ON HEARING FRED CRADDOCK

Fred Craddock 2014

ON HEARING FRED CRADDOCK
[On the occasion of what would have been Fred Craddock’s 92nd birthday, I’m posting a selection from next book, LOVE ALL WAYS, forthcoming in late 2020/early 2021.]

Before I ever read his books or even met him, I heard Fred Craddock. Not in a worship service or at a church convention or at a preacher’s workshop. No, I heard him first on tapes. Cassette tapes. Some originated from the Thesis Theological Cassette series which were comfortably confined within the deep recesses of the divinity school library. Others came from friends who implored “Listen to this!”

I had been stupidly arrogant and mischievously opportunistic with the loosey-goosey arrangements of the divinity school curriculum at the time and had “forgotten” to take any practical homiletics course during my three years of preparation for pastoral ministry. Thus, after graduation, when I found myself having to prepare weekly sermons for a small group of the faithful at a Disciples congregation in East Nashville, I was reading my eyeballs out and listening my ears off to catch up with what my classmates already had taken in.

So I met Fred Craddock on tapes. And how salvific those tapes were. Not merely because they were saturated with inspiring stories (from his childhood, his early pastorates, his academic compeers, and his encounters with students) and not simply because they were laced with extraordinary interpretations of scripture. No, there was something else in those tapes, something that Howard Thurman might have called “the sound of the genuine.”

There was in those tapes the sound of a personable preacher, a faithful follower of Christ’s way, who listened with such intensity, such creativity, such authenticity to the call of the gospel and the lilt of God’s presence in all of life, that one was compelled to begin listening in a similar fashion.

As my familiarity with Fred Craddock grew – through reading his books, through hearing him preach at Regional and General Assemblies of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), through countless discussions with professors and other preachers about the homiletical revolution he set in motion with his emphasis on inductive preaching, and through listening to yet still more tapes and cds – so did my appreciation for the depth of his faith.

The initial oral introduction was transformed eventually into an epistolary connection. Once, while doing research for a sermon series on I Corinthians 13, I wrote to Fred Craddock to see if I was on the right track in my focus on the fascinating rhetoric and seemingly exemplary persuasiveness of Frederick Robertson, the 19th century divine and a brand new source of inspiration for me at the time.

His response to my letter was what I would later come to understand as “vintage Craddock”: “You have stumbled upon the person whom I consider the greatest preacher in the English language.” Again I heard him and this time on a more profound level. “Stumbled upon….” With those humbling, chastening words, he was challenging me to go deeper and broader and with a more thorough scope of the possibilities of preaching and preaching well. His esteeming of Robertson as “the greatest preacher in the English language” disclosed that great preachers are always and ever students of the art and craft of proclamation and that great preachers themselves have homiletical heroes whom they believe are the “greatest.”

In time Fred Craddock and I would become friends. I can’t remember the exact “first time” he came to preach at Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri. But I do remember that I kept asking him back, and he kept accepting the invitations. Several of the occasions were for what we called “Spirit Fests,” since we were too progressive as a congregation (and the pastor too presumptuously elitist) ever to call a special three-day preaching series a “revival.” In all of the occasions, it was a delight to be in the presence of someone who possessed such natural, disarming humility and such obvious loyalty to the gospel and the Church Universal. In all of those dear occasions, one could also hear his “high” ecclesiology, that is, his reverence for the Church’s perduring, though not unsullied, history of embodying the grace of God. While he likely would not have been comfortable with a description of himself as “a high churchman,” he obviously had a “high” view of Church as a dependable vessel for the transmission of love, care, and empowerment.

I do remember one of the last times Fred Craddock spoke at Community, during a special service honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., “Requiem for a King.” In that occasion—which included a presentation by Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II on “King the Prophet” – Dr. Craddock inspired an enraptured congregation with his insights about “King, the Preacher” and what he heard in King’s extraordinary sermons and public addresses. In his declension of King’s essence as an “African-American Baptist preacher,” Craddock spoke powerfully about the African-American rootage of King’s oratory. He spoke winsomely, too, about King as a preacher above and beyond any other identity: “Not every venue in which King spoke was an actual religious edifice, but after he spoke there it had become a sanctuary.” And he also unveiled his understanding of King’s Baptist theology when he said that every address, speech, lecture, and sermon by King always contained “an altar call.” In all of his civil rights efforts, Craddock went on to conclude, King issued “an altar call…. to save the soul of America.” In that conclusion Craddock revealed astute, razor-sharp scholarship and his keen listening ear regarding the famed organization which King founded, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference whose stated mission was “To Save the Soul of America.”

In time I would no longer call him “Fred Craddock, “or “Dr. Craddock,” or “Professor Craddock,” but simply “Fred,” just as countless others would. By the time this personal familiarity had been reached, Fred and I were talking a lot about prayer. Like untold legions of appreciative others, I came to pray after Fred’s example, employing his daily recitative: “Gracious God, we are grateful for a way of life and work that is more important than how we feel about it on any given day.”

It was in the arena of prayer practices and spiritual disciplines that I heard Fred anew, with a still deeper plumbing of the verities of the Christian path and the core essentials of authentic faith.

There was in Fred’s demeanor and theological expressions a hesitancy to invoke the supernatural (what might even be called the “magical”) power of God, even in service of someone else’s benefit. Rather, Fred’s encounters with God were moments of waiting, discovery, always leading to gratitude.

