Poetic Persuasion

Time is running out. The month of April is nearly over and I have meant to write something about the fact that it is National Poetry Month. There is something so wonderful about the fact that we designate a whole month….not a day or even a week….to the elevation of the frugality of words that become a poem. To honor those people whose work it is to pare and chip away at all the paragraphs of lofty thoughts, ideas, concepts, feelings, until just the right few words are arranged into a poem gives me hope. Hope that we can still see beauty though the world might drag our eyes in countless, horrific directions. Hope in the idea that often it is just the few, well chosen words that make a difference in what is often a cacophony of rhetoric that bombards us each and every day. Hope in the slowing down reading a poem requires. Hope in the art of words.

And so, one hope is that you have read a poem during these evolving days of spring. Think back and try to remember if a poem crossed your path during the last 28 days. If you were in some churches this past Sunday, you may have read Psalm 23, one of the most familiar poems around. Though is is really meant to be a song, it is the poetry of words that pulls people in and has done so for some 3000 years. Perhaps you even memorized it as a part of Sunday School or even an English class.

Poetry and poets are, for me, the prophets of our time. I have been in many a meeting or at an event when the speaker knew that only a poem would do to prove their point…..one they may have been trying to make with thousands of words, slides or videos. Stopping to read the words of a poet, the meaning of the speaker’s message becomes as clear as the affirming heads bobbing up and down.

Earlier in the month I was listening to the local public radio station. I didn’t hear the beginning of the program so I did not know the name of the person being interviewed or even the subject of the broadcast. What I heard was a man from Somalia, now living in this country, say that in his culture poetry was used as a form of persuasion. He spoke of how, often, in a gathering where there is dissension or conflicting opinions, someone will offer a poem to persuade those present, to bring the people to a greater understanding of their particular point of view. I loved this! It sent my mind reeling in a hundred different directions.

Over the last weeks I have been imagining the many subjects that seem to divide us, those for which we gather to argue our point. Instead of arguing, what if we instead spoke aloud a poem?

For those who are wrestling over the issue of climate change, those who want to drag people to their side of the table, might be hushed for a few moments by the words of Sufi poet Hafiz: 

“Even after all these years

the Sun never says to the Earth ‘you owe me’.

Look at what happens with a love like that.

It lights up the whole sky.”

Or what of those who, this very day, are arguing over the rights of those who declare their love and commitment  to one another, rights afforded to some but not to all? What might happen if someone stepped into the words bandied about and spoke these words from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets?:

“O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out

Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,

When rocks impregnable are not so stout,

Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?

O fearful meditation! where, alack,

Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?

Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?

Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?

   O, none, unless this miracle have might,

   That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

It would certainly hush the crowd for awhile, I’m sure, if delivered well and with the passion one person can feel for another. 

Perhaps I am naive to think persuasion and poetry can go hand-in-hand.  Perhaps we have too long been ruled by the ‘more is better’ theory of word. And yet, I know every time I stand to read…..”The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”……at a memorial of a loved one now passed on to eternity, I do so with the full knowledge that not much else need be said. These words, this poem, has the power to persuade those gathered grieving that they do have all they need. That they will get through this. That a few, with emphasis on few, words can speak the wisdom of the ages. That they dwell in the house of God…..forever.

Reactive Life

Last week while preparing for an upcoming conference call with some colleagues, I fell into a sentence in the materials assigned to us that has not let me go. The sentence was part of a short piece written by Mark Nepo, poet and philosopher, on The Work of Self-Awareness. His encouragement was toward taking daily measurements, noticing what has changed in us since yesterday, last week, last year and making needed adjustments in how we see ourselves, our living.He writes….”Otherwise, we fall prey to the merciless speed of a reactive life.” As I read this sentence it was as if I received a thud to the chest. Fall prey. Merciless speed. Reactive life. Yes, I knew this…have done it over and over. 

