Archives For Poems

photoThis is a more personal post born out of our trip to Saipan for the wedding of our son Nathan and Isa our new daughter (who was born and raised in Saipan!) The poem below may only be for me to capture the experiences of culture, history, beauty, and family. But hopefully it can speak to you as well. The picture here relates to the poem.

Saipan is the largest of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The native people group and language is Chamorro. The culture is wonderfully hospitable and family oriented. The island was occupied by the Spanish, Germans, Japanese, and is now a U.S. Commonwealth. A decisive and terrible battle was fought here in World War II with American forces defeting the entrenched Japanese army. The Island of Tinian, 3 miles away, was the place from which the Enola Gay took later flight to drop the first atomic bombs.

Three large military cargo ships are stationed off shore and have become a part of the landscape. They were part of the lasting impression that became a metaphor of sorts. Here’s the poem.

Saipan ~ Summer 2013

Another taste of Pacific paradise:
Sunset addictions satiated
Encore after encore…
“Just wait – there’s more!”

Cultural sensations brimming
History to learn, and learn from
Familial cup keeps overflowing
New daughter, new village.

And these giant ships offshore?
Keepers and Intruders of the Peace
“USS Never-move”
dubs the Chamorro Elder!

Yet each evening’s masterpiece
Melts them into strange beauty
Outdated specks on the canvas
of New Creation
coming.

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narniaI try to always read some poetry on my day off – my Sabbath Monday. This poem by Anne Porter struck me in a unique way. It reminds me of my part in the brokenness inflicted by sin. My “blind complicity” as she says in the third stanza. How I dismiss people in their wounded state, “as if I were not one of them.”

The last lines remind me of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan’s resurrection ushers in the spring of the New Creation!

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded 
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.

“A Short Testament” by Anne Porter, from Living Things.
reprinted in The Writer’s Almanac

pentecost

Last Sunday marked the coming of the Holy Spirit to the new community of Jesus called the Church! Nothing would remain the same!

Malcolm Guite, poet, Anglican priest, and song-writer has written a whole book of sonnets for the Christian Year. I want to share his beautiful rendering of Pentecost.

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings,
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays,
Today the church draws breath at last and sings,
As every flame becomes a tongue of praise.
This is the feast of Fire, Air, and Water,
Poured out and breathed and kindled into Earth.
The Earth herself awakens to her maker,
Translated out of death and into birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release.
Today the Gospel crosses every border,
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace.
Today the lost are found in his translation,
Whose mother-tongue is love, in every nation.

I love the implications of Pentecost for the world-wide spread of the Gospel. Note the play on words in the last two lines.  We speak of something being “lost in translation.” With the coming of the Spirit and the Church charged with making disciples of all peoples, NO ONE need be “lost in translation.” Every nation knows the language of love that comes from God!

George Herbert’s poem, Prayer (I) is a dense cascade of metaphors, ending in the simple phrase, “something understood.” Here is the poem, followed by helpful commentary by an Australian theologian and blogger, Ben Myers.  

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
         God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
         The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
         Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
         The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

The whole poem comes rushing out as a single breathless exhilarating sentence, piling image upon image in a kind of rhapsodic abandon. The images are startling, contradictory, incapable of conceptual reduction. Prayer is as gentle as breath or the fragrance of spices, yet it is also a violent ‘engine against th’ Almightie’, a battering ram with which the Christian lays siege against God. It is as soothing as ‘a kinde of tune’, yet it’s a tune that strikes ‘fear’ into the heart of all creation. It is exotic, strange, inexplicable – the Milky Way, the bird of paradise, the land of spices – yet also as homely and familiar as dressing in one’s Sunday best. Yes, prayer is heaven, but it is ‘heaven in ordinarie’. It maps out the contours of the inner self – ‘the soul in paraphrase’, ‘the souls bloud’ – but also reaches ‘beyond the stars’. It’s like a ship’s sounding line, not dropped into the sea but cast up into the sky, a ‘plummet sounding heav’n’. Similarly, it is ‘reversed thunder’: Jove’s thunder is turned back on himself, a bolt shooting up from earth to heaven.

These dizzying spatial images stretch the imagination beyond its furthest limits. The stage on which prayer takes place is infinitely vast. Yet juxtaposed with this immensity is the image of prayer as ‘the soul in paraphrase’, a tiny abridgement of all the depths and complexities of a human story. Indeed prayer is an hour-long abridgement of the whole ‘six daies world’ – an image that at once evokes the huge dimensions of prayer and its minute scale. It is a gigantic mystery that sounds the most profound depths, yet so small you can fit it in your pocket…

In the final stanza, all the senses are engaged. Prayer is soft and supple to touch; it tastes like manna; it is the vision of a star-filled sky; it smells like the land of spices; it sounds like the distant peal of bells (either earth’s bells heard in heaven, or heavenly bells heard on earth: Herbert is tantalisingly ambiguous). This explosion of sensual imagery doesn’t serve conceptual clarity. What would church bells sound like if they echoed from another galaxy? What does an exotic country smell like, a country you’ve never visited? Come to think of it, what exactly does heavenly manna taste like? If these images teach us something about prayer, it is primarily by destabilising our understanding, driving us to the brink of an unspeakable mystery.

