Archives For poetry

I had promised myself to post more here these days. To be a hunter of beauty and a finder of joy in a season where everywhere we look are reminders of fracturing and fragility. I don’t really believe that, though, I think. Lately I’ve been reminded of how whole and perfect and beautiful things are and are becoming. Staying away from the angry articles and interviews and response blogs and angry response blogs and retweeted tweets is helpful for that though. Eternity really is written on the hearts of men, but I guess sometimes we think hell is eternity and not heaven. I’ve been grateful for heaven this past week.

I went home and on my way there I sent a text to Nate: “Where is home for you?” I asked. “If there’s anywhere in the world that feels, smells, tastes like home, where is that, for you?” He responded a bit later. “Virginia or D.C., I thought, but now that we’re here, it doesn’t. Maybe Germany. Not Turkey. Not New Jersey. Not Michigan. Not Georgia. Maybe Texas, I lived there the longest. What about you?” I wasn’t sure how to answer but as I continued to drive north and the bite of cold worked its way into my bones and the leaves grew more and more brilliant, I knew it was here, or at least here was the way to home. Eternity is written on our hearts, but earth is worked into our soles, embedded there with soil and leaves and tastes and scents of home. And so, I went home for a few days and it was lovely. New York in the fall always is.

While I was there I made it my aim to spend time with two women I love and with whom my time is always too short when I stop there for a few days. We had good conversations and talked about hard things. Mostly they talked and I listened but I felt my heart swell with love for both of them. And I also felt it swell with the kind of admiration I want to have for more people and don’t. They are walking through hard, hard, hard things and doing it well. Broken, sad, hurting, questioning, but this is the kind of well I think more of us need to draw from. The deep and aching sob of hurt reaches down past the normalcy of everyday, the kinds of days full of predictable nonsense and unexpected joy. These wells are deeper than that and rare to find. I think of the book of Psalms, the 84th chapter:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

The valley of Baka, or Baca, means the valley of tears, and another translation says, “They make it a place of wells.” This is what tears do, if we’ll let them. They pool in us deep caverns of proven grace, proven character, and a proven God, and they become wells. Spring rains bring life and flowers and greens everywhere, but autumn rains pull the dead and dying leaves from their stark trees, making dead things seem deader. But the poet said once, “Be like the trees. Let the dead things drop.”

The dead things, I find, for me these days, are feelings of shame, fear, uncertainty. It has been a rocking year, one I would never repeat if offered prizes of greatest worth. Shame has been my constant enemy and fear its close neighbor, tears have felt at times like my only friend. But if I can just let this valley of tears pool itself into wells, I know there is sustenance to be found there. I believe it with all my heart.

. . .

I was glad to arrive at the weekend with no knowledge of any election news, no interviews with famous Christian women, and a naive belief that God was repairing and preparing this world instead of breaking it. I dipped my toe into the latest for a minute, but found the well of my tears a better pool to swim in these days. Here are some beautiful things I’ve read this week:

From John Blase (whose poetry you should be reading, and whose letters to Winn you should also be reading):
I’ll never forget that rainy day
I wore my Scout uniform to school
not knowing our meeting was cancelled.
Those were halcyon days before
group text messages and reverse 911s.

From Cloistered Away: Training sounds like such an intense word, but all it is: reestablishing the order and peace of the home. The goal isn’t to lead perfect lives; it’s to heed the red flags as helpful guides letting us know some things need to change. Today always offers a fresh start and new mercy. When life feels chaotic, here is what we do to cultivate peace in our home again.

From Literary Hub: Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences (many a writer, and God, I know I’m one, has worried about dying before the really crappy version is revised so that posterity will never know how awful it was). When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window (there should always be a window) and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.

This quote from George Eliot in her Letters to Miss Lewis keeps going round and round in my head. I read it many years ago think of it every autumn. I hope you love this season as much as I do, and if you don’t, I hope someday you do. Just because, no reason, just because. Below is a photo I took at home. I stood there and was reminded me of her Delicious Autumns.

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

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I have dreamed of doing laundry for a long time. I dreamed of a washing machine near my kitchen, the table piled high with his and hers and theirs, the backyard with a line strung through it, billowing sheets and hand-towels and discreet underthings with the sun bleaching everything to near new.

I dreamed of what that laundry meant and how it would be proof that life had settled and moved into a rhythm, not an easy one, but a known one. The poet, Richard Wilbur, says, “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry / Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam / And clear dances done in the sight of heaven,” so I cannot help myself for romanticizing it. Since I first read this poem I knew that if Love ever called me to the things of this world, this was the thing I wanted to be called to: nothing on earth but laundry, his and hers and theirs.