In an extended phone conversation, Fred spoke freely and forthrightly about his personal prayer disciplines. It was a rare and true blessing to hear Fred reveal his heart-anchored grasp of prayer and the disciplining of one’s mind and soul: “Sometimes my study moves into prayer – at the moment of discovery. Not that I petition God for a meaning of a text, but that as the text unfolds, there is a discovery and I offer a prayer, usually a prayer of gratitude for an insight…. I don’t make a lot of petitions for myself in my prayers, though perhaps I really should…. I pray more as an intercessor for others; I have lists of people I pray for regularly…. In my preparation for preaching I set aside Friday afternoon and Saturday for a time of entering into a mood, a meditation mood; I don’t go to parties or to a lot of social events on those days; I’m trying to prepare myself and seeking God’s guidance so that I will be an adequate instrument…. During the week I read in the morning, sometimes moving through a book …. I’ve discovered that I ought to pursue what I naturally resist…. An encounter with Albert Schweitzer altered my approach to scripture…. Hermann Diem, professor of systematic theology, once asked me if I had read Kierkegaard, and I suppose that was a very significant, radical turning point for me…. In the end, I suppose gratitude is the main substance of my prayers, yes, gratitude.” (1)

“In the end … gratitude.” That, I suppose, is –and always will be – the undeniable theological trace at the bottom of the cup, the core essential, the sine qua non of who Fred was and what he offered so generously, what I recall with affection and fondness whenever I remember him, what I cherish most in all that I learned from him and what I heard from him.

“Listen to this!,” friends said, as they shoved a brand new cassette tape of Fred Craddock into my hands long ago. “Listen,” God whispered in my heart, whenever I heard Fred preach, lecture, or talk over a cup of coffee. “Listen and give thanks,” Fred said with his lips and his life. And so I have, and so I do now.

– Bob Hill
[A selection from LOVE ALL WAYS (Caroline Street Press, 2020/1).]

NOTES
(1) Phone conversation, August 1999.

WEDNESDAY WORDS — #5 WHAT DESERVES OUR BOTHER

Dragonfly - 2020

WEDNESDAY WORDS
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday I’m posting musings, meditations, wonderings, as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #5.]

WHAT DESERVES OUR BOTHER

In real time, on a real day ––
as awake as a July dragonfly on a noonday pussywillow
on the edge of an undeniably earthly lake ––
we consider what matters most to pray for:
the necessary poems of our lives, our lives’ longest longings:
blessings for the babies;
comfort in the hands when held by mothers;
love in the eyes when beheld by fathers;
care in the laps when received by grandmas;
grace in the stories when told by grandpas;
work that does not leave us weeping;
a simple, single day’s trek of peace;
the well-formed shape of the fine-tuned song;
These will do. Each one, for sure, deserves our bother.

– Bob Hill

[From HARD TO TELL: A Congregation of Poems (Kansas City: MOSAIC Impressions, 2003), p. 52.]

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations) MED #5 – Denise Levertov

