I lifted a line of Brown’s from The Tradition: “I’m the one who leaps.” My poem is based on a long-ago story told by someone who mattered to me, so much …
I’m the One Who Leaps
I’m the one who leaps not from here to there but within.
I’m the one who leaps not like the farm boy standing rooted to the old front porch listening to hounds on the hunt. Baying, fever pitch, nearing, nearing when in the clearing bursts the fawn from the brush. White spots still visible here and there on the body running, running right toward the farm boy standing rooted to the old front porch.
No time to think No turning back Hounds closing in -the fawn cries, that final sound a creature makes when it knows it’s reached the end.
The boy stands rooted. No time to think he just does it he just opens his arms.
No time to think The fawn just sees, sees and leaps …
The farm boy who caught the fawn on the old front porch became a preacher standing rooted in the Word of God.
Be the one who leaps, he told us children, into the Father’s open arms. You cannot save yourselves.
I sat rooted to the pew hearing the hounds on the hunt, seeing the fawn and those open arms.
I’m the one who leaps not from here to there but within.
Last night a concert by tenor Andrea Bocelli was televised. He wanted to offer a message of hope to the world; his own country has been ravaged by COVID-19. And so he was recorded with only an organist on Easter Sunday in the Duomo di Milan, resplendent and empty … when he walked outside, alone, to sing “Amazing Grace” on the cathedral porch, the screen displayed the empty streets of major cities around the world.
Listening, watching, I thought this is one of the most abiding images of our time.
A golden shovel today, in honor of Bocelli, his gift, the wounded world-in-waiting, the healing power of music, prayer, and hope:
How amazing this lone figure of grace standing on the church steps singing of how prayer and hope turn bitter times sweet while in the deserted streets his angel-voice is the only sound.
While we couldn’t attend church yesterday, it doesn’t mean a presence wasn’t there.
A friend went to photograph the dawn and heard a song coming from the steeple.
The building, empty like the tomb, had its own winged messenger at the first light of Easter.
If you do not know: A cardinal bird can be considered a sign of the divine—I’ve written of it before (Divine appointment). The vivid red birds also represent life and blood. In Christianity, specifically, the blood of the living Christ. Thecardinalexperience.com states: “Traditionally, the cardinal is symbolic of life, hope, and restoration. These symbols connect cardinal birds to living faith, and so they come to remind us that though circumstances might look bleak, dark, and despairing, there is always hope.”
Cardinals were named for the red-robed bishops (although this one’s sitting on a Baptist church). Name associations include heart and possibly the Old Norse word for cross.
Which is, of course, atop the steeple where our visitor perched to offer his doxology.
First light of Easter morn Found the church silent, forlorn Empty of its life, its music, its people And a winged messenger on the steeple As if proclaiming the old, old story Singing, full-voiced, Glory, glory, glory.
This is my second attempt at writing a blitz poem. The first didn’t go so well. I think I am getting the hang of it. Will keep practicing to see what comes … of course my thoughts are colored by COVID-19.
Signs of Sun
Read a book Read the signs Signs of spring Signs of the times Times of trouble Times of plenty Plenty to eat Plenty enough Enough to go around Enough for now Now is the best time Now who among you You who are [not] gathered here You are loved Loved best of all Loved more than words can say Say it again Say it like you mean it It matters It is your word Word of the Lord Word of encouragement Encouragement is needed Encouragement makes the world go round Round and round we go Round off Off the wall Off the chain Chain letters Chain unbroken Unbroken horse Unbroken spirit Spirit of the moment Spirit set free Free from all harm Free as a bird Bird of paradise Bird chatter beyond my window Window of time Window closing Closing the day Closing the book Book of Life Book it out of here Here is where we are Here comes the sun Sun directly overhead Sun in my eyes Eyes Overhead
Today I write with a group of friends for Spiritual Journey Thursday.
The word restore has been on my mind these days. More or less as a question: When will society, the economy, the country, the health of the globe be restored to pre-COVID-19 conditions? And what will that restoration look like? How changed or different will everything be?
I think on this a lot, as is there is a lot of time to think.
Naturally a well-known line from the Psalms also comes to mind: He restores my soul. It speaks of peace and confidence, of a daily trust. I watch the news, the frenzy of those in the medical profession, pleading on behalf of us all; the government having to count the cost of a shut-down economy as weighed against the life and well-being of its citizens; and everyone worried about having enough resources for coping. They’re all waging a mighty battle against an insatiable, tenacious, invisible pathogen.
While the rest of us watch from a distance, sheltered. Protected. Trusting that the decisions made for us will preserve us, restore us.
We wait in the stillness.
It brings the preceding line of Psalm 23 to mind: He leads me beside still waters.
I could make an analogy of a stormy, violent sea for the government, the medical field, and the stock market, in contrast to the majority of us waiting at home, by the still waters … but a story resurfaced in my memory instead.
Long ago, when I was about seven, I attended a church service where an older girl was baptized. She was perhaps twelve or so, a sweet and affectionate girl well-known and loved by the congregation. It was an exciting morning for the church … except that as this girl entered the baptistry, she was sobbing.
“I can’t do it,” she bawled. ” I can’t …”
Even as a seven-year-old, I knew she’d chosen to be baptized. She’d walked the aisle some weeks before and professed her faith. I knew the pastor made new members, including children, attend a series of classes to understand the tenets of the faith and the ordnance of baptism. I didn’t understand it all myself, not yet, but I knew this girl, garbed in a white robe, hovering at the steps leading down into the water, crying, wanted to act on her faith. I’d never seen anyone react this way to being baptized: Why’s she so scared?
I look back now and wonder: Was she simply afraid of water? Had she never gone swimming in a pool, as I had?