And so the whole great cascade of imagery is finally resolved in just two words, ‘something understood’… In Herbert’s poem one anticipates a resolution, but it never seems to arrive – until it suddenly interrupts the final line in a way that is startling, abrupt, unexpected. Just as prayer abridges all history into an hour, so the whole poem is condensed into these closing words. What is prayer? It is ‘something understood’. These are the only words in the poem that are not wrapped up in some imagery: here there is neither concept nor imagery, only a quiet understanding.

The real purpose of all the conflicting images was simply to clear this space – not, in fact, a space for understanding (as though the poem were trying to ‘explain’ prayer), but a space for prayer itself. As talk-about-prayer passes over into praying, something is understood that language can never capture. In fourteen lines we have plumbed heaven and earth, feasted and made war, spanned all the farthest reaches of time and space. But now – as so often in Herbert – we find ourselves kneeling alone in the dusky light of a little country church, listening softly to that profound yet homely silence. Here at last, where understanding ceases, prayer is understood.

Certainly, then, there is something akin to an apophatic moment. The moment of silent understanding, however, occurs not in opposition to the clumsy limitation of language, but within it. It is Herbert’s first thirteen-and-a-half lines that create the experience of the poem’s close. It’s not as though there were first of all a sheer wordless experience of prayer, which is subsequently described in words. Rather the poetic language itself creates the conditions for an experience of silence. Wordless prayer is a possibility within language. Contemplative silence is the calm eye at the centre of the roiling storm of language.

To put it another way, Herbert’s poem is not about the poverty of human language, but about the inexhaustible riches of prayer. Prayer is too much – too much for language, too much even for poetry. More than anywhere else in Herbert’s poetry, we catch a glimpse here of language straining against its own possibilities – not as one struggles against a straitjacket, but as a horse champs at the bit before a race, straining because there is too much to say. Silence is not the phenomenon that ensues when language reaches its limit, much less some primordial pre-linguistic abyss from which language subsequently emerges. In the company of a close friend, I sometimes find myself reduced to silence. Not because the relationship is wordless (nothing is more verbose than friendship), but because in friendship one can never say enough; the real goal of friendship is to talk your way into silence. This is just what Herbert portrays in so many of his poetic conversations with God. One can never say enough to God. And so, in its fullness, language ripens into silence. Language is outrun by its own resources, it spills over into the baffled joy of contemplation.

George Herbert wrote a wonderful poem reminiscent of Augustine’s words, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in You.”

Herbert’s poem goes to a deeper place…
of loving God for Himself and not for His great blessings!

The Pulley

  When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
   Contract into a span.”
___
   So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
   Rest, in the bottom lay.
___
   “For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
   So both should losers be.
___
   “Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
   May toss him to my breast.”

Q – Do you ever find yourself adoring God’s gifts instead of God?

7thSinaiAscension300Today marks the Ascension of Christ in the Western Church – 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection. Why is it so vital (and yet often neglected?)  Read this post: “Why the Ascension Matters To Our Mission.”

I’d like to share a poem – a  sonnet – that draws out the profound beauty and power of Christ’s Ascension! Read it out loud – more than once!

Ascension Day, by Malcolm Guite

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place,
As earth became part of heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted,
He took us with him to the heart of things,
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and heaven-centered now, and sings;
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light;
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed.

– Sounding the Seasons, p.45

excellenceMy working definition of Excellence in the Christian context is this:

Honoring God with our BEST in everything we do!

Listen to the teaching on Excellence for the Glory of God here.

Do to the snow storms of the last two weeks, many were not able to be at Christ Church for this last in the series on What is God Calling Christ Church To Be? so I encourage you to take a few moments to get caught up.

A quote and a poem:

“It is my firm conviction that those who impact and reshape the world for God are those who are committed to living above the level of mediocrity.”

(Chuck Swindoll, Rising Above the Level of Mediocrity)

Life is a leaf of paper white
Whereon each one of us may write
His word or two, and then comes night.
Greatly begin! though thou have time
But for a line, be that sublime–
Not failure, but low aim, is crime.

(James Russell Lowell)

QUESTION: Do you have a commitment to excellence?  If not, what will grow that commitment?