The Way of the Cross

On the Wednesday of Holy Week, for the seventh year in a row, I have had the pleasure of presenting the Way of the Cross along with several teens from my churches. The teens present each station as a stationary tableau, each full of potential energy, but each remaining still. It’s quite a moving service, and the teens always do an amazing job. To accompany their presentation, I wrote a series of musical stations, which I present below in a slightly compact form.

I hope they bless your Holy Week observation as much as singing them blesses mine. Continue reading “The Way of the Cross”

Lake Logan

lakeloganNo sermon from me this week, since I was at a conference called CREDO in North Carolina. Instead, here’s something I wrote during a silent Saturday morning, when I was able to get quiet enough to write poetry.

If a tree were unable to sway
It would break
At the first puff of air
Strong enough to ruffle its branches.
So it is with me.
The wind whips and howls here
In this valley between two mountains,
All sound and fury, signifying everything.
The water in the narrow lake ripples,
Then whitecaps leap and curl,
And the trees bend.
How is it possible?
How can they grow straight and tall,
Spindled columns connecting earth and sky,
And yet sway when the wind blows?
I watch them now – evergreens mostly,
With branches high up their trunks –
And a hypnotic peace breathes itself into me.

I notice a finch –
Or some other tiny bird
(I don’t know the difference) –
Land halfway up the bare trunk
Of the largest tree in front of me.
This one’s not an evergreen,
And the first promises of new growth
Are visible at the tips of its branches.
The finch (do they have finches in North Carolina?)
Starts climbing the trunk.
It doesn’t fly up, but hops little hops skyward –
Twenty or thirty feet, a few inches at a time.
Why doesn’t it fly?
Perhaps the wind is too strong,
Would blow the tiny bird off course
If it let go the trunk.
I wonder what its course is.
Where is it going
That a climb up the trunk would suffice?
Whenever I walk in the wind,
I imagine being lighter than I am,
Imagine floating off to God knows where.
God knows where:
Where the finch is traveling,
Where I am traveling.

Seeing the finch reminds me:
I heard tell that a bald eagle patrols Lake Logan,
And suddenly my only desire is to see him,
See him glide through the valley,
Not fighting the wind, nor hiding from it,
But soaring on it.
I stare out past the swaying trees,
Hoping my desire might resonate
Along one of the strings of creation
(The eternal music that God began
With the opening consonance of light)
And twinge the soul of the eagle
To take flight and give me something truly memorable
To treasure in my heart.
But this desire is selfish – I know –
And selfishness does not resonate,
But plays a discordant note,
A quarter-tone flat
And expects the rest of the orchestra
To re-tune their instruments accordingly.

Instead of the eagle,
I am blessed to witness a pair of geese
Skim the surface of the lake
And land atop the water
Sending ripples ahead of them,
Announcing their arrival.
If I had not been looking for the eagle
I would not have noticed the geese,
And they, too, are a gift.
I thank God that my selfish desire
Did not blind me to the gift of the geese,
The ripples catching the mid-morning light,
The water returning to relative calm,
Moved now only by the wind.

Another gust pummels the trees,
And they bend dutifully,
And again I marvel at their swaying.
How is it possible?
The answer comes to me on the wind,
Breathes into me,
Nestles in my heart:
The treasure I receive
Rather than the one I desired.
“You see only part of the tree,” says the wind.
Yes, of course, I had forgotten.
The tree began in the dark earth,
Playing its nascent notes,
A piccolo trill,
A rat-a-tat of the snare.
And then it began to grow –
Both up and down.
The roots reach deeper and deeper;
Stretch through the soil;
Brush the bedrock;
Hold fast.
The trunk above sways in the gale
And does not break,
But moves where the wind directs.
Oh God, I pray,
Make it so with me.

After sharing this with a few people at the conference, I was informed that the tiny bird I saw was in all likelihood a Carolina Wren. But I wanted to preserve the authenticity of my wonderings (this is a stream-of-consciousness poem after all), and I personally know exactly zero about birds.

The Box Garden

TheBoxGardenThe ministry intern at St. Mark’s preached yesterday, so I have no sermon to offer to the Internet this morning. Instead, I held on to the following for just such an occasion, and I am glad to share it today. In August, I attended a training event called Living in the Green up in Hartford. It was a lovely training, which paired personal storytelling and deep sharing of convictions, values, hopes, and dreams with some nuts-and-bolts activities designed to move abstract conviction into concrete action. We had some time to journal following a session on the second day, during which I had been caught by the phrase “to pay attention.” That phrase was the genesis of the following poem which I wrote over the course of the hour or so following the session. I shared it with my colleagues at the training and now am happy to share it with you.

The Box Garden (August 20, 2015)

The tomato plants in the box garden
are fruiting right now.
When I walk up the back steps,
I see, peeking among the shoots,
a slippery red – here and there –
and my heart rejoices.
And before I pick the ripe ones,
before I even walk to the box,
I can taste the acidic sweetness
and feel the pulp roll around my tongue.

Each day, I anticipate seeing new ripeness,
and some days I am rewarded.
But not every day.
Some days the tomatoes are there,
but they are still green,
still growing, still emerging.
And from the back steps I can’t see them.
The next day a shock of red arrives,
and I know the tomato was there yesterday, too,
but it wasn’t ready yet.
The tomato was there, but camouflaged,
hidden until its taste blossoms
to meet the bite in my imagination.

Other days I have my head down,
and I trudge up the back steps
with the weight of too many lives
leadening my feet.
On those days, I don’t lift my eyes
to survey the box garden.
The dash of red dances on the periphery
of my vision, but I don’t acknowledge it.
Instead, I go inside and slump down.
And the next day,
the red remains, but its luster is gone.
It has rotted on the vine
like stored up manna.
And all because I was too caught up
to pay attention.

“Pay attention.”
It’s a curious phrase.
There is a transaction at stake,
A cost to be paid.
That cost is my “attention”;
my willingness to engage
Perceive
Embrace
Dwell
Awaken.
If I have paid this cost,
I wonder what I get in return.
A life lived in God, certainly.
But there is no quid pro quo here.
The presence of God abides always –
Awakens in me, awakens me.
And so the goods I receive
and the cost I paid
are one in the same.

My capacity to remain awake to God
is the first gift,
which allows the tasting of all others:
The acidic sweetness, yes,
And also the saltiness of tears,
the meaty savoriness of ragged love,
the bitterness of brokenness,
The broken bread, the cup poured out.
I pay attention when I lift these gifts to God,
or at least I try to.
I smell the flour
stuck to the round loaf
to keep it from sticking to the pan.
I smell the wine, too,
redolent of celebration.
I pay attention to each pair of hands
that receives the bread of heaven,
and I know that as I place it in those hands,
it is the Body of Christ.

But today is not Sunday,
And so I try to pay attention to other things:
The seagulls cartwheeling overhead,
the tangled man asleep
on a stone bench in the town square,
the box garden as I climb the back steps.
And for today, I know the reward
for my paying attention.
Today, it is one ripe tomato.