Do Good So That Goodness May Be Done

When the herald sounds the arrival of a Great One,
Heads turn.
Eyes focus on The Coming.
This is the goal, of course,
For greatness must be seen.

But
“Sound no trumpet,” said Jesus
To those who would do good for others.
Fold the bill to hide Ben Franklin’s face in the plate.
Avoid the conversational boast, so casual:
“When I took on my third Compassion child . . .”

In the synagogue,
In the streets,
In the moment,
Mute the fanfare,
Shut the door,
Shut your mouth.

And do good.

Do good, so that goodness may be done.
Do it for the Father who sees in secret
And for Him alone,
For His Greatness must be seen,
And this is your reward.

 


Because the Sermon on the Mount demands an exceeding and often unseen righteousness,

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Run Toward the Darkness with Borrowed Light

In times of danger and disaster throughout history, true believers have made their mark by running toward the darkness. Whether it was a plague in second century Rome or a twenty-first century hurricane in America’s deep south, if we follow Mr. Rogers’s advice and “look for the helpers,” we might be surprised by how many of them are Christians who have chosen to be part of this particular dark setting in order to put the Light of the World on display.

As Christians, we have no light of our own, but the nature of our Borrowed Light is so compelling that others are drawn to its warmth and luminosity, just as we are drawn to the borrowed light of the moon against an inky sky.  In her poetry collection (The Consequence of Moonlight: Poems), Sofia Starnes has expressed this exact quality of sainthood, the here-ness or there-ness of a life that “orbits the earth but [is] not of the earth.

It is the discipline of recalling the source of our Light that keeps the underlying Presence in proper view. G.K. Chesterton borrows the same reality for his own timeless metaphor, for “just as the sun and the moon look the same size” at first glance, a right understanding of the universe soon reveals that “the sun is immeasurably our master, and the small moon only our satellite.” (229)

An accomplished poetess, Starnes employs delightful wordplay to embody the intangible to convey the loveliness of her observations:

“I wonder how such puny a word as pit,
could be both seed and slum, both dormant agency
and tomb; both conflict verb–met up against–

and scoop; a stone that yields, yields small,
yet hurts the hand. I wonder how,
but pittances deceive; thus is the way of potency

and plea; the oil is notched by hooves
and by the Fall, and then by falling fledglings,
insecure.

How measured is the earth for gift and scar,
for creaks and croons, for the precarious child.”  (69)

Borrowed Light for Living

One of my favorite elements of poetic writing is the surprising Scriptural connections that arise. Writing of Israel’s waste and desolate places, the prophet Isaiah imagines the complaint of future generations:  “The place is too cramped for me, make room for me to live.” (Isaiah 49:20 ESV) The poem “Catacombs” (64) adds to the imagery with comparison to an 80-year-old woman’s real-life six-day confinement in earthquake rubble, prompting the reader to examine her own surroundings. From what cramped places may I also emerge unscathed and with a great story to share?

Let us continue to trust in the borrowed Light that dwells in power, living our way into richly share-able tales by holy risk and trusting in the the “Lord of spill and swell” (118). May we also, in our own day, run toward the darkness with a glorious excess–“not merely patched: pampered, festooned, unspent,” but instead (YES, Lord!) trusting in the future of “a risen body our flesh has never dreamt.” (118)

Many thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase The Consequence of Moonlight: Poems simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Rejoicing in the Brilliance of Our Borrowed Light,

Image Credit:  Calvin R. Morin (on the bridge to Rackliffe Island) 

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What You Believe About God Matters

What you believe about God matters.
Is He malleable, pliable, well-intentioned, but out of touch?
A bit like you, only ever-so-much-more-so?
Can you embrace the reality of a transcendent, crucified God who preceded matter
and interrupted the natural order “to save mankind in the awful shape of man?” (217)

What you believe about humanity matters.
Are we ever-improving, well-intentioned, but weak of heart?
A bit like God, only fatally subject to “common nonsense?” (212)

Far from the stuff of ivory towers,
my answer to these questions
flows like blood in the veins of my concept of morality,
stands like bones in the framework of my convictions on the boundaries of liberty and the nature of progress.

