The Lenten Writings:

“We are not experiencing utopia here on earth.

But God meant things to be easier than we have made them.

A man has a natural right to food, clothing and shelter.

A family needs work as well as bread.

Property is proper to man.

We must keep repeating these things.

Eternal life begins now, “all the way to heaven is heaven, because He said, ‘I am the Way.’”

The Cross is there of course, but “in the Cross is joy of spirit.”

And love makes all things easy …

Love is indeed a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, of each of us, but it is the only answer …

to the saints everyone is child and lover.

Everyone is Christ.”

Utopia by Dorothy Day. From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Neighborhood Ministries.

A harsh and dreadful thing…

The phrase reminds me of the Denise Levertov reading where she equates mercy to rage and joy.

Why do we make the gospel into a Hallmark movie? This thing that we are asked to do is both easy and hard. The call to love God and love neighbor, is the whole deal in one phrase. And it takes a lifetime to live into.

These natural rights are not the norm for many even in our “wealthy” country. Privilege is real, an unseen line that divides and creates distinction. If you don’t believe that, you probably live from a place of invisible privilege.

Eternal life begins now.” The kingdom of God is a both and. It is coming and it is here. I am to long for it and work for it today. It is the sublime paradox.

It is in this paradox that I find hope. And love, as easy to love as it is to love a little child or a lover.

And this is the kingdom of God. Even so come.


The Lenten Writings: I am not an island

Lying, thinking

Last night

How to find my soul a home

Where water is not thirsty

And bread loaf is not stone

I came up with one thing

And I don’t believe I’m wrong

That nobody, But nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires

With money they can’t use

Their wives run round like banshees

Their children sing the blues

They’ve got expensive doctors

To cure their hearts of stone.

But nobody

No, nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely

I’ll tell you what I know

Storm clouds are gathering

The wind is gonna blow

The race of man is suffering

And I can hear the moan,

‘Cause nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Source: “Alone” from Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well, by Maya Angelou. New York: Random House, Inc., 1975.

The Lenten Writings: Kindness


By Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept

     him alive.

Before you know kindness as

     the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as

     the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that

     makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day

     to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you


like a shadow or a friend.

The Lenten Writings: the Mystery

Days pass when I forget the mystery.

Problems insoluble and problems offering

their own ignored solutions

jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber

along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing

their colored clothes; caps and bells.

And then

once more the quiet mystery

is present to me, the throng’s clamor

recedes: the mystery

that there is anything, anything at all,

let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,

rather than void: and that, 0 Lord,

Creator, Hallowed one, You still, hour by hour sustain it.

Source: “Primary Wonder” by Denise Levertov, from SANDS OF THE WELL, copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996 by Denise Levertov

The mystery.

So hard to find amidst the cacophony of noise. She pictures it here in metaphor, like courtiers, brightly colored clothes swirling in dance.

And it is through that crowd, in a quiet place beyond, that the mystery is found.

There are many things swirling for me right now. The voices clamor for my attention. Each one distinct, each need important.

Problems also line up for solutions, jostling for a better place. Perhaps some, as she points out, are insoluble. Others, if given a voice, present their own solutions.

They too can distract from the mystery.

Yet even those voices, strident in their need, recede as I come near to the Mystery.

The mystery, wisely, is not named. How could it be?

And yet, it is there, as my very being is sustained for another breath.

And all the noise recedes.

And it is enough.

The Lenten Writings: Mercy

To lie back under the tallest oldest trees. How far the stems rise, rise

before ribs of shelter


To live in the mercy of God. The complete sentence too adequate, has no give.

Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of stony wood beneath lenient

moss bed.

And awe suddenly

passing beyond itself. Becomes a form of comfort.

