Category Archives: contemplation

Advent Manna 4: The Promise

Advent Manna – Short Takes on the Themes of Advent

The Promise

Christ tells us that here is where we are to linger, to stay awake, to wait
and be ready – here in the bleak and barren heart of our need.

How long can you carry a secret, a gift of saving love, before giving birth to it? How long can you ponder in your heart and sit on the stone path in the sun? After a while it becomes obvious that something is up your sleeve, or under your tunic. Someone’s delight is in you and is growing bigger every day.

What is it? Who is it? How is this done? We are each alone here. There were no witnesses when Gabriel came. One or two may understand, who are strong when we are weak, who have hope when we have despair, who have faith when we have none. For the most part we must face rejection, fears, doubts, and devils alone.

And then, suddenly in the night, comes the sharp all-encompassing pain of labor – so much more painful than we had ever imagined it could be.

It may not look like all that much, your child and your offering of yourself as a mother of redemption. It may seem a small thing compared to Mary’s child. The child you bear may be nothing more (or less) than the courage to get through a bad day, or a shred of hope you cling to like a broken raft in the midst of a churning sea.

Waiting, waiting – how did she keep the promise alive, the hope, the word which was spoken to her, through all the days and nights while she walked the rocky paths? What good could come out of Nazareth? How can this be?  I have no husband. I have no money. I have no hope. I have no skill… But he said, Nothing is impossible with God.

A secret between her and the angel, a child growing in a hostile environment and stillness at dusk when the light slides under the horizon leaving a golden smear of hushed anticipation.

She was like a tiny flame in a sea of  darkness.

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Advent Manna are short pieces taken from my writing over the years on the themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. This post is an edited excerpt from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000. Chapter 34, p 179. 

A blessed Christmas to you all. Keep your flame lit. May you be entrusted with a task to match the largeness of your soul.

Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. See the summer issue here: Summer 2018 Holy Ground x
Subscribe to Holy Ground here. It makes a great Christmas gift for a friend!

Advent Manna 3: Being Virgin

Advent Manna – Short Takes on the Themes of Advent

Being Virgin

“A virgin is someone who is free of all false images and is detached toward God’s dearest wish and ready to fulfill it unceasingly, as was Jesus.” Meister Eckhart

Virgin comes from Latin and means, literally, slender branch, twig or shoot. The original sense of the word is a person who is one in him or herself. Such an individual is free from possession and possessiveness and capable of the total giving of self, body, as well as soul. The virgin aspect is that which is unpenetrated and unowned by humanity. It does not need to be validated or approved by anyone to know its own innate worth.

Virgin carries much of the same intent as the word holy, which means set apart, the temple. The Parthenon (literally the virgin’s place) was the temple to Athena on the acropolis in Athens. In the New Testament virgin is used to depict the host of the redeemed in Revelation and to refer to the church as the bride of Christ. But by far the most frequent use of the word virgin is in the Bible’s figurative description of cities, nations, and communities. We often find virgin daughter as an expression for Jerusalem.

The virgin is one who can hear and believe the anguished truth of a violated and profaned creation. The virgin does not indulge in denial or false hope. She has no illusions about the extent of the horror and suffering we inflict on one another and the earth.

For the virgin knows that it is not our empathy that heals, not our outrage that heals, not our grief that heals. It is our faith – our trust in the power of Goodness to prevail over darkness. The virgin does not respond to suffering and sin out of her own anxiety, fear and wounds, but rather out of her repose, her absolute serene trust in the one she carries in her womb and continuously delivers into the world. Such, as she, are the healers among us.

______________________

My small daughter, playing with the holy family in the wooden stable sings her lullaby:  Round yon urgent mother and child, holy infant so tender and wild.

This mother, more urgent than virgin, smiles: Yes, indeed,  Holy Infant tender and wild, you are so wild, so undomesticated, so radically other than anything known and familiar. No matter how hard we coax, you will not eat out of our hands, but remain out in the timber hidden in the brush. We set out bait, offerings on the snow. Cowboy theologians toss ropes into the forest and lasso decoys. And rough-rider ecclesiastics try to corral you in sedate doctrines.