Orthodoxy reads the red letters of social justice alongside the venom of the angry psalms and the stories of Old Testament genocide and worships at the feet of God, incomprehensible.

Orthodoxy celebrates the boundaries of law as a “wall round the cliff’s edge” that shields God’s children from the “naked peril of the precipice.” (216) The orthodox dance with abandon inside the freedom of that wall of safety, singing and rejoicing within pleasure’s open-handed framework.

Orthodoxy is the exhale from newborn lungs, sweet and fragrant with contagious life, relieved to have left choking dogma behind in exchange for evidence that miracles actually do happen.

Orthodoxy is not deceived by the pull of lesser gods, but has discerned by grace that “just as the sun and the moon looked the same size” at first glance, a right understanding of the universe soon reveals that “the sun is immeasurably our master, and the small moon only our satellite.” (229)

The orthodox heart lives in anticipation, “always expecting to see some truth that she has never seen before” and always seeking “the fixed meaning” of everything, which will be revealed either in this life or the next. (231) She looks at the utilitarian rake and imagines fruition and flowers, at original sin and finds empathy. She embraces sorrow and mourning as part of being human, because underneath all of creation lies the truth that “joy . . . is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” (238)


And thus ends our journey through all nine chapters and 200 plus pages of G.K. Chesterton’s thoughts on  Orthodoxy!

I am grateful for your partnership in this adventure. Be sure to share your own thoughts in the comments below, and if you have written a blog post about the book, leave a link so we can continue the conversation at your place.

Because what we think about God matters,

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Summer Selah

There’s a reason why,
In the architecture of Your perfect poetry,
You ordained that this foundation of a phrase
Should bear repeating:

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Selah”  (Psalm 46:7 and 11)

Pausing at Your command
to reflect on words that should stop me in my tracks everyday
(but, often enough, do not),
I will carry the truth of Your presence
and Your protection
into this summer day.

Lord of hosts, God of incomparable power;
God of Jacob, the One Who knows me by name:

You are present
in the rich fruition of summer gardens
and in the joyful gatherings of family and friends–
evidence of Your delight in our pleasure.

You are my refuge
in the blazing heat of temptation
and in the drought of discouragement.

God of the Angel Armies,
God of the Old Testament Patriarchs,
God of Middle-Aged Mothers
who grow weary and fall short:

Thank you that Who-You-Are
redeems who-I-am.

Thank you for this pause–
the most productive moment of this summer day.

Selah

_The Lord of Hostsis with us;The God of Jacobis our refuge.Selah_

 

Thank you for pausing here with me here to read and reflect on truth,

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Half Way to Entirely

C.S. Lewis described the human condition as a process of always becoming more of what we already are. These are cautionary words for me at this point in middle age, particularly as I consider the possibilities. In Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the Teacher speaks regretfully of a seemingly harmless woman who has come to the end of her life, not as a “grumbler,” but as “only a grumble.”

It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. . . You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine. (74, 75)

Thanks be to God, it seems that this tendency can work in positive ways as well, and the poet Hayden Carruth bears witness to this, declaring in his “Testament”: “Now I am almost entirely love.” Whatever sifting and sandpapering process brought him to that state, his words inspired Jennifer Wallace as she collected an offering of her own poems.

In Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry) the reader is treated to the process of a woman becoming. As one who is “predisposed by nature to question everything,” (17) Wallace reconciles her doubts with the presence of a God who is well able to take in hand her persistent wondering. In the process, God shows up in both surprising and ordinary ways within the pauses:

  • In the foreordained turning of the head to view a crow in flight or a “squirrel passage, or a person with whom I share an ever-present reaching toward.” (20)
  • In a poignant pondering of “life’s second half”:

“Tell me, someone:
with the spade of days remaining,
how to turn the soil
and where.” (34)

Finding Joy in the Cup of Shadow

Far-from-glib reflections excavate grief and plumb the depths of disappointment with God, borrowing  words from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed to lament that faith can sometimes feel like “the rope that holds until we need it.” Wallace riffs on Psalm 23 when her “cup of shadow” (24) overflows, and she asks for grace to unbolt the door and walk into a season we’re so tempted to deny.

