Poem for a Thursday — “To a Milkweed” by Deborah Digges
Teach me to love what I’ve made and judgment
in that love.
Teach me your arrogance.
With each five-petaled horned flower teach me
how much blossoming matters
along roadsides, dry-
beds, these fields no longer cleared.
Teach me such patience at each turning, how
to live on nothing but will, its milky
to the others, though when its stem is broken,
bleeds. Teach me to
need the future,
and the past, that Indian summer.
Let me be tricked into believing
that by what moves in me I might be saved,
and hold to this. Hold
onto this until there’s wind enough.
in Cries of the Spirit, ed. Marilyn Sewell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991, p. 159.
Deborah Digges grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri, the sixth of ten children. Her poetry explores themes of family, nature, gender roles, and the complexities of being human. She taught for a number of years at Tuft’s University outside Boston. Digges authored four acclaimed volumes of poetry, including Vesper Sparrows (1986), which won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize for a best first book of poetry. Her death by suicide in 2009 at the age of 59 deprived the world of a gifted voice. John Michaud of The New Yorker wrote, “She was the kind of writer whose work went deep into the lives of her readers.”
Poem for a Tuesday — “Before Dark” by Wendell Berry
“From the porch at dusk I watched
a kingfisher wild in flight
he could only have made for joy.
He came down the river, splashing
against the water’s dimming face
like a skipped rock, passing
on down out of sight. And still
I could hear the splashes
farther and farther away
as it grew darker. He came back
the same way, dusky as his shadow,
sudden beyond the willows.
The splashes went on out of hearing.
It was dark then. Somewhere
the night had accommodated him
—at the place he was headed for
or where, led by his delight,
In Collected Poems: 1957-1982. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984. P. 63.
Wendell Berry is a farmer, author, and poet. For more than forty years, he has sustainably worked the land in eastern Kentucky that his ancestors first settled in the early 19th century. His writing embodies a deep reverence for the land and its wild creatures. He believes that we must learn to live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth or perish. Berry was awarded a National Humanities Medal in 2010 and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Books Critics Circle in 2016.
“And in the morning you are up again with the way leading through you for a while longer if the wind is motionless when the cars reach where the asphalt ends a mile or so below the main road and the wave you rise into is different every time and you are one with it until you have made your way up to the top of your climb and brightened in that moment of that day and then you turn as when you rose before in fire or wind from the ends of the earth to pause here and you seem to drift away on into nothing to lie down once more until another breath brings you to birth”
in 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, ed. Billy Collins. New York: Random House, 2005. P. 8.
William Stanley Merwin was the son of a Presbyterian Minister. His first foray into poetry came as a boy: writing and illustrating hymns for his father, almost as soon as he could hold a pencil. Strongly rooted in classical studies, his translation of Dante’s Purgatorio and the Middle English epic Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were heralded for their “graceful, accessible language,” and his Selected Translations won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. Merwin was a staunch pacifist and proponent of deep ecology. In 1976, he moved to Hawaii to study Zen Buddhism and remained there for the rest of his life, buying an old pineapple plantation and carefully restoring the native habitat. One of the most highly decorated poets in American literature, Merwin was the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes and served twice as the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1999-2000 and 2010-2011.
Poem for a Tuesday — “Blue Morning Glory” by Anne Pitkin
“Voracious, yes. But when you see it, shy blue flowers blaring like trumpets in spite of themselves, center star shaped and yellow; when it startles you, early in the morning, all over a white picket fence, say, in Massachusetts, you might think ‘triumphal,’ ‘prodigal,’ ‘awake.’
Of course you don’t want it in your rose garden among all the pruned, the decorous bushes. You don’t want it in the vegetables, for it will romp through the tomatoes, beans and peas, will leave no room on the ground, or even in the air, for the leafy lettuces and cabbages soberly queueing up in their furrows. It will hog all the sky it can get knowing as it does what enormous thirst is satisfied by blue.
Father Michael says Follow the God of abundance Says we hurry from the moment’s wealth for fear it will be taken. Think of this:
the morning glory has been blossoming for so long without permission that in some gardens it is no longer censored. What does that tell you? See how it opens its tender throats to a world that can sting it, how, without apology for its excess, it blooms and blooms, though even yet it seems surprised.”
in Cries of the Spirit Within, ed. Marilyn Sewell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991, pp. 33-34.
Poet Anne Pitkin was born and raised in Clarksville, TN. Her poetry collections include Yellow and Winter Arguments. Her newest volume But Still, Music will be published by Pleasure Boat Studio in September. Pitkin’s work explores nature, family, and the tensions of growing up in the Jim Crow South. With regard to her craft, Pitkin has said, “I cannot say just when or why I started writing poetry. I read a lot of it during and after college, and I responded, I guess, by trying to write it, initially piqued by the tensions between words” (from Rattle #27, summer 2007).