Each day we awake with a fresh page in the diary of our lives. This is the gift of the Sun and its Creator. It is true for each and everyone of us. And yet, I think of the many ways I do not treat this as the gift it is. Most often, I move through the minutes and hours of a day bouncing from one thing to another without harnessing the wisdom of yesterday’s realizations, yesterday’s lessons that sought to make something new in my life. Mistakes understood. Blessings of kind words and sweet smiles, signs of love. Challenging words read or heard, questioned and internalized. Encounters with a child’s vibrant face and an elder’s soft, wrinkled hand. All these combined to make yesterday’s imprint on my soul. In truth, they left me changed, different at day’s end.

Our inclination is to live the old patterns, to get on the treadmill and keep doing what we have done, reacting to each and every pull and tug that comes at us with a merciless speed. We do this in our personal lives, in our relationships, in our institutions. It is so easy to fall into this pattern without ever paying attention to the changes we notice within. The reactive life can have us ticking off things on to-do lists which can feel like progress but rarely allows us to nurture our deepest selves.

What will you do today that nurtures your deepest self? How will you make time for integrating the wisdom offered you over the last days and years, that same wisdom that wants to bury itself in the soil of your true self? I am asking these same questions of myself. With the gift of this new day, how will I stop myself from ‘falling prey to the merciless speed of a reactive life’?

For me, the natural world is a good teacher. Today as I look out our windows, the tulips are reaching toward who they might become in the gift of this spring day. Their fullness will come from patience, warmth, strength against the cold and wind that has returned. Who they were yesterday is not who they will today. They will no doubt need to do some wise waiting in their becoming. 

Watching the many birds who are building nests as they gather materials, I marvel at their drive, their fortitude for the future. Taking the cast offs of humans and other creatures, they are preparing for new life, theirs and their offspring. Many are doing so at remarkable speed and yet intentionality. They have their eyes on what is yet to come. 

May today not find us falling prey to the merciless speed of a reactive life. Instead, may it find each of us….humans, tulips, winged-ones….waking to the gift of this precious day, never to be repeated, pure gift from an unimaginable benevolence, an embracing grace. May this outstretched offering be received with the hope of the new life for which we all long even when we do not realize it.

Blessed be. 



First. Something always has to be first. You can argue or reflect on the chicken and egg thing but in the end something must be first to get the ball rolling. And in our yard these days,it is the crocuses. The crocuses have been first. Everything else is limping along in that ‘are you sure it’s still not going to snow?’ way we all have of protecting ourselves from the fickle nature of spring. Most of the other green things who are just as anxious, I’m sure, to be here as we are to see them. But they are hanging back, inching into the world with a Zen-like pace. Thankfully, the crocuses decided they were all in and bloomed their way into the world. They were first to start a race that will soon topple us with wonder.

And spring is that time to be filled with wonder. It is a daily watch of ‘what’s happening now?’ and it can sneak up on you. I’ve already lamented that somehow I missed some of the local lakes lose their winter shield of ice. I was busy doing the mundane tasks of what seemed most important on an ever-present list of to-do’s, and ‘Bam!’,was gone. Now water laps at the shores and I missed the chance to say a fond goodbye to the ice that has kept me company for months. Spring is a full time job of watching, of staying awake to the awe.

On Saturday I was sitting in a chair that is just inside our deck doors. I was reading, minding my own narrow business, when a swath of moving yellow caught my eye. A goldfinch was hopping from deck chair to the rocks near our backyard water garden. The sheer sweetness of its color filled my heart with gratitude that I get to exist with a creature so intensely beautiful and so fragile. Watching it take quick drinks of the cold water I wondered at where it had come from, how it had spent its winter. Did it know it was being blessed and had become a blessing to this human hungry for the color and hope of spring? 

Being first has never been my forte. I have never been as bold as the crocuses in showing their first of the season color. More likely to hang back, I want to see if it is safe yet to show up, to let my full,self be shown, be known. What about you? Which is why the purple crocuses with their impossible yellow centers have become such a lesson, such an object of reflection to me this spring. With dead leaves left unraked from the fall surrounding them, they pushed their way through the hard ground and chose to show up. They not only showed up but gave it their all and reached toward the sun with their whole being, being the first to splash the landscape with a hue that pulls at your heart. For what would any of us do such a thing?

