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. 

Laetare Sunday

And I don’t know what I would do
without that silent country
which is not like a forest
nor a mountain peak
and where there is no path
nor even tracks
left by earlier explorers,
so that I could almost be the first—
or the only—
but for one.

In another place
there is a fountainhead,
there is sunlight and
the smell of moist new earth.
Here there is only the spring, here

There is only surrender.


This is day 26 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

 

Third Saturday of Lent

I don’t know what I would do
without the laughter, and the stories,
and the injokes, and the nicknames,
and the endless brotherly mocking,
without the hugs, and the crying,
and the praying in the night,
without the living heart beating
in the silent golden well
pumping love throughout the body
that is us all.

“It’s nice to be around so much
positivity,” she said, and rightly,
for in you there is nothing lacking—
to say ‘negative’ is only to say “not you,”
but in us you are not lacking
and your presence is made known
in the positive:
that is,
in love.

I think I would wither on the vine
had I not love:
such a tender
raucuous
unmistakable
theophany.


This is day 25 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Third Friday of Lent

I am a clay pot
or an earthen vase,
made to be filled
with the water of your being,
with the wine of your love.

And I am not enough: not worthy
to pray, to bless, to counsel, not worthy
to look upon your face, not worthy
that you should radiate in me, not worthy
that you should use my lips to speak your wisdom,
nor my hands to bring the comfort of your presence!—
my lips, my hands, which how often have uprisen
in a parody or a paucity of love?

I know nothing of your goodness,
nothing of your greatness,
nothing of your mercy,
nothing of your love,
save only what little
you have revealed to me.

To one I admonish:
“your prayer is too self-centered.”

To another:
“surrender, and let Him heal your wounds.”

But when I come before you—
How, Lord, you must sigh.
Three hours here and still all I can say
is “not me, not me,”
when I must say only “you, you,
You.”


This is day 24 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Third Thursday of Lent

The ends of me are fraying,
like bléssed cord grown worn from being bound.
I hear a soft voice saying
“is it for you that grace gains ground?—
Or might it be the other way around?”

Another hour praying,
another hour waiting for the sound
of your Holy Spirit laying
tongues of fire to redound
upon me—in your Pentecost to drown.


This is day 23 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Third Wednesday of Lent

“You always ask for more,”
I imagine he gently chides me
as I open my hands and beg
to make it through another day.
“As if what I have given
would not suffice for you.”

And in the breaking of the bread
I admit that he is right,
but my heart cries out “it is not enough,”
cries out “I am drowning!” as
wave after wave breaks over me
and the salt and the silt grow thick.

“What little faith,” he chides me.
But how can I be other than I am?
A child crying out for a father—
afraid of the sea and the dark.


This is day 22 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent.