Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: June, 2016


On the occasion of the adoption of the Belhar Confession
by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)

They stood around the room,
unseen saints, hanging
from the rafters, or floating
in the air, or marching
among us, invisible as ghosts—
the dead who ask the living:
How long?

Some wore the shackle, some the noose,
some bled from wounds from bullet
or sword, or hobbled, fractured bones
not yet knitted. Some bore the look
of hunger, with bloodshot eyes
hot with tears of hope denied
too long.

We took the vote to make
their words our own, to lift
their prayer upon our voice.
And there was silence.
And we knew. The time had come
to rest these ghosts, and make no more

The Space Between

There is a space between one word and another,
a gap that yawns between truth and truth,
between hands reached out to aid the crossing
and those who cross in peril or in hope.
Explorers on a glacier, balancing on ladders
above a deep crevasse—blue-black well-shaft
to the world’s dark frozen heart—we teeter
from word to word, from fingertip to fingertip.
God help us lest we fall between, the meaning lost
and frozen.

Inured to the space between, we trust our eyes to skip
from rung to rung without thinking of the abyss
till it lurches up between to snatch and send us
hurtling to oblivion. It cannot be otherwise,
lest we venture neither ice, nor word nor touch,
lest we never dare to make the journey
to the pole.

This space between that bears up foot or tongue
or heart along this frigid trek, is it not love—
that fills the hungering chasm
between the words, between the you-and-I
between the now-and-then, between heartache
and heart’s desire—is it not love?
Not a feeling, not a force—for feeling wanes
and force subsides—no, love is open space,
and space abides.

There is a space between the Giver and the Given—
Eli! Lemah sabacthani!—room to reach
from one nailed palm around the darkling world
to the other. As though it were a womb
to birth these twins: our frozen fears, stillborn,
and the startled breath, sharp-drawn,
of a new tomorrow.