Annunciation

Spiraling out in far-off galaxies,
a future unrecognizable,

vast and imperceptible
like the magnetic fields of earth,

subtle as the change of seasons
or the aging of a mountain,

a barely discernible shift
in how we pass each other on the street,

a knowing of belovedness,
mighty, without bounds or end,

a divine intent, heaven's desire,
somehow weaving its root hairs

beneath our foundations, over
the heads of our politicians,

somehow, here, blossoms
in you.

December 19, 2018

Leap

         When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
         the child leaped in her womb.

                  Luke 1.41


God, something in me leaps with joy
when I sense you near.
Something holy in me
dances at the sound of your voice.
Something in me rushes forward
as when sisters long apart reunite,
like lovers meeting.
I confess I ignore the leaping,
I suppress the dance,
I muffle the song.
Give me faith to leap,
to weep, to lean toward you.
Set me free to desire you near,
to delight in your presence,
to lose composure at your touch.
You who are coming,
give me faith to run to greet you.

December 18, 2018

Joseph's other dream

Joseph huddles with Mary in the cold,
a little unsure, so far from home.
But God has been with them so far....
He gazes at the fragile child,
holy but spurned, adored but hunted.

Mary has told him of her angel,
and he has dreamed of his own.
He has dreamed as well of fleeing,
refugees, dreamed of Herod and his edicts.
He hasn't spoken of his other dream,
that all would be well,
that peasants and rulers would come in honor.
Maybe he was mistaken.
He has heard the divine chorus, distant,
and seen the heavenly glow
out over the shepherds' field.
But no one comes.
Why does no one come?

Mary ponders things in her heart,
but Joseph frets:
How will he care for the child?
Will they be separated at the border?
And why does no one come?
Why does no one come?


―December 17, 2018



Philippians 4.4-7

         Rejoice in God always; again I will say, Rejoice.
         Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
         The beloved is near.
         Do not worry about anything,
         but in everything by prayer and supplication
         with thanksgiving
         let your requests be made known to God.
         And the peace of God,
         which surpasses all understanding,
         will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

                        —Philippians 4.4-7

Rejoice in God always; again I will say, Rejoice.
         Look within for the joy God has given you.
         No matter your circumstances, stay in that joy.

Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
         Like a tender babe in a manger,
         dare to be gentle in the face of harshness.

The beloved is near.
         Unseen but present, love companions you.

Do not worry about anything,
         Wrap up all your worries in the finest paper...
but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving

         put an outlandish bow on them...
let your requests be made known to God.

         and give them to God. Don't take them back.

And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
         You don't have to “get it” to get it.
         Let God's peace shield your mind from lies,
         your heart from fears and shame.
         It holds the sacred space where you can be who you are.

Now read the words from Philippians again.
Listen for the voice of God.

   —December 14, 2018


Fruits of repentance

          The crooked will be made straight,
                    and rough places made smooth....
          Bear fruits worthy of repentance.
          One is coming with a winnowing fork in hand,
                    to clear the threshing floor
                    and to gather the wheat in the granary;
          and to burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.

                        —Luke 3.5, 8, 17

Don't be afraid. John isn't threatening you.
He's setting you free,
relieving you of the crap that messes you up.

What are the rough places in you
that need to be made smooth,
the crooked places that need straightening out?
Surrender them to God.

What are the lies that clutter up your head,
the fears that infect your heart?
Let them be winnowed out and burned.

And what are the gifts you don't share,
the second coat you don't give away,
the despair you try to sell, overpriced?
Let God gently take them from your hands.

Christ comes with the music of love in his heart.
Let go of that suit of armor, attached as you are to it.
You can be free now. Throw it off, and dance.