I think of this today and every day now because we live in a rental house where the laundry is tucked in a narrow closet in a small back room upstairs, where the doors aren’t level and never stay opened or closed, depending on what I want them to do. And where the washer, and the dryer above it, are barely large enough for a single load of hand-towels. The dryer finishes with a buzz so loud you can hear it on our back porch and front porch too. And the floors aren’t level and so for 45 minutes while the washer cleans, it also shakes our home near to falling apart. Every day I wonder, “Will this be the day it comes crashing through to the kitchen below?” This is not the laundry I imagined doing with my life.

I cried hard today on the phone with my husband. I knew I would before he called, I knew if he mentioned a certain string of words he is prone to mentioning these days in a certain order that all the things inside of me would break and be nudged out of their crevices and I would cry.

Richard Wilbur wrote also “The soul shrinks / From all that it is about to remember, / From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,” and I used to think I knew what that meant. Before the laundry of my life—and not my dreams—became reality. I imagine rows of people lining up to say in my general direction, but not to me, “I told her so.” I falter. I fall.

This is not the laundry I imagined once: the sort billowing on clotheslines in the backyards of cabins or farmhouses or small bungalows; the sort worn by people who knew a hard day’s work, but knew how to rest too; the sort where the lights and the darks never landed in the same heap in the corner of the closet, and where they always landed in baskets and not heaps in the corners of the closet to begin with.

This laundry is loud and hard and long and mixed and never ending. It is everywhere and always and all the time. It is folded and put away and then tomorrow it is in need of wash again. It never ends. It is the “punctual rape of every blessed day” and today I break with it. The washer is pounding itself into the wall again and the dog is barking downstairs and the door won’t stay open long enough for me to hold a basket and go out of it. There is work to be done for others and work to be done for myself and I am still wearing the shorts I pulled on at 5:47 this morning. I have not brushed my teeth. I have had three cups of coffee and three wide mouth Mason jars of water and the dog won’t stop whining and my husband and I are disagreeing in a frustratingly agreeable way and now the dryer is buzzing three times at me and I crumble because this is not the laundry I imagined.

I bring the basket of clean clothes into our closet and pull the necks of shirts over the cedar hangers. I catch a scent different than detergent. The scent of my husband. His dress shirts hanging above with a new rule instated by me: wear your shirts more than once because I cannot make laundry my whole life. I gather them in my hands and pull them close and inhale. The smell of work and soap and laundry and him, my love, my thing of this world.

Love does call us to the things of this world and it looks more like “clear dances done in the sight of heaven” than I thought it would. Quiet faithfulness, echoing silence, long days, little praise, the presence of God and a puppy and not much else. This was not the laundry I imagined, but it may be the laundry I needed.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
BY RICHARD WILBUR

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
“Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.”

generosity

On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around

we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

We should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbors goods
because there is not enough to go around

and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come—fleshed in Jesus.

and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing

we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.

It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance…mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness…
all things Easter new…
all around us, toward us and
by us

all things Easter new.

Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.
― Walter Brueggemann

A friend told me that he and I are farmers at heart, driven by seasons and weather, but that right now we’re called to cultivate people instead of earth. I cried when he said that because people are made of earth too, but it’s hard to tell with all the concrete around.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A few weeks ago I met with one of my pastors who stared incredulously at me when I listed all the things I’m doing and how spent by it all I am.

“Lore,” he said, “that’s because you’re a poet. You need time for reflection and perfection. And all this doesn’t seem conductive to that. You need time to sow.”

I nearly wept right there. It has been a long time since someone said those words to me and I had forgotten.

“You are a poet.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mondays are roommate nights in our house. We finish whatever chores are in our envelopes, cook dinner, set the table, sit in our respective chairs, and spend the next few hours being together. There is no agenda apart from that. We sow into one another with laughter, knowledge, prayer, questions.

The candles drip wax on our tablecloth, proof that dinner goes long and we are in no rush.

After the meal is finished we read the bible aloud. Last night we add some poetry (Walt Whitman) and the birth of Cain as told by Madeleine L’Engle. Then one pulls out her guitar and we sing. Not spiritual songs and hymns, but whatever comes to mind. We end the night going to separate rooms, but not before saying, “I love you,” to every one. Because in this home we are working the ground of Already and Not Yet.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I’ve been reading in Genesis this week, the creation account. Thinking about design and flaw, disobedience and animal skin, craftiness and provision. God gave his people what they needed, even after they chose exactly what they didn’t need. But before all that, he blessed them and gave them something to cultivate.

And God blessed them.

