MEA DUFUS CULPA
I know a man who goes away from some conversations having said too much and listened too little. If you know me, you know him too . [publishing this at a time when our nation is paying for people being too proud to listen]
My comment on Facebook:
I just wrote about a musician who got better over the years. It felt odd to say of him that with age, he was “increasingly full of promise.” Does language banish Eternity in our hearts?#eternityintheirhearts #ecclesiastes311 #wetmorevalley #westcliffecolorado #poetography
My friend Scott Thibaut posted an insightful comment:
It’s nice to read a poem that recaps the song of Simeon in six lines.
The background image
The background image is part of a photo I took of the Wetmore Valley July 21, 2004. I was staying with my family at Horn Creek Family Camp. In the late afternoon, after suppers, I’d go out driving with the family, as that was the magical time when light was especially interesting and animals were venturing out from the woods.
Here’s What I Wrote About This
DON’T HATE ME FOR THIS
Almost every day, I take an afternoon nap while listening to music. I try hard then to let my imagination wander free. Often, I think of other artists, and the grasp they have of beauty. I, too, have known beauty. Someday, all of us who know the Author of beauty will have unbridled joy in His creation. Nap time is a good time to savor that hope. In Him, we rest.
All day, I asked myself if I should refine a poem I tossed off earlier that morning. This struggle reminds me of when I was a teenage perfectionist, and the head cook told me to stop mixing the pancake batter already.
Well, it turns out that I did NOT refine the poem in question, partly because the poem was one of my most popular ever: “Let The Dishes Soak.” I ran it by another poet, and we both saw its weaknesses, but part of its strength was surely the immediacy — words that someone might speak on the spur of a loving moment.
Depressed tonight, I recognize a silent battle — THE silent battle — that rages in me and friends. We occupy ourselves with any conflict at hand rather than the conflict at heart. We are intended by God’s merciful will to be fully won over in the battle to be reconciled, to be transformed into children worthy of fellowship with our Elder brother, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Victor. He won over sin that enslaves, weakens, and demoralizes us. He knows how we began; He also knows how we’ll end. Getting us there is His kind purpose (the Victor’s end).
So, why am I depressed? Largely because I see a problem in truly dear friends, a problem that probably afflicts me as well. They are — perhaps I am as well — occupied with silly, worthless conflicts. They are living in echo chambers that reinforce their perception that what they occupy themselves with is important. I sometimes despair of getting through to them. I don’t want to argue with them. They sometimes “like” what I write, apparently not realizing that it is completely antithetical to the trivial pursuits, the phony wars that call them forth. Some undoubtedly see me in the same sad light.
I wrote on Facebook that we need to pray for one another. God alone is able to rescue us from meaningless, hollow lives. He alone can replace depression with love, hope, and commitment.
I think the essence of poetry (at least my poetry) is compression with the goal of transformation.
In all my thinking, I try to get at the nub of things, to analyze and then articulate what I find as simply, honestly, and artfully as I can.
Diamonds and Lemonade
When the thinking is introspective, my hope is that what I find will be something I am willing and able to submit to God for transformation. He’s in that process; I want to cooperate with Him… to the very end. Think of a sinful man being transformed to be like Jesus where this poem refers to the lump of coal. An old myth says that diamonds come from highly compressed coal.
Stepping back one thought…. One of the my character qualities seriously in need of transformation is kindness. Think of that where I refer to “sugar cane” in this poem. I regularly pray that God will sweeten my other attributes with kindness.
NOTE: I had Susan take this picture of me as I sat in the conservatory of the Blue Fern Inn where we were staying in Tahlequah when we were up there to bury Susan’s Mom.
I wrote this partly in response to Mary’s wise and beautiful poem in Luke 1:46-55.
The subject of POWER has been much on my mind, in part because I have been reading Robert Greene’s entertaining but amoral “The 48 Laws of Power.”
I have been thinking about how God-fearers should relate to power. Of all God’s attributes that we can and should reflect, since He made us in His image, this seems to be one of the most dangerous.
[NOTE: I was very intentional with my punctuation, even in introducing ambiguity to the title]
A friend asked me if there should be a comma after time. Here’s what I told him:
The absence of a comma opens this up to at least three interpretations. I know this style’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Are you familiar with ee cummings’ “my father moved through dooms of love“? That poem brings me to tears whenever I read it.
The slight effort of getting past the absence of punctuation in cummings may add to its emotional impact. Speaking of tea…. Coffee is better than tea precisely for its body, that it slides down not so easily.
So, here are some pointers to meaning:
- “In time” can mean “eventually”
- “Time out of mind” is unimaginably long, think Eternity.
- In a polarized world, it is always “us” versus “they” (deeper in grammar, “us” receives the malevolence that “they” inflict — objective vs subjective). I like to think of a time when there is such peace between a broad diversity of people, that all of us are “WE,” and we never even think of “THEM.”