denise-levertov
MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday (or thereabout) I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“Great Souls, Great Prayers”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth (7) of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #5.]
DENISE LEVERTOV
Denise Levertov was blessed with a powerful combination of influences, ancestors, and insights that compelled her to engage with the world under the constant rubric of “movement.” Hers was a journey ever westward and onward.
Westward, from England to the United States. From her initial landing in New York to her final resting place in Seattle. From caring for the afflicted in the London bombings in World War II to protesting the Vietnam War in the United States. From a sense of being a European to acquiring American citizenship.
And onward, too, ever onward in her writing. From the romanticism of English verse to the American idiom which she encountered in Robert Duncan, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens.
And onward further still, in her religious sensibilities. From the agnosticism of her young adulthood to the Roman Catholicism of her mature years. From claiming no particular faith to discovering and being claimed by the Christian faith and a sure sense of God’s presence in the world and in her life.
The recipient of nearly two dozens awards and prizes for her poetry and eight honorary doctorates, author of more than 40 volumes of poetry, five books of essays, and translator of five books by others, Levertov became admired as one of the most significant American poets of her generation. Her path to such prominence began in her parents’ home and their love of books and art and history and religion. She never had any formal, institutional education. But she was far from being an autodidact. The atmosphere of discovery and inquisitiveness promoted by her parents allowed her to enjoy being schooled at home.
Levertov’s conversion to Christianity was a gradual one, drawn out over years. Her poetry would parallel her “slow movement from agnosticism to Christian faith, a movement incorporating much of doubt and questioning as well as of affirmation.” (1)
All through her writing life, Levertov published poems with religious imagery. The instances of spiritual themes intensified after her conversion to Christianity in 1984, as she began to write poems with explicitly Christian tones and emphases. In her journey to a clearer understanding of herself as a Christian, she maintained what may be called two personal “vigils”:
(1) the wedding of social activism and artistry; and
(2) a focus on mystery as a constant theme in her poetry and in her calling as a poet.
Given the activism of her parents it is not surprising that Levertov would eventually be a protestor of the Vietnam War, a critic of the atrocities in El Salvador, and a proponent for nuclear disarmament.
Her penchant for and engagement with mystery derived from the singularity of her own personality and journey. Toward the end of her life, Levertov summed up her poetry by saying that “… acknowledgment and celebration of mystery probably constitutes the most consistent theme of my poetry….”(2)
Two months before her death, Levertov was interviewed in her home in Seattle and gave a summation of the connections between poetry and prayer. “When you’re really caught up in writing a poem, it can be a form of prayer…. what I experience when I’m writing a poem is close to prayer. I feel it in different degrees and not with every poem. But in certain ways writing is a form of prayer.”(3)
For Levertov, the focusing of attention that happens in writing a poem, and, one might add, in reading one, constitutes a spiritual practice. “I was really amazed at how close the exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola were to a poet or novelist imagining a scene…..You try to compose that scene in your imagination, place yourself there…. You establish who you are and where you stand and then you look at what you see.”(4)
TWO “FOUND” PRAYERS BY DENISE LEVERTOV
“Of Being” (5)
I know this happiness
is provisional:
the looming presence —
great suffering, great fear —
withdraw only
into peripheral vision:
but ineluctable this shimmering
of wind in the blue leaves:
this flood of stillness
widening the lake of sky:
this need to dance,
this need to kneel:
this mystery.
“Primary Wonder” (6)
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; cap 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, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.
BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: October 24, 1923, born Priscilla Denise Levertoff, in Ilford, Essex, England, daughter of a Welsh mother, Beatrice Spooner-Jones Levertoff, and Russian father, Paul Levertoff; her father had been a Chassidic Sephardic Jew in Germany but converted to Christianity and eventually became Anglican priest; her mother had been a Congregationalist; 1928, declares that she will be a writer; is educated at home; mother reads her poetry and authors such as Willa Cather, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy; her father’s spiritual journey contributes to her interest in Hasidic mysticism; father is also active in Jewish-Christian dialogue in Britain between the world wars; her mother’s care for others fuels her future social justice activism; 1935, at age 12, sends some of her poems to T. S. Eliot; during the World War II bombings in London serves as a nurse; 1946, works in antique store and bookstore in London; publishes first book ,The Double Image; 1947, marries American writer Mitchell Goodman; 1948, moves to U.S., settling in New York City with summers in Maine; 1949, son Nikolai is born; changes her name to Levertov; 1950-1952, lives in France and Italy, before returning to New York; 1956, becomes a naturalized American citizen; becomes associated with the Black Mountain School of Poetry (through her husband’s friendship with poet Robert Creeley) which bases work on the premise that poetry is linked to daily life; the works of William Carlos Williams influence her writings; writes poetry as part of the generation of poets that included Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Hayden Carruth, Galway Kinnell and James Wright; 1959, her book of poems With Eyes at the Back of our Heads establishes her as a significant American poet; 1961, 1963-1965, serves as poetry editor for The Nation; protests and organizes against Vietnam War; is active in feminist causes; 1962, receives Guggenheim fellowship; 1964, teaches poetry at Young Men and Women’s Christian Association in New York; 1969-70, visiting professor and poet-in-residence, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 1972, she and Goodman divorce; 1973-79, teaches at Tufts University; 1975, The Freeing of the Dust wins the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; 1975-1978, serves as poetry editor of Mother Jones; 1981-83, poet-in-residence at Brandeis University; 1982-1993, teaches at Stanford University;1984, is converted to Christianity; 1989, moves to Seattle, Washington; becomes a Roman Catholic; 1990, receives National Endowment for the Arts senior fellowship; 1993, retires from teaching at Stanford; December 20, 1997, dies of lymphoma at Swedish Hospital, Seattle, Washington; buried in Seattle; her manuscripts are prized in ten universities across the Unite States, with the bulk of her papers housed at The Levertov Archive in Special Collections in the Green Library at Stanford University.
PRAYING WITH DENISE LEVERTOV:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day 1 Pray today by reciting what may called the “found prayer” in Levertov’s poem “Of Being.” Listen to the words and sense how they echo your own experience of mystery.
Day 2 Give thanks in your prayers today for the poets whom you have found inspirational along your own faith journey. Say they names aloud, distinctly and deliberately, adding the words “Thanks be to God” after each one.
Day 3 Begin your prayers today by pondering Levertov’s movements, geographically, poetically, and spiritually. Now recall the movements in your own life. Seek God’s guidance by asking the following question: “Where and how are you moving me today, O God? Where and how will you be moving me in the future?”
Day 4 Pray today by giving thanks for those who have influenced your faith journey – family members, teachers, religious leaders, authors, artists. Give thanks for all the influences on Denise Levertov’s life and her eventual witness of faith.
Day 5 Denise Levertov wrote all of her poems in long-hand, always treasuring the physically laborious aspects of composing poetry. For her this was part of the creative process and not to be neglected. Too often we allow technology to do for us what we could otherwise do for ourselves. We may thus perhaps miss a powerful encounter with creativity or a new awareness of our capacities. Pray today by considering what technological wonders you are allowing to do for you what you could do for yourself. Pray for a new resolve not to miss out on being creative, if you can ever help it.(7)
Day 6 Pray today by reciting “Primary Wonder.” Confess and seek God’s comforting forgiveness for those moments when you have allowed your “Problems insoluble” to distract you and divert you from an awareness of God’s presence.
Day 7 Pray today by again reciting “Primary Wonder,” giving thanks “that there is anything, anything at all, … and that, O Lord, / Creator, Hallowed One, You still,/ hour by hour sustain it.”
NOTES
1 Denise Levertov, The Stream and the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes (New York: New Directions, 1997) p.vii.
2 Denise Levertov, “A Poet’s View (1984),” in New & Selected Essays (New York: New Directions, 1992), p.246.
3 Nicholas O’Connell, At the Field’s End: Interviews with 22 Pacific Northwest Writers (University of Washington Press, 1998), pp. 346. See also “A Poet’s Valediction: Denise Levertov, 1923-1997,” Poets & Writers, May/June 1998 -http://www.pw.org/content/a_poets_valediction_denise_levertov_19231997 and Modern American Poetry – Levertov’s Final Interview, “A Poet’s Valediction” by Nicholas O’Connell @ http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/levertov/oconnell.htm
4 Ibid.
5 Denise Levertov, Oblique Prayers (New York: New Directions, 1984), p. 86.
6 Denise Levertov, “Primary Wonder,” in Sands of the Well (New York: New Directions, 1996)p.129.
7 See O’Connell, “A Poet’s Valediction: Denise Levertov, 1923-1997,” Poets & Writers., May/June 1998.
FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, & REFLECTION
Dana Greene, Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012)
Donna Krolik Hollenberg, A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov (Berkeley University of California Press, 2013)
Denise Levertov, Oblique Prayers (New York: New Directions, 1984)
Denise Levertov, “A Poet’s View (1984),” in New & Selected Essays (New York: New Directions, 1992)
Denise Levertov, Sands of the Well (New York: New Directions, 1996)
Denise Levertov, The Stream and the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes(New York: New Directions, 1997)
Denise Levertov, This Great Unknowing: Last Poems (New York: New Directions, 1999)
© 2020, Robert Lee Hill, Kansas City, Missouri

WEDNESDAY WORD #4 – DREAMING

WED Words - Dreaming - 4-22-2020

WEDNESDAY WORDS
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday I’m posting musings, meditations, wonderings, as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #4.]

