Category Archives: Poetry

The Northern Hemisphere’s Jazz Funeral

"Let the dead things go."

I was 26 years old before I experienced my first fall.

My husband and I were newly arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was starting seminary at the Episcopal Divinity School. I’d lived my entire life up to that point in Arizona. Fall for me, up until then, was random flashes of bright yellow aspen on mostly conifer-covered northern Arizona mountains.

Fall was threads of deep crimson maples in the alpine canyons surrounding low flat khaki-colored desert.

Fall was a solitary maple in front of the Tucson library, gloriously orange and red and gold for one week every year. I would walk out of my way just to look at that maple.

Clearly, I had no idea.

My first New England autumn amazed me. Fall in New England was an Arizona sunset at tree-level – crimson and gold and bronze, intensified and reflected in all that water everywhere. Fall was a sunset spread like frosting over the landscape.

New England’s fall was big and bold, brazen and boisterous.

Fall in New England was intoxicating.

Fall in New England was also confusing. It was so beautiful, and it was so clearly a dying.

I sort of wanted Fall to make up her mind: be breathtaking, or be sad. But not both.

Now, I more often understand that paradox is a hallmark of holiness, and I don’t try so hard to make things either this or that.

Christine Valters Paintner, of Abbey of the Arts, beautifully expresses this paradox:

“At the heart of autumn’s gifts are the twin energies of relinquishing and harvesting. It is a season of paradox that invites us to consider what we are called to release and surrender, and at the same time it invites us to gather in the harvest, to name and celebrate the fruits of the seeds we planted months ago. In holding these two in tension we are reminded that in our letting go we also find abundance.” 

Here are two poems for fall.

FALL SONG

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

~ Mary Oliver  (American Primitive)

 

A NECESSARY AUTUMN INSIDE EACH

Inside each of us, there’s continual autumn. Our leaves fall and are blown out

over the water. A crow sits in the blackened limbs and talks about what’s gone. Then

your generosity returns: spring, moisture, intelligence, the scent of hyacinth and rose

and cypress. Joseph is back! And if you don’t feel in yourself the freshness of

Joseph, be Jacob! Weep and then smile. Don’t pretend to know something you haven’t experienced.

There’s a necessary dying, and then Jesus is breathing again.

Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up

where you are. You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different.

Surrender.

~Rumi (Coleman Barks translation)

 May we be grateful for our gifts, die where we need to, and allow ourselves to be ground for next year’s wildflowers.

Groundhogs and Goddesses: Reclaiming Lent

Groundhog!

Groundhog!

Groundhog Day

Celebrate this unlikely oracle,     this ball of fat and fur,              whom we so mysteriously endow with the power to predict spring.                                        Let’s hear it for the improbable heroes who,                      frightened at their own shadows,  nonetheless unwittingly work miracles.

Why shouldn’t we believe
this peculiar rodent holds power
over sun and seasons in his stubby paw?
Who says that God is all grandeur and glory?

Unnoticed in the earth, worms
are busily, brainlessly, tilling the soil.
Field mice, all unthinking, have scattered
seeds that will take root and grow.
Grape hyacinths, against all reason,
have been holding up green shoots beneath the snow.
How do you think spring arrives?
There is nothing quieter, nothing
more secret, miraculous, mundane.
Do you want to play your part
in bringing it to birth? Nothing simpler.
Find a spot not too far from the ground
and wait.

~Lynn Ungar

Happy Groundhog Day! Today is also the Feast of the Presentation and Candlemas. Yesterday was both Imbolc and Brigid’s Day. February 1st and 2nd are thin places in the year’s cycle, rich with ancient energy. The Celtic Goddess Brigid comes together with a pesty rodent, Jesus’s presentation in the temple, and candle blessings at a party that celebrates lambing and other signs of Spring. Rock on!

Imbolc is one of the Celtic “cross-quarter days.” Cross-quarter days occur halfway between the sun’s solstices and equinoxes, and Imbolc is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The ancient festival’s name probably comes from the Old Irish for “in the belly.” Imbolc celebrates lambing time, so it’s a party focused on gestation and birth, on literal and figurative new life.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 10th this year. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for Spring and shares a root with “lengthen.”

