Friday, October 17, 2014

On the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906

In early darkness
Temblor wakes, shakes the city
Many shall perish.

The Bay rippled, shook,
Like teacup in aged hands,
with ships unsettled.

As wind through the leaves,
The shock through earth upturning
Buildings, livestock, lives.

Fire found its food,
The glories of the city;
It devoured the past.

How lonely she sits,
That once was full of people,
A mourning widow.

For years her tears fell,
In cottage-cities, waiting,
Building slowly back.

No Phoenix-bird this,
The ashes of industry
Do not bear such fruit.

The city returned,
Her glory much abated,
No coastal queen now.

The man-works fall so,
When God in glory speaking
Shatters the cedars.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Song of the Fall and Redemption

First-fired pride in Lucifer
kill-kindled selfsame spark in Eve and Adam,
forefather freely fallen from fealty to his Lord,
begat a baneful brood, 
rebel-race run down in time, rundown in mind,
all fair faculties clouded, shrouded, for the sake
of sated curiosity and pride,
damnéd pride.

Son-savior Jesus Christ sought souls of Adam's race,
His grace to drown the hellfire-hardened hearts of His
redeemed, reclaimed, remade, refashioned out of water
and the Spirit freely given, put paid to sin and left a newmade man,
upright again, a strong man fit to run his course -
His course, our captain, killer of the serpent,
servant, King, in Him we run right on against a troop;
Praise Him! ye gods, swear oath and bear allegiance to the Lord
of two-edged sword.
Praise Him!
for what we are now, bowed low before the Lord,
held humble by His hand; His deeds done in His people,

by those who love not life but Christ the King.

Luther

If there is anything in us, it is not our own; it is a gift of God. But if it is a gift of God, then it is entirely a debt one owes to love, that is, to the law of Christ. And if it is a debt owed to love, then I must serve others with it, not myself.  Thus my learning is not my own; it belongs to the unlearned and is the debt I owe them.

- Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 1519

Friday, August 1, 2014

At Table


There is no land in all the world
so pleasant as the table
set around with friends and food
whatsoever we are able
on a instant to lay out
for whosoever gathers round
to share the cheer and join the sound.

At first the chatter, lay the plates,
final touches, sit you down,
thank the Lord of bread and wine,
pass the supper, and we dine!

Oh, load the boards until they creak
and fill the seats and pass the cup
and settle in for joy and sup!

The Academy

I work within a beehive
of learning and of toil
I see the pupils pressing
and the faculty recoil.

I send and answer missives
which are largely froth and foam
and I break at noon for luncheon
and I break at six for home.

To what end are all these striving?
To what goal behind this game?
They are selling off their youthfulness
for letters on their name.

Makes no matter how you struggle,
you must all obey the same
cruel diktat that demands of you
more letters on your name.

If you think you reach the summit,
have a care and guard your fame,
there are millions queued behind you
for the letters on your name.

When your years are spent with sighing
and the Reaper makes his claim,
 R.I.P. is all I wish you,
final letters on your name.

Sketches

He was an old man
and he asked for change.
I didn't have any
(though I had bills,
and canned food in my pack)
but I honestly told him
I had no change,
bade him good-day,
and rode on.

A middle-aged Indian,
brown as a nut,
lean as a whip,
holding a please-help-and
God-bless placard
didn't make eye contact with me.
I must have looked too white
or stingy, I guess.
I rolled down the window
and gave him a dollar;
"Hey bud," I said,
"use it for God's glory."
It was the best I could say,
though not the best I could do.
"I'm always with God," he said.
The light changed,
I drove away.

What is this world
but the set of a drama
where you do not know the script?
It is a vivid stage,
and the other players
sometimes actually need you
(we are not acting here)
and what if you
forget your lines?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Phoenix Foxhole Prayer

Eastward loom mountains of cloud
spreading at the top
hammered by a stratified atmoshpere
into anvils above us
loaded with bolts to hurl
down at the desert
and bunkered with billions of rounds of ammunition
in God's blessed rain.

Will we be bombarded?
Please God we may.
It is hot here.

Sovereignty is Comfort and Comfort is Praise

The heart aches when 
friends slip through your fingers
as God draws them away
to good and glorious things
and reminds you
that neither they,
nor you,
nor anything under the sun,
is yours,
but Christ.

