Saturday, June 30, 2018

Annunciation (From the Grass Beneath Them)

how many moments did it hover before we felt

it was like nothing else, it was not bird

light as a mosquito, the aroma of walnut husks

while the girl's knees pressed into us

every spear of us rising, sunlit and coarse

the wild bees murmuring through

what did you feel when it was almost upon us when

even the shadow her chin made

never touched but reached just past

the crushed mint, the clover clustered between us

how cool would you say it was

still cool from the clouds

how itchy the air

the girl tilted and lurched and then

 we rose up to it. held ourselves tight

when it skimmed just the tips of our blades

didn't you feel softened

no, not even its flickering light trembled

-- Mary Szybist (1970- ), from Incarnadine, 2013 (National Book Award winner)

Image: The Annunciation (Evangelismos), orthodox icon from the Church Mueum of the Bishopry of Thessaloniki, 1825, anonymous

Friday, June 29, 2018

Veni Creator

Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.
I am only a man: I need visible signs.
I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction.
Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church
lifts its hand, only once, just once, for me.
But I understand that signs must be human,
therefore call one man, anywhere on earth,
not me—after all I have some decency—
and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.

--Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) Polish poet and emigre, translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Pinsky

1)Angel statue in Christ Church Cathedral, where I and my friends Maria and Andrew were ordained to the priesthood one year ago today. The Veni Creator Spiritus was sung at our ordination.
2) Andrew, Maria, and I on our ordination night.

The Altar

A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears, 
Made of a heart and cemented with tears; 
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame; 
No workman's tool hath touch'd the same. 
A HEART alone 
Is such a stone, 
As nothing but 
Thy pow'r doth cut. 
Wherefore each part 
Of my hard heart 
Meets in this frame 
To praise thy name. 
That if I chance to hold my peace, 
These stones to praise thee may not cease. 
Oh, let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine, 
And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine. 

-- George Herbert (1593-1633), Anglican poet and priest

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Two Voices in a Meadow

              A Milkweed
Anonymous as cherubs
Over the crib of God,
White seeds are floating
Out of the burst pod.
What power had I
Before I yearned to yield?
Shatter me, a great wind:
I shall possess the field.

              A Stone
As casual as cow-dung
Under the crib of God,
I lie where chance would have me
Up to the ears in sod.
Why should I move? To move
Befits a light desire.
The sill of Heaven would founder,
Did such as I aspire.

--Richard Wilbur (1921-2017), from The Echoing Green: Poems of Fields, Meadows, and Grasses, 2016

Milkweed and stones, Windridge Solitude Retreat Center, June 26, 2017.

On the Grasshopper and the Cricket

The poetry of earth is never dead
    When all the birds are faint with the hot sun
    And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead,
That is the Grasshopper's-- he takes the lead
    In summer luxury-- he never has done
    With his delights, for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
    On a lone winter evening, when the frost
        Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket's song, in warmth increasing ever,
    And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
        The Grasshopper's among some grassy hills.

--John Keats (1795-1821), from The Echoing Green: Poems of Fields, Meadows, and Grasses, 2016

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

And Of Everything Earthly There Remained

And of everything earthly there remained
Only your daily bread,
A fellow man's kind word,
And the pure voice of the field.

--Anna Akhimatova (1889-1966), translated by Judith Hemschemeyer, from The Echoing Green: Poems of Fields, Meadows, and Grasses, 2016

When I Consider How my Light is Spent (On His Blindness)

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent 
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

--John Milton (1608-1674), English Puritan poet and civil servant, writing on his blindness, which was complete by 1660

Scripture allusion: Matthew 11:28-30 -- "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Prayer (Opening Ourselves to God in Silence)

Teach us, O God, that silent language which says all things.
Teach our souls to remain silent in Your presence;
     that we may adore You in the depths of our being,
     and await all things from You, 
     while asking of You nothing
     but the accomplishment of Your will.
Teach us to remain quiet under Your action
     and produce in our souls that deep and simple prayer
     which says nothing and experiences everything,
     which specifies nothing and includes everything.

Do pray in us,
     that our prayer may ever tend to Your glory,
     and our desires and intentions may not be fixed on ourselves,
     but wholly directed to You. 

-- Pere Jean Grou, cited in Evelyn Underhill's Prayer Book

Picture: Labyrinth outside St. James Cathedral, Chicago, October 2016.

To Live in the Mercy of God

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
before ribs of shelter

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
as salt water
would hold you,
once you dared.


To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
flung on resistance.