Many of us who grew up in a Christian tradition, if we celebrated Lent at all, focused on it as a time for giving something up. “What are you giving up for Lent?” was the question heard on the playground and in the lunchrooms of my childhood. If we were told why we gave something up for Lent, the reason was usually tied to our sinful nature. Lent was a time to try to rein in our sinfulness before Easter, to prove ourselves worthy of God’s gift of salvation in Jesus.

(This idea of human sin is an outgrowth of a troubling and pervasive idea about Jesus called “penal substitutionary atonement” or “sacrificial atonement” that’s become the primary way we’ve understood Jesus and God for the last few centuries. The short form of this idea is that God sent Jesus to die for my sins on the cross, and if I believe in Him I get to go to Heaven instead of Hell. Ugh. There are other valid and more helpful, healthy ways to understand God and Jesus.)

What if we approached Lent through the door of Imbolc and Groundhog Day?

What if we asked, “What’s in my belly?”

“What’s asking to be born?”

“How can I nurture whatever this is and prepare for its birth during the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter?”

We don’t have to be churchy or penitential to find value in the ancient practices of a holy Lent. We have bodies and we live in them on an Earth that cycles, under a moon and stars that cycle. That means we naturally cycle – we have times of ebb and flow, times of rest and activity, times of retreat and going forth, times of dying and rising again.

We can reclaim the wisdom of earlier times that celebrated discernible lengthening of days, returning fecundity of Earth, softening and burgeoning forth of bodies and dreams.

We can ask ourselves what wants to be born, and then act to nurture emerging new life.

We can reclaim Lent.

Next week: a mini-retreat for going deeper into these questions.

Winter Solstice: Two Poems

Milky Way (I learn to paint stars)

Milky Way 

WINTER SOLSTICE 

Perhaps
for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then
gracefully
tilts.
Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

~Rebecca Parker

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Life goes in circles and cycles. Years go in circles and cycles. No need to be ponderous about this. Simply hold what your life brings each day and each night like you would hold a wild bird: gently, reverently, attentively, awestruck and breathless with wild wonder. Days will grow and nights will shrink from now through mid-summer, when dark will expand again and light will contract. That’s how it is on this round planet with a slightly tilted axis. That’s simply how it is. Cherish this long tonight and all the long nights to come. Soon enough sun’s time will come, with its burgeonings and its demands. Long days for getting things done are just over the horizon. Today, send blessings to what’s quietly, secretly happening in darkness.

Winter Solstice: Two Poems

Milky Way (I learn to paint stars)

Milky Way 

WINTER SOLSTICE 

Perhaps
for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then
gracefully
tilts.
Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

~Rebecca Parker

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Life goes in circles and cycles. Years go in circles and cycles. No need to be ponderous about this. Simply hold what your life brings each day and each night like you would hold a wild bird: gently, reverently, attentively, awestruck and breathless with wild wonder. Days will grow and nights will shrink from now through mid-summer, when dark will expand again and light will contract. That’s how it is on this round planet with a slightly tilted axis. That’s simply how it is. Cherish this long tonight and all the long nights to come. Soon enough sun’s time will come, with its burgeonings and its demands. Long days for getting things done are just over the horizon. Today, send blessings to what’s quietly, secretly happening in darkness.

The Way is Made by Walking: “Re-Camino” Week 2

The Way is made by walking.

The Way is made by walking. La Rioja, Spain. 14 May 2014

“Wanderer, there is no way. The way is made by walking.”

I find these words, a translation of a line from Spanish poet Antonio Machado’s “Caminante no hay Camino,” both frightening and comforting.

On the Camino we didn’t really “make the way by walking.” We walked an established, usually clearly marked, often paved path. We had a clear destination (Santiago de Compostella) and plenty of maps, and if we got lost there were muchas people to ask for directions. If we got tired or stranded, we could take a bus, a taxi, or a train to a town closer to our goal or even all the way to Santiago if necessary.