- Currently, things are not as they should be. Even at home, we know we are not where we wish to be. A time is coming when we’ll be where we long to be. Then and there, we’ll be at ease. Then and there we’ll be content with here and now.
- Where will we be? In the presence of the One who is making all things new, the One who will satisfy our hopes and dreams. Now, He often seems distant. We refer to Him in second person, as “He.” Then we’ll address Him face-to-face as “You.”
Now that the days are short, I often finish my walks at dusk. A shortcut I found through the woods can be a little creepy at that time. But the sound of forest critters is reassuring.
There’s a teenager with whom I compare notes. This pregnant perspective is new to to me, and foreign to him.
- daily reminders of how far we are from loving well (by BLESSING our enemies) and
- people who push back on our self-deception (so we’d welcome the PRESENCE of challengers).
Lord, I would not be so petty.
I grew up back when screens were something that kept the bugs out, but never kept the boys in. Out there, in the little yard of the house my parents chose to buy, were plenty of my one request: a climbing tree. On our one-third acre plot, there stood no less than seven giant sycamores. One of them was my favorite, for in its welcome lower branches my older brother built an elevated platform… just for me.
As I think about Luke, wealth, the fruitful tree, I become less a Pharisee, and daily more a grateful conduit: imago dei as I was meant to be.
My work is done for the day. His work may now proceed.
Last night, instead of sleeping, my mind was aswirl with thoughts of trees, vines, fruitfulness, and the relationship of these to imago dei. Too often, I have stopped at noting the object (e.g., the persistent tree) without noting its purpose: fruitfulness, provision, generosity like that of the Creator.
“Be fruitful.” “He is like a tree… that yields its fruit.” “Also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
Forgive me. I usually try to write poems that I myself understand. This one captures an actual vivid dream that I’m still trying to figure out.
This is increasingly true, but increasingly threatened, always in question.
Thinking of Abraham, Moses, and others* who thankfully illumine even now.
(background image from Pixabay)
*Poem was my immediate response to a Facebook post by Sten-Erik Armitage, where he wrote
In my pride, I don’t need God. I know better, and I can do it on my own. In my despair, I don’t want God. He doesn’t care, and he couldn’t help me anyway. In cultivating thanksgiving, I recognize my total dependence upon him and grow in humility and peace.Sten-Erik Armitage
Don’t misjudge “mindless” in this poem as I often misjudge it in life. Thinking matters; DOING God’s will surely matters more.
Background photo was taken while climbing the Red Couloir to Crestone Peak (2005).
Here’s one for my fourth-grade teacher, “Aunt” Eleanor Timmerman, who likes the word play of sun/Son.
TIP: think of how a boy from East Texas pronounces “soil.”
Most days I take time to reflect on beauty. No king anywhere has more of this than you or I.
Background image: Willow Creek Falls near Silverthorne, Colorado
I was contemplating the metamorphosis of people willing to die to faux prosperity.
I grew up in the mountains, and I still grow up there, little by little.
I took the background photo from the Air BnB that our family was staying at on vacation in Silverthorne, Colorado.
I have no idea why this little song came to mind. I was on vacation, looking around at the mountain flowers. Below the song as I formatted it then, I have posted something I’m playing with, the score and rendering by Musescore. The voicing is ridiculous, I know…. I’m just learning that program.
I was sitting outside our Air BnB while on vacation in Silverthorne, Colorado. It was a crisp mountain morning. The birds were singing, occasionally geese flew over in formation, and this beautiful mountain filled my view (Red Peak?). But next door, there was a workman happily whistling as he worked outside. He distracted from “nature.” But I knew my being annoyed was wrong. I had to write this rebuke to myself.
This strange poem is the nightmare I had last night. I *think* it wove two strands: contemplating Acts vis-a-vis evangelical triumphalism (really!), and reflecting on the vulnerability young people have to passions (I’m a father, who once was young).
I read that a writer comes alive by telling dead men’s tales. Here’s one such tale, though it’s not the *men* who died. This little poem was a lament. A dear friend had tried to persuade someone that his even-handedness in politics is NOT a retreat from righteousness. But the opponent was trapped in his or her allegiance to one end of the political spectrum.
The Internet browser fills my head with worrisome headlines. They did this! They are doing that! They, they, they. Soon, I forget to look for what He is doing.
Surely I’m not alone in catching a whiff of arrogance in the way I sometimes think of those who went before. This came to mind just now as I read Hebrews. God is merciful, not least in revealing the many reasons our elder Brother had to suffer in our place.
Gratefully, I cry with Browning:
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned!
I took a half-mile detour to capture this image on yesterday’s long hike, knowing that a poem was brewing. Storms should never be wasted.
At Christmas, we often hear a child recite the first 20 verses of Luke, chapter 2. That’s beautiful. But it’s the section immediately following that affects me most deeply. When the child Jesus is presented at the temple, Simeon and Anna recognize that they are witnessing something that will change the course of history. They have both waited a lifetime for the “consolation of Israel,” the “redemption of Jerusalem.” And here He is!