And God said to them,
“Be fruitful
multiply

fill the earth
subdue it,
have dominion
over the fish of the sea
over the birds of the heavens

over every living thing
that moves on the earth.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction,” and I think of rows of tilled soil whenever I think of that quote. Eugene Peterson used it as a title for his book on discipleship. What is discipleship if not cultivating the earth by cultivating people? And how do we cultivate people if we do not do the slow work of farming, working in proper seasons and times? Perhaps discipleship is the work of poets, those “holding onto the mystery of faith with clear consciences?” Poets are the the seers, the nuance holders, and the farmers.

“God, make me a poet of people.”

longobedience

The poverty of theological vocabulary results from the fact that most theologians are not full-fledged citizens of what Wordsworth called “the mighty world of eye and ear.” They do not speak a “language of the sense.” Theological vocabulary is the vocabulary of conception not perception.

Take from your shelf any commentary, introduction, history or systematic theology and look for words with some tactile, olfactory, visual, sonorous or saporous quality. They just aren’t there. Theological vocabulary does not include honeysuckle, orange, shady, giggle, juicy, willow, brine, mud, clover, concrete, feathery, pudding, chimney and the like.

Someone may suggest that theological language is poor for not using “the language of the sense” only insofar as a steam engine is poor for not using gasoline. Indeed, perhaps the language of the sense is for poets, and the other kind of language is for theologians. Personally, I am not ready to concede that theology must be done in the desert while poetry roams through forests, mountains and meadows.

Waking Up to our Mighty World

But even if theological vocabulary must remain poor, the point I want to make is this: “The mighty world of the eye and ear” is always there for us. It is very sad when anyone passes through life oblivious to the joys this world can quicken—like that joyful motion in your chest when from atop Mount Wilson you can see the sun boil its way into the Pacific; or like the quiet gladness of rising before the sun and smog to join the happy birds in welcoming the day.

There is an intimate relationship, however, between our power to enjoy a sensuous experience and our capacity to describe it with words. In “Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey” Wordsworth is not taken up nearly so much with the joy of revisiting the banks of the Wye as he is with the pleasure this moment will bring him in the coming years “recollected in tranquility.”

To put it simply, without a full and rich language of the sense, we will lose the enduring quality of our sensuous joys, and, what’s worse, with the atrophy of our descriptive capacities the power of all our enjoyment languishes. When you cease to use the word “tree” in your vocabulary, you have probably ceased to look at trees.

The Value of Stretching

The relation this has to theological vocabulary is this: The fastest and easiest way to obliterate the language of the sense and the power of the senses is to read only poverty-stricken theology. If we in seminary do not stretch ourselves beyond the pages of our dogmatics we shall all be dead by graduation day. And that evening, diploma in hand, we may lament with Samuel Coleridge,

All this long eve so balmy and serene
Have I been gazing on the Western Sky
And its peculiar tint of yellow green
And still I gaze—and with how blank an eye!

The Poverty of Theological Vocabulary is from Desiring God written by John Piper. A friend sent it to me this week and I loved it so much I wanted to share it with you all in its entirety. 

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Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.

Wendell Berry

Verb, Adjective, Noun.

This is the order in which we speak of walking the fast dog, or eating the good meal, or painting the blue wall. This is our syntax, familiar, but not poetic and it is poetry that stills me this morning and coasts me by all day.

Noun, Adjective, Verb—this is the way David sing-songs his worship in Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;

His precepts and laws are not millstones around my neck or burdens to slog through, but they revive my soul. They bring life to the ruminations of my mind, the emptiness of my own thoughts, and the deadness of earthly glory.

The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

He has done it before and He will do it again. He has brought us thus far and He will bring us all the way in. He has begun and He will finish. This is the testimony He bears and this makes everything else pale in comparison. It is simple, easy, and profoundly wise, what He has done.

The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

He gives us a blueprint, a “this is the way, walk in it,” and a narrow path, and yet none of this steals my joy but brings me further into it. This map shows me how to lift up my head and rejoice in my heart.

The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;

His commandments, though I do not always understand them, why they feel constraining and at times unfair, why they do not fit my western perceptions of righteous, just, and at times emotional desires, they are pure. They are absolutely pure, undefiled, a gift, and this opens my eyes to see His glory.

The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;

Like Isaiah, I see Him and I tremble because He is so great and I am so, so small. But my fear is clean, without the earth encrusted baggage I attach to my fear of the dark, of being alone, or not getting what I want. This fear is palmed up and free. His awe endures forever.

The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

He can be trusted. He is righteous. Altogether righteous. Altogether true.

The kingdom is backwards sometimes and I have to remember that. The world says to love this way or earn this way or be this way or learn this way, and the Kingdom flips our syntax on its head: look this way, it says, look at your King this way and find the fullness of Joy there.

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When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

by Wendell Berry