The virgin daughter of Jerusalem sings at the gate. In the dark we lay a trail of bread crumbs to our door. We wait, stilled, hushed. Come, Lord Jesus.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered  violence and the violent take it by force. Matthew 11:12

But who can stand when you appear? The earth shudders, mountains topple, creatures shiver with fear. Shots ring out in the forest. Innocence awakens and moves toward us, and the rough hand grasps for its lost treasure.

 

The virgin daughter of Jerusalem stands on the path  and suddenly she is falling, falling into the blue sea and into the wide sky, falling through pain and fear and despair, falling faster and faster, picking up speed, plummeting like a stone, falling through a tunnel formed at the intersection of the cross hairs in the telescopic sight aimed at redemption where opposites meet and all things come together.

She is whizzing down the tunnel like a child’s slide, sleek and silent, silver in the sun, falling free. And the Realm of God does not suffer violence, and she is not taken by force and the two, who have been made for each other, delight to have found ground holy enough to hold each other’s purity, ground strong enough to bear each other’s pain. And in her joy she funnels greatness from the wideness of her hope down the narrow passage of her being into us.

So now I pray for passionate virgins who have died for love and dwell beyond the clutch and fever of desire. I pray for eccentric virgins who live on the outskirts of propriety, raise geese, and talk to trees. I pray for violated virgins and their re-consecration. I pray for virgins who find the courage to reject the lie that eats away their souls and whispers that what happened never happened and leads them down a winding path of mirages and fun house mirrors that mock Truth.

I pray for virgins who know they are only as holy as they are willing to see how horribly they have been profaned, and how horribly they profane. I pray for priestly virgins who preside at their own sacraments, who ordain themselves to Love, who anoint and purify, who refuse to bypass pain, but in their surrender to it and annihilation fall into the center of their humility to sit enthroned in the trust of total repose and divine indifference from which all healing flows.

I pray for virgins, calm and pure, who stable holiness, and for virgins, safe and gentle and true enough to conceive the Immaculate Tenderness without doing it violence. I pray for undomesticated virgins, unpenetrated by conventional values, virgins unconfined by reason and impervious to the demands of privileged authority.

I pray for revolutionary virgins, who despise the shame, and take up the suffering for the joy that awaits. I pray for virgins whose land, enclosed by strength, is untouched and guarded by a flaming sword. I pray for virgins, who with unveiled eyes gaze unflinchingly at evil and at God and live to tell the tale. I pray for virgin martyrs, who are witnesses with the conviction to believe their own eyes. I pray for chaste, intrepid, impeccable virgins, incapable of doubt.

 

I pray for virgins who apply themselves to prayer until their souls become clear, focused lenses through which we spy, enlarged for us, the intricate dazzling structures of divinity. And God, hidden in the forest, is magnified by them; and glory sprints across the clearing kicking up a cloud of blessing.

I pray for virgins who are not afraid of greatness, neither the greatness of themselves, nor the greatness of God. And I pray for a virgin with a heart which dilates. A bold virgin, who when she has grown as big as she can be, when she has come to the outer reaches of the limits of her being and all that she thinks and knows and hums to herself, will give up encompassing Plentitude. I pray for a virgin who becomes Emptiness, who will let go of her edges, the taut boundaries that separate this from that, and flinging herself like crumbs in a fragrant trail from what was once her heart to the forest will say:

Let it be to me according to your word.

And the shy, tender God takes the bait. And she and holiness are won. And their child tumbles, wet and wild, into the wounded world to heal us with his stripes.

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Advent Manna are short pieces taken from my writing over the years on the themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. This post is an edited excerpt from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000. Chapter 10 “Urgent Mother and Child – Holy Indifference and the Repose of the Virgin,” p 39. It may be a challenging piece for some readers. I wrote it over 25 years ago following a workshop I led in New York state. The workshop topic was the spiritual aspects of recovery from sexual abuse and violence. After the presentation I was taken to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and guided to a small chapel. There I knelt before a larger than life bronze statue of the Virgin Mother, which embodied, both all pervading compassion, and perfect repose. Before her I felt all the pain of the women, whose stories I had heard at the workshop, drawn out of me and healed.
By the way, this piece could easily be adapted for several voices and used as a readers’ drama for worship. I can als0 hear music behind it…and slides of various artists’ depiction of the annunciation. Get creative!

