The Lenten Writings: revisiting old stories

Matthew 4:8-11

“It’s not much, I know, what with slums and the dubious types

who eat at the better tables. Still one can whine forever, can’t one? Take what comes when it’s ripe,

I say. Pleasure’s no evil if taken as a sign

That life is good. There IS an ease one finds

In this place: the limited joys that come with largess. I’ve come to like it, a shock, perhaps from a mind

Once filled with higher saws. Welcome … to “The Best We Can Do.’ Allow me to pour you a middling sherry. The decanter is chipped, but the maids are lively,

can laugh.

And, if you allow, performers will keep us merry.

I’ll call for a tweedler, one who knows his craft.” “You serve yourself at table, eat your tail,

While my quiet lovers reach, even now for the nails.”

(This is a resetting by David Craig of Satan’s third temptation:

offering Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor)

I love it when a story gets reworked. It gives me pause. Here is an old familiar one, if you grew up in church circles. Revisited…

It’s always been a curious thing to me, the story of Jesus’ Temptation. First of all, it’s sort of an oxymoron. Is it possible that Jesus was tempted, Truly? Hebrews indicates yes. In fact one prof who loved the book said he thought Jesus experienced Temptation 150% compared to us at maybe 20%.

I don’t really know how that theology works; but I do know that this story is included in the book. When I write, I think about Story. I think about what has shaped me, and I think about what will impact those who read my words. So I don’t think it’s there accidentally.

Then there’s this. It sounds like he offers him all the kingdoms of the world. When I think about the kingdom we live in right now, I would say you can have it. No thank you. Wherever you land politically, it’s been a tough year.

So how was that really a Temptation?

And then, if you hold to the idea that a supreme being is all powerful, and that’s what Jesus was, then why was this something he wanted from someone else?

Lots of questions, few answers.

Maybe that’s Lent.

Space to sit in the questions.

Room for silence.

No answers.

Sounds about right.

Source: Matthew 4:8-11, by David Craig,

A Praying the Gospels through Poetry: Lent to Easter,

Peggy Rosenthal, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2001.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries


The Lenten Writings: the gift

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”

The Uses of Sorrow” from Thirst, by Mary Oliver, Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries

The Lenten Writings: behind the mask

“We wear the mask that grins and lies, it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes – – this debt we pay to human guile; with torn and bleeding hearts we smile, and mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise, and counting all our tears and sighs? Nay, let them only see us, while we wear the mask.

We smile, but, oh great Christ, our cries– to thee from tortured souls arise. We sing, but oh the clay Is vile– beneath our feet, and long the mile; but let the world dream otherwise, we wear the mask!”

I wonder what kind of masks you have worn in your life. Party masks, costume masks, masks made of clay.

The hardest masks to remove are the ones that are not seen. Church seems to be a really good place for wearing masks. You would think it would be the other way around. In an ideal world, that would be the place where the mask would come off.

Too often, the unspoken message of “should” gets in the way of letting the face be seen. And with the face, comes the vulnerability of an open heart.

So often, I hear a woman say that showing another person who I am in terms of story, sexual orientation, unseen pain, or just plain weariness can seem too much.

I wonder what spaces you have found for taking down the mask? Who are the people that you gift with your face? And what would it take to be willing to step in to that kind of vulnerability.

Behind the mask lives your story. The real one.

I dare you….

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries

“We wear the mask” from The Complete Poems is Paul Laurence Dunbar. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co, 1913.

The Lenten Writings: exposed to God

“Somehow by day, no matter what, I patch myself together whole, But all my effort can’t offset–the nightly nakedness of soul– When Angels in a dark descent–strip off my integument.

I am a cornered rebel pinched–Between night’s armies and my lack, And when inside the bedclothes hunched- I feel the force of their attack, I hardly know what I can do, Exposed to God at half past two.

I once believed my being full, But night thoughts prove that it is not. Waking scared and miserable, I scrape the bottom of the pot. And then must bow down and confess–totality of emptiness.

Kings once ventured, it is said. To offer gold and frankincense But I send nothing from my bed–except a tattered penitence. So very little has accrued–From years of doubtful plenitude.

God who tear away my cover, Oh, pour your Spirit into me–until my emptiness runs over with golden superfluity, and so bow down and offer up–Yourself within my earthly cup.”

Night Thoughts by William F. Bell

For all of you who have wrestled with God at half past two….

Everything is more intense at night. Long ago times and spaces swirl with the present in a dance of cellular memory.

Perhaps in those spaces there is also a wrestling in the places unseen.

God who tear away my cover…

I love the poet William Bell’s honesty. Those Kings of old? Gold and frankincense were in their hands. Me? I send nothing from my bed. Even my prayers are tattered.