Becomes the steady air you glide on, arms

stretched like the wings of flying foxes. To hear the multiple silence

of trees, the rainy

forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,

as salt water would hold you,

once you dared. To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself unabating down and down

to clenched fists of rock. Swiftness of plunge,

hour after year after century,

O or Ah uninterrupted, voice


To breathe spray. The smoke of it.


of steelwhite foam, glissades

of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—

rage or joy?

Thus, not mild, not temperate, God’s love for the world. Vast

flood of mercy

flung on resistance.

To Live in the Mercy of God, by Denise Levertov


Joy. Rage.

Wild. Thunderous.

Is this what I want when I ask for mercy for me?

When I pray for a friend whose heart is breaking?

When I ask that truth be brought to light?


The Lenten Writings:

Don’t run

when faced with

something or someone

that seems like an adversary

Stay with it

Try to hear it

Let the process unfold

Do not judge

Let it all be

Sooner or maybe later

what is constricted

will lift its head

and surprise you

with how simple the truth is

In the meantime

keep returning

to the center

surround your heart

with love

let the ugly thoughts

and harsh feelings

fade away

Don’t shove them out

And never

let them take over

Listen and learn

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

The Lenten Writings: the gift of resistance


And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses, and they Were talking to Jesus.”–Mark 9:2

They were talking to him about heaven, how all forms there were luciform,

How the leather girdle and the matted hair, how the lice coursing the skin

And the skin skinned alive, blaze with perfection, the vibrance of light.

And they were talking about the complexities of blood and lymph,

Each component crowding the vessels, the body and the antibody,

And they were talking about the lamp burning in the skull’s niche,

The eyes drinking light from within and light from without,

And how the present belonged to the flesh and its density and darkness

And was hard to talk about.

Before and after were easier.

They talked about light.

They were talking to him about law and how lawgiving should be

Like rainfall, a light rain falling all morning and mixing with dew –

A rain that passes through the spider web and penetrates the dirt clod

Without melting it, a persistent, suffusing shower, soaking clothes,

Making sweatshirts heavier, wool stink and finding every hair’s root on the scalp.

And that is when you hurled judgement into the crowd and watched them

Spook like cattle, reached in and stirred the turmoil faster, scarier.

And they were saying that, to save the best, many must be punished, Including the best.

And no one was exempt, as they explained it,

Not themselves, not him, or anyone he loved, anyone who loved him.

I want to believe that he talked back to them, his radiant companions,

And I want to believe he said too much was being asked and too much promised.

I want to believe that that was why he shone in the eyes of his friends,

The witnesses looking on, because he spoke for them, because he loved them

And was embarrassed to learn how he and they were going to suffer.

I want to believe he resisted at that moment, when he appeared glorified,

Because he could not reconcile the contradictions and suspected

That love had a finite span and was merely the comfort of the lost.

I know he must have acceded to his duty, but I want to believe

He was transfigured by resistance, as he listened,

And they talked.

Source: “Transfigured” by Mark Jarman, from Praying the Gospels through Poetry Lent to Easter, by Peggy Rosenthal, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH, 2001.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries

I remember, early in our journey of foster care, the school director made a side remark: “Sometimes love is not enough.” I was taken aback at her “rude” comment; so different from all those who said we were doing such a wonderful thing. The reality is, 10+ years in, I trust her words much more. The platitudes are long gone along with that initial wave of well wishers. The director remains a wise voice in my ear, here for the long journey.

And daily, we choose love. Love for the children, for the bio family, for the community, even for the forces that shaped them. It is a bold YES.

I read this poem through several times. It really turns the story on its head!

Lent is like that. We want to fast forward to the end of the story, the resurrection that we know is coming because we peeked at the last chapter. But Lent says no, read the whole story.

This idea of transfiguration as the resistance of love…

I wonder if there was a time that Jesus realized love was not enough? Sounds sacrilegious, almost, doesn’t it?

Love wasn’t going to shortcut the story. It couldn’t protect those He loved from pain.

And yet, it is enough; it’s a both/and. It is enough for today.

And they talked.

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: 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.