And they,
and you,
and everything under the sun,
are in His hand.
And who shall snatch them away?

The road between us may grow longer
(and hotter and more desolate)
and the years will roll away down the hill
towards the bottom of time,
and children will grow
and faces will change
and eyes will grow dim
and death may even intrude himself on our fellowship,

but

thanks be to God for grace inexpressible,
bursting with glory and thoroughgoing joy
in the face of Jesus;
in the bride of Jesus,
in the temple of the Triune God,
in the light of the Lamb,
we shall meet again,
if not before.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Variations on a Theme by Chesterton

"Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions." - G. K. Chesteron, Heretics

It's not so very difficult
to know more about folks than we do.
They usually tell us,
plain as day,
what they think and how they feel.
Sometimes even in words.
If we would just remember
how there is a brotherhood of man
(one curse, one doom, one earth to till),
and more than that, one image in us still,
despite the filth and foul and pain,
the mark of God before the mark of Cain.

Can we remember that we are the dust?
And would we treat co-heirs of dust like dirt?
What reason will we give to God,
much less to them
we've trodden down,
when we all meet in death or border towns?

So if you want to disagree, then listen.
To shut your ears would be a mad disgrace.
Nobody's asking of you blind acceptance,
but simply take a look before your face.

It's not just Shylock who can bleed or weep,
no, every man and woman has the skill,
and will you shut your heart and nation still?

Will you shut out and shame the poor who clamor
for the crumbs from the table,
as though we were the master?
Or will you ask them in, and ask about their health,
their family, their work, their Lord and Savior Jesu Christo?
You will find them men and women, children, too.
You will find them kind, and cruel, just like you.
You will find them much more willing
to shoulder a burden and walk another mile
for you, for their friends, family, or nation (old or new).

And when you have known them to be men,
women,
and children,
after God's own image,
sometimes after God's own heart,
will you still shut your own?

It is one thing to love justice, as it has been defined by the comfortable.
It is quite another to love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Upon Reading the Poems of Guthlac of Crowland

I had not heard of that heaven-hardy holy man,
who stood fast, firm against the blast of fiends and foes,
a suppliant, head-bowed and hand-clasped, begging of his Lord,
the Ward of Heaven, who stands, his hands upraised,
pierced long ago by Pilate and the Jews,
sly-stained with his blood, "on us and on our children".
Not otherwise are we, so often galled by grace,
our race, reared raging 'gainst the Lamb, I AM,
but checked, choked, charged with sin, acquitted,
not by might nor power, piety, or pity, but by love,
caught out by Christ, sought by soul-savior Son,
so that we beg of him, tear-torn and tired by sin, "O God,
your blood be upon us and on our children!"

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Post-Communist

It is a land where nothing is anybody's job anymore,
yet God keeps the lights on
and waters the grass.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sofia

It is a land out of plane,
out of square and off plumb,
where no two cobbles agree,
and tiles and bricks come out as nonconformists,
where the streets fear to lose themselves in parallels
and the painted-postered buildings offer no relief from the cacophony of sight,
in the city of Sofia,
variations on a theme of chaos.

On a Service in the Hagia Sophia

Water-clear chant pours from the loft,
echoed on column, nave, and icons,
golden harmony on gilt leaf;
voices raised in praise,
fingers lifted in blessing.
Candles slowly burn,
liturgy tumbles mellifluous from the priest,
chords, inversions peal from the choir
for centuries and millennia,
for glory and for beauty.

Song to Roofing Materials in Sofia

I fly over a city
of pasts quilted together in roofing,
keeping the rain out with the several histories of Sofia.
The red tile,
itself a son of native soil born,
bowed, beaten, unbroken beneath the weight
of memory and millennia, fading in the sun.
The metal sheets,
a desperate roof for a desperate time,
now rusted or gone like the glory of the partisans.
The Soviet cement,
gray glue bonding the ruins of the fruits of empire,
long outliving the beauty it never had,
shaped in a past age, still shaping its people.
The gleaming glass,
Western hopes transparent,
through them we still see rain.
But last,
the golden domes,
radiantly holy in the setting sun,
set atop that city twice freed but never lost,
this newfound
and ancient
Bulgaria.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Song to Christ

