Like the small soft unchanging flower The words in silence speak; Obedient to their ancient power The tear stands on my cheek.
Though our world burns, the small dim words Stand here in steadfast grace, And sing, like the indifferent birds, About a ruined place.
Though the tower fall, the day be done, The night be drawing near, Yet still the tearless tune pipes on, And still evokes the tear.
The tearless tune, wiser than we, As weak and strong as grass Or the wild bracken-fern we see Spring where the palace was. ~Ruth Pitter “On an Old Poem”from Poems 1926-1966
When I write a poem, sometimes, there is a kind of daze that lifts, and I can see what I couldn’t before, as if my mind was in a fog, a cloud, and only wanted
a poem to lift it out. I wanted the rhythm, just the right word, the crescendo from whisper to loud celebration, and found them in the days of trying poems. And I don’t mind telling you: poetry has brought complacency
to a (wanted) end, turned upside-down days aright, settled my unquiet mind, and allowed me to clearly see. ~Monica Sharmanfrom “What Poetry Can Do”
When the world is topsy-turvy and all seems immersed in fog and cobwebs, it helps to put down images and words to clarify and highlight.
Daily I need reminding to stay centered, daily I acknowledge what makes me weep and what is worth celebration.
It is a new day to illustrate with words and pictures what is unchanging in my life: thank God for a new day, everyday.
What words or harder gift does the light require of me carving from the dark this difficult tree?
What place or farther peace do I almost see emerging from the night and heart of me?
The sky whitens, goes on and on. Fields wrinkle into rows of cotton, go on and on. Night like a fling of crows disperses and is gone.
What song, what home, what calm or one clarity can I not quite come to, never quite see: this field, this sky, this tree. ~Christian Wiman, “Hard Night”
Even the darkest night has a sliver of light left, if only in our memories. We remember how it was and how it can be — the promise of better to come.
While the ever-changing sky swirls as a backdrop, a tree on a hill became the focal point, as it must, like a black hole swallowing up all pain, all suffering, all evil threatening to consume our world.
What clarity, what calm, what peace can be found at the foot of that tree, where our hearts can rest in this knowledge: our sin died there, once and for all and our names are carved into its roots for all time.
We grow accustomed to the Dark — When Light is put away — As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp To witness her Good bye —
A Moment — We Uncertain step For newness of the night — Then — fit our Vision to the Dark — And meet the Road — erect —
And so of larger — Darknesses — Those Evenings of the Brain — When not a Moon disclose a sign — Or Star — come out — within —
The Bravest — grope a little — And sometimes hit a Tree Directly in the Forehead — But as they learn to see —
Either the Darkness alters — Or something in the sight Adjusts itself to Midnight — And Life steps almost straight. ~Emily Dickinson
So few grains of happiness measured against all the dark and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us only the strength we have and we give it. Then it asks more, and we give it. ~Jane Hirschfield from “The Weighing”
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring. America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities… ~Martin Luther King, Jr. from a speech April 4, 1967
We live in a time where the groaning need and dividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized. Countless people are subjected to hatred, violence and oppression which go unchecked. The injustice and corruption which exist today are causing many voices to be raised to protest and cry out that something be done. Many men and women are being moved to sacrifice much in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace. There is a movement afoot in our time, a movement which is growing, awakening.
We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for every social injustice,every oppression, the downgrading of others and the injury that man does to man, whether personal or on a broader plane.… God must intervene with his spirit and his justice and his truth. The present misery, need, and decay must pass away and the new day of the Son of Man must dawn. This is the advent of God’s coming. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
I weep to see such bitter divisions still exist in our country, an echo of over fifty years ago as we fail again and again to learn from past errors.
Here we are, groaning divided once more, walking this Jericho Road together. We cannot pass by our brother, our sister, our child~ anyone who lies dying in the ditch. We must stop and help.
The world asks only for the strength we have and so we give it, but then we are asked to give more and so we will.
We must illuminate the advance of darkness even when, blinded as we are, we run forehead-first into the Tree which has always been there and always will be because of who we are and Who loves us.
It could be you or me bleeding, beaten, abandoned, dying until Someone takes our place so we can get up, free and forgiven, and walk Home.