And then the paradox. Until my emptiness runs over…

And the cup is full. Of something other than me.

I see this again and again in the still spaces between Day and night. These are the spaces between, in which babies like to be born.

It is always when the woman is utterly at the end of herself that the baby births, right into the mama’s waiting hands.

That image feels appropriate here, reflecting on these haunting words. It is holy ground, the long waiting in the long night.

And I bow down and offer up, Yourself within my earthen cup.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

Bell, William F. “Night Thoughts” from America Magazine, Vol. 187, No. 18, 12/02/2002.

The Lenten Writings: not yet…


Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,

Hope and desire set free,

Even the weariest river

Winds somewhere to the sea—“

But we have only begun

To love the earth.

We have only begun

To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?

— so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?

— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,

only begun to envision

how it might be

to live as siblings with beast and flower,

not as oppressors.

Surely our river

cannot already be hastening

into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot

drag, in the silt,

all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet—

there is too much broken

that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other

that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know

the power that is in us if we would join

our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must

complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

~ Denise Levertov ~

(Candles in Babylon)

So much is unfolding that must complete it’s gesture…

I am in a place of unfolding. The unfolding of things that are new, much of which is unseen at this time.

The unfolding also means a closing.

Why is it that grief enjoy so often go hand-in-hand?

This poem is haunting.

We have only begun to imagine justice and mercy…

At Neighborhood, we swim in rivers where we talk about justice. And sometimes, in the river, The current threatens to pull us under. The fight for justice is real. It has faces. It has stories. It is salty with tears.

And then in the invitation to step into new arenas, the questions remain, hanging in the air.

Not yet, not yet–there is too much Broken that must be mended.

Source: Levertov, Denise. “Beginners” from Candles in Babylon. New York: New Directions, 1982.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

The Lenten Writings: righteous indignation

Possible Answers to Prayer

“Your petitions—though they continue to bear

just the one signature—have been duly recorded.

Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent

entertainment value—nonetheless serve

to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath

a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more

conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,

the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes

recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly

righteous indignation toward the many

whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend

how near I am, with what fervor I adore

precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.”

What rouses your passion? Or maybe more accurately, your judgments? Do you have a favorite sin that you like to rant about? Or maybe a lifestyle choice or sexual orientation that really gets you going? Is it immigration status that riles you up? Politics? Vaccines? Home birth?

This prayer is hauntingly disturbing. It raises more questions than answers. In a time of Lent, where the focus is on self reflection and prayer; it points the finger back.

Sometimes in group work we play with the idea of a mirror. Another person’s actions of words trigger my opinions or judgments. Often, it is because he or she is a mirror to me. It is my imperfect self that I see in the other that gives me a rise, or provokes a strong reaction.

Before breakfast, we had a rousing conversation at our house. (That’s not the norm, in case you are wondering). My husband was telling the story of the woman caught in adultery. She was in the very act of it. No question. And Jesus pointed back. “Let the one among you who has no sin cast the first stone.” And then He just sits and starts playing in the dirt with a stick. When Jesus looks up, the air is still, no one is left. And then the words, gentle, perhaps with tears. “Neither do I condemn you… ”

This is a good place for me to sit today. And the lyrical storytelling that I heard it in this in this morning, three teenagers interrupting themselves to add details, made the story come alive.

Sometimes, I have a really hard time with the church. Not surprising, I suppose, as my wounds occurred within that context. And so, as I wrestle, I am brought back again and again to the words of Jesus. Not the church lens, thick like my grandmother’s glasses, through which I often see people.

No judgment.

I want to show up that way. Heart first, ready to listen, led by love. It’s in that space that real conversation starts.

And maybe in that place, I will begin to apprehend how very near the Presence is…

Scott Cairns, “Possible Answers to Prayer” from Philokalia: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by Scott Cairns. Reprinted with the permission of Zoo Press.

Source: Philokalia: New and Selected Poems (Zoo Press, 2002)

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

The Lenten Writings: taste the darkness

Dear God,

why do I keep fighting you off?

One part of me wants you desparately,

another part of me unknowingly

pushes you back and runs away.

What is there in me that

so contradicts my desire for you?

These transition days, these passage ways,

are calling me to let go of old securities,

to give myself over into your hands.

Like Jesus who struggled with the pain

I, too, fight the “let it all be done.”

Loneliness, lostness, non-belonging,

all these hurts strike out at me,

leaving me pained with this present goodbye.

I want to be more but I fight the growing.

I want to be new but I hang unto the old.

I want to live but I won’t face the dying.

I want to be whole but cannot bear

to gather up the pieces into one.