Pages so thin
This is the least emotionally honest of the stanzas. On those rare occasions when I pick up a printed copy of the Bible to read (my go-to is digital text), I can see through the thin pages to printing on the other side. I am not actually moved by BEAUTY when I see that. Rather, what that points to in this stanza is thematic. What all the other stanzas have in common is the anticipation of beauty replacing ugliness. MacDonald said it well: “The end of the Maker’s dream is not this.” I think that anticipation of beauty is what affects me.
Smile that transforms
One day, my son and I were waiting at Sonic for the waitress to bring our order out to the car. As we waited, Jonathan commented, “She doesn’t seem very happy.” I responded, “When she comes out, give her a big smile, and watch what happens.”
She came out, holding our tray of burgers and fries. Jonathan flashed a big smile at her, and her tired old face twisted into a responding smile. After we rolled up the window, I asked Jonathan if he had seen the transformation. He had!
I am looking forward to the smile of God, in the restoration of all things (see “Violets”).
Knowing that vanilla
Last year, I had spent months photographing flowers on my walks. In Autumn, the flowers were spent, and I wondered what was left to photograph. Then I started looking closely at what had become of the flowers. Seeds, of course. And some of the seeds were also beautiful and fascinating. But what really grabbed me was the realization that seeds are not the end of beauty, but its beginning (see “Dawn of Eternity”).
The way my little brother moves
I love to watch young children moving to music. There is one video in particular that comes to mind. I believe it may be a young Malawi boy moving subtly to music. His smile and movement are enchanting. So why “my little brother”? I’m the youngest of my family. I don’t literally have a little brother. Rather, I look forward to a day when barriers are removed and we can fully enjoy the brotherhood of man — with all its cultural diversity and beauty.
The love some have
I have had several exchanges about language with my Ethiopian friend Yohannes. When he points to beautiful speech and ideas expressed in Amharic — a language I do not know — I tell him I’m jealous. His response: “That’s beautiful my friend. It speaks of a lot of good things. The wonderful thing is that one day we shall all understand!”
Simeon in the temple
I wrote above that the accounts of Simeon and Anna in Luke 2 affect me deeply. Here’s how deeply…. Once, I was walking around the lake listening to an audio version of the Bible. When I got to the account of Simeon and Anna, tears started streaming down my face. It was a good thing nobody else was out walking that day. Why was I so moved?
Simeon and Anna were both very old. They would soon die. But this child filled them with hope. Perhaps it was “merely” hope for their people. But you and I know the rest of the story. Thirty-something years hence, Jesus would die a death that will forever put an end to death and ugliness. His Resurrection from the grave demonstrated God’s power and pleasure in restoration. Like all who believe, Simeon and Anna will once again embrace their beautiful Creator.
This is a companion piece to Music: Beauty’s Channeling
This is a second attempt to understand beauty as preceeding its so-called production. Although it may seem that I am empasizing the heavy task of the artist, the real point is that the artist is unveiling beauty from the time he or she begins the project. As one who believes that creation is full of beauty put there by God, I am trying to appreciate his role… without diminishing the role of the artist.
Michelangelo said something similar long ago:
The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.Michelangelo Buonarroti
Every day, when I lie down for a nap, I listen to beautiful music and try always to think of where beauty was born. This may sound silly to some, but I’m trying to put myself in a place where I can better appreciate beauty. So — brace yourself — I picture myself sitting on the edge of a cliff, looking out over a beautiful creation. The creator himself is sitting next to me. I am listening with him. That’s how I fall asleep.
After several weeks of doing what I just described, I was sitting one evening listening to beautiful music. Suddenly, I had a different perspective: the music struck me as a capturing of the beauties of sound, not their mere production. So I thought of an orchestra:
The strings “pluck it from the air.”
Percussion releases it from drums in all its vigorous exclamations.
Brass and woodwinds kiss it with their lips.
Strings express the tension of pent up beauty with their bows.
And then, the point: God can’t help but express (voice) beauty, and loves to share it with us, his creatures.
I dedicated this little poem to my friends of color, by whose grace, wisdom, and other beauties I hope to better appreciate our Heavenly Father. It’s a slow process. Foolishness is bound up in this heart of mine.
The background image is a stylized photo that I took from my office window. There are times of day when several birds come to my garden. I haven’t figured out why the various species pick the same time, but they do. Almost always, the titmouse and chickadee couples come at the same time. And when they come, they are often joined by a cardinal couple. Is there a certain light or temperature that is just right? I don’t know. Thus the question: “What is that secret chime?”
I titled this “Nearer, My God, to Thee” because the pleasure that I take in the variety of birds who congregate in my little garden must be akin to the pleasure God takes when people of every nation peacefully enjoy the world he created.