My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts. — Isaiah 6:5c
You lay hidden all day, capped
by low-slung cloud and wrapped in
mist. Standing stones, carved with cups
and rings, pointed your way, surrounded
by the worship of lesser gods,
piled high by pilgrims, gravity, and
druids. Near Uam Tom a Mhor-fir,
we looked for you in the
old ways, but no fae-folk
made merry for your pleasure, only
a chorus of snowmelt played the
melody of lengthening days. No whirlwind,
fire, or earthquake heralded your presence,
and so, with thoughts turned to
rest, we walked into the quotidian.
Sheep in woolen tutus balanced on
graceful black legs. Bò Ghàidhealach with
nose ring and rakish fringe marked
our passage. Then, as the spring
sun slanted low above Kinnloch Rannoch,
the veil lifted. Tugged by your
hand upon our heartstrings, we turned
to see Schiehallion’s bare granite slabs
gleaming with glory, the Lord God
seated on a high and lofty
throne, and so, like grounded seraphim,
we pulled out our cameras to
capture what cannot be caught and
sang the doxology of the wanderer,
Holy, holy, holy Lord! Would you
take a look at that!
This is the fourth and final poem in a series that I wrote in response to Kore-ada Hirokazu’s stunning film after life. It explores the memory that I might choose to live in for eternity, a day of rough hill walking through the heart of Scotland and over the shoulder of Schiehallion. This poem responds to the question, “When did you feel closest to God?”
Who is coming up from the wilderness, leaning on the one she loves? — Song of Songs 8:5
This old love is different,
not like the fire that
once brought us together. It
is in the shared delight
of bodies in motion, stiff
joints easing, legs finding the
right rhythm to fall in
step. It is in the
thrill of winter snow under
June boots and the soft
whomp of a well-aimed snowball.
I’ve learned it is in
the painstaking quest for the
perfect path, the testing of
rocks to ford a stream,
the map and compass ramble
to plot our course, the
patient return, this way you
say, certain and vulnerable, pointing
to contour lines threaded with
tenuous tracks. It is in
the trust to follow, despite
fear. It is in companionable
silence, sheltering from rain in
a shepherd’s bothy reeking of
coal fires spent and inked
with graffiti of hikers past.
Rising together to descend, hand
reaches for hand, palm against
palm, warm hearts slowly beat
the tempo that lasts.
This is the third poem in a series that I wrote in response to Kore-ada Hirokazu’s stunning film after life. It explores the memory that I might choose to live in for eternity, a day of rough hill walking through the heart of Scotland and over the shoulder of Schiehallion. This poem responds to the question, “When did you give or receive the most love?” I’ll share the last poem in the series next Tuesday.
Poem for a Friday — “St. Francis and the Sow” by Galway Kinnell
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.”
in Americans’ Favorite Poems, ed. Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.
From the Poetry Foundation: “Galway Kinnell was an award-winning poet best known for poetry that connects the experiences of daily life to much larger poetic, spiritual, and cultural forces. Often focusing on the claims of nature and society on the individual, Kinnell’s poems explore psychological states in precise and sonorous free verse. Critic Morris Dickstein called Kinnell ‘one of the true master poets of his generation.”’ Kinnell’s Collected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
Poem for a Tuesday — “Rushing at Times Like Flames” by Nelly Sachs
“Rushing at times
like flames through our bodies —
as if they were still woven with the beginning
of the stars.
How slowly we flash up in clarity —
Oh, after how many lightyears have our hands
folded in supplication —
our knees bent —
and our souls opened
— in Women in Praise of the Sacred, ed. Jane Hirshfield. New York: Harper Collins, 1994, p. 222.
Nelly Sachs was born to a secular Jewish family in Berlin in 1891. With the rise of the National Socialist Party, she became aware of her Jewish heritage and faith. She narrowly escaped deportation to a concentration camp in 1940 by fleeing to Sweden through the intercession of the royal family. For the rest of her life, the Holocaust was a central theme of her work. She shared the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature with Israeli novelist S.I. Agnon. Sachs wrote of forgiveness, deliverance, peace, and a God who is present in terror, suffering, absence, and death.
Poem for a Tuesday — “The Same Inside” by Anna Swir
“Walking to your place for a love feast I saw at a street corner an old beggar woman. I took her hand, kissed her delicate cheek, we talked, she was the same inside as I am, from the same kind, I sensed this instantly as a dog knows by scent another dog. I gave her money, I could not part from her. After all, one needs someone who is close. And then I no longer knew why I was walking to your place.”
— from A Book of Luminous Things, ed. Czeslaw Milosz. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996, p. 200.
Anna Swir (Anna Świrszczyńska) emerged from humble origins to become one of the most respected Polish poets of the twentieth century. She served in the Resistance during World War II and worked as a military nurse in the Warsaw Uprising. She wrote frankly about death, war, and the female body. She published nine collections of poetry, as well as plays and stories for children. She received a number of literary awards in her native Poland. She died in Krakow in 1984.
