I sat across the table from you
leaking tears and talking, talking
trying to put my finger on why I wept
and felt embarrassed in a class where we
discussed the abuse of women and girls.
The tears began as I tried to articulate the need
for awareness of all those who at that moment
(when we were discussing their situations
in a much removed room at divinity school)
were alone in their abuse, with no relief in sight.
Trying to discern the reason for tears
while explaining to you the sense of distance
I felt between me and my body,
me and my skin, even while the invitation
to fill that space hung in the air.
What else would God do but weep? you said.
I rode your words bareback into that space
where compassion closed the gap. I felt
how the heart of God is the part of how
we are one with ourselves and with each other.
Mommy, come and look at this,
my son called from the back door stoop.
I can’t. I’m busy. What have you got?
His answer lost in the distance between us
I called out louder, What have you got?
A bee. He’s walking on my cheek. See?
Blinded by dishes piled up to the brink
of my mind mired down in mashed potato
I called from the sink, Probably a fly,
and chose not to walk to the stoop
where he sat waiting. In that moment
of meanness, the bee stung; starving
children bit the dust, the nails in our house
began to rust, and Jack Benny died.
And my son cried out, pouring tears,
healing rain, onto the infinite desert of sin.
Church is a machine for the making of saints,
not so different from the making of sausage
the process of which you don’t want to see.
It may be the same with the saints––
God at work in the human soul, sweating
betraying an image we cannot abide.
But who’s to say what goes on inside any man
woman or child? God knows and perseveres,
poking, prodding, sometimes with fire
seeming oblivious to the pain induced, which
must be serving some purpose, some use,
hidden as is the process for making sausage.
If ever I needed further proof
that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
was still active in our fallen world,
I found that proof in you. In your seeing
what had to be done and doing it
with a passion that consumed your life.
A prophet indeed, and more than a prophet––
a man for all seasons, tested and found
worthy of the task assigned.
Now you go on in support of the life
you called into being by your bold action
knowing this is how the kingdom will come.
… the moment one definitely commits
oneself, then Providence moves too.
The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
To walk from periphery to center is the longest walk
one makes in a given life. No matter when
it happens––at 3, 15, or 73––no matter, only
that it happens, lands you at the creating center
committed to fulfill the work of your life,
most immediately, the work of the day.
Who’s to say but you what the work is
discerned in silence and fed by a hundred moments
of deep joy. Go ahead. Take the walk of commitment
from periphery to center. I double-dare you
to fall down and kiss the ground that is creation
of which you are a part, so help you God.
I’ve come by grace to this sacred time
I call the moment at hand.
I celebrate at the kitchen sink,
this altar, the yes of resurrection
of promise of clean dishes and glasses
raised up out of scum and residue
rinsed under water hot and flowing.
Again tonight I give the altar call:
Clear the table.
Wipe these dishes.
Come on, you kids:
Let’s get this show on the road.
This child, this Yemenite child
more than half-starved,
his body carved of bone
and swollen belly
this Yemenite child has a name––
Mohannad Ali. He lies on a pallet,
a hospital bed, waiting to die
or live. (He’s only five.)
His face bisected by light and shadow,
his dark eyes look out into mine
from the photo I keep on my desk
to remember him.