   —December 13, 2018


Something good impends

We are close to an entrance of some kind,
or someone,
an opening,
or a closing of a wound which is a marriage
a meeting of our incompleteness.
Some kind of power
undresses here, emerges,
full blown but understated.
All our flesh is holding its breath.
Our dreams are dreaming.
We cannot name what is coming,
the volcano of heaven gently rumbling.
Each of us is secretly hoping,
unknowing
our hopes are a net,
unaware of our solitudes melting,
unsuspecting of a love that entangles us
in each other
In eternity
that is already,
and almost.
We are expecting.
The young mother sings a simple tune
we can't get out of our heads.

   —December 12, 2018


Justice

Dearly Beloved,

         Bear fruits worthy of repentance.
         … Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none;
         and whoever has food must do likewise.
         One who is more powerful than I is coming.
         … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
                          —Luke 3.8, 11, 16

Christmas is not all lovely tinsel-haired angels and shepherds in their cute bathrobes and a sweet little baby, no crying he makes. Luke's sure of that. Christmas is the coming of the Prince of Peace, whose empire will have no end... which means, of course that our empire will come to an end. The changes he describes in people's lives are not just issues of piety or personal morality. They are issues of justice. The scriptures and the carols of the season are thick with God's care for the poor, God's desire to set prisoners free and lift up the downtrodden and bring down the mighty and wrest power from oppressors and remodel the world.

“Preparing the way” is more than having a warm spot in your heart. The One who is coming is the Prince of Peace, the sovereign of justice among us. He has a claim on us. He places demands of his realm upon us. We are responsible for our world, for poverty and racism and violence and the harming of the earth. We are responsible for justice, for healing and reconciliation and redemption. There is nothing more true to the heart of Christmas than doing justice.

This Advent and Christmas, visit someone in prison. Participate in a Jericho Walk. Reach out to immigrants. Write to your Senator or representative. The child Jesus and his parents are waiting outside the wall. Prepare him a way. Repent, and bear the fruits of justice.

   —December 11, 2018


The ax at the root

         Bear fruits worthy of repentance.
         … Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees;
         every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit
         is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

                        —Luke 3.8, 9

How can this be Christmas, the ax at the root?
Where are the lovely things,
the sheep and stars and frankincense?

Wake up. Christmas is meant to change us.
There is no comfort without engagement,
no good news without strings attached.

God, help me not skim through Christmas.
Beloved, let me be changed.
I yield myself to you,

to prune what you will,
to feed what you will,
to harvest what you will.

I surrender myself to your pruning,
the ax at the root of my desires,
your spade in the soil of my deepest longings.

I accept the gift of what is taken from me:
habits that harm, my heart's diversions,
my shield from the world's pain.

Let the coming of Christ be the flowing
of your sap up into my being,
into fruits of presence and justice and love.

Baptize me with the fire of your indwelling.
Pregnant with Christ, may I bear the fruit
of your new creation in me.

   —December 10, 2018


Dawn

         By the tender mercy of our God,
         the dawn from on high will break upon us,
         to give light to those who sit in darkness
          and in the shadow of death,
          to guide our feet into the way of peace.
                                 —Luke 1.78-79

Beloved, I am your early morning dark,
your deep blue sky, shadowed neighborhoods,
velvety darkness, thirsty for light.
I am your prison cell where someone lonely waits,
looking at the little window.
I am not alone. We are all a vast plain
waiting for the lifting of the blanket,
humanity is a beautiful bride waiting for the lifting of the veil.
And you are our dawn.
We are the vessels of your light,
pitchers ready for your dawn to pour in
from the well of you
and carry out into the world.
In the shadow of death, mine
and those I abet,
my soul sits, waits,
watches the dimming stars.
Now, tender mercy, now.

   —December 7, 2018

Fearless

         ...that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
         might serve God without fear...

                        —Luke 1.74

Our worst enemies are no one else,
but our own fear, greed and resentment,
our urge to be right and safe and powerful.
They soldier on, as if the war is not over.
But God has set us free
from the enemies of our wholeness,
enemies of life.
We are free to serve, to love, to risk
without fear.
We are free from the traps and tangles in our heads,
the tales we spin of what can't be.

Our fear, already safe on the other side,
still mumbles about impossibilities
while the bird flies through the bars,
the imaginary mountain.

