Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Saint Sebastian {poetry for lent}

The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, Odilon Redon. 1910

Saint Sebastian
by W. S. Merwin

So many times I have felt them come, Lord,
The arrows, (a coward dies often), so many times,
And worse, oh worse often than this. Neither breeze nor bird
Stirring the hazed peace through which the day climbs.

And slower even than the arrows, the few sounds that come
Falling, as across water, from where farther off than the hills
The archers move in a different world in the same
Kingdom. Oh, can the noise of angels,

The beat and whirring between Thy kingdoms
Be even by such cropped feathers raised? Not though
With the wings of the morning may I fly from Thee; for it is

Thy kingdom where (and the wind so still now)
I stand in pain; and, entered with pain as always,
Thy kingdom that on these erring shafts comes.

an explanation of {poetry for lent} 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kneeling {poetry for lent}

by R. S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,  
Kneeling before an altar  
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God  
To speak; the air a staircase  
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted  
A great rĂ´le. And the audiences  
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,  
For the message.
                  Prompt me, God;  
But not yet. When I speak,  
Though it be you who speak  
Through me, something is lost.  
The meaning is in the waiting.

an explanation of {poetry for lent} 

Monday, April 14, 2014


 In 2012 I posted my top ten favorite things about the Festival of Faith and Writing.  Yesterday my sister texted me, saying "I hope you'll do that again," and, as I love to hear myself talk, I guess I can do that.

When I first attended the FFW in 2012, I felt like I had found my happy place.  The kind of conference where I got to listen to smart people talk about books in interesting ways?  The kind of place where if people found out that at the age of twelve I had both a "bookwoman" sweatshirt and one that read simply "So many books, so little time," there was a chance they might NOT smile weakly and start looking around for someone less crazy to talk to? 

This year the experience was equally wonderful, but different in one particular way: this year the experience was extremely social for me. I missed sessions to continue interesting conversations.  I even skipped THE NATIONAL to be with people.  THE NATIONAL, people.  What was I thinking?

The truth is, in this weird way I kind of hate to admit - because I want to be all about presence and embodied experiences and wendell berry - the connections I've made online over the last two years are real. I am a different person because of them.  I'm more inspired and confident creatively due to the relationships I have with many people I never or rarely see in person.  When I think about the Inklings in a pub in England or the Lost Generation in cafes in Paris, I think of my writing group on Voxer.  And while I'm no C.S. Lewis or Ernest Hemingway (I do like to think of myself as a Sylvia Beach, but now's not the time to discuss that), I believe that we are finding a similar kind of creative community through the internet.

And that's why, though the sessions at the festival were great this year (and I missed a lot that I want to revisit when the audio is put online), most of my highlights were about people.

10.  Seeing one of my favorite contemporary mystery novelists, Julia Spencer Fleming, and finding her to be smart, funny, self-deprecating, grounded, and knowledgeable about her craft.  That's a person I'd like to be like in thirty years.

9. I've appreciated Luci Shaw's poetry for many years now, so it was a pleasure to finally hear her read in person.  She's eighty-five, and so stately and gorgeous, so alive and attentive to life. That's a person I'd like to be like in fifty years.

8. Miroslav Volf spoke about education and human flourishing, about how "Decisions about the life worth living are increasingly shaped by decisions about consumer goods" and "We seek to satisfy our desires without exploring what is genuinely desirable." He's smart.

7. The Taylor University creative community made me proud: We had students with their names printed on the covers of journals, and everyone was asking me, "Do you know Dan Bowman?  What has he done to your creative writing program?"  The truth is that Dan is an agent of change, an advocate not just for students, but for friends as well, and he's having significant impact.  Of course it was just fun, too, to sit and talk with students and friends, and to run into alumni and see how smart and motivated they are.

6. On Friday night my writing group had dinner with Rachel Held Evans.  It was great to reconnect with her. Rachel is kind, honest, and, as DL said, always using her platform to highlight other people's voices.  She's generous.

5. Hermeneutics hosted a really fun reception on Thursday night, and it was great to re-connect both then and throughout the weekend with some of the writers I really admire - Karen, Rachel, Katelyn, Laura, Marlena, etc.

4. Several of the regular Christ and Pop Culture writers were there!  I only got to meet them for a few minutes at lunch one day, but it was good. They are thoughtful, smart people.

3. Would you believe that when I moved to Southeast Asia ten years ago, I met a kindred spirit right away?  I knew it when I walked into her house and saw her books.  I've only seen her a handful of times since leaving Asia, but every time I see her, I find that I still want to be just like her.  Sandy and I got to spend the better part of an afternoon together catching up.

2. I met with a couple of publishers about the book I'm currently working on, and would you believe they're interested? Now I'm just preparing myself to spend the summer with an open vein, losing blood into the keyboard until my heart is on the page the way I want it to be.

1. Most of all, it was beautiful to be with my writing group. What a gift from God it is to share life with these women. I would never have believed - and I still have trouble explaining - that you can make friends online, and that they could change your life for the better.  But here's the proof.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Purvey Translates: In ipso enim vivimus et movemur et sumus {poetry for lent}

This is the third in a series of three poems I'm sharing from Thom Satterlee's Burning Wyclif.  For more background, read this first.