 

Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. See the summer issue here: Summer 2018 Holy Ground x

 

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Advent Manna 2: On Mute

Advent Manna – Short Takes on the Themes of Advent

Being Silent

The most beautiful thing a person can say about God would be for that person to remain silent from the wisdom of an inner wealth. So, be silent and quit flapping your gums about God.  – Meister Eckhart (1260-1329) translation by Matthew Fox.

 

You have to get past the miraculous son of Zechariah to get inside. The tall, gaunt figure looks down on you from his hollow eyes as you enter  St. John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville, Mn. Lean, muscular, and Spirit-haunted, the Baptizer brandishes a cross and is scary as all get out. He gestures with a gnarled hand toward the Baptismal Font.

John Baptist 4

If you think you are coming in here, wash up first. Repent!
Go under the flood. Die before you die.

The old priest, John’s father, did not believe the angel who showed up when Zechariah entered the Holy of Holies to burn the incense. The lot had fallen to him to step into the place so sacred that one might easily be consumed by the Furnace of Love. Gabriel’s wings fanned the smoke. His voice penetrated the old man’s mind, that rickety cupboard, where he kept jars of truth, possibility, impossibility,  reason, and a near empty cruse of hope.

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

His barren, wizened, Elizabeth have a child? The priest quibbled, doubted, split hairs, as those trained as religious professionals often do.

So Gabriel tied his tongue to the floor of his mouth and sewed his lips shut. This fellow could not be trusted with the truth of God. Hard to say how he might mess up the whole plan of salvation.

Messengers from God often do this to the people they visit. They press the mute button and enforce silence for a while.

Six months after Elizabeth conceives, Gabriel makes an announcement even more incredible to Mary. She asks one question, then tells Gabriel okay, whatever you say. I am God’s servant. Pondering the angel’s words, she holds her tongue, and departs to speak with her old cousin, Elizabeth. Joseph is left to get the news on his own through a dream. Mary remains with her cousin for three months in the hill country of Judah.

Advent invites us to withdraw and close the door on distractions and doubts. Will you allow yourself to be bound by silence? This ability to tie up all the strife, hunger, gossip, and turbulence, and keep one’s mouth shut is required of servants of God. One needs to allow ideas, projects, and seeds of new growth incubate and ripen. Talk may dissipate the necessary accumulation of energy and unconscious incubation to bring actions to maturity and achieve God’s fullest purpose and intent for our lives and work.

One must be discerning about to whom and when to speak of the visions we see, the words we hear, and what grows within us in order to protect both ourselves and the promise within us from exposure to threats to its development.

Do you have a bright idea or a promise developing within you?
Don’t prematurely tweet your transformation.

There will be plenty of time to raise a ruckus after the truth gets out, as old Zechariah soon found, when the Holy Spirit opened his mouth and he burst into song for his son:

… and you, child, will be called the prophet
of the Most High;
for you go before the Lord to prepare his way
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet in the way of peace. Luke 1: 67-7

John Baptist 5

 

 

 

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Advent Manna are short pieces taken from my writing over the years on the themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. This essay about Zechariah and John the Baptist was previously posted in 2015.

It has been a while since I have written here. I have been busy moving from Kansas, where I have lived for 37 years to Iowa City, Iowa. It has been a time of challenge and transformation for me. I will continue to  do the Sanctuary ministry from my new location. I  am offering spiritual guidance, teaching, leading retreats, and will continue to publish Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. See the summer issue below.

Summer 2018 Holy Ground x

Subscribe to Holy Ground here. And it it makes a great Christmas gift for a friend!

 

Advent Manna

Advent Manna – Short Takes on the Themes of Advent

Waiting

Excerpt from Adventually – A Readers Drama for six voices

shepherds 001blue

ONE:  Once I dreamed I was in an earthquake.  The floor shook and heaved and the walls crumbled and fell.  Next I rode in the back of a truck along the street of a bombed out city.  Enemy soldiers rode behind the truck.  Buildings lay in ruins, all was destroyed.  It was end-time, apocalypse, and I mourned for my unborn children.

ALL:  (building in intensity and volume)  For nation will wise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places … and brother will deliver up brother to death;  and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death … and alas for those who are with child in those days and for those who give suck in those days. Pray that it will not happen in winter. Mark 13

FIVE:  What does it take for us to see the messiah when the messiah comes?

