Category Archives: Prose & Poetry

A Prayer for the New Year

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, although I do try to start a new year off with a fresh start. A new year always seems like a second chance, a fresh beginning. Beginning something new is not easy . . . just like having to write a new year’s date on a check for the first time – you forget, and unconsciously write the previous year in the tiny box.

I already know 2011 will be a watershed one for me.  The likelihood of three aging parents making it through to 2012 is slim. My daughter getting married. Endings and beginnings. Bookends with lots of unknowns in-between them.

I Hold My Life Up to You Now

by Ted Loder in Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle (1984: Innisfree Press, Inc.)

Patient God, the clock struck midnight and I partied with a strange sadness in my heart, confusion in my mind.

Now I ask you to gather me, for I realize the storms of time have scattered me, the furies of the year have driven me, many sorrows have scarred me, many accomplishments have disappointed me, much activity has wearied me, and fear has spooked me into a hundred hiding places, one of which is pretended gaiety.

I am sick of a string of “Have a nice day’s.”

What I want is passionate days, wondrous days, blessed days, surprising days.

What I want is you!

Patient God, this day teeters on the edge of waiting and things seem to slip away from me, as though everything was only a memory and memory is capricious.

Help me not to let my life slip away from me.

O God, I hold up my life to you now, as much as I can, in this mysterious reach called prayer.

Come close, lest I wobble and fall short.

It is not days or years I seek from you, not infinity and enormity, but small things and moments and awareness, awareness that you are in what I am and in what I have been indifferent to.

It is not new time, but new eyes, new heart I seek, and you.

Patient God, in this teetering time, this time of balance, this time of waiting, make me aware of moments, moments of song, moments of bread and friends, moments of jokes (some of them on me) which, for a moment, deflate my pomposities; moments of sleep and warm beds, moments of children laughing and parents bending, moments of sunsets and sparrows outspunking winter, moments when broken things get mended with glue or guts or mercy or imagination; moments when splinters sine and rocks shrink, moments when I know myself blest, not because I am so awfully important, but because you are so awesomefully God, no less of the year to come as of all the years past; no less of this moment than of all my moments; no less of those who forget you as of those who remember, as I do now, in this teetering time.

O patient God, make something new in me, in this year, for you.

A Season of Vulnerability

Making way for barrenness

Most of the leaves have left their branches this past week in my neighborhood. Living in New England, autumn is always a beautiful time for walking and driving around town. I’m not a big fan of dropping temperatures, but the smell of dry, crisp leaves in the brisk air reminds me of childhood – raking large piles of leaves to jump in, stuffing old clothes to make a scarecrow in the yard, and collecting acorns.

As I get older, autumn means putting things to rest to prepare for the winter – bringing in the deck furniture, putting away all vestiges of summer, and getting out the winter coat from the back of the closet. The trees go barren and dormant. I put the bird feeders out before the ground freezes. The furnace goes on. Another year has gone by. So quickly.

Autumn, the season of vulnerability, when the great arms of oak stretch their summer leaves to the wild October winds.

all that has bee life and green is stripped from strong trees, and the tall, wide branches seem to be deathly wounded.

across the lawns in layers like the near-dead leaves; onto the forest floors they fall as if to say: “all is lost.”

this is the season of vulnerability when trees open wide to wounding, when all the summer security is given away to another season.

wiser are the trees than humans who clutch small arms round self, shielding their fragile hearts and stifling future springtimes.

Joyce Rupp “Fresh Bread and other Gifts of Spiritual Nourishment” (Ave Maria Press, 2006)

You and the Alien Shall Be Alike Before the Lord

We are all immigrants

There shall be for you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance (Numbers 15:15-16).

The Episcopal House of Bishops met last week in the Diocese of Arizona. Before their scheduled meeting, many of them arrived early to learn (and experience) the issues of immigration facing our country. At the end of their time together, they issued this Pastoral Letter along with a Theological Resource: “The Nation and the Common Good: Reflections on Immigration Reform.” It includes links to resources that may be helpful for congregational study. The Thoughtful Christian also two studies: The Immigration Debate and Give Me Your Tired and Your Poor.