We are upheld in the hand of this
wonderful wise God,
most mysterious His ways,
how seed sunk in soil sprouts,
how high heaven heaves and atoms too,
the planets and the protons heed His law,
yet He leaves us not sunk lost in law of our own nature
but sends Seed to sprout to life from death,
Christ, conqueror and Creator,
first fruit of resurrection,
Lamb slain, spat upon and mocked,
who rose and stands at the hand of God
and calls, clear as the trumpet ever shall be,
Come!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sin and Grace

    Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
    “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
        or who has been his counselor?”
    “Or who has given a gift to him
        that he might be repaid?”
    For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
-Romans 11:33-36

There is a dark
like a leech
like a mouth
devouring and enslaving
without satiety
without regret or remorse
and this is sin.
It lodged long ago in the heart of Lucifer
until he would rather die than
submit to the all-glorious God
(though he'd rather all else die first).
It ate the heart of Adam and Eve -
what knowledge was worth that price? -
yet they would have it
(has God really said?).

Yet we are not Eastern,
yin is not matched by yang,
and sin is not matched by God.
Oh no,
it is overthrown entire,
the mouth not satisfied or filled,
but the belly slit,
and the devourer devoured.

This God did (oh mystery)
in the death of Christ.
The grave choked on its prey,
and vomited him back
(he took life up again,
having laid it down a while),
and has not ceased to disgorge souls
called by the gospel truth
and summoned by the Spirit.

The grace is more,
much more,
that words fail to encompass,
but it is greater than sin.
God is greater,
Christ is greater,
and He in us is greater than him who is in the world.

There will be pain and sorrow,
sin is not freely forgiven -
but the debt is paid by another.
Confess and come to Christ.
He will not despise.

    On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
        a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
        of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
    And he will swallow up on this mountain
        the covering that is cast over all peoples,
        the veil that is spread over all nations.
        He will swallow up death forever;
    and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
        and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
        for the LORD has spoken.
    It will be said on that day,
        “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
        This is the LORD; we have waited for him;
        let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
- Isaiah 25:6-9

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Seeing the Invisible

I make assertions about reality that you can't see, test, or dispute on any evidential premise.  I am a Christian. I'm also an engineer, so it sometimes strikes me how differently I approach the two poles of my intellectual life (Jesus Christ and thermodynamics, in that order).

But consider the following:

    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
(Colossians 1:15-20)


Jesus was God in the flesh - to see him was to see the father, insofar as that is a reasonable expression (as Jesus told his disciples - if you have seen me, you have seen the father).  But this Jesus, the type, stamp, image, representation of the invisible God, was also instrumental in making all things, visible and invisible.  Why is it strange to man that there is a world unseen, a very active world, full of creatures of God, either doing his will or opposing it - not unlike our visible, material world, eh?

    But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
(1 Timothy 1:16-17)

The invisible God demands acknowledgment and praise here in this world.  And this visible creation was made to echo his praises and sing of his power.

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.   
(Romans 1:18-20)


Paul makes the assertion that invisible attributes of the invisible God are nevertheless manifest to any man who opens his eyes on the world.  Why?  Because man is not limited in his faculties to the visible world.  Man belongs to both worlds, seen and unseen, as body and soul comprise one man.  Thus, the unseen world makes claims on man, whose eyes are limited, but who can yet perceive the power and divine nature of the Creator.

    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
(Hebrews 11:1-3)


Further, this visible world was summoned by the word of God to existence out of nothing.  Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for - the sublime multiphase colloid  of our desires (if you look at an early usage of hypostasis in Greek medicine, it was what settled out on the bottom of bottles), the firm conviction of the deep reality of the invisible world and its transactions with our own, which include all aspects of salvation.