FOUR:  No less than the total annihilation of all the familiar structures, and the comfortable and comforting ways of perceiving and describing reality that we have erected.

TWO:  Christ rents in two the shabby curtain of illusion we have draped over our lives on which we hang our hopes and justification.

ALL:  Our souls must become a desolate war zone where all we have worshiped, idolized, knelt before, and coveted is laid waste; where the enemy looms before us and we clearly see our own capacity for death, for evil, and for sin.

THREE:  Then naked, stripped of our roles and illusions, we come before the altar to wait in disciplined obedience.  Now, we know that to wait is a constant stream of yes’s in a drought of debilitating no’s

FOUR:  that to wait is an heroic willingness to martyr, to witness, to be one who has seen the living God, the risen Christ, and is therefore, forever possessed by hope.

FIVE:  The waiter is a fool, a clown, a nerd, a jerk, a cock-eyed optimist who sees Christ in the eyes of the outcast

SIX:  who finds beauty in the squalor of a city ghetto

ONE:  who forgives the murderer and the rapist

TWO:  who prays for enemies

THREE:  who passes out second chances freely

FOUR:  who never stops forgiving

SIX:  who suspects that people are plotting to make him happy

FIVE:  who thinks she makes a difference

ONE:  who even believes, most absurd of all, that the Holy One of Israel who made the seas and piled up the mountains

ALL:  loved us so much

FIVE:  that the Source of all goodness and truth shrunk across the universes of time and space

TWO:  and the massive distance, the infinite stretch between the Divine and humankind

SIX:  to cling to a young girl’s womb and slowly grow arms and legs and kick and roll and suck its thumb as she strode the rocky paths of Nazareth.

TWO:  Not like a Jupiter, who in disguise, would come to visit mortals and test their loyalty and reward and punish according to his haughty whim, this God risked everything.

FIVE:  The All-Powerful became a vulnerable babe of simple country parents.

THREE:  The All-Knowing put on the distorted, nearsighted vision of the human cornea. Like a horse wearing blinders, the All-Loving accepted the constraining harness of mortality, and bearing the stinging whip, carried the whole wide creation on his broad back.

ONE:  Sooner or later our eyes are opened and then we see who really waits.

FOUR:  Who are the big time, professional waiters, the high in the art of waiting ones…. the poor, the afflicted, the despised:

ONE, TWO  (chanting softly and repeating under the lines of THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX):  I was hungry and you gave me food.  I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was naked and you clothed me.  I was sick and you visited me.  I was in prison and you came to me.

SIX:  in crowded welfare offices

FOUR:  in stuffy medical clinics

FIVE:  in refugee camps

THREE:  in lines in the rain for a bowl of rice

SIX:  in gutters

FOUR:  in abandoned houses

FIVE:  in lonely bedrooms

THREE:  on death rows

FOUR:  in greasy diners

FIVE:  in nursing homes

SIX: in hospitals

THREE:  in employment offices

(ONE and TWO stop chanting)

ALL:  These are the homeless, the lost, the lepers; and they wait for us to discover that it is they for whom we have been waiting.

FOUR:  That it is they in whom Christ waits for us

FOUR, SIX:  That it is they who bear the babe whom we are called to deliver that we may be redeemed

FOUR, SIX, ONE, THREE:  that we may know that it is God who has been waiting for us all along.

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Advent Manna are short pieces taken from my writing over the years on the themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Some of these pieces are available to purchase on line. This piece is an excerpt from a readers drama for advent I wrote a number of years ago. You can find it  HERE

It has been a while since I have written here. I have been busy moving from Kansas, where I have lived for 37 years to Iowa City, Iowa. It has been a time of challenge and transformation for me. I will continue to  do the Sanctuary ministry from my new location. I  am offering spiritual guidance, teaching, leading retreats, and will continue to publish Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. See the summer issue below.

Summer 2018 Holy Ground x

Subscribe to Holy Ground here. And it it makes a great Christmas gift for a friend!

 

 

 

 

PESACH – PASSAGE, 2

Pesach – Passage,  No. 2

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry, come and eat! All in need, come and join in celebrating Pesach!
This year we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel!
This year we are slaves, next year we will be free men!
                                                – Haggadah, Gerald Garouste, Marc-Alain Ouaknin

The night we celebrated Pesach –
what did he say, what did he mean
“leaving”
and that we knew the way to where he was going?