DREAMING

When was the last time you were enthused by one of your dreams? When did you last tell someone about a very special dream? Are your dreams shimmering, startling, breath-taking experiences, causing you to sit bolt upright and make an assessment of your life? Or are they lukewarm, lacking in that which would make them memorable?

Dreaming, as any physician and any tender grandparent will tell you, is absolutely essential for a sane and healthy life. In fact, dreaming is crucially necessary for a bountiful life.

To maintain proper physical health, we must secure the proper amount of REM sleep and the kind of slumber, whether distinctly remembered or not, that entails adequate unconscious dreaming. To make significant contributions in the world — at school, on the job, in their faith communities, as citizens, or in their families — people must maintain and nourish a healthy stock of conscious dreams which guide their courses and inspire their achievements.

Dreaming is what the World Series is about.

Dreaming is what Martin Luther King was about.

Dreaming is what Olympic hopefuls do as they anticipate their competitions.

Dreaming is what parents do as they gaze upon the faces of their children and consider the horizon of their children’s future.

Dreaming is what a retiree does as she yearns to find a place of service where she can be of use in the ripeness of her maturity.

Dreaming is what engaged couples do as they plan for their wedding celebrations.

Dreaming is the order of the day in every physical therapy room in every hospital in the world.

Dreaming is the focus of first-graders on the first day of school and parents-to-be in the adoption agency waiting room and Sunday School teachers on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings and medical researchers every day.

Dreaming is the prescribed, essential supplement for athletes and GED recipients and city planners and civil rights activists and seminary students.

For any developing human being, dreaming is as necessary as oxygen.

For any advancing culture, dreaming is as irreplaceable as the sun.

For artists before a canvas, writers at their desks, and clergy behind their pulpits, one’s life-work is to dreaming as walking is to gravity: you can’t do one without the other.

– Bob Hill

[Adapted from ALL YOU NEED IS MORE LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, pp. 181-182.]

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations) MED #4 – WENDELL BERRY