This experience with the crocuses and the goldfinch reminded me of Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life, something I quoted during our Easter Sunrise service: Pay attention. Be  astonished. Tell about it. They are good instructions and ones that, if followed, might lead to a much fuller life. It is what I have been trying to do these slow moving, spring days. I am trying to pay attention….except for that missed ice exit….to all this spring might be offering up. To what is first…and second….and brightest….and most subtle. It is a full time job but one I accept with humility and a deep hope. 

Having accepted the offer of this paying attention, I have no doubt that astonishment will be the paycheck. I know that I will be offered daily, if not hourly, rewards of astonishment. Why, just now I looked out the window in the pale morning light and I can see the forsythia has decided to join the grand parade. Yellow branches of color, like fireworks in the summer sky, are shooting up into the morning. Slowly, slowly, the world is waking up with their showiest selves. 

Pay attention. Check. Be astonished. Check. Tell about it……which is what I am doing right now. 



This morning I was able to spend some time in our neighborhood coffee shop watching some of the goings on at a crossroads that connects three sections of our city. The rainy skies and post Easter fatigue allowed for some good staring, some fine mulling. Every now and then I feel the need to sit in a comfy chair in this place, cup of coffee in hand, and stare at the world going by. This was my plan…..to watch the two roads coming together and cars moving in the four directions as people made their way into this chilly, spring day.

I was doing just that when a man came to the sofa that also looks out at the crossroads. He had said ‘good morning’ to me earlier as he set his coffee down and headed out to get a newspaper from from the machine outside. Settling in with paper and cup, it was clear he wanted to engage me in conversation. I was polite and tried to keep my answers pleasant but short hoping I could once again focus my attention on what was happening outside the windows. But slowly I began to be pulled into this man’s questions and before I knew it we were deep in a conversation. He began telling me about a relationship he was in and the questions he was having about it. What can I say? I must have one of those faces that invites this kind of interaction. But once we really started to talk, it seemed the right thing to do.

While I had come to stare at a crossroads,the long and short of it was that this man was also at a crossroads. He had some important decisions to make about how he was going to proceed with this relationship and his own life. It was not lost on me that I had come to engage in a passive experience of observing a crossroad and then found myself in the process of an active living out of one.  I hope our conversation was in some way helpful and that this man can make the movement that needs to be made. Whether he turns east, west, north or south, the crossroads in which he was finding himself is likely to take him in a direction that will require change and perhaps pain. My prayers go with him. 

As I left the coffee shop and made my way home through the rainy morning, the experience had me thinking about all the people I know who are at some kind of crossroads. People who are making decisions about jobs, school, places to live, the act of taking on a new career, turning away from what has been and toward something that is yet to be. Of course, there is an element of this crossroads experience that is the gift of the rising of each day. But sometimes the crossroads where we find ourselves is more pronounced, more dramatic. The act of faith it takes to turn one way or the other or to go forward or in reverse will have far reaching consequences. 

This crossroads stream of thought had me remembering my time on the island of Iona in Scotland. This tiny island of only about one hundred permanent residents has only two roads and very few cars. The two roads make a perfect crossroads at the near center of the island. This crossroads becomes a part of the pilgrimage path that thousands of pilgrims walk each year following in the footsteps of St. Columba. Standing at that place where the two paths meet, pilgrims are invited to reflect on the places in their lives where they have come to a crossroads.What caused the choice of one path over another? How was the decision made? How was the Holy seen in each path? 

Reflecting on crossroads had not been my plan for the day after Easter. But in many ways it now seems a good one. As we entered into the story of this holy day that is a pivotal point in the lives of those early followers of Jesus, they also had found themselves at a crossroads. What to do now that their friend and teacher was no longer with them? How to move on from the violence and grief they had experienced? The path they took at their own crossroad led to us re-telling and re-entering that story once again just the day before. In many ways it is a crossroad we find ourselves at over and over again. How to live into this story and make it our own? What path of hope will we cling to in the midst of all the experiences of our lives? 

Whatever crossroad you find yourself at this day, here is a blessing for your walk….

That no matter which way you take, you know you are not alone……..That wherever the path leads, you will know kindness………That each step will be a step toward something that will bring you peace……..That you will arrive in hope and the promise of new life.

Peace Pilgrim

All of us all over the world, are cells in the body of humanity. You are not separate from your fellow humans, and you cannot find harmony for yourself alone. You can only find harmony when you realize the oneness of all and work for the good of all.~Peace Pilgrim

As I turned the page over on my calendar yesterday, these words greeted me. Actually, they seemed more to punch me in the stomach. They seemed so timely to me. It was like being drawn into the practice some people I know used to have of opening the Bible and letting their finger drop a certain place. There they would find whatever it was they felt they needed for the day. I am pleased that this works for some but it never has for me. I fear I have to do much more scraping and wrestling to find the nuggets of wisdom I need.

But given the news that is coming out of Indiana and Arkansas, I read these words with wonder and a certain longing. I wondered what would happen in our world if we held these words close to our hearts, allowed them to guide our actions, our decisions. They seem such truth to me but it is clear, given the movements of certain people in these states, that these words and their sentiments, are not the values of all. I have to admit it is a head scratcher for me. And it breaks my heart. 

Of course, reading the calendar words led me to discover who the writer was. Peace Pilgrim. I thought I was fairly safe in thinking this was a chosen rather than a given name. (I only spun around in the ‘what name would I choose for myself?’ place for a few minutes.) And it was true. Peace Pilgrim, born Mildred Norman in 1908, was a peace activist and the first woman to walk the length of the Appalachian Trail. She gave her life over to educating and spreading the message of peace in a spiritual way though never tied herself to any particular faith tradition. She walked by faith….not carrying money, had no financial backing, relied on those she met for food and shelter. Seems I remember a certain prophet encouraging such behavior 2000 years ago. Peace Pilgrim spent her life walking back and forth across this country spreading a message of peace and good will to all she met. She began walking in 1953 and continued bringing this message for over 28 years. She walked through the Korean War and the Vietnam War crossing the United States nearly 20 times. Ironically, she was killed in while riding in a car on her way to Knox, Indiana on her way to give a talk about…..our oneness….our inability to separate ourselves from one another…..the pursuit of the common good. 

Looking at the calendar whose little squares offer wisdom to me each day, I felt blessed by Peace Pilgrim’s words. They gave me hope and helped me feel connected to something larger. Listening to and reading the news over the last days has made me a little crazy. And frankly a little frightened. I wonder at how, with all we know of the ways the Universe works, of how intricately woven together we are with one another and the ways of the Creation, how anyone can consciously choose to exclude another. The fact that this behavior is also driven by an understanding of faith boggles my mind.

It is enough to start a person walking….and walking….and walking. I think of Peace Pilgrim walking across the country, stopping in small town diners and city squares, waiting for someone to come up and talk to her. What did those conversations sound like? What words were spoken? How often was she welcomed and how often rejected? What did she do to buoy herself up against the harsh voices who saw the world differently, who wanted to create clear lines of separation and do so in the name of God?

I haven’t reflected enough on this all to see why this gift was handed to me in the midst of Holy Week. But I have a sense there is something to learn in it all. For this moment on Holy Thursday, I am simply thankful for the words and life of Peace Pilgrim and for how she has shown me the face of Jesus….the great welcomer…the voice for the common good….the teacher of inclusion and love. 

May this message cast its spell on all those who might think otherwise on this day, this holy day.


Yesterday I wrote a post describing a church from my hometown in southern Ohio. I had added a photo of the church which I thought shone forth the simplicity and beauty of those who had worshiped there over the years since 1835. I realized only today that it had not appeared. It is such a wonderful symbol to me of the faith of all those that have gone before that I am trying this again. May its simplicity and the power it holds in that simplicity be a prayer for those of us who walk in these days leading to Easter.

“Ay, call it holy ground, the soil where first they trod…..left unstained what there they found….freedom to worship God.” ~ Hemans

Moriah Chapel, founded 1835.