I was trying to work it
out when another sea split open
not waters humping up like steel cliffs
but a great scythe slashing
through the middle of everything
and him falling, tumbling down into the rift

a passage
where there had been none before
death leering from either side.

I heard the soldiers coming,
swords clanking, down the path.
My lungs burned in the acrid air
eyes stung to see flames
draped from clouds in smoky sheets.

And while they dragged him off
blood blossomed
over the vast lintel and door posts
of the writhing world
and ran down quietly
like tears.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a slightly altered poem from an earlier series of lenten poems I wrote called, Love in Small Doses.  Pesach, or Pasach, also spelled Pascha  is Hebrew for Passover or passage. The verbal form means to protect and to have compassion as well as pass over. Exodus 12 -14; John 14-19

PESACH – PASSAGE, 1

Pesach – Passage,  1

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry, come and eat! All in need, come and join in celebrating Pesach!
This year we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel!
This year we are slaves, next year we will be free men!
                                                – Haggadah, Gerald Garouste, Marc-Alain Ouaknin

After we were passed over
we passed over.

When the waters split
drew back
a shimmering wall rose
seething strength, waves
smacking, spitting above us.

Some of us hesitated –
to weigh the odds
consider and debate.
Was it more magic?
Who was this son of Abraham
with his stave of almond wood?

Crippled from scrabbling straw in the fields
mixing mortar for the man
meeting his cruel quotas
we dawdled on the shore.

Others, children, especially, ran out
skipping over the coral
through the sea grass
past the shipwrecks
and green turtles
raising their mottled beaks, amazed.

We heard hooves pounding,
shouts, thunder of chariot wheels.
Death before, death behind.
Better to drown
than die by the hands of those bastards.

The kids, though,
did not flinch,
tossing up fistfuls of sand,
diamonds in the sun,
playing on the seabed
like shrimp.

We hobbled over,
leaning on each other,
fearful, fretting.
Seems when a soul is crushed
it takes a long time to rinse out the slave.

Though at Pesach, when we gathered,
it would all come back.
We would shake off another chain
see more clearly, sip
liberty like wine.

 

Mural from American Visionary Arts Museum, Baltimore, MD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a slightly altered poem from an earlier series of lenten poems I wrote called, Love in Small Doses.  Pesach, or Pasach, also spelled Pascha  is Hebrew for Passover or passage. The verbal form means to protect and to have compassion as well as pass over. Exodus 12 -14; John 14-19

The Profligate Daughter

“Truly I tell you, wherever, this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Matthew 26: 13

We remember
how you ran through the streets of Bethany
clutching the precious flask under your shawl
dodging merchants, beggars
searching for the house of Simon
peering in dim doorways
hurrying to be back in time for supperhow with bold extravagance you broke the flask

and poured the fragrant oil on the One at table
and then were gone
while the oil ran like hot tears

from his brow
down his cheeks
dripping onto shoulders
soon to be soaked in the whip’s bloody lather.

And truly, where the gospel is preached,
women remember you
in acts of reckless outpouring love –
the egg money, hoarded over months for a new sofa,
handed to a daughter on a spring afternoon
for a prom dress
cakes and pies and holiday meals prepared for long into the night
visits to the sick and shut-ins on days off
patient listening to the tales of children
hours of rocking, holding, folding,
smoothing, soothing, embracing, forgiving,
breaking open the alabaster walls of self
and pouring love onto love
in the name of Love.
We remember,

blessed by your daring waste
of a Love which knows no scarcities.

 

 

“In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.”
― San Juan de la Cruz

 

Waking Up Is Hard to Do

All historical experience demonstrates the following: our earth cannot be changed unless in the not too distant future an alteration in the consciousness of the individuals is achieved.
Catholic theologian, Hans Kung

And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
Mark 13: 37

Waking up and becoming more and more conscious, aware, and alert are fundamental tasks of being a disciple and growing in faith and spiritual maturity. Some of us sleepyheads will resist such bold, open-eyed, clear seeing, tooth and nail.  The call to consciousness rings throughout the scriptures and in the season of advent and Christmas the wake-up call is sounded loud and clear.