    By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
(Hebrews 11:23-28)


The picture of Moses seeing the invisible God always, not just when he saw his back from the cleft rock, but an enduring vision of the invisible, this is what is called for.  The world we see is made by God, but it is passing away, along with its desires, corrupted by Adam's sin.  There will be a new heavens and a new earth, where elect men, redeemed by Jesus, will live body and soul with God.  We are called to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, to hear his voice, not to harden our hearts, and to press on towards the upward calling of Christ.  There is nothing more real than this invisible world, and there is nothing more important than the redemptive battle being waged in this visible world, not with weapons of the world, but with the armor of God and the sword of the Spirit and the Word.  I need daily reminding to see the invisible, and it is a constant struggle to put more weight on what I cannot touch than on the simple things of life, work, food, and clothing.  But to lean on the invisible God is to have an unshakeable foundation. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On the Zoo in the Morning

We pitter-patter in, past the lake,
through the gate, down the road,
around the pond (with the gibbons),
to the tractors, at the barn,
between the goats and the cows,
among smells and kids and employees.

We see the cow and her calf,
the turkey and hen (no poults this year),
all of the chickens and the voluble rooster,
the donkey (Pedro is his name),
and the two cows in the windmill pasture,
mooing (and startling the baby).

We turn around, heading home,
wending back, looking around,
seeing more kids filing in,
watching tour groups arrive,
making our way through the people
who didn't get to the zoo early.

We part ways, I go to work,
she takes the boys home,
we go back to our Tuesday,
having given to our boys,
and to ourselves, a reminder
that the sun, wind, and dirt
we too easily forget, and
all creatures great and small around us,
are wonderful.  As their Lord made them to be.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gabo is Dead

Do not mourn,
nor look back.
Nostalgia kills
like a python.
Look ahead,
learn from the dead
and the living
and those in between.
And look about
through the petals of falling flowers
for the glory
and mystery
that is everywhere.

"...they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling.  They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors.  So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by."   
-Cien años de soledad, G. Márquez, tr. G. Rabassa

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pulled

We live between the worlds
pulled to daylight realities and needs
to work, to chores, to duty and
on the other hand
to starry skies shot spangled 'cross the dome of heaven
to dreams of what's to come
to joy, to song, to poetry and
they are not two worlds,
but one, beneath the hand of God.
We see so dimly
through the mist of misdirected men,
how to live as
men,
as those who eat, sleep, and breathe
as those who pray, love, and write,
we are so fixed,
so formed and fashioned,
to be at once workers and worshipers,
but this the key:
in worship, forget work,
though working, ever worship.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Praise God

for the little things we get to do day by day; without thought for the gore of our grandfathers.

for light at night when you want it, keeping open books late into the evening.

for books - in homes and hands.

for the wonder brought by impolite reality into our serene frame - what a piece of work is man, singer, lover, warrior, thinker, cleaner of toilets and recorder of deeds.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Josef Pieper

IThe current intellectual virus being passed around my circles is Pieper's Liesure, the Basis of Culture.  It's bundled in a two-essay volume, and I'm pleased to have found a nice older edition with the T.S. Eliot introduction, gently used by the library patrons of some nuns from Minneapolis.

It is an interesting book.  Pieper is a Roman Catholic, and thus we share many presuppositions.  I commend the Romanists for continuing to make strong arguments from the imago Dei, even though I disagree with their ideas on the completeness (totality, if you will use the Calvinist term) of depravity inherent in natural man. However, the imago Dei is no mean thing, even to a staunch Reformed person like myself.  Man is made in the image of God, and as much as man may try to un-make himself, he cannot cut himself off from the damning shreds of glory yet about him.  They do him no credit, now that his nature is fallen, but he is yet endowed with the dominion of earth, a reasonable soul, the godlike faculties of reason, and the lingering haunts of the Holy Spirit in his conscience (though he will fight against Him).

Thus, Pieper argues, the world must be defined in relation to God; its patterns must follow God's patterns, its ideals be God's ideals, if it is to be the world as it ought to be.  He wrote in the context of post-WW2 Germany, amid the pressures of the totalitarian east and the industrialist west.  What would define man's life?  How would he shape his new world?  The rebuilding of Europe would have some intellectual foundation, what would it be?

His answer is beautiful - divine worship is the foundation of culture.  Divine worship is inherently generous, sublime, beyond the work of the six days of the week, and pointing towards the session, the leisure, that awaits in the Sabbath.  The ordinary nature of work is confined to the ordinary, and man must periodically step out under the stars and look up - to leave behind, completely, and yes, only temporarily, the industrialist/communist/socialist/unanimously-man-centered view of the world as consisting in and aimed towards the work of man.