On Controlling Our Borders

by Walter Brueggemann in Prayers for a Privileged People (2008: Abingdon)

Jesus – crucified and risen – draws us into his presence again, the one who had nowhere to lay his head, no safe place, no secure home, no passport or visa, no certified citizenship.

We gather around him in our safety, security, and well-being, and fret about “illegal immigrants.” We fret because they are not like us and refuse our language. We worry that there are so many of them and their crossings do not stop. We are unsettled because it is our tax dollars that sustain them and provide services. We feel the hype about closing borders and heavy fines, because we imagine that our life is under threat.

And yet, as you know very well, we, all of us – early or late – are immigrants from elsewhere; we are glad for cheap labor and seasonal workers who do tomatoes and apples and oranges to our savoring delight. And beyond that, even while we are beset by fears and aware of pragmatic costs, we know very well that you are the God who welcomes strangers, who loves aliens and protects sojourners.

As always, we feel the tension and the slippage between the deep truth of our faith and the easier settlements of our society.

We do not ask for an easy way out, but for courage and honesty and faithfulness. Give us ease in the presence of those unlike us; give us generosity amid demands of those in need, help us to honor those who trespass as you forgive our trespasses.

You are the God of all forgiveness. By your gracious forgiveness transpose us into agents of your will, that our habits and inclinations may more closely follow your majestic lead, that our lives may joyously conform to your vision of a new world.

We pray in the name of you holy Son, even Jesus.

Paying “Caesar” aka Tax Time

April 15th at my house is a bit deal. Having been married to a CPA for almost 33 years, there is always a sigh of relief when this day is over. With computers and e-mail, the phone doesn’t ring as constant as it used to in the days leading up to the deadline and John doesn’t make those 11:00pm trips to the Post Office to drop off the returns of those wait-until-the-last-minute clients.

During Lent I read Marcus Borg’s The Last Week (HarperOne, 2006), in which he (and John Dominic Crossan) walk us through Holy Week according to Mark’s gospel. On Tuesday we hear the Pharisees and Herodians try to entrap Jesus with questions about paying taxes to Caesar. They give an interesting exegesis of this passage in addition to the usual: Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s. Give to God the things that are God’s. They question to ponder then is, “What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God?” For Jesus and many of his Jewish contemporaries, everything belongs to God.  Leviticus 25:23 says that the land belongs to God and all are the tenant farmers or resident aliens on land that belongs to God. To use Tuesday of Holy Week’s language, the vineyard belongs to God, not to the local collaborators, not to Rome. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Psalm 24:1)

Jesus is again posed a tricky question. He gives us the two-fold great commandment – to love God and to love our neighbors. How are the two connected – and what does this have to do with April 15, 2010? We are to give to God what belongs to God: our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength. To love one another means to refuse to accept the divisions rendered by the status quo around us, whether it is Caesar or the US government. We are to bridge divisions between rich and poor, respected and marginalized, righteous and sinners, friends and enemies. Hopefully paying our taxes today help provide services to those who need them.

Simplistic, yes. But I think Walter Brueggemann states it much better in his prayer from Prayers for a Privileged People (Abingdon, 2008):

Income Tax Day

On this day of internal revenue
	some of us are paid up,
	some of us owe,
	some of us await a refund,
	some of us have no income to tax.

But all of us are taxed,
	by war,
	by violence,
	by anxiety,
	by deathliness.

And Caesar never gives any deep tax relief.

We render to Caesar . . . 
	to some it feels like a grab,
	to some it is clearly a war tax,
	to some – some few – 
		it is a way to contribute to the common good. 

In any case we are haunted
	by what we render to Caesar,
	by what we might render to you,
	by the way we invest our wealth and our lives,
	when what you ask is an “easy yoke”:
		to do justice
		to love mercy
		to walk humbly with you.

Give us courage for your easy burden, so to live untaxed lives.