Real change and transformation is not a simple escape to a dream of a better place. Real change requires an honest appraisal and engagement with what is so. This may involve getting our noses rubbed in some realities we do not like. It may require first creating enough safety for oneself to speak aloud truths long denied, forgotten, or covered up with various kinds of painkillers and band aids. Before our external reality changes, before the people, institutions, and conditions around us change for the better, we must change internally. Our inner reality conditions and shapes how we see, experience, and respond to exterior reality.

A Box of Dread
and Horror
Remember Pandora’s box? When I was a child I was fascinated and horrified by the myth of the young woman created by Zeus, who was given special gifts by each of the gods. In addition, Zeus added the gift of curiosity to her other gifts of beauty and wisdom.  Then Zeus sent Pandora to earth to be Epimetheus’ wife.  Zeus was still angry with Epimetheus’ brother, Prometheus, who had stolen fire from the gods.  Pandora arrives on Epimetheus’ doorstep with a wedding gift from Zeus. The gift was a box or jar with a lid.

Read more of Waking Up Is Hard to Do, Autumn 2017 Issue of Holy Ground

The age of spirituality lite,
and the gospel as entertainment is over.

 

Observations and Update
From The Sanctuary

2017 annual letter

Learn what I have been hearing over the past year, as I listened in over 300 conversations with people struggling with the challenging task of waking up and not giving up.  When “things fall apart and the center cannot hold,” will the falcon hear the falconer?

Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair

In early March of 1991 I watched the horrid beating of Rodney King in south Los Angeles on our television in Holton, Kansas. We lived in a big older home with a  wrap around porch. I often rocked my daughters on the porch swing. Ages 9 and 7, they played on the swing – reading books, eating popsicles, and spending long afternoons with Barbie dolls. On summer evenings I would sit there listening to the crickets and birds. That was where I took a harrowing journey of prayer with Mr. King and other brothers and sisters.

A year later in April of 1992, we learned the news of the acquittal of the four officers involved in the brutal beating. Soon after this news a white man was pulled from his truck and beaten until dead by some black men. What followed were riots in south Los Angeles. The riots lasted five days. More than 60 people died and over 2000 were injured. Damages were estimated at one billion dollars.

At the time I was studying the story of the stoning and death of  Stephen in Acts, thinking about deep intercessory prayer, and feeling helpless to make a difference.

So I wrote a  poem in the style of a rap, which reflects the story of Rodney King, and other stories similar to his and the story St. Stephen. This poem has numerous references to scripture texts, which I have provided here at the end of the poem.

Twenty five years later I still believe we are called and capable of deeply transforming prayer for people we may not even know, as well as acts of justice and mercy. Rodney King himself became a sign of the power of love and sacrifice. In April of 2012 his autobiography, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. Learning How We Can All Get Along was published. In June of 2012 Mr. King died.   I offer this poem in his memory and the memory of all who suffer injustice.

-Loretta F.  Ross

LA Riots92

New York Daily News 1992

Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair

Run brother, trapped in the ghetto
in a gangland nightmare, run.
Here, look quick, a hole in the darkness,
startled with starkness,
a tiny crack of light at the end of the street,
a rupture in time, a rent in the curtain,
the one thing certain,
a valve slid open in the throb of a heart beat.

Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
weaving hopefulness out of thin air
Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
exchanging your lives for a thing more fair
Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
rock in the porch swing, singing your prayer.
Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
run through the dark streets meeting death’s dare.

“I see an opening in the heavens,” Stephen cried,
and slipped in an instant to Eternity’s side.
“Jesus, receive my spirit,” he prayed.
“Forgive them!” he shouted, knelt unafraid.
Stephen preached full of power and grace
doing wonders and signs with his angel’s face.

“You stiff-necked people!” he railed, then died,
killed by the stones in the hearts he’d tried
to turn from malice and murder and lies
to the truth of a Love which could die and rise.

I’ll hold the door open for you,
I’ll lift the latch that seals the catch
that quarantines time from eternity,
heaven from hell.

And then the first stone fell.
Hip thrust out against the door,
arms spread wide, shoulders aching, stomach quaking
straining beneath the blow of doubt and pelt of defeat.
Promise’s child prays on the porch swing.
Promise’s child picks up the beat.