Nothing but the lies in our heads prevents us now
from being the perfect vessel of the Beloved,
being fearlessly forgiving,
being the light in the darkness.
That is who we are now.
We are free.

   —December 6, 2018


Prepare the way

          Prepare the way for Love,
          make straight a path for the Holy One.

                        —Luke 3.4

Enough of your junk drawer clutter
bucket of old used punctuation
heartthrob amusement ride of distraction.
Prayer is a snow shovel.
You plow it all aside. All of it.
Clear a space.
Admit it: your heart is a hoarder.
Clean out your piety's basement.
You don't build the way, don't accrue it.
You empty it.
Rough made smooth, crooked made straight,
busy made empty.
Empty it all.
Silence the noise, the chorus, the committee,
the crowd.
The empty place is not long, stretching away.
It's just right there, around you,
a circle of light,
empty air,
silence—not what you hear,
but how you listen,
what you practice.

Silence.

Now there's a way.

Wait.
For the Coming One,
who speaks silence,
who blesses the emptiness,
the Presence
who is the negative space itself

where you've made room
for a little friendliness.

   —December 5, 2018


What God has begun

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

         The angel Gabriel was sent
         to a young woman...
                  
—Luke 1.26

         I am confident of this,
         that the one who began a good work among you
         will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

                        —Philippians 1.6

You don't know it
but you have that glow
of a young woman
who is pregnant
and has only just now found out
or maybe hasn't yet
but somehow you know
God is in you, growing,
something started you can't stop
which will flow out from you,
escape you, transcend you.
All you have to do is say Yes
and let heaven slowly blossom
in you.

The calming of a single heart,

or justice for the oppressed—
the life has already begun.
All of you, look around,
ask each other,
What has God begun in us?
How shall we attend
as God brings it to completion?

   —December 4, 2018


Every year

Every year
he says, “I love these people.
I'm going to go be with them,
just to walk them through the darkness.”
Every year the angels tell him,
No, this is a bad idea.
It never works.
But the Eternal One nods at him and smiles
a sad little smile,
and he pours himself out
into a great mysterious emptiness,
and he comes.
He always comes
and walks with us,
and every year I walk with him,
he smiles and nods that same smiling nod.

There is the brief moment in the stable—
despite the hardship quite lovely, really—
but then the hard work,
the road, the town square, the disputes....
And then he is taken.
Every year, taken:
shot beside me as we walk,
jailed, deported, lynched, crucified.

I walk on without him,
looking for a welcome place for him,
trying to bear that light,
let it gleam just a little...
And then it gets darker,
until it seems stupid and hopeless and foolish,
and then once again,
the angels shaking their heads
but singing glory anyway,
he comes.
Knowing, he comes,
every year he comes.
And I watch for them to take him,
and they do take him, every year,
and I say,
“The angels are right, this doesn't work.”
He nods and smiles and says,
“Yes it does.”
And he comes again.
And I,
a tiny light in a great emptiness,
already
I am waiting for him.

   —December 3, 2018

A heart aware

         Be on guard
         so that your hearts are not weighed down
         with dissipation and drunkenness
         and the worries of this life,
         and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.

                        —Luke 21.34-35

God, wake me from the fog of my low expectations,
the cement of worry that clings to my feet.
Help me shake off the world's despair,
its pointless habits, desires and attachments,
the awful busyness, the downward spiral
of judging, consuming, and protecting myself.
Give me the courage to trust you are moving and acting;
give me the vision to embrace the unimaginable.
Help me stand with clarity and purpose.
Give me the urgency to act—for now is the time—
and the patience to wait for the fullness of time.
May I look upon the world with eyes of grace,
and act with a heart of love and hope.
Amen.