I am a scientist and engineer.  I inhabit the world of work, and am surrounded by people who have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the idea that work is the chief end of man.  You always act for something.  You have weekends so you're ready for Monday.  You have vacation to avoid burnout.  You have lunch so you can function during the afternoon.  You work so you can play so you can work, and there is no exit from this wheel.  None is conceived, none is desired.  It is man locked in his man-ness, but not even all of his man-ness, because in reality, his man-ness is inseparable from his God-image nature.  It is perhaps better put as man locked in his animality.  Locked out of his soul.  It is a hollow, dangerous thing, because man sundered from God is capable of any and all evil, and how much more to say drudgery.

The man who acts as he ought will step out to meet God in worship.  He will step out to see God's glory in creation.  He will step out to see God's character in his fellow man.  The man acting as he ought will wonder at the universe charged with the grandeur of God.  From this springs art, poetry, music, literature, true sport, and the man who is a man after God can enjoy all these good gifts without making them the ends of struggle and striving.  He can be leisurely in the true sense - not slothful, lazy, insipid, but gracious, thoughtful, loving. 

Now is where I may depart form Pieper's Romanism - I can't expect this from any man not renewed after the image of Christ.  It is true that I may find glimpses of it in fallen man, because God is gracious, but I cannot expect it.  However, here comes the challenging part: I must expect it from the Christian.  If the Christian is to be like Christ, he must think, act, love, like Christ.  Christ worked hard (as His Father was working until now), and thank God for the work He did.  But he also enjoyed fellowship.  He broke bread with his disciples, not to get energized for the next bout of exorcism, but to fellowship with those He loved.  He turned water into (good) wine not because He had, or even ought, to have done so, but that He might bless a wedding feast with joy.  He will at last sit down Himself at His own wedding feast, and I expect the food will be nonpareil - and we will feast for joy, not because resurrected saints have to eat to live!

So the conclusion of the matter: man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Those two verbs describe a single act - the Christian living in union with Christ.  We work, yes; we do the ordinary things of the world; but we must never think that is the end for which we were created.  Work comes before leisure, and the eternal Sabbath rest awaits all who call on the name of the Lord; and we even get foretastes and glimpses here.  Augustine declares: Cantare amantis est - or Pieper puts it: Only the lover sings.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Song to a Delayed Flight in South Dakota

Nearly April, yet not far enough
from winter that it could not
lash out yet again
and hurl like crumbs
snowflakes fast falling,
flying in the wind,
which whips and drowns the voice,
the town, the plans of man.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring Rain

Hazy gray, far away,
resolves into droplets
splatter-sputter down
not too cold, nor warm
but a springtime shower
chased across the canyons
by the sun, flitting through Phoenix,
and leaving us surprised,
sprinkled,
and not a little cooler
as evening falls
and the sun abandons his quarry.

Monday, March 10, 2014

And We Shall Be Changed

Threshold-welling water washes down
from Mount Zion, springing unfed but from the throne
yet welling ever brimful to a river
running deeper in its channel as it goes
and irrigating, giving life to trees
themselves so full of life even their leaves
make well at last - no fig-leaf garments here,
but glory,
Father-glory,
Son-glory,
Spirit-glory,
bathing bruised feet,
refreshing saint-souls wrenched and wracked,
and wiping every tear away.
There gathered, to the last, at last,
each and every-one named, claimed, redeemed,
assembled guests to dine and die no more,
the roar of many waters (harpists, singers, loosed at last)
Hallelujah!
For the Lord God Omnipotent Reigns!
All friends, all family, found and bound to Christ the elder brother,
all arrived at any hour,
from there and anywhere,
and all at once we shall be changed,
don glorious dinner-jacket,
and sup, dine, feast,
all hail the host, and toast
the bridegroom beautiful,
who sought, bought, and brought his bride
to his love-bannered banquet-table,
and we shall be his people
and God himself be with us as our God.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dawn

It is joy to be alive
between the night and day
and to watch the
slow inevitability of light
seep into a gray sky and wash it with
the colors of Arizona poppies.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Cool of the Evening

Have you stepped out
into the wet air
after rain
after sun
before dark
and been hit
hard
in the chest and nostrils
by the freshness
and the life?
(You can almost hear it humming
deep down inside the grass
each blade sings to its Maker:

Thanks be to God for
damp day and dew-dappled dusk,
for fragrant flowers refreshed by
sweet shafts sun shot between
clouds gray and heavy, pregnant with life and rain,
dripped down to brown and thankful dust
from which we rise, and
to which we return.
O Lord, how shall we lift our evening praise,
we thousand-million voiceless growing things?)



