Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: December, 2017


When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem….”
Luke 2:15

What proximate apocalypse arrives tomorrow?
Lost key lost love cancer butterfly extinction
blood on the floor of schoolyards sanctuaries—
must we endure yet more of heaven’s plan?
Do you dare to raise your eyes, peek between
the stars to see the angels turn for home
after they have rearranged your dreams?
After the dream comes the dark.

“Be not afraid”: why do the blessèd say this
when the only reasonable response is fear
or maybe flight if you can make your feet work?
Are you not supposed to fear the beast?
When you meet a bear—or host of angels—
and your back’s against the wall, will you stand
your ground before the feral claws of glory?
After the glory comes the dark.

Do you yearn to leave the sheep and wander
into town to search for manger mother
child aglow with heaven’s subtle light;
leave the eastern palaces to track a star,
offer homage at the hard world’s fraying edge;
leave the boats and nets and trail a migrant
preacher pinned like a butterfly to a cross?
After the cross comes the dark.

And who knows what might happen in the dark?

* “Adventus” is a Latin word meaning, “arrival” or “coming.” It is the word from which English draws the term, “Advent.” Christians use the latter term to describe their expectant hope for the arrival of God’s kingdom’s arrival raises more questions than it answers.

This poem was originally published at on 12 December 2017. PKH

In the Land of Nod

Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD,
and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
–Genesis 4:16

What innate imperative of manhood
drives us to the shedding of this blood?

Grand porch’s balustrade for seats,
backs against the pillars, planted feet,
pellet rifles rest on knees and aim at creatures
who otherwise would have no cause to see us
as executioners. His the better mark–
natural inclination honed by work,
practicing with weapons that seem to suit him
like old clothes. Teacher, teach us how to shoot.
Relax your grip; breathe in a bit and hold;
slow and steady trigger pressure; don’t
jerk; don’t squint; keep both eyes on the target. This
is not a lesson learned. A try. A miss.

Startled by a shot.
Got to get at least one, he said. And one is got.
A writhing length of fur and tail
in the grass beneath the oak. He vaults down from the rail
and saunters over. By now the squirrel has found
its feet, its forepaws clawing at the ground,
pawing to return to branch and shelter,
but its hind legs won’t move; the pellet
has struck mid-spine.
Half a squirrel is bound to earth; half desperate to climb.

Finish him. But even at short range
the pellets won’t find home. How strange
to follow in slow motion as it drags its body, small and grey,
a bloodstained furrow on the ground to mark the way.
Come on, can’t leave it; do it;
we have to see this through; it’s
not humane, this suffering. One shot, muzzle pressed
behind the head, more blood, and it is finished.

See from the upstairs window how she surveys the scene.
What have you done? She knows. He is being
torn from her again. Blood is the evidence.
The land is choking on the blood of innocence.

He pokes the carcass to the gutter with his toe,
nudges it down the storm drain. He bends low
over the hard steel grate, lingers there
like a Muslim bending to his daily prayer,
like a gardener nestling a seed to its rest beneath the sod.
Like a wanderer staggering beneath the weight of God.

And faintly, oh, so faintly comes
the sound of retching.

Listen to the world as it weeps beneath your feet.
Darkness falls in silence in the street.