The water wasn’t deep. It wasn’t cold; it was heated to be comfortably warm. It wasn’t waves crashing on the shore, no dangerous undertow, just clear, still water.
Our pastor, a humble, middle-aged man, a former Navy pilot in WWII and a Bible scholar, stood in his own robe of white at the center of the baptistry. He reached out his hand: “It’s all right, Dear Heart. See, I’m here. It’s safe. You know I’m going to hold onto you.” When she stayed rooted to the steps, clinging to the hidden rail, our pastor waded over, put his arm around her, and led her into the pool.
He held her for a moment. We heard him whisper: “Are you ready?”
Loud sobs, but a nod of her little head.
He raised his hand heavenward:
“I baptize you, little sister, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit …”
She went under and just as quickly, he raised her back up.
“I DID IT!” she shouted, hair plastered to her head, wet face shining. “I DID IT!”
If ever there was a vision of radiant joy, that’s it.
The entire congregation wept, even seven-year-old me.
The tears return even now, remembering.
He leads me beside still waters. Sometimes through still waters. When we cannot see the bottom. When we’d really rather not descend into them, when we don’t want to get wet at all, when we fear not so much immersion but submersion: How long will we be under? Can we last?
He restores my soul. It is a matter of trust that, somehow, all will be well, that we will be raised back up, we will be led safely through.
For now, we wait in the stillness like water lilies … which, in the Tamil poetic tradition, happens to symbolize the grief of separation.
On the placid surface
rest the blooms
in waters still.
Their unseen roots
to the earth
And so we float
this strange baptism
to one another
by unseen roots
while time stands still.
Today, in my mind, in my heart, the word restore echoes over and over and over like a prayer.
Up until COVID-19 closed the churches, my choir and my son’s choir were practicing for a combined Easter cantata, one of his childhood favorites. His idea: “Your choir knows this, mine knows this, so we can just do it together at each church. I’ll lead the music. You can take care of the drama, Mom.”
But I got rolling.
We were one week away from the performance when everything shut down. Will we be able have the Easter production later this year? We don’t know … which reminds me of a complication the first time we attempted this drama about Jesus …
With no Jesus …
Once upon a time, I started college to major in theater arts. I’d performed in plays all through high school, which lead to community theater. That’s where I met my husband. Never got that degree … a story for another day. My husband went into the ministry two years after we married and my love of theater took the form of small church productions.
Which grew bigger.
One year our choir director asked if I would help her look for an Easter cantata with a play: “People don’t come for plain old cantatas anymore. They’ll come if we add a play …”
We found a cantata we loved, but … only narration, no acting.
“Can’t you write one?” the choir director wanted to know. “I’ll handle the choir if you’ll handle the play.”
I opened my mouth to say No! but before I could speak it, something tugged on the sleeve of my mind (that is not a mixed metaphor, it’s what happened) and so I said, in a teeny-tiny voice:
I listened to the songs over and over; they happen to form an ideal sequence for the last week of Jesus’ life. As I listened, I wrote the scenes as they materialized in my head … no speaking parts, just stage directions based on lyrics while the choir sings. Beginning with the busy streets of Jerusalem, people greeting one another, lining up with palm branches as Jesus walks through—Hosanna! Hosanna!—moving into the Last Supper with the twelve disciples, the garden scene, the betrayal, the arrest, the Roman soldiers gambling for the robe, the mourning of Mary the mother at the Cross with John, the distress of Mary Magdalene, the tomb, the Resurrection, Jesus reuniting with his disciples, even a scene of martyrs for the faith and a grand finale …
I figured out set pieces that would have to be made. Props that would have to be acquired. I came up with a head count of people—twenty-five!— seventeen of them men—Why were there SO MANY disciples?!—and asked if any ladies at church would be willing to make all these Bible costumes. Six of them took it on. Everything fell into place. I cast the parts …
All except for Jesus.
Which is kind of a problem.
My main issue: I didn’t want a fake-looking Jesus. If we had to put a wig and beard on some guy … it was going to detract. It would cheapen the whole thing. And: Who was going to be comfortable playing this part, anyway? In such a case, how does a church go about finding a Jesus? A believable one? It’s not like you can put an ad in the paper: Wanted: Church seeks Jesus … people would read that and purse their lips: “Tsk tsk, you church people, you oughta have Jesus already …”
I grew more nervous with each passing day: We still don’t have a Jesus…
And then one Sunday, from my vantage point in the choir loft, I spotted visitors out in the congregation. A woman and a man.
A man with long brown hair.
And a beard.
He was kind of olive-skinned …
When they came back the following week, I could have sworn he was wearing sandals.
I said to my husband: “Give me that guy’s number off the visitor’s card.”
“He’s only been here twice! How are you going to just call him up and ask him to be Jesus in this thing!”
“I am just going to do it. The worst he can say is No.”
And so I called. The conversation went something like this:
“Um, hi, I know you don’t know me, I’m the pastor’s wife at the church, we’re glad you and your wife have been joining us recently … welcome, welcome … I have sort of a question for you … see, we’re preparing to do an Easter production and it’s all set except for one little thing … we, um, don’t have a Jesus … when I saw you last Sunday, I knew you’d be perfect … was wondering if you would help us … there’s no lines to learn or anything, it’s really easy and fun, just reenacting the last week of Jesus’ life while the choir sings …”
He chuckled. “Okay, sure.”
“Wha— I’m sorry … did you say yes?”
“Yes, I’ll do it.”
“You—you will? Wow! Thank you! That’s awesome! I think you’ll enjoy it. I mean, we wouldn’t, like, really hang you on a cross or anything …” <relieved laugh>
Another warm chuckle: “It would be okay if you did. I’m full of nail holes anyway—I’m a carpenter.”