Friday, January 18, 2019

Six Recognitions of the Lord


1.
I know a lot of fancy words.
I tear them from my heart and my tongue.
Then I pray.

2.
Lord God, mercy is in your hands, pour
me a little. And tenderness too. My
need is great. Beauty walks so freely
and with such gentleness. Impatience puts
a halter on my face and I run away over
the green fields wanting your voice
the green fields wanting your voice, your
tenderness, but having to do with only
the sweet grasses of the fields against
my body. When I first found you I was
filled with light, now the darkness grows
and it is filled with crooked things, bitter
and weak, each one bearing my name.

3.
I lounge on the grass, that's all. So
simple. Then I lie back until I am
inside the cloud that is just above me
but very high, and shaped like a fish.
Or, perhaps not. Then I enter the place
of not-thinking, not-remembering, not-
wanting. When the blue jay cries out his
riddle, in his carping voice, I return.
But I go back, the threshold is always
near. Over and back, over and back. Then
I rise. Maybe I rub my face as though I
have been asleep. But I have not been
asleep. I have been, as I say, inside
the cloud, or, perhaps, the lily floating
on the water. Then I go back to town,
to my own house, my own life, which has
now become brighter and simpler, some-
where I have never been before.

4.
Of course I have always known you
are present in the clouds, and the
black oak I especially adore, and the
wings of birds. But you are present
too in the body, listening to the body,
teaching it to live, instead of all
that touching, with disembodied joy.
We do not do this easily. We have
lived so long in the heavens of touch,
and we maintain our mutability, our
physicality, even as we begin to
apprehend the other world. Slowly we
make our appreciative response.
Slowly appreciation swells to
astonishment. And we enter the dialogue
of our lives that is beyond all under-
standing or conclusion. It is mystery, 
It is love of God. It is obedience.

5.
Oh, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with
the fragrance of the fields and the
freshness of the oceans which you have
made, and help me to hear and to hold
in all dearness those exacting and wonderful
words of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying:
Follow me.

6.
Every summer the lilies rise
     and open their white hands until they almost
cover the black waters of the pond. And I give
     thanks but it does not seem like adequate thanks,
it doesn't seem
     festive enough or constant enough, nor does the
name of the Lord of the words of thanksgiving come
     into it often enough. Everywhere I go I am
treated like royalty, which I am not. I thirst and
     am given water. My eyes thirst and I am given
the white lilies on the black water. My heart
      sings but the apparatus of singing doesn't convey
half what it feels and means. In spring there's hope,
     in fall the exquisite, necessary diminishing, in
winter I am as sleepy as any beast in its
     leafy cave, but in the summer there is
everywhere the luminous sprawl of gifts,
     the hospitality of the Lord and my
inadequate answers as I row my beautiful, temporary body
     through this water-lily world.

--Mary Oliver (1935-2019), American poet, teacher, and author, from Thirst: Poems, 2006


The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside Our Church: The Eucharist


Something has happened
to the bread
and the wine.

They have been blessed.
What now?

The body leans forward

to receive the gift
from the priest's hand,
then the chalice.

They are something else now
from what they were
before this began.

I want
to see Jesus,
maybe in the clouds

or on the shore,
just walking,
beautiful man

and clearly
someone else
besides.

On the hard days
I ask myself
if I ever will.

Also there are times
my body whispers to me
that I have.

-- Mary Oliver (1935-2019), American poet and author, from Thirst: Poems, 2006

In Blackwater Woods


Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

--Mary Oliver (1935-2019) who passed away yesterday, from American Primitive, 1983. Mary Chapin Carpenter quoted from this as the first Mary Oliver poem she ever read.

Cited by Parker J. Palmer in his On Being Blog.

Image: The Canopy at Muir Woods, 2012.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

More Beautiful Than the Honey Locust Tree Are the Words of the Lord


                                                                                      1.
In the household of God, I have stumbled in recitation,
     and in my mind I have wandered.
I have interrupted worship with discussion.
Once I extinguished the Gospel candle after all the others.
But never held the cup to my mouth lagging in gratitude.