Here, you running down the street,
looters, shooters, losers, boozers, resisters,
you who don’t believe, cannot conceive
a way out, an open door
you lost, walking in circles, blinded by pain
you know this voice, hear it again
here is the way, the cleft, the gate, the threshold
make for it with all your heart,
and safely enter the sheepfold
before she loses her nerve and the sea unpart.

Brother, sister, God hears your cries!

And she spies the skies opened and glory spilling out,
God’s tears like golden rain down mercy’s spout.

Help is coming. Here this life laid down for you,
for love of you, for love of Love –
this life laid down, fallen down,
hunched in a ball and rolling down,
spread out, offered down to the quick,
to the dregs
this life drinking your cup of sorrow,
swallowing your poison,
handling the vipers, walking across the floor of hell
this life laid across yours like a shield
absorbing the shocks that you may be well.

You there running down the streets with your gun,
has anyone ever laid down her life for you?
Can one white lady sitting on a porch swing in Kansas
turn the tide of rage and hate you carry in your bones?
Maybe tonight you catch a glimpse of hope.
Maybe tonight the fear that clutches you releases
and you imagine a new future –
maybe somewhere something lets go in the cosmos,
something stopped up, clogged, frozen, held enthrall.
A new wind wakens, rushes in and you are freed.

She prays for you, child of Despair,
running down the streets carrying your VCR,
running down the streets grabbing for what you never had,
running after a stolen dream.

The politicians rant.

The child on the curb by the burnt out building is hungry.
We need a new program, a plan, an idea, a solution…
some mental gymnastics to comfort us
that there is something that can be done
without costing us too much.
And then they will all settle down
and we can turn back to our own affairs.

We shall not get out of this
without paying to the last penny.
Sit down on the curb with the hungry child
and drink her cup.

The sickening blows fall again and again.
The man draws up his knees and rolls in pain.
Still they come, faster and harder,
mercilessly over and over,
slamming into the soft flesh,
pulverizing bone and sinew –

speak to him of eternity now
while sin and evil rain steady destruction
speak to him of salvation now

But she is beyond talk,
running for her life, lungs straining,
gasping for air in the smoke,
tears coursing down her cheeks,
sweating, legs aching, hearing the shots,
backing up against a wall of despair,
the bitter gall moving through her
like a stream of fire,
holding his bounty to her heart, darting out of alleys
running home.

And her brother is sitting in the sweet night air
swinging in the porch swing calm and cool,
listening to the mourning dove, waiting for the fireflies
swinging low, carried home.

They say it can happen like this
if you have a mustard seed of faith:

 One night while sitting at supper, talking about your day, asking for the salt – you are transferred in a wink of an eye to the camp, where you stand in line with your cup for rice and wrap the thin blanket around your shoulders against the chill . . .

and a gaunt refugee woman sits down at our table munching your hamburger,
and we pass her the salt.

Cram your cranium into heaven,
poke a hole in eternity
hold it open with your body
and be transformed
in a twinkling of an eye
by the renewal of your mind
unconformed
and cradled in the looter’s arms

and no one can snatch you out of his arms
and you shall never perish
for you belong to him and he to you
to have to hold and to cherish.

The daughter of Promise sings her lullaby:
Swing low, sweet brother
and have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

Sweet brother, swing low.
Hear the wind blow.

For days I have lain in your pain.
And I have lain in that thick smoke-filled darkness
murky with ambiguity and lies
oned with you and with the one from whom we come
descended into your hell
that you might rise
and I be carried home
in this dark world no more to roam.

Swing low.

~ written in April of  1992

Stoning of St. Stephen – Domenico Piola, early 1650s

Scriptures cited:
Acts 6: 8-15, 51-60

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit[a] with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth[b] will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.  . . . 

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.[j] 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Romans 12: 2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

I Corinthians 15: 49-52
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

John 10: 27
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 

John 10: 14-16  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Learn more about Rodney King and the LA Riots of 1992

Feast

don’t wander down the dim halls of memory
lost in a musty maze of dead
ends

don’t launch out into the future
on the treacherous sea of pulp
fiction

trust this pulsing moment
tawdry, tattered, or bright
let things come to you

in the marriage
of your yes
and the outstretched hand of now

sit down at the feast
of what is so
savor swallow

eat it all

steaming-bowl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

it is in the being of the days a thing makes sense
the clear, confusing, giddy, dull, and tearful passing of the time