The hand of the Lord came upon me
and led me on an uncertain mission
to a valley full of ghostly shapes
lying lifeless on the cold ground
in the sullen dawn. When he set me down
amid the valley, I was amazed to hear
the Lord’s voice calling me,
“Mortal, can these ghost Christians live?”
I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
I began to speak at the Lord’s command.
Shapes rose like twisting smoke
with the rushing sounds of the four winds
as bones came together and flesh
took shape atop the bones, and skin
covered the flesh, and the ghost Christians
once again began to breathe.
The sun broke through the morning haze.
Ghost Christians shimmered in the light,
attentive, as if waiting for instructions.
Then the Lord said to me,
“Prophesy to these ghost Christians:
listen, hear the word of the Lord!”
I heard my voice fill up the valley.
“I do not promise you a land of your own
or sacred soil in our troubled world.
Put aside your worldly concerns
for living in comfort, buying and selling,
securing your place, displacing others.
Remember your baptism, your call to service.
Turn your attention to those in need.
Give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty,
clothe the naked and welcome the stranger,
heal the sick and visit the prisoner.
Now is the time to renew commitment
to the spirit of Christ, which dwells in you.”
When the last echo of my last words
settled into silence, I lowered my eyes
from the distant mountains and witnessed emptiness
in all directions. All of the silence
in this rib-cage valley undergirded
the wings and arc of a solitary raptor.
I have three new poems published on MyEdmondsNews, an online journal for the city of Edmonds. Click this to view. When you open this page, you might get a request for a donation. This will block your view. Click the red button that says CLICK HERE. This opens a second web page where you can make a donation if you want to do that. Go back to the first web page to read the poem.
I wrote a poem about the Coronavirus for my faith community at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish, WA. It is titled “Mass in Times of a Pandemic.” Click this to view. Also, here is a video of my narration of the poem:
NOTE: A special thank you goes out to my 16-year-old grandson in Florida, Max Renner, for helping me create this video. Max is a skilled programmer already. It appears this young man has a bright future in software engineering. Thanks, Max!
The verbs to tempt and to test are not the same. God did not tempt Abraham to sacrifice his one and only child, Isaac. For it is written, “After these things God tested Abraham.” The devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread to prove he is the son of God. The devil tempted Jesus to leap from the façade of the temple and force the angels to cushion his bones. The devil tempted Jesus with his biggest and best offer: the splendor of earthly kingdoms if he, in turn, would worship him; Jesus refused. Temptations bedevil us every hour of every day as befits our nature, but do not be confused when the Lord requires your service: This is a test.
The gods consume nectar and ambrosia on Olympus and amuse themselves by looking down on us dispassionately. Cool detachment is a sardonic business. Hellenism insists we see things as they are. For right thinking, the body and its desires are a barrier; we are cautioned to keep the mind completely clear.
Hebraism counters that the body and its desires are a barrier to right action. The Lord requires clarity of thought chastened by strictness of conscience. The principal rubric of the Law is studied obedience to the will of God. The Lord has a vertical presence— aloof except to chastise with corrective fires.
The unknown author of the book of Hebrews crystalizes the Christology of Paul by defining a different kind of divinity in which the pioneer of our salvation identifies with the human condition. Jesus is wholly man as well as divine and, thus, he thoroughly understands what it means for us to live imperfect lives.
But there is more. It is well and good to know the Lord has empathy, unlike the dispassionate pantheon or the distant God of Moses. It begs the question: what can be done about our suffering and sorrow? The pioneer of our salvation has come to earth to show us exactly what we need for true consolation.
Jesus set out from the pinched, provincial town of Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, one of many towns near the Sea of Galilee. A fertile region with editable fish in the lake, Galilee was a prosperous crossroads for trade. It was also a fertile region for new ideas where opinions mingled in the heated crucible of debate. Jesus did not look back. He began his ministry of teaching, of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and of the healing of bodies and souls for those who asked. By his example, we know that leaving home can lead to liberating the best version of ourselves. A hometown is more than a place: it is a state of mind. What would it take for you who read these lines to set out to be the best version of yourself?
I ken a cross cleaving clouds high in the heavens of purple hue the mark of my liege in the middle of morning suddenly streaming strange ray-daggers fiery flames from Wayland’s forge burnishing war-bucklers baring souls loosening artifice from feckless lives who lack conviction leaving at the last grim cobble-ground the gut of groundlings daring discernment on judgment day
Who was Cædmon?
Cædmon was the earliest recorded writer of Old English poetry. He lived in seventh century according to Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English people.” Bede translated “Cædmon’s Hymn” from Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon into Latin and praised him as the most inspiring writer of the sacred verse. Unfortunately, most of the poems written by Cædmon are not found. But according to Bede, Cædmon wrote on Christian themes like creation of the world, origin of man, Exodus, Jesus’ incarnation, resurrection, preaching of apostles, terrors of future judgment, pains of hell and delights of heaven.
Cædmon became a lay member of the monastery in his later life and he was not well-educated. But in his vision an angel appeared and blessed him with the gift of composing songs. Cædmon later became a monk and spent the rest of his life in Whitby monastery until he passed away peacefully in 680 A.D.
My poem on this page is based on a story about one of Cædmon’s
poems. His actual poem is now lost.
Isaiah’s camera lens is zooming out
from a close-up shot showing the rubble and despair
of occupied Israel to a wide-angle view,
a cosmic view, of all the nations of the world.
God is not a tribal deity who assures
military mastery or material success for Israel.
He created the heavens and stretched out the earth.
He cares for all living and breathing creatures.
Isaiah promises a spirit-filled servant—
not a conqueror or a tyrant. The servant is the face of justice.
Hard power is swept aside by justice!
The servant will persist until a sense of fairness
holds sway all the way to the coastlands.
Even in this hour as it endures a humiliating plight,
Israel should look beyond itself and serve as a light
to the world by inspiring justice in every land.
A popular belief was abroad in the kingdom of Judea.
Scholars concluded that seventy-six generations
had passed since the Creation, and that the next,
the seventy-seventh, would gift to Israel the Messiah
who was destined to deliver the nation from foreign rule.
A child born in Bethlehem would be the king
of the Jews—as foretold by the prophet Micah.
The Magi spoke these words to Herod the Great.
Herod was frightened, but he feigned excitement.
He said to the Magi, “Go and search diligently
for the child; and when you find him, bring me word
so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
At the time, he was terminally ill with a hideous disease.
His career was one with many bold accomplishments;
it was also one of cruelty, vengeance, and paranoia,
traits in overdrive at the time of the birth of Jesus.
Herod was thoroughly Roman in murdering each
and every rival to his rule, including his wife
and three of his sons. He murdered hundreds more
real and perceived enemies in his final years
as he assured his lasting legacy in the line of succession.
In the end, nothing happened to the child of Bethlehem.
No one mourned for Herod, a converted Jew—
the son of an Edomite father and an Arab mother—
who did the dirty work for the hated Roman state.