And so they cloud the air
thick with purest incense invisible
as the day breathes a goodnight
and the Lord trims the lamp and tucks us into bed.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Best.Blocks.Ever

With the possible exception of the Hebrew ones.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Evening

Shadows
long in the tooth
getting ragged at the end
as sharp relief
of vents and cranes and coolers
are stenciled out onto trees and houses and fields
away to the east
by the setting sun.

It is time to join them,
a flat black man on a flat black bicycle
whizzing over the pavement and the grass
away home.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Computer science

As far as I can tell from the two students working at the next table, it is an excuse for shameless profanity directed at a computer.  Cathartic, perhaps, but what does it get you at the end of the day?  Probably a good salary ...

The Little Hours

Blessed is our God, always now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Protestants got away from the Horologion - the Book of Hours - which governed the pattern of regular prayer for centuries in the High Churches.  This, I think, was a bit of a shame.  The intent of saying the hours was that prayer and worship might continually ascend to God from His people, and intercession be offered up at all times in all places. 

Any system is capable of misuse, of course, and it would be foolish to make the all-to-Romanist link that just doing the prayers means they are pleasing to God.  Never has God accepted vapid or tepid worship.  True worship is done in Spirit and truth.  But we still use structures to help us do it well.

As a Presbyterian, my local church has a structure and a liturgy (which varies a bit, but not dramatically), and belongs to a presbytery in a denomination which maintains a Book of Church Order comprising a Form of Government, a Book of Discipline, and a Directory for Public Worship.  Even broadly evangelical churches have structure (cloaked as spontaneity, sometimes),  with goals, visions, mission statements, and programs upon programs.  But where is prayer?

While understanding that monasticism destroys the evangelical mission of the Great Commission, I nevertheless think there was a commendable motive behind that unhelpful practice - that all aspects of life must be consciously, daily, and diligently surrendered to God.  The cloister is unhelpful at best, but the fervent desire to be entirely at God's disposal is entirely correct.  Forms may be abused, no matter what they are.  But they can also be a guide and guard to assist good practice.

Anyhow, food for thought.

O come, let us worship God our King. O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and our God.  O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and our God.

Amen.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Hopkins

Oh Hopkins, how you heave here-there-and-everywhere
rich rolling sound, sprung round rhyme, for a time
man's moments mix with joy and Jesu Christi
on your page, and God stands out,
cut iconic and immense astride his world,
nature naked, fresh, unfurled, the way Adam
first saw Eve, unblushing both in dawn of day.

Oh Hopkins, yet you would not, could not bear
to hide humiliated, half-clad mans from Maker's gaze,
in days of sin and judgment still you sang,
a rough and hardened clang, is sword-and-scabbard?
Hammer-anvil? or the scrape and crack, souls wracked,
shipwrecks, the decks of dearest death and drowned devotion,
sickening to see, much less to sing; yet lays you made
which loft and thrill, which humble still,
which laud Purcell, the virgin Mary and your friends,
life's ends in God; life ends in God, farewell.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Eke

Here a little
there a little
line upon line
precept upon precept
job upon job
and we cobble
together, out of our
time and mind and hands
(each of them a gift of God,
just like the outcome of their application)
a living
for the mama and the papa and the boys;
and you know,
we always
have
enough.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Anatomy Lesson

Toes
as pink as the eraser
on your Ticonderoga pencil.
Eyes
the size of saucers
or so they seem against the
Face
round and jolly as can be
with extra chins (just in case).
Hands
finding blankets, hair, lapels,
and ducting them all to his
Mouth
bearing a look of surprise
because the world is new
and grand,
especially when you are only,
after all,
three months into it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Collage

