Poetry for Easter Monday: Seven Stanzas for Easter by John Updike

Fr. Jonathan's Blog

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of…

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Poetry for Palm Sunday: The Poet thinks about the donkey, by Mary Oliver

The Poet thinks about the donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
   leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
   clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

Mary Oliver from her book Thirst.

Another Poem for Lent: Affliction by George Herbert

Affliction

by George Herbert

My thoughts are all a case of knives,
Wounding my heart
With scattered smart;
As wat’ring-pots give flowers their lives.
Nothing their fury can control,
While they do wound and prick my soul.

All my attendants are at strife
Quitting their place
Unto my face:
Nothing performs the task of life:
The elements are let loose to fight,
And while I live, try out their right.

Oh help, my God! let not their plot
Kill them and me,
And also Thee,
Who art my life: dissolve the knot,
As the sun scatters by his light
All the rebellions of the night.

Then shall those powers which work for grief,
Enter Thy pay,
And day by day
Labour Thy praise and my relief:
With care and courage building me,
Till I reach heav’n, and much more, Thee.

Poetry for Lent: “Repentance” by George Herbert

Today is the commemoration of the Anglican priest and poet, George Herbert, who died on February 27, 1633

Repentance

Lord, I confess my sin is great;
Great is my sin. Oh! gently treat
With thy quick flow’r, thy momentany bloom;
Whose life still pressing
Is one undressing,
A steady aiming at a tomb.

Man’s age is two hours’ work, or three:
Each day doth round about us see.
Thus are we to delights: but we are all
To sorrows old,
If life be told
From what life feeleth, Adam’s fall.

O let thy height of mercy then
Compassionate short-breathed men.
Cut me not off for my most foul transgression:
I do confess
My foolishness;
My God, accept of my confession.

Sweeten at length this bitter bowl,
Which thou hast pour’d into my soul;
Thy wormwood turn to health, winds to fair weather:
For if thou stay,
I and this day,
As we did rise, we die together.

When thou for sin rebukest man,
Forthwith he waxeth woe and wan:
Bitterness fills our bowels; all our hearts
Pine, and decay,
And dropp away,
And carry with them th’other parts.

But thou wilt sin and grief destroy;
That so the broken bones may joy,
And tune together in a well-set song,
Full of his praises,
Who dead men raises;
Fractures well cur’d make us more strong.

 

 

Poetry for Ash Wednesday: “Lent” by George Herbert

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is composed of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to your Mother, what you would allow
To every Corporation.

*  *  *

It ‘s true, we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior’s purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev’n as he.
In both let ‘s do our best.

Who goes in the way which Christ has gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
Who travels the by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

Transfiguration by Edwin Muir: Poetry for Transfiguration Sunday

So from the ground we felt that virtue branch
Through all our veins till we were whole, our wrists
As fresh and pure as water from a well,
Our hands made new to handle holy things,
The source of all our seeing rinsed and cleansed
Till earth and light and water entering there
Gave back to us the clear unfallen world.
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere? W as the change in us alone,
And the enormous earth still left forlorn,
An exile or a prisoner? Yet the world
We saw that day made this unreal, for all
Was in its place. The painted animals
Assembled there in gentle congregations,
Or sought apart their leafy oratories,
Or walked in peace, the wild and tame together,
As if, also for them, the day had come.
The shepherds’ hovels shone, for underneath
The soot we saw the stone clean at the heart
As on the starting-day. The refuse heaps
Were grained with that fine dust that made the world;
For he had said, ‘To the pure all things are pure.’
And when we went into the town, he with us,
The lurkers under doorways, murderers,
With rags tied round their feet for silence, came
Out of themselves to us and were with us,
And those who hide within the labyrinth
Of their own loneliness and greatness came,
And those entangled in their own devices,
The silent and the garrulous liars, all
Stepped out of their dungeons and were free.
Reality or vision, this we have seen.
If it had lasted but another moment
It might have held for ever! But the world
Rolled back into its place, and we are here,
And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn,
As if it had never stirred; no human voice
Is heard among its meadows, but it speaks
To itself alone, alone it flowers and shines
And blossoms for itself while time runs on.

Transfiguration: Poetry

This coming Sunday is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, “Transfiguration Sunday.” As I begin my sermon prep, I found this stanza from a poem by Mark Jarman:

I want to believe that he talked back to them, his radiant companions,

And I want to believe he said too much was being asked and too much promised.

I want to believe that that was why he shone in the eyes of his friends,

The witnesses looking on, because he spoke for them, because he loved them

And was embarrassed to learn how he and they were going to suffer.

I want to believe he resisted at that moment, when he appeared glorified,

Because he could not reconcile the contradictions and suspected

That love had a finite span and was merely the comfort of the lost.

I know he must have acceded to his duty, but I want to believe

He was transfigured by resistance, as he listened, and they talked.

Read the entire poem here: Transfiguration, by Mark Jarman (1982)