-- Denise Levertov (1923-1997), English/American poet, from Sands of the Well, 1996, in The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov, 2013

Photo: Muir Woods Canopy, summer 2012.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Prayer for Light (at Evening)

The heaven, O Lord,
is bright with the clear shining of the stars,
and the earth is serene with radiant light,
since You have shone upon the world
from Your holy habitation.
Chase then, we ask You,
all darkness from our minds.
Kindle our hearts
with the splendour of Your grace.
Enlighten our eyes
with the radiance of Your brightness,
that we may attain to see You for ever. 

--Mozarabic prayer from Evelyn Underhill's Prayer Book 

Image from the Hubble telescope.

For grace

Let us find grace in Your sight, O Lord; that we may have grace to serve You acceptably with reverence and godly fear. And let us also have that second grace, not to receive that grace in vain, or to fall short of it: at least in any wise not so to neglect it as to fall from it, but to stir up and rekindle it, so as to grow in it, and abide in it, to the end of our life.

And, O, make perfect to us that which is lacking to us in Your gracious gifts:
Of faith, add to our little faith.
Of hope, confirm our trembling hope.
Of love, kindle its smoking flax.
Shed abroad in our hearts Your Love; that we may love You, and our friends in You, and our enemies for You.
You, who give grace unto the humble, even to us, give grace to be humble.
You, who never give up them that fear You, unite our hearts to fear Your Name; and be this fear our confidence.

-- Launcelot Andrewes (1555-1626), English bishop, theologian, and scholar, cited by Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), in Evelyn Underhill's Prayer Book

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Garden

There is a fenceless garden overgrown
With buds and blossoms and all sort of leaves;
And once, among the roses and the sheaves,
The Gardener and I were there alone.

He led me to the plot where I had thrown
The fennel of my days on wasted ground,
And in that riot of sad weeds I found
The fruitage of a life that was my own.

My life! Ah, yes, there was my life indeed!
And there were all the lives of humankind;
And they were like a book that I could read,
Whose every leaf, miraculously signed,
Outrolled itself from Thought's eternal seed.
Love-rooted in God's garden of the mind.

-- E. A. Robinson (1869-1935) American poet and Pulitzer Prize winner

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Of all that God has shown me

Of all that God has shown me
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honey bee
Takes on his foot
From an overspilling jar.

--Mechtild of Magdeburg (1207-1282) Christian mystic writer and Beguine (translated by Jane Hirshfield)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Night Prayer

O my Lord,
the stars glitter
and the eyes of men are closed.
Kings have locked their doors
and each lover is alone with his love.

Here, I am alone with you.

--Rabi’a (Basra, 717-801), female Sufi poet and mystic (translated by Jane Hirshfield)

The version of this prayer that was in Evelyn Underhill's Prayer Book is as follows:

O Lord, the stars are shining and all things take their rest; and kings have shut their doors and every lover is alone with his beloved: and here I am alone with You.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Props assist the House

Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Auger and the Carpenter—
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life—
A past of Plank and Nail
And slowness—then the Scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul.

--Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet, written ca. 1863

Image: Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, 1936, in Stewart Township, PA.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Prayer for my Daughter

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

--William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), Irish poet and nationalist

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


     And see the rivers how they run,
Thro' woods and meads, in shade and sun,
Sometimes swift, sometimes slow,
Wave succeeding wave, they go
A various journey to the deep
Like human life to endless sleep!
Thus is nature's vesture wrought,
To instruct our wand'ring thought;
Thus she dresses green and gay,
To disperse our cares away,
   Ever charming, ever new,
When will the landskip tire the view!
The fountain's fall, the river's flow,
The woody vallies, warm and low,
The windy summit, wild and high,
Roughly rushing on the sky!
The pleasant seat, the ruin'd tow'r,
The naked rock, the shady bow'r;
The town and village, dome and farm,
Each give each a double charm,
As pearls upon an AEthop's arm.
     See on the mountain's southern side,
Where the prospect opens wide,
Where the evening gilds the tide;
How close and small the hedges lie!
What streaks of meadows cross the eye!
A step methinks may pass the stream,
So little distant dangers seem;
So we mistake the future's face,
Ey'd through hope's deluding glass;
As yon summits soft and fair,
Clad in colours of the air,
Which to those who journey near,
Barren, brown, and rough appear;
Still we tread the same coarse way,
The present's still a cloudy day.

--John Dyer (1699-1757), Welsh poet, painter, and Anglican priest

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Plea for Mercy

When I am brought before the Lord
What can I say to him
How plead for mercy?

I'll say I loved
My husband and the five
Children we had together
Though I was most unworthy

I'll say I loved
The summer mornings
I loved the way the sun comes up
And sets the dew on fire
I loved the way
The cobwebs shine
On the tall grass
When they are strung with dew

I'll say I loved
The way that little bird
The titmouse flies
I'll say I loved
Its lightness
And beauty.

-- Anne Porter (1911-2011), American poet, from Living Things: Collected Poems, 2006

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ruba'i (Quatrain)

As salt resolved in the ocean
I was swallowed in God’s sea,
Past faith, past unbelieving,
Past doubt, past certainty.

Suddenly in my bosom
A star shone clear and bright;
All the suns of heaven
Vanished in that star’s light.

--Rumi (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī) (1207-1273), Turkish Sufi mystic and poet

Photo: Sunrise, Tambor, Costa Rica, March 2018.


The power of the Father, guide and guard us.
The wisdom of the Son, enlighten us.
The working of the Spirit, quicken us.
Guard our souls.
Strengthen our bodies.
Our senses, refine; our conduct, correct; our characters, set in tune.

Bless our actions:
perfect our prayers:
breathe into us holy thoughts.
Our sins that are past, forgive,
our present sins, amend,
and future sins, prevent.

Unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly, far beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us: to Him be glory in the Church in Christ unto all generations. 

--Launcelot Andrewes (1555-1626) collected by Evelyn Underhill, in Evelyn Underhill's Prayer Book.

Scripture reference: Ephesians 3:20-21

Photo: window in La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, May 2015.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The saints

Give us light, O Lord, that contemplating the love and patience of Jesus and His saints, we may be changed into love and patience.
Take from us, by the contemplation of their example, all selfishness.
Take from us all softness.
Take from us all delicacy and fastidiousness.
Take from us all cowardice and timidity.
Take from us all self-love.

Give us a share in their spirit of endurance.
Give us a love of labour.
Give us a love of the cross.
Give us a love of hardships.
Give us a spirit of courage.
Give us a spirit of surrendered trust.
That we may be willing to spend ourselves and to be spent for the sake of Your children, in union with Your self-giving love.

--Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), English Anglo-Catholic mystic, retreat-leader, and writer, whom we remember today in the calendar of saints, from Evelyn Underhill's Prayer Book.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

--Mary Oliver (1935- ), American poet, from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, 2010

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Thrush

When Winter's ahead,
What can you read in November
That you read in April
When Winter's dead?

I hear the thrush, and I see
Him alone at the end of the lane
Near the bare poplar's tip,
Singing continuously.

Is it more that you know
Than that, even as in April,
So in November,
Winter is gone that must go?

Or is all your lore
Not to call November November,
And April April,
And Winter Winter—no more?

But I know the months all,
And their sweet names, April,
May and June and October,
As you call and call

I must remember
What died into April
And consider what will be born
Of a fair November;

And April I love for what
It was born of, and November
For what it will die in,
What they are and what they are not,

While you love what is kind,
What you can sing in
And love and forget in
All that's ahead and behind.

--Edward Thomas (1878-1917), English writer and poet, killed at the Battle of Arras on April 9, 1917.

Bicknell's thrush

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


Grant us, O God, the strength to persevere:
honesty, humility and endurance therein.
So govern our desires that we may ever seek You;
never be content with less than You;
never decline from You
from weariness, self-indulgence or indifference;
never mistake the beauty of Your works for You, the perfect beauty.

When the way is too hard, give us courage.
When the landscape is too fair, give us purity of sight.
Give us, above all, strength to give ourselves back to You,
for we know that only thus we can achieve You.

And when our powers are dim and we can no longer seek You, seek us of Your infinite mercy and open our eyes on the light of Your love. Ask for the peace of God. 

--Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), English Anglo-Catholic mystic, writer, and retreat leader, from Evelyn Underhill's Prayer Book.

Monday, June 11, 2018


You have said, O Lord:
blest are the pure in heart,
for they shall see You.
O sight to be wished, desired and longed for;
because once to have seen You
is to have learnt all things.
Nothing can bring us to this sight but love.
But what love must it be?
Not a sensible love or a childish love,
a love that seeks itself more than the beloved.
It must be an ardent love,
a constant love:
not worn out with labours,
not daunted with any difficulties.
For the soul that has set her whole love and desire on You
shall never find any true satisfaction,
but only in You.

--Dame Gertrude More (1606-1633) English Benedictine nun and founder of Stanbrook Abbey, collected by Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), in Evelyn Underhill's Prayer Book.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

O my Lord

O my Lord,

if I worship you
from fear of hell, burn me in hell.

If I worship you
from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship you
for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.

--Rabi'a al-Basri (717-801), Sufi mystic, translated by Jane Hirschfeld

Rabi'a was an influence on Evelyn Underhill.