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Here’s a conversation I had on Monday.
Me: “I have to write my blog yet this week.”
Friend: “What are you going to write about?”
Me: “No idea. I feel like I have to wait to see where things are…who knows what we’ll know by Thursday.”
Friend: “True. You don’t know what you’ll be speaking into.”
Me: “And I feel like I’ve said what I need to say about stuff…as have others…hope, weariness, waiting, all that. Maybe I’ll just post a Mary Oliver poem. You never don’t need a Mary Oliver poem.”
Friend: “This is very, very true.”
But I won’t post a Mary Oliver poem. I’ll post a bunch of other poems.
Since September, our church has been working through a series called “Prayers of the Saints.” My worship coordinator and I compiled some of our favorite poem-prayers, written by Christians across the centuries. We matched each prayer with a Scripture text, which I preach on using the poem-prayer as an onramp. We arranged the series so that each prayer could be used as part of the liturgy, and the series would thus take us through an entire worship service worth of prayers. We then had to adjust the schedule to accommodate vacation plans and guest preachers, but in doing so, God worked out his own timing rather well.
Our opening words of praise, spoken as the leaves began to turn, came from Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Glory be to God for dappled things-
For skies of couple-color as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscapes plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
On Communion Sunday, we heard this plaintive cry from Christina Rossetti:
Have mercy, Thou my God; mercy, my God;
For I can hardly bear life day by day:
Be here or there I fret myself away:
Lo for Thy staff I have but felt Thy rod
Along this tedious desert path long trod.
When will thy judgment judge me, Yea or Nay?
I pray for grace; but then my sins unpray
My prayer: on holy ground I fool stand shod.
While still Thou haunts’t me, faint upon the cross,
A sorrow beyond sorrow in Thy look,
Unutterable craving for my soul.
All faithful Thou, Lord: I, not Thou, forsook
Myself; I traitor slunk back from the goal:
Lord, I repent; help Thou my helpless loss.
This past Sunday, as we prayed for our first congregants who have tested positive for Covid, and as we looked ahead to the election, we meditated on these familiar words from Julian of Norwich:
“All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
This coming Sunday, post-election but still very much in the throes of political uncertainty and Covid weariness and fear, we’ll hear these words from St. Teresa of Avila:
Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you,
all things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
(We were supposed to hear that poem in October, but with all the switches, that landed on the Sunday after the election. Chalk one up for God.)
Bookending the series are two poems by George Herbert, “Easter Wings 1 & 2.” Here’s #2.
My tender age in sorrow did begin:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sin,
That I became
Let me combine,
And feel this day thy victory:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
That second-to-last line has been, for me, the thread that holds this whole series together. “For if I imp my wing on thine.” This is the witness each saint has brought us, week after week, that the life lived with Christ is the life of hope. That in Christ, our weakness, our “imping,” is the very thing that allows us to experience his glory.
Each saint, through their words and their lives, has borne witness to us of the faithfulness of God, a faithfulness unalterable by our own shortcomings or sinfulness or the circumstances surrounding us. It has been immeasurably comforting to have lived life these last weeks with these saints as companions. May their words be of some comfort to you, today, as well.
P.S. – here’s some Mary Oliver after all, because you never don’t need Mary Oliver.
“Morning Poem” from Dream Work
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches–
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead–
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging–
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted–
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray