St. Patrick

Shape me, God, and form me
like the tide shapes her shoreline,
like the flame reforms the wick.
Let me be your monstrance:
and never veiled in sackcloth
but radiant with your presence close within.
Let me be the gospel
by which your love is preached
to friend and stranger:
and let me not be selfish,
never jealous, never vain,
nor yet resentful—but Easter in me, Love!
Let your fire be no more an ember
but a living flame that leaves
no trace of me: but only in me, You.

This is day 37 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Fifth Wednesday of Lent

Sometimes I lack peace
from the first moment of the day,
like waking up to find
you’ve been robbed.

And I go from room to room
talking, but not speaking,
seeking, but not finding
in that hateful drought.

I go back, like a stiff-necked people
to the land I was enslaved in.
Like a dog returns to its vomit,
so go I to grace’s grave.

I would drive to the ends of the earth
to touch your face and hear “be healed.”
(I do drive—if only an hour,
but still arrive too late.)

How often I’ve chased you! how often I strive
to beat my heart into shape,
to be your tabernacle
and feel you rest in me—

yet do not rest in you! not even when
I hear your voice so clearly:
“adoption is your heritage,” you said,
“our Father’s great inheritance.”

Yet little by little, despite
my spendsavor self’s resisting,
sunlight caressing black ice
cannot fail to melt, to crack it.

A blessing in a bookstore.
A brother’s humble prayer.
A car ride filled with laughter
to the supper of the Lamb.

What I would not give for faith
that triumphs over darkness
but also over dryness
and the restive morning fog!

And yet. “Patience,” you tell me,
and “surrender.”
For mercy triumphs over judgment,
even mine.

This is day 36 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Fifth Tuesday of Lent

I am told the salt shaker goes to the north of the pepper,
facing toward Mt. Hood.
I do not know why, but I suppose
this is how it must be,
as our churches should face east
because we strain
like kids at a parade
to be the first to catch a glimpse
of the rising Son,
as we Christians should face out and upward,
never down,
but always toward one another’s faces
and toward Yours.

This is day 35 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Fifth Monday of Lent

I am like a pair of headlights on a lonely lane,
bright eyes fixed on the middle distance.
What lies beyond the radius of my gaze
is only darkness. I know where I have been,
but the destination and the very route I take
and each stop along the way—
and how many seats are filled in me? and to whom
is given the captaincy?—
I fancy I know from day to day,
but my only clues are the scenery,
the ease of the roads or the rough terrain,
the gentle hand of the driver at the helm
or the violent turns when another takes the wheel.

This is day 34 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Fourth Friday of Lent

Are we anything now
but the co-authors
of a vast and lonely library
where poetry gathers dust
alongside theology, and linguistics,
and a treasure trove of in-jokes
we no longer care to understand?
Artifacts of a bygone age
like the Roman coin:
spent, stolen, spilt blood even,
now buried in an unlabelled drawer.

There are no footsteps down these
abandoned halls,
nothing to disturb the silence
(which is not at peace with itself
but longs for noise to fill it
be it laughter or crying it does not care)—

but the souls
in these stacks
are solid things, so solid
that they pass through this world lightly
and no longer stop to ruffle those pages
but move ever on, like an impact grenade
whistling endlessly through early morning fog.

This is day 31 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Fourth Thursday of Lent

Breaking down is easy.
It requires only a hammer
and an eye for where to hit
and where to pry.
Building up, now—that takes hours
and many false starts, and
mistakes and extra screws,
and its byproduct is frustration
but its product is
a chair. Just that.
Made to hold a human being,
more precious than all the gold in the world.
Made by human hands,
some in Guangdong province
and some in Silverton, Oregon,
men on a kitchen floor
laughing for the sheer joy
of making something for someone else,
even though it came in a box
and it wobbles like a communist régime
and the screws don’t fit quite right.

How much of ministry
is knowing when to break
and when to build?
How much is simply saying ‘yes’?
How much is nothing more
than being there
when you are broken down
by a stray blow?—
and not to build you back again,
which is beyond the reach
of my only tools,
a screwdriver and patience—
but maybe just to be with you
and make you smile
and read to you
and pray.

How much of ministry is in the spending
of time, or of energy,
strength, money, freedom, gasoline,
ink on paper, words on a screen,
or any other old thing:
poured out like fragrant oil
from an alabaster jar
on the feet of one you love
and not to count the cost?—or if you do,
as I do,
tally up the hours
but lay them down too
at the feet of the beloved
and let them value naught for you.

This is day 30 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

St. Frances of Rome

Noli timere … quod enim in ea natum est, de Spiritu Sancto est. (Matt 1:20)

One night in the dark my brother,
when I’d told him to trust in God
and ask humbly his will be done,
told me, with a guileless honesty,
“it’s the only prayer I know.”

It was that prayer I prayed
in the vastness from under the cross
when I laid my life on the altar
and begged you lead me where you will,
and the prayer I have prayed ever since.

Every blessed day You are done in me!
though I grumble and wish it were faster,
though I favor my ways over yours—
even then! your will like a river,
course altered, rushes on to the sea.

What have I to fear but my fear?—
And even that no more a scandal
than a rock to a mighty current
which by numberless moments is smoothed
from a break in the stream to a bridge

on its journey from source to source.

This is day 29 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

St. John of God

A tree planted in running waters
longs to flower and bear fruit
in every season,
but though the waters run
and the sun bloom bright,
sometimes flowers wither on the stem,
fruits rot on the branch
for want of harvesting.

And the flowers that blossom one season
in another fall to petals on the stream
swept away to a who knows where:
sometimes to the spring, to the source; others
to the weeds or the river-bed.

A few, a very few,
bearing seed, take root.
These he calls “blessed,”
these, “espoused.”

This is day 28 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent.