Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: September, 2017


It’s about the blood—
joining boards at angles,
edges are negotiations
prone to pinch,
nails pierce like talking points,
splinters burn like lightning
beneath the skin—
red stains in the palms of hands.

It’s about the blood—
the labor of little cuts,
saw-blade nicks,
chisel slips on turning lathes,
abrasions from rough surfaces
in rapid motion,
currency to pay
for chalices and tables,
for chair legs in church parlors,
and for crosses. Always crosses.

It’s about the blood
smeared on every doorpost,
pulpit, pew—
forensic faithfulness:
a wound for every wonder.
Impassive as a judge’s smile, the paschal lamb
has nothing more to say.
The scraping of the planer’s blade
smooths the ragged faces of the cross
and with every hammer-blow the blood
sinks deeper in the heartwood
unseen and silent,
until all that’s left is argument, quid pro quo.
Leave the dead behind
in the night when angels pass,
and head for parted water.

But it’s about the blood—
crying out from every field
and every brother without a keeper,
every lamb laid on every altar,
every cup on every covenantal Table
where the wounded Body lies
awaiting autopsy
while survivors lurk in hallways
fighting over the personal effects.

A Prayer Before Advent

Mark 13:24-27
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Texas and Florida

In the wind that howls, the deep’ning dark, when rains begin to fall
and the hopes we cherish most in life are shrouded in their pall,
then at last we lift our vision; then at last we strain our ear
for the word of sweet deliv’rance: our rescuer draws near.
Teach us, Lord, to rescue others, and to find as we are found,
until all your people reach the shore and stand on higher ground.

O that you, O God, would tear the skies and to the earth descend
‘mid the trembling mountain’s tumult, ‘mid fear that knows no end.
Though the stars may leave their places, constellations cease to be,
though the world we know and all we love lost to memory,
still we wait, Lord, rapt in wonder, ‘til morning’s sun shall rise,
‘til the clouds are rent asunder, and the tear of heartache dries.

‘Til that day, before the table spread, the font, the spoken word
we will gather as a people and let lament be heard
for your promised reign of glory, for tomorrow’s dawn of peace,
for the helpless and the hopeless, the prisoner’s release.
Quickly come, Lord, to your people! The night grows e’er so long!
We believe; help now our unbelief, ‘til all our hearts are strong.

Note: In writing this hymn, I have in mind the tune, Thaxted (#341 in Glory to God, the hymnal of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), drawn from the “Jupiter” movement of Gustav Holst’s magnificent suite, The Planets. The poem was written to be sung, and permission is hereby granted for its use in worship or other ecclesiastical contexts. 

Daedalus, Afterward

[Note: A few days ago, my friend Dana Hughes posted on her blog ( a lovely poem entitled Icarus, about the man who donned wings of wax and feathers and flew too close to the sun. But there’s another story here, too: that of his father, Daedalus, who made and tested the wings, and who warned his son about the dangers–real and metaphorical–of flying too high.]

Mine the funeral to plan,
mine the grieving mother
who’ll demand that I explain.
I don’t know why I bother.

He never listened anyway,
he was too much compelled
to heights, no matter what I’d say:
that the wax would melt,

that the fall to earth would be
his last. Damn the consequence
for his mother or for me.
I thought I might convince him,

but my careful calculations
—how much moisture, how much heat—
were no match for aspiration
to see clouds beneath his feet.

Engineers are patient minds;
I moderate my passions
by what my testing finds.
I take my joy in rations

small enough to manage
should something go awry;
I estimate the damage
before I try to fly.

I know that bodies break.
But I cannot understand
why his the myth of greatness,
and mine the funeral to plan.