Out here in the “real world,” however, I find that “making the way by walking” is totally helpful and completely how things work. When I wait for certainty before trying something, I will wait and wait. “Making the way by walking” gives me a way to tolerate the ambiguity of not knowing how something will turn out before I start. Making the way by walking helps me to take the first step that I AM fairly certain about, then the next one, and then the next one after that. I think I know where I’m going, but it’s entirely possible that I will end up somewhere completely different than I intended when I began.

The Camino taught me to trust my heart, and that the Way was there for the finding when I took the first step in trust.

We’re all on a journey, whether we know it, admit it, and accept it, or not. Here’s my prayer for pilgrims and wanderers, walkers and wayfarers.

Holy One,

You’re the God of a wandering pilgrim people – Adam and Eve, Jacob, Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Israelites in the desert, Babylonian exiles, Jonah and Elijah, Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul and Thecla – all wanderers. All pilgrims on holy journeys.

We bear the name of a wandering itinerant preacher, a man who began wandering in the womb, whose first act of intentional ministry was to flee to the desert for forty days, who referred to himself as “the Way.”

Help me to remember that the Way is made by walking. That any certainty I may have about an outcome is both illusion and delusion. That my job is simply to take the first step. Then the next one. And then the one after that.

Help me to remember that to reach new places I must follow new roads. That faithfulness to your invitation to grow requires change. That when I respond to your call to be who I am in You, to live my life in You, I will be taken to places I do not expect. That true rest will only be found in Divine Upwelling You, and that the only stability I will ever know is floating in the River of You – always moving and growing and changing. And that all actions and choices that I make faithfully are good, despite appearances to the contrary.

Help me to trust that I have all I need for this journey.

Help me to commit whole-heartedly to this road, and always to be thankful for its gifts – each moment, each breath, each step.

Amen.

(This is the second of a series of blogs reflecting on my 37-day walk along the Camino de Santiago from May 6 to June 11, 2014. You can find the first post here, and my husband’s blog here.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relationship is Fundamental

Armenian Genocide Vigil

Armenian Genocide Vigil, Trinity Church, Boston, April 23 2015
Photo Credit: Tricia Harvey

We’re commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  African refugees are drowning by the hundreds in the Mediterranean. Closer to home, Nancy, a much-beloved member of our church and dear friend to many, is actively dying. Her family and friends are at her bedside, feeling her light and witnessing its waning. Jerry’s cancer has metastasized to his bones and he has just weeks to live. Bill is in his last days and he’s terrified. Even beloved cats are dying. I sometimes feel like I’m immersed in suffering and death.

I wonder: What’s one White middle-aged Oregonian gonna do about all of this? What’s my job here?

 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. – John Donne

 

 

Modern cosmology is proving the truth of Donne’s poetic statement. As Judy Cannato puts it in Radical Amazement, “All creation has come about through a single cosmic event, often called the Big Bang. Creation is not a static fixed event, but a cosmogenesis, an ongoing act of creation and creativity. Because all life is part of this single cosmic event, all life is connected at its most basic level.

 

“The theory of holons suggests that everything is a whole/part, that nothing is separate and distinct. Life consists of nested holons of increasing complexity. Relationship is fundamental.

 

A friend posted the photo of the Armenian Genocide memorial service in Boston last night. This is what we can do for them: light candles and remember them. Remember that this thing happened, and that things like it continue to happen. Know that as this thing happened to them, because we are all connected, it has happened, is happening, to us.

There’s where I find hope in our connection. I don’t know how to help African refugees except to make peace where I am, to live as peacefully and compassionately as I know how, which includes giving to organizations with boots on the ground. What I can do for the dying is be present with them and with those who mourn, with my whole witnessing heart. And because we are all connected, as I live intentionally, knowing that how I live makes a difference, the world will change. Thanks be to  God.