Wendell Berry - 2018
MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“Great Souls, Great Prayers”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth (7) of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #4.]
WENDELL BERRY
Wendell Berry is a novelist, essayist, poet, and environmentalist of prodigious output, with more than 76 books and chapbooks to his credit. What is more remarkable is the astounding quality of his artistic endeavors, marking him as a writer of the first rank among the esteemed leaders of American letters.
Though Berry refuses to allow the formation of campaign committees on his behalf, it is clear that he is (or at least should be) among the top U.S. candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His equally sterling public advocacy efforts mark him as a top champion of citizenship involvement.
Berry is also a person of profound and deep faith. While he eschews much of the trappings of institutional religion, his disciplines of prayer and devotion are readily seen throughout his writing. His Christian faith is especially and abundantly plain in his poetry. He also bears within his relationships and his writing a deeply sensitive ecumenical spirit.
Berry is a person of the earth, intimately acquainted with sweat and hard work. His fidelity to the rhythms of the earth is even evident in the writing disciplines he practices. For example, he writes during the daytime so as not to use electricity. As a second example, he writes in long hand and his wife Tanya (whom he describes as “my critic, my best reader, my fellow worker”) types up his work on a manual Royal typewriter. As still another example, he has chosen the 125 acres of his farm as the location for the actual writing of his “Sabbath” poems. He has written these famous “Sabbath” verses — most of which were first gathered together in the collection A Timbered Choir and then later in This Day: Sabbath Poems Collected and New 1979‑2013 — on Sundays while walking, sitting, and musing on the very ground of his farm.
One of Berry’s premier concerns – as a farmer, as a writer, as a citizen and as a Christian – is the recognition and practice of generosity. In one of his poems he says, “Every day you have less reason/ not to give yourself away.”(1)
Honor, too, is one of the major themes in Berry’s considerable artistry. Honoring the land, honoring the Creator of the world, honoring neighbors, honoring the truth. Like William Faulkner did with Yoknapatawpha County in his novels, Berry has done with the mythical Port William Township in his novels and short stories. In between nearly every line there is an emphasis on plain‑dealing, patient enduring, integrity, and honor.
Love, real, enfleshed, shared love, love that bounds forth from and abides between human beings, is, for Berry, the key to all of life. Love is what compels him to protest the exploitation of Kentucky’s wilderness by strip‑mining, the fouling of U.S. ground water and rivers by the pollution of contemporary society, and the body counts in America’s wars, once in Vietnam and now in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is love that fuels his own calling as a writer. And it is love that keeps him close to the ways of Jesus: “I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.”(2)
PRAYING WITH WENDELL BERRY:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day 1 In A Timbered Choir, what may be his most remarkable literary effort with religious sensibilities, Wendell Berry collects poems he has written on his Kentucky homestead stretching over two decades. In these Sabbath poems Berry gives voice to how life can move us ever toward a posture of generosity. Pray today that God will impart an attitude of generosity within you “toward each new day,” starting now.
Day 2 In the essay “Word and Flesh,” in his book What Are People For?, Berry describes the twinned mysteries of love’s immeasurable transcendence and its absolute incarnational necessity in human life. “Love is never abstract. It does not adhere to the universe or the planet or the nation or the institution or the profession, but to the singular sparrows of the street, the lilies of the field, ‘the least of these my brethren.’ Love is not, by its own desire, heroic. It is heroic only when compelled to be. It exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded. The older love becomes, the more clearly it understands its involvement in partiality, imperfection, suffering, and mortality. Even so, it longs for incarnation. It can no longer live by thinking.” (3) Pray today by giving thanks for the specific incarnations of love in your life. They may baffle you but they also may still move you to live each day with exhilarating joy.
Day 3 In the poem “What We Need Is Here,” Berry describes the given-ness of life’s multitude of graces.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,clear. What we need is here. (4)
Pray today by offering a prayer of joyful thanks that what you need is available to the grasp of your heart, mind, and soul. Say not only “Thanks,” but receive the “given,” the graces that are yours.
Day 4 In one of his “Sabbath” poems, Berry gives a multi‑faceted, almost cosmic view of what his Sabbath experience is on his farm:
Another Sunday morning comes
And I resume the standing Sabbath
Of the woods, where the finest blooms
Of time return, and where no path
Is worn but wears its makers out
At last, and disappears in leaves
Of fallen seasons….
….. Past life
Lives in the living. Resurrection
Is in the way each maple leaf
Commemorates its kind, by connection
Outreaching understanding….
Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours.
And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it. (5)
Pray today for an understanding, plain or mystical, of how the keeping of Sabbath, initiated by God, helps to keep us whole and fit and ever more moving into the resurrected life that God intends for all of the earth.
Day 5 In What Are People For?, Berry writes an appreciative reminiscence about one of his most influential teachers, the writer Wallace Stegner. In his recollection, Berry comments on the importance of teachers and the impact teachers have, directly and indirectly, on our lives: “A teacher’s major contribution may pop out anonymously in the life of some ex‑student’s grandchild. A teacher, finally, has nothing to go on but faith, a student nothing to offer in return but testimony.” (6) Give thanks for your teachers whose contributions to your life are “popping out” even now and may yet do so in the future, in your children, among your friends. If you are a teacher, seek God’s strength for enduring, confident that your efforts will bear fruit. If you are a student, pray for an occasion to give testimony.
Day 6 In Sabbaths 2001, Berry takes up his Sabbath poetry‑writing practice again and offers insights about truly seeing and hearing in the context of prayer.
Sit and be still
until in the time
of no rain you hear
beneath the dry wind’s
commotion in the trees
the sound of flowing
water among the rocks,
a stream unheard before,
and you are where
breathing is prayer. (7) Pray today that God will lead you ever closer to that place and time where and when “breathing is prayer.”
Day 7 In his book of poems, Leavings, Berry proffers still more of his “Sabbath” poems. In one of them from 2005, he writes:
I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.
I have no love
except it come from Thee.
Help me, please, to carry
This candle against the wind.(8)
Pray this poem today with a profound sense of hope for the strength God gives for the endurance of the light of love in your life. Also on this day, sometime during your waking hours, use each of the following ways of praying which have been inspired by Wendell Berry.
* Quiet your mind, heart, and soul with a time of rest and reflection and consider the realities which really last and are part of God’s eternal nature.
* Pray that your daily routine will be commensurate with an ecologically sound approach to conserving the earth as the home for humanity’s coming generations.
* Ponder the significance and power of “place” in your life.
* Pray for good work to do, and pray for strength to give to God and your neighbors the best work that is in you.
* Count the ways that Sabbath has happened for you this week.
BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: August 5, 1934, born Wendell Erdman Berry in Henry County, Kentucky, the first of four children of John Berry, lawyer and official with Burley Tobacco Growers Association, and Virginia Erdman Berry; 1936, family moves to New Castle, Kentucky; is baptized at New Castle Baptist Church; 1948, after 8th grade attends Millersburg Military Institute secondary school; 1952, graduates from Millersburg Military Institute; enters University of Kentucky; meets Tanya Amyx, daughter of a University of Kentucky art professor; 1956, graduates from University of Kentucky with A. B. degree in English; 1957, graduates from University of Kentucky with M.A. degree in English; marries Tanya Amyx, with whom he will have two children, Mary Dee and Pryor (Den) Clifford ; 1958, wins Wallace Stegner fellowship at Stanford University and participates in creative writing program, for a year, along with other Stegner Fellows including Edward Abbey, Ernest Gaines, Ken Kesey, Larry McMurtry, Tillie Olsen, and Robert Stone; 1959, teaches at Georgetown College; 1960, publishes first novel Nathan Coulter; 1962, Vachel Lindsay Prize from Poetry; receives Guggenheim Fellowship and travels with family to Italy and France; 1962‑1964, teaches at New York University College in the Bronx; 1964, accepts a creative writing position in the English Department, University of Kentucky; during the next dozen years, while at UK and in and out of Lexington, comes to know Gurney Norman, Thomas Merton and photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard; 1964, buys 12 acres of farm land, Lanes’ Landing, Port Royal, Kentucky; 1965, Rockefeller Fellowship; July 4, 1965, “comes home” and moves to farm, what will become a 125‑acre family homestead; dedicates himself to making previously abused land productive again and becoming environmentally responsible; disdains engine‑driven tractors, preferring instead horse‑drawn plows; 1977, resigns from University of Kentucky; edits and writes for the Rodale Press, including Organic Gardening and Farming and The New Farm; 1987, American Academy of Arts and Letters Jean Stein Award; returns to the English Department of the University of Kentucky; 1989, Lannan Foundation Award for Non‑Fiction; 1993, retires once and for all from University of Kentucky; 1994, Ingersoll Foundation’s T. S. Eliot Award; 1997, Lyndhurst Prize; 1998, Aitken‑Taylor Award for Poetry from The Sewanee Review; 1999, Thomas Merton Award from the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Social Justice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Lannan Foundation Award for Non‑Fiction; Dec. 20, 2009, withdraws his personal papers from the University of Kentucky archives over the university’s naming of a new basketball dormitory, “Wildcat Coal Lodge,” in honor of coal industry; March 2, 2011, awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama; 2011, The Berry Center established in New Castle, Kentucky, with Mary, Berry’s daughter, as Executive Director, with the purpose of “working on issues of farmer education, consumer education, land use, agricultural policy, and urban/rural connectedness;” February 27, 2012, The Berry Center establishes The Berry Center Program at St. Catharine College in Springfield, Kentucky, to start an interdisciplinary agricultural degree; April 23, 2012, delivers 41st Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, “It All Turns on Affection,” for the National Endowment for the Humanities; attends worship with his family at Port Royal Baptist Church; 2013, elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences; receives the Freedom Medal from The Roosevelt Institute; receives the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion from the American Academy of Religion; 2014, receives Alan Tate Poetry Prize from The Sewanee Review; elected to American Academy of Arts and Letters; January 28, 2015, inducted as first living writer into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.
NOTES
1 Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979‑1997 (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998), p. 167.
2 Wendell Berry, The Art of the Common Place: The Agrarian Essays (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2002), p. 235.
3 Wendell Berry, What Are People For? (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990), p. 200.
4 Wendell Berry, The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Washington D. C.: Counterpoint, 1999), p. 90.

