Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Tag: Austin Seminary

Driving Past Cornfields in September

Central Texas

September 2014


Parched and brown as Egyptian papyri,

Wrenched ragged stalks rattle,

Tumble, twisting, tilting;

Week-old stubble on the face of a field,

Remnant of the harvesting razor’s pass.

Broken stems point skyward,

In a thousand accusations of the clouds.


Abreast of the field, the country road

Undulates along a line of rusting wire.

The wind disturbs the corn;

Empty husks rehearse their anxieties,

Rasping shucks whisper their regrets,

Play their nervous allegro

On the quivering strings of a vagrant breeze.


The road turns north. Now I gaze

Abeam at countless furrows in the field,

Sloping to a gentle swale,

Rising toward a ridge. A line of trees,

Patient, knowing, magisterial, their roots

Probe fissures in the bedrock,

And plumb the ancient aquifers of hope.


And so: beneath the crisis of the current,

An older order pulses. The stalks

Align, and face the trees,

Like sunflowers turning toward the light

Or believers turning toward the font,

Barren, brittle, but turning

Toward the promise of a fertile and forgiving sky.


On for a quarter-mile and more,

The cornrows marshal their procession.

Soon enough plowed under,

They are fuel for an unimagined spring.

For now they limn the path that leads

From convocation to commencement

And on to planting once again.


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.