One Hundred & Baltimore

If the Spirit did not sigh for us, over us,
I wonder who would.

Who would hear our stories in their rawest honesty
and sigh in agreement, “Never again”?

Who would sit with us in the silence of shadows
and trace the dust of memories?

Who would hold out the bottle in an act of grace
saying, “Poured out for you,
in remembrance of them”?

Who would light the candles with us, each flame
representing one too many?

If the Spirit did not sigh for us, over us,
I wonder who would.

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Monday Muse: Hear My Prayer

Listen.

Sssssshhhh. Really, just listen.

Listen to the Psalms. Listen to all one hundred fifty of these ancient prayers — one psalm after another, one voice after another, without music or interlude, without commentary or homily. Just ssssshhh, listen and let the Psalms settle over your spirit with Hear My Prayer: The Audio Book of Psalms (Paraclete Press 2015).

hear-my-prayerIt matters that we give voice to Scripture. And it matters that we listen to Scripture, not only with the ears of our hearts but also with the ears of our bodies, so that flesh and spirit hear together. Listening to the many different voices of Hear My Prayer, I realize this again. When lifted from the page to the ear, the Psalms come alive with emotion and we are reminded that prayer is the embodied expression of our lives to the Holy One. In the voices of Hear My Prayer, the Psalms echo with the joy and the gentleness, the sorrow and the trust of this thing called faith.

Listening to Hear My Prayer, individual psalms suddenly catch my ear and I wonder, “Have I never heard or read this psalm?!” Through the voice of Paula Huston, for example, Psalm 102 is surprisingly ethereal as I imagine God’s celestial perspective on the nations of the earth and on the fleeting nature of my days. Meanwhile Psalm 10, read by Jack Levison, sighs anew to my spirit. And Paul Quenon’s articulation of certain psalms reminds me of the rhythm of our prayers, of the ways that our hearts’ murmurs weave and dance and sway to the ear of God.

Then there is this line from Psalm 45, read by Margaret Manning Shull: “My tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe” — oh! how have I missed the delight of this verse until now?

Hear My Prayer: The Audio Book of Psalms is an unexpected gift to my spirit. I who unapologetically surround myself constantly with sound — music at work, music in the car, television at home, conversations with colleagues and family and friends, plus the constant “noise” of social media — I find surprisingly restful stillness in listening to this collection of voices, to this collection of ancient prayers, to the spaces of silence around each word, to the calming tempo and timbre of the psalms given voice.

In full disclosure as I commend this newly-released audio book to you, I had the pleasure of recording three of the psalms for Hear My Prayer. And, in full disclosure, I’m really just one of the “ordinary Christians” of the audio book’s description: “The Psalms were written by human beings, and here, they are read by human beings — a wide range of ordinary and extraordinary Christians.” The list of more extraordinary readers includes such notables as James Martin SJ and Joan Chittister, Scot McKnight and Cathleen Falsani.

I pray that you will be blessed by Hear My Prayer as I have been.

A Fool for Beauty

I am a fool for your beauty —

the way you stretch yourself out

like the clear blue sky

with nothing to hide,

nothing to hold back;

the way you are manifest in the earth

with mountains for hips

a smile in blues & yellows

the relaxed river your strength & gentleness

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You are too beautiful, my God,

and you turn my head

with the winks of stars

the echoed longing of geese

the rich red your dusty flesh;

you spin me about in wonder

until I am swept up in joy

giddy to touch you and

awed to call you handsome

Monday Muse: Echo Still

echostillFor the first time in long time, I read a YA novel this spring: Echo Still by my friend and colleague Tim Tibbitts.

It’s also the first time in a long time that I’ve pulled my head out from mounds of church-related books & papers to simply read a story about people.

And Echo Still is a simply beautiful story about people.

Echo Still is the kind of book you buy for your preteen or teen but secretly borrow to read for yourself. The story finds Elijah (nicknamed Fig) navigating the everyday highs and lows of seventh grade: with a love of soccer, an apathy toward homework, a disinterest in bar mitzvah classes, and an envy of other kids who seem to have life a little easier … but also with the incomplete knowledge of his mother who died from cancer and the odd particularities of a grandmother who comes to visit.

A quick read, Echo Still nevertheless conveys an emotional depth and a reality in relationships that had me reaching for the tissue box more than once. Tim Tibbitts paints a touching portrait of how familial love falls down, finds its footing, storms and rages, despairs, and shows up all over again — all in the most ordinary moments.

It’s the kind of book that makes me believe we might all be okay in the end, despite our brokenness.

Believing Thomas

I believe in Jesus
when my feet
sink into the sands
alongside
the pulsing ocean.

I believe in Jesus
when I breathe deeply
in a pine forest
my footsteps quiet
to listen for the wind.

I believe in Jesus
when I see a group of
men shooting the breeze
early in the morning
at the coffee shop.

I believe in Jesus
when I kiss
my daughter’s forehead
as she leaves the house
for school.

I believe in Jesus
when it rains
and the earth
soaks up goodness
for new life.

I believe in Jesus
when mothers cry
loud sobs or silent tears over
their children striving & struggling
with the world.

I believe in Jesus
when he
offers his hand
(wounds and all)
in a gesture of peace.