5 A Timbered Choir, pp. 6‑7.
6 What Are People For?, p. 54.
7 Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 2001 (Monterrey, Kentucky: Larkspur, 2003).
8 Wendell Berry, Leavings (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010) p. 33.
FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, & REFLECTION
Jason Peters, ed. Wendell Berry: Life and Work (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007)
Joel James Shuman and L. Roger Owens (eds.) Wendell Berry and Religion: Heaven’s Earthly Life (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009)
Wendell Berry’s POETRY
Wendell Berry, The Country of Marriage (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973)
Wendell Berry, Given: New Poems (Washington D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005)
Wendell Berry, Leavings (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010)
Wendell Berry, The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Washington D. C.: Counterpoint, 1999)
Wendell Berry, A Small Porch (Berkeley, California: Counterpoint, 2016)
Wendell Berry, This Day: Sabbath Poems Collected and New 1979‑2013 (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2013)
Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979‑1997 (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998)
Wendell Berry’s NONFICTION
Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970)
Wendell Berry, Life Is a Miracle (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000)
Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (New York: Pantheon, 1992)
Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1977)
Wendell Berry, What Are People For? (New York: North Point, 1990)
© 2020, Robert Lee Hill

WEDNESDAY WORDS: WORD #3 – EASTERTIDE

WED Words - 4-15-2020

WEDNESDAY WORDS
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday I’m posting musings, meditations, wonderings, as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #3.]

EASTERTIDE

Easter is a season as well as a Sunday. “Eastertide,” the season stretching between Easter Sunday and Pentecost (the birthday of the church), continues to call our attention to further occurrences of resurrection. As with Easter Sunday, so with Eastertide, and so we ask “Who is the season of Eastertide actually for?”

The season of Eastertide is for all those who once knew a vibrant life but have encountered setbacks or may be surrounded by “little deaths” —
… for the woman making a mid-career job change;
… for the student who flunked out in the fall semester but who is striving to occupy a line on the dean’s list in the spring;
… for the small town grocer who can’t seem to compete with the huge food chain across the street;
… for the retired quarterback with bad knees;
… for the former optometrist whose own eyesight is failing daily.

The season of Eastertide is for all who’ve known both the mountaintop and valley experiences of life and are struggling to achieve a perch on the summit once again —
… for the entrepreneur who declared bankruptcy after several successive ventures went sour;
… for the baseball pitcher coming out of retirement to “give it one more go;”
… for the doctors and nurses, hospital attendants, and support staff who perform wondrous acts as a team and yet who are blanched into despair when death comes;
… for the successful business person whose spouse died shortly after the launching of a longed-for retirement;
… for the person troubled by anorexia or bulimia or another food disorder who have great hopes and also great obstacles to overcome every day.

The season of Eastertide is for all who, like Thomas, have struggled with doubt and yet hunger deeply to make an unadulterated, unequivocal affirmation of faith —
… for the scientist stirring the contents of a test tube;
… for the mathematician at the end of a long, laborious equation;
… for the economist seeking to make sense of the world’s monetary systems;
… for the musician who does not really believe like Bach believed, and yet who is drawn mysteriously, again and again, to the bounteous beauty of Bach’s music;
… for the social worker who is burned out by the lack of progress in her daily efforts, and yet who also knows that if she quits caring, many will suffer;
… for the police officer who has witnessed far too many gruesome deaths to believe in any easy grace, and yet who can say the word “blessing” with conviction and feeling.

In short, Christians abide in the confidence that the season of Eastertide, like Easter Sunday itself, is for everyone.

— Bob Hill

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations) MED #3 – ANNE LAMOTT

Anne Lamott - 2018

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)

MED #3 – ANNE LAMOTT
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“Great Souls, Great Prayers”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth (7) of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #3.]

ANNE LAMOTT

In Anne Lamott’s nonfiction works dealing with faith, readers are offered full-blown explorations of her encounters with God, sometimes mystical, frequently mundane, always chock full of intrigue. She is disarmingly simple in her faith but not simplistic about how she lives it.

A long-time feminist and liberal political activist, Lamott finds her place in the mainstream of Protestant traditions and Catholic spiritual practice, but she is also curious enough to dabble with non-Christian mystic legacies. In most of her nonfiction works, she acknowledges and pays tribute to the saving graces of her home congregation, the people of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Marin City, California.

Lamott’s thinking ranges far and wide: the agonies of bulimia and eventually learning how to eat right; her nearly deathly drinking and drugging; the signal challenges of being a single mother; the glories of dreadlocks; the vexing developments when a parent ages; the ongoing grief work we do after a parent dies; the daunting (and hilarious) drooping of our bodies over time; the paranoid hypochondria that can ensue when faced with an incessant body mole; and so much, much more.

Her metaphors for religious experience are rich with descriptive powers, as she experiences Jesus as “the alleycat of heaven,”(1) as she suggests the placing of prayer supplications in “God’s In Box,”(2) as she warns all about the attractiveness and dangers of “grace lite,”(3) as she portrays death as “the big eraser.”(4)

Anne Lamott grapples with the abiding dilemmas of faith with great verve, grace, and bluntness. The influences on her writing include Virginia Woolf, John Updike, Anne Beattie, J.D. Salinger, Alice Munro, Kurt Vonnegut and her father Kenneth Lamott.

