Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: June, 2014





June 2014


The body and blood, he says, and holds aloft the bread and cup.

Broken for sin, poured out in forgiveness,

God’s gifts, he says, for God’s people.

Come, for all things are ready—

Broken for us.


We come as is our wont, a thousand in disciplined lines,

Hands prepared to receive the sacred sacrifice.

I join a line, far back, shuffling slowly,

In penitential pilgrimage toward

The elements of grace.


Ahead, a woman holds the paten, laden with the broken bread—

Not a loaf, whence I might wrench a ragged piece,

Tangible symbol of God’s own self-rending—

But careful cubes, as if to manage mystery

In respectable geometry.


Closer now, the crowd parts, and I see her face, smiling, nodding

To each one as we approach, receiving from her hand

Forgiveness expressed in grain and yeast.

Stunned, recognition dawns. She is

Mother of my former wife.


The line becomes a litany of ancient aches, shallow-buried grievance,

A quarter-century’s unspoken words, or words that ought

Not have been the burden of wounded tongue or pen.

Relationships broken, wrenched asunder,

Hard-restored, still uncertain.


How can I, who make my sad contribution to that liturgy,

Whose steps yet tread the perilous path, take from her

This packaged pardon, cut by other hands than ours,

We, who must forgive and be forgiven,

Yet have not words to say?


I am not ready. Too soon I stand before her, hands empty for the gift

I have no right to offer or receive. She looks aside, still

Speaking to one already gone. She turns,

And for the first time sees my face.

Her eyes ignite with joy.


She raises her free arm, unburdened by the paten, and wraps it

Round me, drawing me in, inhaling her delight, exhaling

Welcome in a ragged sigh. She releases me at last.

Forgiveness in her eyes, and tears in mine.

I cannot see


Congregation, penitent line, veined hand bearing the morsel—

All things become one thing, and the one thing is the bread.

She offers me a plateful of brokenness—hers, mine, ours

Christ’s body, she says, broken for you.

Broken for us.


Austin Seminary

June 2014


The cry lifted my attention

From pavement to rooftop.


Beginning in self assertion,

Trailing into doubt,

A question, plaintive, unsure.

A fledgling hawk perched on the cornice,

Toeing the terminus between

Solid structure and empty air.

Reddish breast thrust forward—

Raptoral dignity, evolution’s masterpiece, as yet

Unsupported by confident experience.


How long have we watched

From classroom and library window

The mating pair of red-shoulders

Rearing their replacements to stand

Their parents’ post on branch and wing?

How long observed

The slow discipleship of hunt and flight?

Lessons done, the fledgling

Stands on the border between learning and living.


Two mockingbirds, grey-coated, nettlesome,

Trill and squawk their challenge:

What right have you to be here?

No match for beak and talon,

Nonetheless they swoop and dive,

Ruffling russet feathers in their attack.

Go back, go back. You are not ready.

Perhaps persuaded, or insecure,

The fledgling neither retreats nor advances.


From high atop the chapel steeple

Comes the maternal command.

She does not soar to rescue,

Nor circle in hovering defense,

But only summons up lessons learned,

Promises made. You are ready.

You will be hungry, you will be lonely,

But you are neither empty nor alone.

Go, fly, and remember who you are.


The fledgling cocks his head,

Attentive to this last lecture.

Then, deciding at length to rely

On instinct or instruction,

Unfurls majestic wings, dark-shrouded—

As though a black gown

Billowed by a freshening breeze—

And flies, soaring

Where no mocking bird has will or wing to reach.


The classroom is empty now.

The lessons are in the wind.