“The Sweet Confinement Of Your Aloneness”

Today is Day 29 of our Camino. The Way has felt hard. And I feel so blessed to be here. This poem of David Whyte’s has bubbled its way to awareness these last two days as I have walked through western Spain — over mountains, through tiny villages and cities, and among vineyards and cherry orchards.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

— David Whyte
from The House of Belonging
©1996 Many Rivers Press

The Camino has provided space and opportunity to realize that I have cluttered my life with things and people and activities that do not bring me alive. The Way is so huge that the smallness I have allowed is starkly apparent. I am seeing into my heart — seeing glimmers of the things and people and activities that are life-giving for me. I am learning in my innermost being that my heart, Earth’s heart, and God’s heart are one and the same.

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Mountain Poetry

Siskiyou Mountains

The Klamath Mountains straddle the Oregon-California border, and are one of the wildest, most rugged ranges in the lower 48.

Fall in southern Oregon is magical. This year especially so. I’m grateful to be having abundant hiking time in the mountains that surround the Rogue Valley. Here’s a poem that describes the over-flowingness of mountain bounty, and its effects on my “bubble of a heart.”

Piute Creek

By Gary Snyder

 

One granite ridge

A tree, would be enough

Or even a rock, a small creek,

A bark shred in a pool.

Hill beyond hill, folded and twisted

Tough trees crammed

In thin stone fractures

A huge moon on it all, is too much.

The mind wanders. A million

Summers, night air still and the rocks

Warm.   Sky over endless mountains.

All the junk that goes with being human

Drops away, hard rock wavers

Even the heavy present seems to fail

This bubble of a heart.

Words and books

Like a small creek off a high ledge

Gone in the dry air.

 

A clear, attentive mind

Has no meaning but that

Which sees is truly seen.

No one loves rock, yet we are here.

Night chills. A flick

In the moonlight

Slips into Juniper shadow:

Back there unseen

Cold proud eyes

Of Cougar or Coyote

Watch me rise and go.

 

Link to the poem here.
My photo, taken October 18, 2013 in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest along the California-Oregon border.

Poem for September 11th

Sky for September 11thBrian Doyle’s “Leap”:

A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them falling, hand in hand.

Many people jumped. Perhaps hundreds. No one knows. They struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air.

The mayor reported the mist.

A kindergarten boy who saw people falling in flames told his teacher that the birds were on fire. She ran with him on her shoulders out of the ashes.

Tiffany Keeling saw fireballs falling that she later realized were people. Jennifer Griffin saw people falling and wept as she told the story. Niko Winstral saw people free-falling backwards with their hands out, like they were parachuting. Joe Duncan on his roof on Duane Street looked up and saw people jumping. Henry Weintraub saw people “leaping as they flew out.” John Carson saw six people fall, “falling over themselves, falling, they were somersaulting.” Steve Miller saw people jumping from a thousand feet in the air. Kirk Kjeldsen saw people flailing on the way down, people lining up and jumping, “too many people falling.” Jane Tedder saw people leaping and the sight haunts her at night. Steve Tamas counted fourteen people jumping and then he stopped counting. Stuart DeHann saw one woman’s dress billowing as she fell, and he saw a shirtless man falling end over end, and he too saw the couple leaping hand in hand.

Several pedestrians were killed by people falling from the sky. A fireman was killed by a body falling from the sky.

But he reached for her hand and she reached for his hand and they leaped out the window holding hands.

I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.

Their hands reaching and joining are the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It is everything that we are capable of against horror and loss and death. It is what makes me believe that we are not craven fools and charlatans to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them like seeds that open only under great fires, to believe that some unimaginable essence of who we are persists past the dissolution of what we were, to believe against such evil hourly evidence that love is why we are here.

No one knows who they were: husband and wife, lovers, dear friends, colleagues, strangers thrown together at the window there at the lip of hell. Maybe they didn’t even reach for each other consciously, maybe it was instinctive, a reflex, as they both decided at the same time to take two running steps and jump out the shattered window, but they did reach for each other, and they held on tight, and leaped, and fell endlessly into the smoking canyon, at two hundred miles an hour, falling so far and so fast that they would have blacked out before they hit the pavement near Liberty Street so hard that there was a pink mist in the air.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them holding hands, and Stuart DeHann saw them holding hands, and I hold onto that.

 

Link to the poem here: Brian Doyle’s “Leap”

Photo credit: Morguefile, by dave