   —November 30, 2018


Be alert

         Be alert at all times.
                  —Luke 21.36

You have to know how to look
and where
among the distress of the nations,
the fear and foreboding,
to see the little fig leaves,
the subtle bursts of possibility,
God's faint but certain emergences,
the little gracelets that abound
and clue you in
on what is coming upon the world.
Look for the child who endures,
the woman who persists,
the beauty that subverts,
the love that sneaks in.
Watch for the free, outlandish life
that is not yet done arriving.
“That's just the way it is”
isn't the way it is.
Look till you see.
Dance till the music
can't help but start.
Don't miss a single birdsong.
You may have to silence yourself,
shed earbuds, turn off the TV,
and the one in your head.
The mercy that does not pass away
shows itself to those who are watching.
In the gray streets,
among the rows and columns,
the mystery keeps happening
and happening
and happening.


―November 29, 2018

A great disturbance

        The powers of the heavens will be shaken...
                        —Luke 21.26

A great disturbance approaches—
but not some dire calamity flung upon us,
the fantasy engorged preachers like to invoke.
No, it's a greater upheaval:
a rift in the very fabric of selfishness,
a disturbance in the powers of evil.
God knows the secret, fatal weakness
of the Opponent of Life:
his power is built entirely on lies and fear.
Even the simplest truth unravels it.
Even the smallest gift, the most subtle beauty,
shakes the powers.
The energy of love overpowers evil,
converts it, as light does darkness.
God mends this troubled world
not by mounting a war of good against evil
but by sending a helpless child,
a child who prevails, not by winning—
for eventually evil will kill the child—
but by evoking such unkillable love in our hearts
that the powers in the heights are shaken.
So when we see these things we raise our heads,
for our redemption is drawing near.

   —November 28, 2018


Righteous branch

         I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David,
         who shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

                        —Jeremiah 33.15

God,
I know we are destroying your planet,
brutalizing children at the border,
while the Emperor spews hatred and fear.
I don't need to know the future,
nor even that you know the future,
don't need to be able to imagine how
in the world
a righteous branch might spring up
and save us.
I only need to know you are here,
and in the root of the trees even now
letting their last leaves go
you are here,
your bud already swelling,
ready for the cold,
you are here, your light already turning,
in the dust and dark and final confusion,
in the the sharp rocks and edges of the last road,
your child already coming,
among us, maybe even within us,
ready for the risk,
his beautiful little face lifting us into a different life,
your arms already sweeping us up.
Snow falls,
and a bud ripens.

November 27, 2018

My neighbor's tree

All summer my neighbor's tree offered its leaves
and the summer sun filled it with light.
Then it offered itself naked
and the moon filled it with light.
Now my neighbor sets up a ladder
and fills the tree with light.

Fill me, God,
in whatever way you will.

   —November 26, 2018


Dare give thanks

         Consider the lilies of the field...
                        —Matthew 6.28


Consider the lilies,
made beautiful.


Dare give thanks
not just for what you have,
give thanks
for who you are.


Your gratitude itself
will be a blossom
of loveliness.

   —November 22, 2018

Smoky Thanksgiving (Sing anyway)

Praying for the California fires

It's hard to sing a lusty thanksgiving hymn
with such smoke in the air,
smoke of trees and dust and houses,
cars and carpets, grass and cellos,
tires and flesh and pictures in their frames,
bodies of the dead and of the living, burned,
hard to take a deep breath and sing
breathing death.

But, child, the air has never been clear.
We breathe the ghosts of strangers' grief,
the breath of forests, the very air of death.
We breathe the dust of our ancestors,
the flesh of neighbors,
we breathe our enemies' cremains,
the pall of furnaces still hanging.
The ash of our bombings, dispersed like incense,
is on our lips as we sing
both alleluia and eleison.

It does not dull our song, this dust.
To breathe the fouled air of our common frailty,
the dust of our misdeeds and undoings,
the song of slaves, the hymns of the long march,
to take it in, to breathe it deep,
it doesn't clot our lungs,
but only adds the darker harmonies
to heartsick hallelujahs that we sing,
sing choking something back at times, but sing,
if only to remember
what we're choking back,
what we've lost, what we haven't lost,
sing, gasp, and wail and plead, and sing,
sing anyway.

November 20, 2018