Purvey Translates: In ipso enim vivimus et movemur et sumus

Sometimes the words I translated
translated me, as when
I wrote, "In Him we live
and move and are." For days
I dwelled in that mystery
where all air seemed holy
and fearful. I believed
I was a rip running
through God's body, a tear
that only stopped
when I sat still. Then
at my desk, half in daydream
I felt myself placed
as a word on the page,
and suddenly I saw
the whole of who we are
and how we're bound together --
each one of us a word
in the Word of God,
and our life's goal as simple
as remembering the lines
He first drew us with,
the sound and sense
we made in that language
before languages.

Originally published in The Southern Review.

an explanation of {poetry for lent} 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Brethren of the Cross: Oxford, May 19, 1349 {poetry for lent}

This is the second in a series of three poems I'm sharing from Thom Satterlee's Burning Wyclif.  For more background, read this first.

Brethren of the Cross: Oxford, May 19, 1349

"Some element of the flagellant lurked in the mind of every medieval man."
-The Black Death, 64

Although in Wyclif the element was trace,
And not much lurked in his mind without his knowing,
Still he could not look away, and something --
Was it sympathy or kinship? -- went out from him
like a bird from its cage.

He stood among the crowd and watched
Over a hundred flagellants
Stripped to the waist, scourges in hand,
Grouped in a circle. Gradually their chanting
Rose in pitch and volume

As they beat their backs and chests
With spikes sewn into leather thongs,
Tearing their flesh, now bleeding
Openly, freely, in front of God, the crowd, and him
On an early afternoon with the shadown

Of St. Mary's spreading across the square,
The tip of its spire pointing
Like a finger at the righteous suffering,
As if to settle all the arguments
Over what would end this Plague:

Here, these few who give themselves
For the many.  Wyclif felt their blows
Himself and without thinking
Touched his chest, half expecting blood
To soak through his robe and stain his hand.

But when he took his hand away
And saw nothing, he knew
He had only lapsed into believing.
As suddenly as the cage had opened
It closed. He left without a word.

This poem first appeared in Roanoke Review.

an explanation of {poetry for lent} 

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Lesson {poetry for lent}

Over the next few days, I'm going to share three poems by Thom Satterlee. A novelist, poet, and translator, Thom is also a friend and fellow parishioner. In most of the poems in the collection Burning Wyclif, Satterlee imagines scenes from the life of John Wyclif, the fourteenth century scholar best known for inspiring the first complete translation of the Latin Bible into English.  A renowned Oxford scholar, Wyclif lived through the Black Plague, a Papal Schism, and the Peasant's Revolt. The "morning star of the Reformation," Wyclif was an early critic of the Roman Catholic Church. Embroiled in church controversies, he was condemned by the Pope as well as the Archbishop.

Thirty years after his death, the Council of Constance declared Wyclif a heretic, and ordered that his body be exhumed and his remains buried.

The collection Burning Wyclif begs to be read in one sitting.  The poems move chronologically through Wyclif's life and as I read them, the drama, character, and tension drew me in. Themes of death and the relationship between the living and the dead run through the book.

This first poem I'm sharing imagines Wyclif and an early brush with brokenness.

The Lesson
by Thom Satterlee

Once, as a boy, Wyclif carried a lamb
on his shoulders. Its legs dangled
across his chest, its head bobbed above his head.

He walked with it held high through the flock
as clouds gathered, darkened. At first
the rain felt good -- slow, fat drops splashing

cold against his skin while the underside
of the lamb warmed his neck. He rubbed
his face against its fine new wool.

But when thunder cracked and the sheep bolted,
the boy ran, too, tripped to one side and fell
with his whole weight on top of the lamb.

The sound of its leg when it snapped
was an echo of thunder, a noise
that entered his ear and never left,

not that long day with all its lessons,
beginning with the knife his father taught him
to run under the lamb's neck, down to its belly,

and then with his own hands to remove
the word of every organ, repeating their names
as his father patiently spoke them --

heart, kidney, liver, lung -- or later
when the family ate stew and the boy learned
how to laugh at jokes told at his expense,

then and years later the one lesson
that remained was a bone breaking
inside his ear, the aftersound of its splintering.

First published in the Anglican Theological Review.

an explanation of {poetry for lent} 

Friday, April 4, 2014

the {poetry for lent} link-up

In the Garden

“As I take my spade in hand, as far as I can see, great clods of earth are waiting, heavy and dark, a hopeless task.” - Kathleen Norris, describing her approach to the contemplative life

I spent an afternoon killing
weeds, cutting
earthworms into pieces, tilling
sod into furrows.

My arms ached,
a line of bruises crossed
my thighs;

I felt powerful.

Then snow fell,
the half-readied earth froze.

I returned
to bits of weed and grass
rerooted, my labor
null and void.

I spent an afternoon filling
wheelbarrows, spading
clumps out, dumping
weeds in the back pasture.

The hens followed me.
They know Mary Oliver says
“Poems should have birds,”
and mine pecked greedily at worms,
shitting in the tilled soil.

This is not a metaphor.
My heart is not the garden.
Or if it is a garden, it’s one
I’m still afraid to till.

I wonder if anything will grow

with death, and shit, and snow,
aching muscles,
clay and roots.

Today is the day for our poetry link-up!  Bravely add your poem, original or not, to the link up. I can't wait to read them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Illumination {poetry for lent}

Malinda is a Creative Writing student at Taylor.  What I love about this brief poem is its simplicity, its powerful image, and the way it makes me wonder.  What does it mean to really see someone?  And how do we help each other see more clearly?

by Malinda Patterson

It was dark.
But then she struck a match.
And while it burned,
there was just enough light
to see the other’s face.