bit of confidence. 

            My best work was in calligraphy.  It was the one skill I took with me and used in the years to come, crafting signs and small gifts.  It makes sense that this appealed to me, because if I love anything in this world besides people and pie, it is the written word.  It is almost as if words are old friends, so I am comfortable with the creative process in their company.

            It’s no wonder, then, that my first attempts at visual art in recent years have involved words.  In my desire to influence my grandchildren’s faith, I select a special Bible verse for each Baptism Day anniversary and render it playfully in calligraphy.  They are not works of art, but they convey the value of Scripture’s wisdom for them.  I hope they also indicate my love for them.

            Calligraphy always caught my eye in gift shops and galleries, beckoning me to keep going back to this medium.  It was daunting to attempt something that takes time to develop, but I had to try. 

            My next attempts used not only the Scripture verses, but paraphrase and color.  Putting the verses into my own words drew me into their meaning.  Imagining how to present them artistically was a new and exciting process. 

            My mind and imagination were opening up in other ways, and it seems that a new kind of creativity was beginning to flower within.  I have always enjoyed the creative process in ministry and parenting, finding ways to teach and nurture within the bounds of traditional norms. As my perceptions about God, the world, and myself evolved, my desire to create expanded.  I began to write poetry.  This was fearsome at first too, probably because of my admiration for good writing.  How did I dare offer my own words to the world when fine writing already exists, in abundance?

            The inner voice refused to be deterred.  Although countless other writers are blessing us with their wisdom and humor, they do not use my voice.  I have something to say too.

            It takes a long time to trust one’s inner voice.  Mine is easily silenced by the fear that is perfectionism’s most effective tool.  But these days I recognize the problem, so I can keep it at bay.  “The perfectionist is a bully,” says Julia Cameron in It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again“It wants us to doubt ourselves.  But saying no to bullies does often make them go away…Creativity is an awkward process, two steps forward, one step back…We must be gentle with ourselves and have reasonable expectations, lest the perfectionist try to take us out of the game.  With humble forward motion we are strong—stronger than the perfectionist.”[i]

            My skill at poetry has grown only slightly since I began, because I do not practice it often.  I ponder whether it is important enough to me to give it more time.  That will show itself as time goes on.  As a mentor from years past put it, “Either you will, or you won’t, and that’s OK.”  I don’t have to live up to expectations for writing that are not grounded in curiosity and joy. 

            It was in following Cameron’s process, using her tool of Morning Pages that compelled me to try mixed media.  Writing every day helped me consider what I really want to do with my time.  As it happens, an art class appeared in my social media feed.  “Tiny Tattered Houses” was advertised by Jennifer Chamberlin, who teaches the craft on her website “The Maker Beehive.”

I toyed with it for only a few moments before I signed up.  The fee was a mere $15.  What did I have to lose?

            I loved it.

            Finally I found a medium that promises me satisfaction and joy without being squelched by perfectionism.  There were no exact lines or colors, only what emerged from my fingers and imagination. 

            Playing with paper, paint and glue released a whimsical spirit in me that I hadn’t realized was buried under responsibility and worry, mostly stemming from pastoring three churches during the pandemic.  I was also dealing with intense pain from a total knee replacement.  The creative process distracted me from the grinding experience of recovery, and I was lifted into a place of adventure and beauty. 

            The same website offered a yearly membership, which I immediately dismissed as too time-consuming and expensive.  But my newly-awakened creative spirit would not let it rest.  The cost was not more than I spend in books in a year, I reasoned.  Writing my Morning Pages gave me the moxy to register and put down the money.  I wrote, “I’m going to do it.  I’m going to accept the invitation to explore a fun medium with a little guidance and accountability.  It will free me from trying to develop my creativity too carefully and open me up to my carefree, fun self.  (I know she’s in there!)”

            Julia Cameron claims “it is enthusiasm even more than discipline that brings creativity forward.  With just the slightest encouragement, our creativity responds to our taps, as if it has been lying in wait.  I would argue that it has—everyone has a wellspring of creativity flowing beneath the surface, just waiting to be released.”[ii]

            Cameron has helped me stoke the fire of my creativity.  Over the years other family and friends have encouraged me to find my voice—in whatever form it takes on a given day—and use it.  (Thanks, Karen C, Barbara H, Wendy V, Ginger A-L, Vicky M, Steve J, Carol A-J, Pam V, Mindy M, Jennifer C and all the Maker Bees!)  It feels like a wondrous gift after a season of difficulty and fear. 

            I am grateful to have found new energy that fuels other pursuits, including ministry and my work as a spiritual director.  I have long experienced the flow of creativity directed by the Holy Spirit when I write sermons and funeral/wedding meditations.  I suppose I have regarded those as safe vehicles for my voice.  But now I find that any activity can be flipped from drudgery to joy when viewed as a creative endeavor.  In my current role as a chaplain, I approach each nursing home resident and staff member with curiosity, ready to listen and respond creatively as the situation warrants. 

            I wrote about the new energy for ministry in my morning pages: “These understandings are reflected in my new interest in mixed media collage and the pleasure of writing free verse poetry.  The outcome is not so much planned as discovered.  The Spirit is party to creating, and sometimes surprises me.  I can lose myself in the process and be open to what flows.”

            That’s it.  Losing myself in the process, being open to what flows.  Not a bad way to approach life in general.  I wonder how I can be creative today as I clean windows and iron the clothes?  I might even get back to my little corner studio and do more mixed media first!  Time to play some more.

[i] Cameron, Julia.  It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, 2016.  (New York: TarcherPerigree/Random House), p. 120.

[ii] Ibid., p. 97.