                                                                                      2. 
The Lord forgives many things,
so I have heard.

                                                                                      3.
The deer came into the field.
I saw her peaceful face and heard the shuffle of her breath.
She was sweetened by merriment and not afraid,
     but bold to say
whose field she was crossing: spoke the tap of her foot:
"It is God's, and mine."

But only that she was born into the poem that God made, and
called the world.

                                                                                      4.
And the goldfinch too
And the black pond I named my little sister, since
     otherwise I had none.
And the muskrat with his shy hands.
And the tiny life of the single pine needle,
     which nevertheless shines.

And the priest in her beautiful vestments,
her hand over the chalice.

And the clouds moving, over the valleys of Truro.

                                                                                      5.
All day I watch the sky changing from blue to blue.
For You are forever
and I am like a single day that passes.
All day I think thanks for this world,
for the rocks and the tips of the waves,
for the tupelos and the fading roses.
For the wind.
For You are forever
while I am a single day that passes.
You are the heart of the cedars of Lebanon
     and the fir called Douglas,
the bristlecone, and the willow.

                                                                                      6.
It's close to hopeless,
for what I want to say the red-bird
has said already, and better, in a thousand trees.

The white bear, lifting one enormous paw, has said it better.

You cannot cross one hummock or furrow but it is
His holy ground.

                                                                                      7.
I had such a longing for virtue, for company.
I wanted Christ to be as close as the cross I wear. 
I wanted to read and serve, to touch the altar linen.
Instead I went back to the woods where not a single tree
     turns its face away.

Instead I prayed, oh Lord, let me be something
     useful and unpretentious.
Even the chimney swift sings.
Even the cobblestones have a task to do, and do it well.

Lord, let me be a flower, even a tare; or a sparrow.
Or the smallest bright stone in a ring worn by someone
     brave and kind, whose name I will never know.

Lord, when I sleep I feel you near.

When I wake, and you are already wiping the stars away,
I rise quickly, hoping to be like your wild child
the rose, the honey-maker the honey-vine;
a bird shouting its joy as it floats
through the gift you have given us: another day.

-- Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet and author, who passed away today, from Thirst: Poems, 2006

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Creation


And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I'm lonely--
I'll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiles,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That's good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and the stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That's good!

Then God himself stepped down--
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, a where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

The he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas--
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed--
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled--
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
and the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down into the hollow of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That's good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around,
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars,;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I'm lonely still.

The God sat down--
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I'll make me a man!

Up from the bed of river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen.

--James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), African American lawyer, songwriter, diplomat, civil rights leader, and poet, from God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse

Illustration by Aaron Douglas for the book.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sonnet XXV


Antes de amarte, amor, nada era mío:
vacilé por las calles y las cosas:
nada contaba ni tenía nombre:
el mundo era del aire que esperaba.

Yo conocí salones cenicientos,
túneles habitados por la luna,
hangares crueles que se despedían,
preguntas que insistían en la arena.

Todo estaba vacío, muerto y mudo,
caído, abandonado y decaído,
todo era inalienablemente ajeno,

todo era de los otros y de nadie,
hasta que tu belleza y tu pobreza
llenaron el otoño de regalos.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Before I loved you, Love, nothing was my own:
I wavered through the streets, among objects:
nothing mattered or had a name:
the world was made of air, which waited.

I knew rooms full of ashes,
tunnels where the moon lived,
rough warehouses that growled Get lost,
questions that insisted in the sand.

Everything was empty, dead, mute,
fallen, abandoned, and decayed:
inconceivably alien, it all

belonged to someone else-- to no one:
till your beauty and your poverty
filled the autumn plentiful with gifts.