She is full of hard-edged, self-effacing humor: “My mind is a bad neighborhood you don”t want to visit alone.” And she is noted for her unforgettable metaphors: “I am the Saddam Hussein of jealousy.”(5)

In the 21st century her best-selling books have given her a prominent place among those who are redefining what it is to be faithful in the face of the grittiness and grime of the world and the baffling wonder and unavoidable brutality of human existence. Her style tends toward comic hyperbole, wry understatement, vernacular language, insistent confession, and humility.

Regarding her bedrock Christian faith, she always leans toward the local rather than the general, simple faithfulness rather than dogmatic certainty, stories rather than theories, grace rather than judgment, God’s immanence rather than God’s transcendence, sentiment rather than cynicism, community rather than individualism, inclusion rather than condescension, providence rather than randomness, the mystical rather than the rational, and forgiveness rather than perfectionism. She regards her own life as prime evidence that God works miracles, and she believes that the incarnation of God’s love is to be found everywhere, every day.

One of Lamott’s spiritual practices is called “God’s In-Box.”(6) It’s a simple matter of writing a prayer note to God about an unsolvable dilemma, a pesky theological question, a continuously messy relationship, a seemingly incurable disease, a cantankerous family conflict, etc. Then place the note in a small box (“God’s In Box”) as an act of release from worry, relinquishment from anxiety, and trust in God’s provision.

Lamott is enthusiastically involved in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and takes great comfort and inspiration from weekly Sunday worship, teaching Sunday School, and trusting that God will show up on a regular basis.(7)

Taking a cue from a preacher she once heard, she once thought the two best prayers ever were “‘Help me, help me, help me,’and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.'”(8) Subsequently, she enlarged her list of the essential prayers of “Help”and “Thanks” to include a third, “Wow!”(9) Wow is always appropriate “when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction, of a sudden unbidden insight or an unexpected flash of grace.”(10)

PRAYING WITH ANNE LAMOTT:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 Infuse your prayers today with thoughts and meditations about the local, faithfulness, stories, grace, God’s immanence, sentiment, community, inclusion, providence, the mystical, and forgiveness.

Day 2 Pray a prayer of thanks today for the miracles that have unfolded in your life during the last 5 years, the last five months, the last five days, the last five minutes.

Day 3 Ponder today where you will find the incarnation of God’s love.

Day 4 Pray today by focusing on key relationships that may be in need of forgiveness.

Day 5 Allow your prayers to center on the ways in which your faith community is an indisputable means of grace for you. Say thanks. Say thanks again. Say thanks again.

Day 6 Consider: For which portions of your life is the prayer of petition – “Help” – appropriate? For which portions of your life is the prayer of gratitude – “Thanks” – appropriate? For which portions of your life is the prayer of awe – “Wow!” – appropriate?

Day 7 Recall the title of Lamott’s third faith-oriented book, “Grace (Eventually).”(11) Now write down how you have experienced that reality, how you have received grace, eventually. Pray for insights about someone, perhaps several people, with whom you can share such grace today.

BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: April 10, 1954, born Anne Patricia Lamott in San Francisco; grows up in Tiburon, California, in the Bay Area, one of three children of Kenneth Lamott, a writer, and Dorothy Lamott, a journalist and lawyer, both of whom are antipathetic toward religion; participates in competitive tennis while a youth; 1972, graduates from Drew College Preparatory School, a private high school; attends Goucher College in Maryland on a tennis scholarship, intending to study English and philosophy; writes for school paper; 1973, drops out of college and moves back to Bay Area; begins writing for magazines, including Mademoiselle, Woman Sports, and California; 1977, father’s brain cancer is discovered; 1979, her father dies; publishes first novel, Hard Laughter; 1984, begins hanging around St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, near flea market at Marin City, California; has a vision of Jesus and conversion experience; 1985, receives Guggenheim Fellowship; July 1986, sobriety begins; 1987, baptized at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Marin City, California; August 1989, son Sam is born; 1990, best friend Pammy dies; 1990’s, teaches at University of California -Davis and writing conference across the United States; 1993, first nonfiction book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, becomes best-seller; 1996, begins writing regular column for Salon; 1999, “Bird by Bird with Annie: A Film Portrait of Writer Anne Lamott” documentary by Freida Lee Mock is released; 1999, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith released; 2001, her mother Dorothy dies, after battle with Alzheimer’s; 2008, works as Democrat precinct captain; July 20, 2009, Sam’s son, Jax, is born; 2010, inducted into the California Hall of Fame; 2012, Help-Thanks-Wow: The Three Essential Prayers released; 2014, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace released; 2017, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy released; April 13, 2019, marries Neal Allen.

NOTES

http://www.salon.com/feb97/columnists/lamott970213.html

2 Anne Lamott, “God’s In Box: Sometimes we need a little help from Upper Management,” Salon, December 2, 1996, http://www.salon.com/…/l…/1996/12/02/lamott961202/index.html.

3 Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), p. 163.

4 Ibid., p. 68.

5 Quotes by Anne Lamott are from her speaking engagement at Community Christian Church, Kansas City, Missouri, 2000; see also Anne Lamott, “My mind is a bad neighborhood I try not to go into alone,” Salon, March 13, 1997,http://www.salon.com/…/l…/1997/03/13/lamott970313/index.html.

6 See Anne Lamott, “God’s In Box: Sometimes we need a little help from Upper Management”; see also Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies:, p. 131.

7 Witness this consistent theme in Anne Lamott’s faith-related nonfiction books, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), Plan B: Some Further Thoughts on Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 2007), and Help-Thanks-Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012).

