Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: November, 2017


is a delicious word, too fine
to use dismissively, like “Thanks,”
half-mumbled at held-open doors
to a stranger passing in life’s oncoming lane,
or when receiving a pack of gum from
a clerk’s hand in some convenience store.
Grateful must linger on the palate, be savored
until the juice of gratitude has passed
across the tongue and down the throat
into the stomach, been digested and dispatched
throughout the bloodstream, so it is possible
to feel, to think, to speak, to hope, to live.

Imaginary Mountain

1 Kings 19 

Wind howls in the pines, and rain
drives birds and squirrels to their nests
and copperheads to unseen dens.
A limb falls, crackling through its kin
like distant gunshots. Make a note.
Cut and dried, it soon enough
could sit beside the hearth to wait
its turn to burn. That’s how it is
on my imaginary mountain.

Nothing’s wasted here. Not limbs
or lines. Or love. Things in short
supply must be hauled up from
the bottom land. The road’s a bog
on days like this and slick as glass.
Use what’s at hand; it is enough.
Better not to be spendthrift
with things like faith. That’s how it is
on my imaginary mountain.

One would think this place is close
to God, more visionary than
the push and shove of word and hymn
that claim to know the way. But no.
Just wind and rain and limbs that fall
exploding through the trees. Enough
perhaps, but barely. Live for what
the storm will bring. That’s how it is
on my imaginary mountain.

All Saints

We feebly struggle; they in glory shine.
“For All the Saints” – William Walsham How

…Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
“Ozymandias” – Percy Bysshe Shelley

It is too glib to promise glory;
saints are not made to shine.
Were they exempt, immune
to primal urges, nagging fears
that hound us on the road to pain?

Overcame, then; resisting all temptation,
running the race, staying the course,
keeping the faith, holding onto hope…?
Insipid metaphors, one and all,
false as fool’s gold glittering in streams.
These days, even gold reverts to dross
in the alchemy of the evening news.

Confessed, received forgiveness, started new
with slate wiped clean of stain and story?
No one leaves the past behind; it lives
and peers through every windowpane,
and knocks each night at the door of dreams.

Who sees a wildflower in a field of weeds
and rejoices just because it grows there,
who hears a laughing child
and is glad of happiness, even though in sorrow,
who witnesses beauty
and does not yearn to grasp it with soiled hands,
who speaks a quiet truth
and has no need of congratulation–
these are the saints.
The ones who leave no trace.