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body. ~Walt Whitman from his preface to “Leaves of Grass”
Time, in so many ways, has been standing still for us over the last few months, fueled by an unprecedented quarantine and social isolation. We anticipate “when things return to normal” but the reality is there will be no “normal” for those who have lost jobs and businesses and family members or their own robust health since February.
And now society finds itself in the midst of anger and argument, marching and shouting to defend those who have lived for generations with injustice and oppression, and continue to face that reality every day, and the majority of us were oblivious.
“Normal” holds no appeal when “normal” is living under a tyrant’s thumb or dying under a knee.
So how do we approach a change in seasons as we ourselves are irrevocably changed?
What shall we do?
We are our flesh: all colors, flawed and fragile. We must look beyond the lashes of our eyes to see and understand the fluency of the poetry found in our bodies. We, each one of us, deserve the patience of being heard.
This summer will stand on its own in all its extravagant abundance of light and warmth and growth and color stretching deep within the rising and setting horizons. Each long day will feel like it must last forever, never ending, yet, like the unpredictable length of our fleshy days on earth, it will eventually wind down, spin itself out, darkening gradually into shadow.
That is the “normal” of our existence because summer always, always ends.
Yet another will reappear, somehow, somewhere, someday. The very poetry of our flesh, the very survival of our souls, depends on it. We will then see beyond our own eyelashes.
Surely a never-ending summer is what heaven itself will be. We shall all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye…
It is possible, I suppose that sometime we will learn everything there is to learn: what the world is, for example, and what it means. I think this as I am crossing from one field to another…
At my feet the white-petalled daisies display the small suns of their center piece, their – if you don’t mind my saying so – their hearts. Of course I could be wrong, perhaps their hearts are pale and narrow and hidden in the roots. What do I know? But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given, to see what is plain; what the sun lights up willingly; for example – I think this as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch – the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the daisies for the field. ~Mary Oliver from “Daisies”
I am content realizing I won’t understand what this world means, (and why any of us matter when we are all made up of the same atoms as everything else in existence);
No, I will remain in the dark until I cross from this field to the next. I have to wait for heaven itself to see how the Sun illuminates what matters.
It is all mystery in the meantime, and sometimes a mean and joyless mystery – with pain and heartbreak and suffering, but just enough loving sacrifice to make it worthwhile.
How are our atoms different from that stone, or that tree or that daisy?
We are breathed on. As God’s breath surges within us, we laugh out loud, weep mightily and sing out His Words – struggling to be suitable for this field, so often trampled and broken, but with plans to flourish plentiful in the Sun of heaven.
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean— Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years. Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home— For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore, And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came To build a “homeland of the free.”
The free? Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we’ve dreamed And all the songs we’ve sung And all the hopes we’ve held And all the flags we’ve hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay— Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again.
America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again! ~Langston Hughes from “Let America Be America Again”(1935)
When we remain silent in the face of injustice, we loudly slap the face of God. Because the person being abused is the face of God. ~Ann Voskamp
What has changed in America since Langston Hughes wrote “Let America Be America” in 1935? How many angry generations have passed since then and how many more are to come?
When three generations stand side by side, with angry words and tear-streaked faces, admitting that nothing has changed, then things have to change.
We are withering together in our anger and our tears.
Our children should not be faced with the choice of putting themselves in harm’s way because they are not allowed to breathe the same air of equality as everyone else. They deserve breath because God breathed them into existence, like everyone else. Instead, we are destroying their future as they are suffocated in the streets.
It has never been about “making America great again.”
It is about let America be America, once and for all.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
…the sudden angel affrighted me––light effacing my feeble beam, a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying: …as that hand of fire touched my lips and scorched by tongue and pulled by voice into the ring of the dance. ~Denise Levertov from “Caedmon” in Breathing the Water
Unless the eye catch fire, Then God will not be seen. Unless the ear catch fire Then God will not be heard. Unless the tongue catch fire Then God will not be named. Unless the heart catch fire, Then God will not be loved. Unless the mind catch fire, Then God will not be known. ~William Blake from “Pentecost”
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. Yours are the only hands with which he can do his work. yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world. Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. ~Teresa of Avila
Today, when we feel we are without hope, when the bent world reels with a troubled sickness of shedding blood and spreading violence, when faith feels frail, when love seems distant, we wait, stilled, for the moment we ourselves – not our cities – are lit afire ~ when the Living God is seen, heard, named, loved, known forever burning in our hearts deep down, brooded over by His bright wings~ we are His dearest, His freshest deep down things, in this moment and for eternity.