8 Anne Lamott, at Community Christian Church, Kansas City, Missouri, 2000.

9 Anne Lamott, Help-Thanks-Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (New York: Riverhead Books. 2012)

10 Ibid.

11 Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (New York: Riverhead Books. 2007)

FOR FURTHER READING

FICTION

Anne Lamott, All New People (New York: North Point Press, 1989)

Anne Lamott, Crooked Little Heart (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997)

Anne Lamott, Hard Laughter (New York: North Point Press,1979)

Anne Lamott, Imperfect Birds (New York: Riverhead Books. 2010)

NONFICTION

Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope (New York: Riverhead Books. 2018)

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994)

Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (New York: Riverhead Books. 2007)

Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy (New York: Riverhead Books. 2017)

Anne Lamott, Help-Thanks-Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012)

Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal Of My Son’s First Year (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993)

Anne Lamott, Plan B: Some Further Thoughts on Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005)

Anne Lamott, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace (New York: Riverhead Books, 2014)

Anne Lamott (with Sam Lamott), Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son(New York: Riverhead Books, 2012)

Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair (New York: Riverhead Books, 2013)

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999)

© Robert Lee Hill, 2020

EASTER: WHAT/WHO IS IT FOR?

Easter 2020

EASTER: WHAT/WHO IS IT FOR?

“But what is Easter for?” he asked from behind some Tennessee prison bars.

“What does Easter really prove?” she sneered from across the banquet table.

“How do we know that Easter actually happened?” they wondered, as their eyes traced the fluttering of fireflies and the rising of campfire sparks into the nighttime sky.

Questions such as these come to clergy folks all the time, from both pedestrian agnostics, playful friends who like to question the basis of Christian belief, and earnest members of the Church. And always, every spring, when we climb to the bright summit of Easter Sunday’s great news of God’s love overcoming death, such questions rise once again.

Allow me to suggest that the main question concerning Easter — “What is Easter for?” — needs to be recast in the following manner: “Who is Easter for?”

This is the main question to ask, since God’s gift of Jesus of Nazareth was a very personal response to our very personal needs for a very personal encounter. What the world needed, and needs still today, is not merely an abstraction which might possibly elicit an intellectual engagement of our mental processes. Rather, we yearn for, we hunger for, a holistic response to our deepest hungers, most particularly the deep hunger for the divine. So, let us ask, “Who is Easter for?”

Easter is for everyone touched by hardship and hunger —
• for the homeless child in downtown Kansas City,
• for the senior citizen whose legacy of independence is shrinking,
• for the illiterate mother of three children who works four jobs to make ends meet,
• for the struggling grandmother in the long food line,
• for the veteran paraplegic,
• for the homeless standing forlornly on street corners.

Easter is for everyone who has battled loneliness and heartache —
• for widows and widowers who miss so deeply the one they once called “beloved,”
• for the janitor who sees no end to dirty floors,
• for the teacher who catches early signs of defeatism in the eyes of a despairing young one,
• for the person racked by the painful and haunting memory of early childhood abuse,
• for the father who watches a son grow distant and aloof,
• for the grandmother who sees a granddaughter enter into the valley of the shadow of death…
• for the business tycoon who knows the vacuity of making material things into ultimate concerns.

Easter is for everyone who has struggled against all the odds —
• for the doctors and the nurses who help countless patients do battle with disease and illness,
• for the truck driver striving to balance a financial sheet at the end of the month and not violate weight or speed restrictions,
• for the small farmer who maintains a grand vision of the family’s stewardship of their small piece of earth,
• for the attorney who helps the great and the meek with equal portions of grace and caring,
• for the secretary who holds a business together with the finesse of her personality and quicksilver timing,
• for the painter who remains vigilantly faithful to what she envisions in her imagination,
• for the musician who remains faithful to the inner music he hears,
• for the social activist who champions a cause which no one else will touch.

We could go on, but we don’t need to. Simply put, Easter is for everyone! May God bless us, every one of us, here and everywhere, during every Easter celebration and forever.

– Bob Hill

[Adapted from ALL YOU NEED IS MORE LOVE (Caroline Street Press, 2019).]

GOOD FRIDAY MEDITATION

Good Friday - Western KS photo - used in 2016

GOOD FRIDAY MEDITATION

Even though the clouds roll in front of the sun, and the crucifixion occurs in all of its harsh brutality, and the disciples “all fall away,” and death and destruction seem to prevail all too frequently in too many lives, Christians still call this day “Good Friday.” Why?

Perhaps because, while things may be bad, the worst has been overcome.

Perhaps because, in some mysterious way, the ultimately good purposes of God are being manifested even in the messiness of the malevolent and the mendacious.

Perhaps because the only way out is through.

– Bob Hill

[Adapted from LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE (Woodneath Press, 2015).]

TABLE FOR TWO

Table for Two - 1

TABLE FOR TWO
(Poem for Maundy Thursday)

Table for two or more, please:
tabla rasa or elemental mesa,
fine-grained wood
or chrismed marble slab,
in the center of the city or
in the heart of the heart
of the brush arbor;
whatever works, whatever
lets you face your face
and pandemic’s knell.

Let it be set, accordingly,
with clouds passing overhead
or liminal linen paraments,
creased and lilting with welcome,
however two or more can
gather, with feet bare
or booted, on sacral ground,
however souls can find
their way to a loaf to break
and a cup running over.

Let the sun rise, as it will,
or set, as well, on two
or three or more,
eyes cracked half open
or gleaming, utterly awed,
whenever bread is kneaded,
whenever kneeling
or weeping is meet and right,
whenever gladness
says “now” and “again.”

Let whosoever will
come and take up a gracing
and a telling of life
and breath and every matter
that surely matters,
for every kin and friend
and every enemy,
known or unknown,
whosoever is on hand,
hands on the table.

Let the table abide
for an inevitable appointment,
for feeding a hunger
beyond the body
(and also for the body),
for tending to ties
that bind, and
cutting binding ties, too,
for a meal and a moment
to change a day forever.

– Bob Hill