--Pablo Neruda (ne Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Basoalto) (1904-1973), Chilean politician, diplomat, and poet, from 100 Love Sonnets, tr. Stephen Tapscott

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Cathedral of Rheims


(From the French of Emile Verhaeren)

He who walks through the meadows of Champagne
At noon in Fall, when leaves like gold appear,
Sees it draw near
Like some great mountain set upon the plain,
From radiant dawn until the close of day,
Nearer it grows
To him who goes
Across the country. When tall towers lay
Their shadowy pall
Upon his way,
He enters, where
The solid stone is hollowed deep by all
Its centuries of beauty and of prayer. 
Ancient French temple! thou whose hundred kings
Watch over thee, emblazoned on thy walls,
Tell me, within thy memory-hallowed halls
What chant of triumph, or what war-song rings?
Thou hast known Clovis and his Frankish train,
Whose mighty hand Saint Remy's hand did keep
And in thy spacious vault perhaps may sleep
An echo of the voice of Charlemagne.
For God thou has known fear, when from His side
Men wandered, seeking alien shrines and new,
But still the sky was bountiful and blue
And thou wast crowned with France's love and pride.
Sacred thou art, from pinnacle to base;
And in thy panes of gold and scarlet glass
The setting sun sees thousandfold his face;
Sorrow and joy, in stately silence pass
Across thy walls, the shadow and the light;
Around thy lofty pillars, tapers white
Illuminate, with delicate sharp flames,
The brows of saints with venerable names,
And in the night erect a fiery wall.
A great but silent fervour burns in all
Those simple folk who kneel, pathetic, dumb,
And know that down below, beside the Rhine --
Cannon, horses, soldiers, flags in line --
With blare of trumpets, mighty armies come.


Suddenly, each knows fear;
Swift rumours pass, that every one must hear,
The hostile banners blaze against the sky
And by the embassies mobs rage and cry.
Now war has come, and peace is at an end.
On Paris town the German troops descend.
They are turned back, and driven to Champagne.
And now, as to so many weary men,
The glorious temple gives them welcome, when
It meets them at the bottom of the plain.
At once, they set their cannon in its way.
There is no gable now, nor wall
That does not suffer, night and day,
As shot and shell in crushing torrents fall.
The stricken tocsin quivers through the tower;
The triple nave, the apse, the lonely choir
Are circled, hour by hour,
With thundering bands of fire
And Death is scattered broadcast among men.
And then
That which was splendid with baptismal grace;
The stately arches soaring into space,
The transepts, columns, windows gray and gold,
The organ, in whose tones the ocean rolled,
The crypts, of mighty shades the dwelling places,
The Virgin's gentle hands, the Saints' pure faces,
All, even the pardoning hands of Christ the Lord
Were struck and broken by the wanton sword
Of sacrilegious lust.
O beauty slain, O glory in the dust!
Strong walls of faith, most basely overthrown!
The crawling flames, like adders glistening
Ate the white fabric of this lovely thing.
Now from its soul arose a piteous moan,
The soul that always loved the just and fair.
Granite and marble loud their woe confessed,
The silver monstrances that Popes had blessed,
The chalices and lamps and crosiers rare
Were seared and twisted by a flaming breath;
The horror everywhere did range and swell,
The guardian Saints into this furnace fell,
Their bitter tears and screams were stilled in death.
Around the flames armed hosts are skirmishing,
The burning sun reflects the lurid scene;
The German army, fighting for its life,
Rallies its torn and terrified left wing;
And, as they near this place
The imperial eagles see
Before them in their flight,
Here, in the solemn night,
The old cathedral, to the years to be
Showing, with wounded arms, their own disgrace.

--Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918), American Roman Catholic writer and poet, who was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Ourcq in northern France on July 30, 1918.



Illustrations:
1) The restored Cathedral de Notre Dame de Reims now hosts a light show on its exterior during the summer (May-Sept) depicting what it may have looked like when it was painted.
2) The Cathedral was targeted several times by artillery during World War I, destroying its roof and burning its wooden interior.
3) The 13th century Rose Window, depicting the creation and fall, was one of the few things in the priginalc Cathedral to survive the wars that have damaged the building.