The crow’s voice filtered through the walls of the farmhouse makes sounds of a rusty car engine turning over. Clouds on a north wind that whistles softly and cold. Spruce trees planted in a line on the south side of the house weave and scrape at the air. I’ve walked to a far field to a fence line of rocks where I am surprised to see soft mud this raw day. No new tracks in the mud, only desiccated grass among the rocks, a bare grove of trees in the distance, a blue sky thin as an eggshell with a crack of dark geese running through it, their voices faint and almost troubled as they disappear in a wedge that has opened at last the cold heart of winter. ~Tom Hennen, “Early Spring in the Field” from Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems.
I shouldn’t be turning on the heat in the house on a late May morning but there is still an undeniable chill, even at this point in spring. The flowers outside are lush, but we’re still two or three weeks behind our usual bloom schedule.
We’re all impatient to be done with the coldness of a winter that has driven a wedge between people and politics, families and friends, well and ill.
We seek warmth and renewal and hugs and handshakes.
Instead we are asked for patience, to continue to practice the art of waiting for a safe reentry to spring and summer. No one wants to be tossed brutally back to the winter we just crawled away from.
May we emerge together, muddied but whole, ready to face whatever comes next.
What stood will stand, though all be fallen, The good return that time has stolen. Though creatures groan in misery, Their flesh prefigures liberty To end travail and bring to birth Their new perfection in new earth. At word of that enlivening Let the trees of the woods all sing And every field rejoice, let praise Rise up out of the ground like grass. What stood, whole in every piecemeal Thing that stood, will stand though all Fall–field and woods and all in them Rejoin the primal Sabbath’s hymn. ~Wendell Berry, from “Sabbaths” (North Point Press, 1987).
We live in a time where the groaning need anddividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized…
Yet this terrific human need and burden of the times causes us to see how weak and powerless we are to change this. Then we must see that if we are to advocate change, we must start with ourselves. We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for social injustice, oppression, and the downgrading of others, whether personal or on a broader plane. We must see that a revolution must take place against all that destroys life. This revolution must become a revolution different from any the world has ever seen. God must intervene and lead such a revolution with his Spirit and his justice and his truth. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8: 22-26
We are groaning in anticipation of what might come next – so many ill, so many lost. What can we make of this, how can we make sense of it?
We could groan together in the hard labor of birthing a newly unified people all facing the same viral enemy. Instead we groan angry and bitter, irritable with one another, wanting to find someone else, anything to blame for our misery.
God willingly pulls our groanings onto Himself and out of us. He understands even when we are too inarticulate to form the words we want Him to hear.
We must cling tenaciously to the mystery of God’s magnetism for our weakness and suffering and allow His healing us to begin.
By His Spirit we will be forever changed and our groanings will be no more.
How should I not be glad to contemplate the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window and a high tide reflected on the ceiling? There will be dying, there will be dying, but there is no need to go into that. The poems flow from the hand unbidden and the hidden source is the watchful heart. The sun rises in spite of everything and the far cities are beautiful and bright. I lie here in a riot of sunlight watching the day break and the clouds flying. Everything is going to be all right. ~Derek Mahon,”Everything is Going to be All Right” from Selected Poems
It’s tough to find reassurance these days; in a mere five months, things have gone from “doing okay” to outright disastrous. There is no expert anywhere with a crystal ball who can tell us what things will be like in another five months. We simply have to live it out as best we can.
I regularly remind myself: history has a way of repeating itself, and yes, the world has been in this place before. We’ve fought back against global pandemics and economic depressions and devastating world conflicts and we somehow manage to come out the other side.
It takes time and patience and prayer and groaning and a fair amount of teeth gritting.
So the sun rises in spite of everything. The clouds still fly by above us. We still love one another even when it takes a little work. So let’s give ourselves a little break from the bad news and just love, oh Lord above, in the glory of now.
Everything is going to be all right. Let your heart be watchful and untroubled.