Monday, October 7, 2013

both men

It is to the caged hand
   the Arm extends,
           and whether up
       or up and over,
             both men 

This poem is about two men.  One is Gregory Petrov who died in a prison camp in Russia in the 1940's, praising God to the end.  The other man is someone who miraculously escaped and walked for many, many miles over the Siberian mountains to freedom.

In the midst of suffering, Gregory Petrov wrote one of the most beautiful Orthodox hymns I've ever heard:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

peaceable kingdom

As a child, I used to be surprised and hurt that animals did not come closer. I constantly dreamed of little chickadees resting in my hand, squirrels perched on my shoulder, fawns nuzzling my cheek, but today with Anna the cat on my lap, longing for my touch, I am amazed that she trusts me at all. "We've killed your kind by the droves," I want to tell her. "We slash and burn your homes, we tie you up to work our fields, we eat you, turn you to glue-- why should you trust me?" And yet, as Scripture teaches us, all of the animal kingdom groans for the kingdom of God to come, for the princes and princesses, sons and daughters of God to be revealed. They hold no grudges, but I am not surprised that they are wired to run at the sound of my steps. And yet, here on my lap, nuzzling my cheek, is a first fruit, all fur and purr, of the peaceable kingdom.
These are not the rantings of a vegetarian animal activist, but just a musing of gratefulness and wonder that there is a life so other than me that lets me love it up close. Wonder too that God would allow His creatures to be subject to such frustration, would even call us to smear their innocent blood over our front doors, slit their throats at the temple until their life rushed out over our altars and we understood the cost of sin. And even now in factories, living in their own feces, or dying in polluted waters, being hunted to extinction, they display in graphic ways the cost of our sin and in doing so point us to the slain Lamb.
As I hold this cat, there are tens of thousands of chickens, bred too fat to walk, who are pumped full of chemicals that enable them to unnaturally survive their tortuous environment until they are slaughtered.  There, waiting in cages, they groan on my behalf, waiting for me to be revealed as glorious, spotless and pure. How is that fair? The answer is it's not, but this is the grace God gives to us through every living being, through the creation we were called to steward as a gardener but have plundered as a thief. Today during church a toddler suggested that we pray for giraffes. We laughed, of course, but it is no small thing.  Even on the African plains, the giraffe is my close companion in longing. Call me crazy, but my hope is that one day I will get to apologise to her and to God for the part I've played, and she will lick my face with her long black tongue. Until then, I will enjoy my cat and listen to the birds sing outside my window with wonder and delight.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


There was an old woman
who was greedy and cold
She was mean and she was spiteful
with eyes full of scorn.
And she lived by herself,
for herself, in her mind.
And she hated the world
for its dirt and its grime;
And she hated the world
for its dirt and its grime.
One day a beggar
came hungry and poor
and she beat him and bruised him;
she hollered and swore.
Yet as he turned slowly
from the house to the road,
she threw him an onion
and quick! slammed the door;
she threw him an onion
and quick! slammed the door.
Now the woman grew older
and one day she died,
as she sunk down to hades
an archangel cried,
"Grab hold of this onion
I have in my hand!
It will lift you to heaven
for Christ was that man;
it will lift you to heaven
for Christ was that man."
So children, listen closely,
our tale is now told,
love's not just a feeling
a warmth in our soul.
But love is an onion
that grows in the dirt,
its roots deep in heaven,
its roots deep in earth;
its roots deep in heaven,
its roots deep in earth.
This is a song I wrote based on a story that was based on a fable found in The Brother's Karamazov which might have been borrowed from an even older tale.  Below is a link to the Karamazov excerpt.  It has a different emphasis but is brilliant.  It's good to reclaim the art of storytelling.  Part of me is afraid of fables--what if people think that an onion is the path to salvation?--but this is fairly ridiculous.  Jesus loved telling parables that gave glimpses of the truth, while not explicitly addressing every theological implication.  On the other side, you have people who scorn fables because they do not reflect "real life."  But sometimes I think we need stories with obvious morals in order to reflect what real life really is when our lives feel a bit muddled.  So many stories now are about muddled people who are wandering through the muddled world.  I suppose we need all kinds!     

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Teeth chattering
rattling cold bones
of a hungry throng
straining to hear
some hot word
trickle down
rumor of some
Man they heard
used to speak
a long time ago.
For years she waits
blue-lipped, cracked
hands tugging
at the sleaves
of a thread-bare faith,
until He came,
like an open flame,
close as a coal
held to her lips--
Come dance with me
my love, my lover,
my beloved lovely one--
be wrapped in robes
of my rejoicing, in life,
in light, in song.