Cuts made clean
square
true
and level.
Corners tight
and a spotless pickup truck
(among many other things).
HO-scale trains (from a long time ago)
and Aladdin lamps
unused for ages
but still at the ready.
The model of HMS Titanic
lying half-built in its box
throughout my childhood to today
- I guess now it won't be finished.
The books of ships
and trains
the beauties of the age of Steam
loved as an architect would love them
for form (not as I
his son, an engineer, who
thinks in stress-and-strain-and-speed).
And over and around all these
his house
designed and built to
wrap around my mother and his sons,
a home to keep and care for
(now the longest-kept of all his homes,
he was a builder, after all, and that
has some prerogatives).

I have a pistol, bright and blued,
just a little target twenty-two,
and when I hold it I am once more
a child, unsteady,
with a Grandpa at the ready,
to teach and guide its use
(he kept it in the nightstand -
I never knew - for years, a guard at hand
to watch his home).
He was a builder, too,
he and his son, my father,
their two clean Chevrolets
(one tan, one blue,
the old straight-six half-tons)
parked here and there
around the neighborhood,
at work, together or apart,
or at the homestead
on the grass between the cabins
at home among the trees
and huckleberries where
Grandpa's Grandpa had once farmed.


Perched upon my bookshelf,
squished a bit by paperbacks,
two leathern volumes sitting side by side,
a book by Bowditch built for boatmen,
such men as my great-uncle whose it was,
and by it, thinner (fewer logs and bays),
a book on drafting from a simpler age,
with platens clean and careful on the page,
heavy (so that it may lie
open while you work
hunched at your draftsman's table),
full of lines and clarity,
a side I never knew
of Fred, the nice old uncle
who built boats
(I never wondered how).

A dimmer recollection
(I was young)
I have of mother's dad,
my Grandpa Bud,
but still I have a few
snapshots in my mind
of Hood's Canal and rocky shores
of clams and a small pickup truck
(blue, like my first one)
and from a different time
before vacation homes grew up,
Grandpa kept a garden
- damn those deer! -
I have the little rifle he would use
to pepper them with shot
(just little pellets and a little powder,
not much more than a swat)
and how that fouled it so!
When first he gave it
to my folks (I was, as I have said,
quite young) though not allowed
to shoot it, I could clean,
just like my dad,
(though on a different type of tool -
he never did like guns)
and clean I did
until the bluing shone
and where the wear had taken it away,
the steely gray perked up
and I was proud. 

But now my father,
Grandpas both, and uncle Fred,
the men that I admired
all are dead.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Maturity

A young mind shaped and honed,
from eating milk then solid food,
from crawling
to walking
to running;
eyes trained on rich life and beauty,
and then death,
shame,
fear,
and their causes;
ears which have heard men speak truth
sing songs and tell tales,
but also lie
and evade;
this mind will balance on the scales
the lightness and the weight of men,
and make slow judgments swiftly accomplished;
this mind (this man) will know
the beautiful from ugly
the true from false
the wise from fools
and love from lust.

Our culture demands sexual maturity without emotional maturity.  It offers instead the promise of promiscuity for the bold-minded, or the quiet shanty of pornography for those not up to the chase.  Is this all there is?  Is there not richness in man as image of God?  May we not be an intricate emotional mandala?  Shall "What a piece of work is a man!" be exchanged for lewd tweets?

    So teach us to number our days
        that we may get a heart of wisdom.
...
    The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
        and whatever you get, get insight.
...
    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
        fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Morning

Lemon-yellow trickles up
into the paler and paler blue
edging over crisp corners of my morning mountains
sprawled eastward along the horizon
black and backlit now
and waiting for another day
of dusty yet effulgent glory.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Out

I had scrambled for an hour up the loose scree of a gray hill, two steps up, one slide down; I paused at a small ledge in real, solid rock, my chest heaving and my knees shaking.  Looking up after a moment spent clutching my knees, I saw an old man sitting Indian-style and peering at me.  He smiled.

"What brings you here, my son?"

His voice was soft, almost lilting, and as I caught my breath I saw his eyes.  They looked through me, each a whitened, cloudy orb set deep in its socket, unseeing, penetrating.  I wiped sweat from my mouth.