Is it that I refuse to be out of control,

to let the tears take their humbling journey,

to allow my spirit to feel its depression,

to stay with the insecurity of “no home”?

Now is the time. You call to me,

begging me to let you have my life,

inviting me to taste the darkness

so I can be filled with the light,

allowing me to lose my direction

so that I will find my way home to you.

I have been revisiting artwork lately, pieces that I made to anchor truth. This journey of inviting the deep places of knowing often felt so out of control.

The “I want to be whole…” line resonates. It is only in the risking that wholeness truly comes. But sometimes, it involves tasting the darkness.

I made this piece to honor my sense of smell, a very concrete sense that was given back as I moved into this part of the work of healing.

God is like that. We are not parts; five senses. We are whole; one body.

And so, even the senses themselves are interconnected, and enlivened by truth.

One person shared today at church about the way he sees the world in color. Literally, even numbers have hue.

I wonder how vividly we will see someday?

For today, I just get to smell it, like a whiff of a far off delicious scent.

May it be so.

Source: “Prayer of one who feels lost” from Praying our goodbyes, Joyce Rupp. South Bend, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1983.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

The Lenten Writings: unencumbered

My soul feels lean, trim, sparse, excess clutter left behind, desire and clutching set aside.

And for the sake of what, of what value is this the thinning, weaning, letting go?

Only for the sake of a clear eye, and open mind, and emptied heart.

All this, yes, to enter unencumbered into oneness with the One

Where nothing is everything.

This is this season of letting go. Physically, letting go of 24 years of accumulation in a house. Emotionally, letting go of a place where we have invested, one family, one group of families, committing to one neighborhood of families. That is the essence of community development, is it not?

I don’t know, really, what is on the other side.

What I do know, is that there is an invitation to release. Release into the not knowing.

Could it be that in that space, is the place that is unencumbered? Perhaps even in my soul?

A wise voice in my journey says that this will be a season where grief and joy hold hands.

To the journey ahead.


Source: “my soul feels lean” from My soul feels lean: poems of kids and restoration, Joyce Rupp. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2013.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

The Lenten Writings: of silence and speaking

We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.


And the few willing to listen demanded that we confess on television.

So we kept our sins to ourselves, and they became less troubling.

The halt and the lame arranged to have their hips replaced.

Lepers coated their sores with a neutral foundation, avoided strong light.

The hungry ate at grand buffets and grew huge, though they remained hungry.

Prisoners became indistinguishable from the few who visited them.

Widows remarried and became strangers to their kin.

The orphans finally grew up and learned to fend for themselves.

Even the prophets suspected they were mad, and kept their mouths shut.

Only the poor—who are with us always—only they continued in the hope.

The sunset tonight was unable to be captured. It stood in stark contrast to the stiff buildings created as magnificent structures of grandeur.

Today was a day of breaking silence. Perhaps that is what this poet was getting at. The poor know it. They shoot straight. It’s no use pretending. We’re all f-d up anyway right?!

Perhaps this is the kind of honesty that is missing in the Church. Instead, we put on foundation and avoid strong light.

I choose to continue in hope.

Late takers, poem.

Philokilia: New and Selected Poems by Scott Cairns. Zoo press: Lincoln, NE, 2002.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

The Lenten writings: holding hands with sorrow

I might never have asked what could be

but for sorrow.

I might never have opened to the terrible vulnerability of love

but for tears.

I might never have begun this treacherous path to God

but for emptiness**.

I remember, as a child, being fascinated with the book “Hinds feet on high places”. Much Afraid, the main character, is invited by a gentle Shepherd to go on an adventure to the high places. She longs to go to those mountain that she can see from afar. But even the idea is utterly impossible. She has feet that don’t let her walk well. When he takes her to the foothills to begin her walk upwards, he introduces her to her traveling companions: sorrow and suffering. She recoils from their touch, tinged with pain. “Why couldn’t you give me joy and peace as traveling companions instead” she asks.

I Identified with Much Afraid on so many levels. My rheumatoid disease came early, before age two. And with it, came many rules. I was not allowed to run, or to play outside, or take PE. The idea of going to the high places would have been just as laughable for me.

My night child also carried much fear; each bedtime it permeated the air. The idea of doing something bold and brave was just as unreachable as the distant mountaintop.

I think of the girl who was, and the woman who now inhabits this body. This much stronger body can take walks, dance with my daughter in the kitchen, plant a garden, and choose to do bold things. It’s still invites care with kindness, but it is full of possibility and hope.

Would I be this woman without these journey mates?

Something to sit with on the second day of Lent.

**poem: But for Sorrow by Rob Suarez. Source: from America Magazine, Vol. 184, No. 10, 03/26/2001.

The poem is for the first Thursday of Lent from the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.