For most of us, by the time we reach middle age, the jarring truth has been well-established that “the world won’t behave, not even for me.” (39) We are ruefully accustomed to the phone call that describes the disappointing diagnosis of a parent, a friend, a spouse. These are the days when we awaken to an early dawn and begin to take attendance:

“Whose time will come next?
Storm taken.
War taken.
A tiny fracture in a cell.”

Even now, there is grace to find joy in a dusty yellow warbler who hops “in the autumn dogwood near the gate . . . on its way to Venezuela” (49) and to rejoice in the memory of a beautiful, normal day (77).

In every season of life, we dwell in the conflicted joy of The Two Pockets:

“In one is the message, ‘I am dust and ashes,’ and in the other, ‘for me the universe was made.'” Receiving the second in light of the first is the course of health and wholeness. This is enough. A simultaneous comprehension of these two truths will set us on a path that is almost entirely hope.Many thanks to Paraclete Press (here in beautiful New England!) for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry), simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you for joining me today on the path of hope,

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Welcome a New Season of Peaceful Change

Welcome the peaceful signs of this new season by
Beating your swords into plowshares.

Then go till up a garden!

Beat those blades back into swords again
And do battle against an ensnaring sin.

Don’t be anxious about
What is coming or
What might come.

Pick a bouquet just for today’s table.

Turn regret on its squeaky hinges
And resolve to make a change.

 

Blessings to you as we welcome the wonderful signs of spring!

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Easter Anthology

Pilate and Peter (and me)

The truth: Clean hands will not suffice

“What shall I do with Him called Christ?”
The truth:  clean hands will not suffice.
Your acts of treachery which rise
From disillusionment; your cries
Of protest which reveal your fear
Add to your guilt. Easter draws near.
Be still and let the rain of pure
Truth fall on you and make you sure.

The Body

Raise up the Body of Your Son and gain in us another one!
Incorporeal You are. Eyes
cannot see the face of God; prize
clues that tip Your holy hand;
We see what Your salvation planned.
Raise up the body of Your Son
and gain in us another one!


We know it!
Or at least, we profess to know it:  the truth of resurrection is foundational and credal. Even so, we hold fear and embrace darkness with steps weighted down. My prayer for us this Easter is that our steps and our hearts would be lightened by a new awareness of the truth of an empty tomb that spreads a layer of clear abundance across the sky of our lives throughout the year.

With Fear and Great Joy (Matthew 28:8)Run! Let's live in power going forward in that sacred knowing.

In the shadow of a lie, we
Know the truth:  The tomb was empty,
Yet we join the women at dawn
Knowing joy, but holding fear on
Hearts that know of resurrection,
But embrace death’s dark direction.
Run! Let’s live in power, going
Forward in that sacred knowing.


Poetry was meant to be heard, particularly rhymed poetry. The eye stops at the ends of lines and misses the scope of a sentence, but reading poetry aloud offers  the gift of a complete thought, rather than a series of bouncy phrases.

I confess to a certain prejudice against rhymed poetry.
When it’s good, it’s very good, but “Christian poetry” so often has settled for rollicking rhythm and cheap rhymes over content that I’ve hesitated even to experiment with it.

However, a few years ago I began playing with a very strict, metered form of rhymed couplets in iambic pentameter with eight syllables per line. (Can you find the line where I “cheated” on syllables?) This kind of verse is really more effective if it’s read aloud, so if you are in a place where you are able to, and if you have time, I encourage you to read this collection of poetry out loud to yourself.

Poet and theologian Rowan Williams observed that “poetry piles the pressure on theology–through imagery, sound, form, and figures of speech–to release wonder from the familiar.”

My hope is that you will enjoy that release of wonder somehow in the coming days, either through poetry or music or a fresh reading of Scripture that will enable you to penetrate the truth of Easter more deeply and to embrace it more passionately.

Jesus is Risen!
He is risen, indeed!

Going forward in that sacred knowing,

 


If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.