What’s next? It’s the question of the Easter season. The sanctuary is still decked in Easter white, but the lilies are beginning to fade. The Easter crowd has ebbed and may not be seen again until Christmas Eve. Yet, we have rejoiced together and affirmed that Jesus has risen and God has won the victory over sin and death. So, what are we to do and how are we to live in this post-resurrection world? Our reading from John’s gospel suggests that Eastertide is all about being fed, finding grace, and going forth in Christ’s purpose.
What’s next? That question must have been on Peter’s mind. After the disciples encountered the risen Lord on Easter evening, they had made their way back to the Galilee. After the chaos and trauma of Good Friday, Peter must have felt the comforting pull of the familiar, and so he returned to the well-known rhythms of fishing. With six of his friends, he climbed into a boat, pushed out into deep water, and spent a fruitless night casting his nets.
As the sun rose above the Golan Heights, Jesus stood on the beach and guided his friends to a surprisingly bountiful catch. When the disciples returned to shore, Jesus knew that folks who have been out all night long, rowing and towing a drag net, need to be fed, so he invited them to a breakfast of bread and fish, grilled on a charcoal fire. Have you ever noticed how good food tastes when it is fresh, simply prepared, and eaten outdoors? As the disciples filled their bellies in Jesus’s good company, I suspect they felt “fed” in more ways than one.
We all need to be fed. If life is a spiritual journey, then we need good food to sustain us along the Way. In our Lenten Study this year, a dozen of us considered what sustains us along life’s spiritual journey. We all need nourishment. We all need ways in which we connect with God — because it is there that we find the refreshment and energy that are needed to live faithfully. In fact, the class brainstormed a list of things that are bread for our journey. On the list were worship, scripture, the Lord’s Supper, meditation and prayer, fellowship, nature, the arts, and more. How are you fed for the spiritual journey? This Easter season invites us to know the risen Lord and to deepen our relationship with him. As we spend time with Jesus — in church, with others, or in nature — we are filled and energized.
I am certain that, as Peter enjoyed that fish breakfast on the beach with Jesus, the apostle was struggling with guilt and shame. After all, he had promised to follow Jesus, even if the way led to suffering and death. But on the night of Jesus’s arrest, fear had gotten the better of Peter. The last time that Peter had warmed his hands at a charcoal fire, he had been in the courtyard of the high priest. There he had repeatedly and vehemently denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus, seeing his friend’s inner turmoil, gave Peter a second, third, and fourth chance—a Mulligan, a “do-over.” Peter found much-needed grace and forgiveness as he affirmed his love for Jesus three times. It was the perfect, poignant remedy to those three haunting denials.
We all need mercy and grace. We may not have denied Jesus three times to save our own skin, but we all stumble and fall short in right living. We have treated our relationship with Jesus as an after-thought to be sprinkled around the edges of our lives at our personal convenience. We have made mistakes in our personal lives. We have been impatient with our spouse, insensitive to our children, or unavailable for our friends. We have remained silent at injustice, indifferent to suffering, and unwilling to share with those who need our help, compassion, and generosity. Where do you need grace this morning? In this Easter season, we remember the enormity of God’s love for us. If Christ can forgive a repentant thief, his executioners, and the Apostle Peter, then we can trust that Jesus forgives us. In this Easter season, we can trust that grace and forgiveness abound for us.
As Peter was fed and forgiven, he learned that Jesus had a purpose for him. The Lord asked Peter to feed and tend the flock that was being entrusted to his care. Through Peter, Jesus would continue to reach out, heal, and bless a world that was desperately hungry for good news. When we read the Book of Acts, we note that Peter answered that calling. Peter would heal a lame beggar on the doorstep of the Temple. He would raise from the dead the beloved Dorcas, who had so generously cared for the widows of Joppa. Peter would venture into enemy territory, taking the gospel to the household of Cornelius the Centurion in Caesarea. Through Peter, and those other disciples who answered Jesus’s call, Christ’s love would be made known and shared from one side of the Roman Empire to the other.
Jesus continues to entrust his ministry to flawed people like Peter, to flawed people like us. Jesus’s flock needs faithful people who will love and feed them, and the Lord trusts that we, too, will reach out with healing, help, and blessing for neighbors who hunger for good news. When we plant the church garden and we bring food offerings to the pack basket at the side entrance, the flock gets fed. And when we pray for others in the Prayers of the People or share concerns with the Prayer Chain, the flock is tended. When the deacons reach out with calls and cards, or we invite a hurting friend to church, the flock is blessed. In this Easter season, we find our purpose and fulfill our calling when we answer Christ’s call to love and serve the neighbors that he entrusts to us.
What’s next? It’s the question of the Easter season. What are we to do and how are we to live in this post-resurrection world? According to Jesus, Eastertide is all about being fed, finding grace, and going forth in his purpose. May it be so.
21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”