"I am resting, father, on my climb up this mountain."

"Ah, I see."  He smiled at his own joke.  "What do you suppose is at the top, my son?"

"Nothing, but I am told that from there I can see." After a moment's pause, I asked "Do you know, father, what may be seen from the top?"  Immediately I blushed.  Perhaps he had been born blind.

"Yes, my son, I know what may be seen."  He sighed, and his smile and eyes flattened at the edges.

I waited several moments, studying him.  At length, I ventured to ask "What may be seen from the top, my father?"

His smile fell further.  His eyes turned their blind beams to the earth below his knees.  "More of the map, my son."

Taken aback, I pressed further, "What map, my father?  What more does it show?"

He smiled again, but it was no longer kind.  "The map to get out."

"Out of where, father?"

"The map, my son.  How to get out of the map."

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Thought Experiment

Imagine a long, skinny prison, composed of a single row of cells, oriented East-West.

Each cell has two doors, each door opens into the adjoining cell.

The prisoners know that Westward lies the exit, Eastward lies the dungeon.

Not every cell is occupied, but some randomly-distributed fraction of them are.

In a cruel twist, each prisoner is also the warden for the person East of him.

There's our setup.  Now, the rules:

Every minute, ALL of the doors open instantly for ONE SECOND.  There is JUST time (if you choose) to slip into the Western cell, IF it is unoccupied.

There are now two variants of the game, escape-oriented or capture-oriented.

If we're playing escape-oriented, then IF the Western cell is occupied, AND that occupant is NOT CURRENTLY TRYING TO ESCAPE, then you cannot move, and in fact, have to trade cells with the person behind you (no matter how far back they may be). If the cell is unoccupied, you get to move up.

If we're playing capture-oriented, then IF the Western cell is occupied, REGARDLESS of what that occupant is doing, then you cannot move, and in fact, have to trade cells with the person behind you (no matter how far back they may be). If the cell is unoccupied, you get to move up.  In the event of a stacked capture (ie, many contiguous people try to simultaneously move up), then the one first in line swaps with the nearest un-caught person behind him (ie- propels some lucky soul way far forward).

We may assign a "riskiness level" to the prisoners, either randomly distributed among them (as in a general population), or uniform across them all (as might happen in a soul-crushing Gulag).

How long does it take for "n" people to escape from a prison of "N" cells if they look "F" fraction of the times available to them?

I suppose a variant question is "What is the optimum level of riskiness factor "F" for someone to escape as fast as possible?"

Of Clay

Does it give you pause?
That you exist atop a stack of wonders,
that you think, feel,
taste,
and move of your own accord?
Beneath these,
so poorly fathomed, the depths
of neurons, chain reactions,
streak lightening in your skull,
shocking muscles into action,
whether you know it or not,
and you breathe,
sweet, destructive oxygen
and iron, pumping here and there.
You self-replicating,
self-repairing,
self-conscious Golem.
To what will you turn your powers?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Scales

Each year finds new
and varicolored
scales upon our eyes.
Some old ones have fallen away,
outgrown,
and left behind,
as though we were a snake
(as though we are not!).
The new ones nowadays have grown
from care and work
from stretching, and tiring easily,
and sometimes they are not so beautiful
as the ones they displaced.
Once upon a time the new was youthful,
excited,
furious to waste energy upon the world,
these were rosy lenses,
and we loved them,
lived through them,
and were oh so pleased
to have lost
the older old,
of childhood hopes
and shames
and dreams
the fears and tears that no-one understood
because speech failed us.
No, in youth we would not express them,
they were trivial,
like the plume of dust behind our truck,
just drive away (faster) and don't stop or it will catch us.
What is on our eyes today?
We'll see when they're behind us.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

If...

If tomorrow,
no,
today,
you lost it,
all of it,
in one fell blow,
what would you do?

Would you sob?
Rage?
Curse God and die?
Or reckon gain as loss
and things as dross
and Job-like sit and scrape,
let neighbors gape,
but say "The Lord gives
and takes away,
and blessed be
His name
(for his steadfast love endures forever)"?

And if,
friend,
you know the answer you should give,
how shall we then live?