Sick with Love

So, You fell ill,
Master of the Universe,
coughing like a limping diesel engine,
sneezing like a volcano at war with the world,
shivering like aspen trees, like recital knees, like
skin about to freeze.

And I take a breath and say “Why not?”
Why would You eschew what pulses through our veins,
what weighs on our lungs, what itches our eyes,
what makes us human, carnis?

After all, being ill isn’t being less, but
it’s a foretaste of death, a reminder that
You are sick with love.

The Greatest of These

Friends, a poem I wrote for chapel at Luther this last week…

Faith, and hope, and love abide but which of
these charisms do you prize, deep
in this time of COVID, this time of
hoping for a cure for social paralysis, this time of
putting our faith in the science, even while
others despair of besting this tiniest of beasts?

All the while that spiky protein spins – it
mutates, and revolves, and rolls with the punches.
Don’t you just hate it? Or, perhaps you prefer to
hate something, or someone seen – like maybe
an incompetent politician, or your next door neighbour, or say
a racialized person, or perhaps someone
hating racialized people…

It seems hatred seeks something or someone
concrete to sink its teeth into,
aching to slake its thirst. And we know
so well the power of hate;
its grip in our belly,
its throttle at our throats
its sweet-bitter taste on our tongues as we
take down this one,
rake that one over the coals.

But love, love brooks no business with
hate – never sated by seeing
my sworn enemy put in her place,
but grace-fully love questions the place of
putting in place in our economy;
our oiko-nomos; our oikos; our house.
Love is a house-holder, setting the table instead
of settling the score – always finding a spot in the
ever-widening circle that is finally eternity, where
hatred is seen for what it is: abject fear – fear
cast out by love, by
… embracing those I fear, by
… embracing those afraid of me, by
… embracing the fears inside of me.

The disciples were locked in by fear but
Love walked through the door. Beloved
Thomas feared the truth but love exposed
its wound and wound its way around Thomas –
around me, until I found and now still find
me and you and those I hate in the
very same circle, in the same herd, shepherded
there by Love.

Faith, and hope, and love abide, these three beside
one another but the greatest of these is love and
the greatest of these is…
it really is.

Seeing and Seeing To In 2021

Finally, it comes to end, this 2020 called by many – though not all – an annus horribilis.  For many of us, of course, it has been a strange year with much disappointment and anxiety: lost opportunities, the lack of familiar social and religious comforts, alongside of the pounding presence of never really feeling confident in making plans. 

But I also know of people who have found their footing in this dystopian time – discovering new possibilities in the space opened up and discovering physical and spiritual practices that would have been untapped had this been an annus ordinarius.  I suspect that most of us have had a mixed experience but we are tipped in the direction of wanting to shake off this year because its character of unpredictability is so unsettling.  And we don’t like being unsettled – be it by unemployment, or uncertainty, or illness.  And that is utterly understandable.  But this year also afforded us the opportunity to learn from our experiences. The data of our year – whether it be tragedy, or triumph, or a mix – provides an occasion for taking stock of our place in the universe.  Of course, this is always true but something about this apocalyptic year has sharpened our capacity to look at our lives more acutely.

That feeling of being unsettled, of course, is always just behind the curtain upon which we project our cinematic sense of self.  Down deep, we know that our carefully crafted narratives are subject to another illness, or a shift in relationships, or a fractured spirituality.  But right now, the curtain has drawn open and the film of our life is projected onto a spherical ball with projectile-like spikes.  And the image that results is hard to discern, and so we hunker down, or we shake our fist, or we make an anxious plan.

These responses are neither right nor wrong.  How we respond is who we are, and we are accepted as such by Love.  But Love also invites us to consider if this is how we want to be.  Love invites us to look at whom we have become. It calls us to behold the gift we are and our invitation to growth – both of these now present in our being human.  Our being gift, of course, is radically recast in these COVID-19 days as we realize anew the profundity of presence.  And growth, too, is being drastically reframed for us in these strange days as we ponder that sometimes growing means letting go and being less, doing less, being content with less.  Powerful forces try to negate this message. Yet that little sphere with its spikes reminds us that less can sometimes do more than principalities and powers and doing with less can be more than we can ever imagine.  We have seen strange things in 2020.

Blessings to you, dear readers, as you see, and see to, yourselves into 2021.

This Too Can Be Home

There is a sprig of hemlock,
Tsuga canadensis not Conium maculatem,
nestled in the round of our Advent
wreath; warmly wrapped by
lights of hope, peace, joy and love,
this gentle bough at home
in my home.

I pinch a bit of it for my nose and
I find myself transported to a
fragrant conifer forest. My
soul is sated and settled in the
womb afforded by four sister trees:
hope, peace, joy and love.

I look above and see tongues of fire
resting on these sacred silva beings:
I take delight in knowing that this too can be home.
I pinch myself and am transported back
to my living room, where the Holy
holds inner and outer as one.

Ocean of Easter

No poetry I write can quite
do You justice, since these
fractured, fumbling words are
but drippings of my soul from
heart to hand to page.

You speak and I fly;
You turn away and I fall.
I am between sky and sea as
You suckle me with Your
seeing me now,
not now, now.

But always You arrest me,
attesting to Your quest to
raise me, amazing me
as I envisage Your angels
sliding across my heart; and
Your graces probing me.
I am at sea In You:
Ocean of Easter.

Walking down an Addis Street

my mind drifts, following
my eyes, now on a
pothole, now on a
building bending from sky
to ground, now on
beauty whisking across
the street with poise and purpose,
now on a row of toilets and sinks
and pipes for plumbing lives.
But then I see a little finger
swaddled in a mother’s
hand. And I think on
You and my soul
floats up to a
place where
I know
Love.

Into My Desire

How is it that You stay away
but still dwell more deeply
in me: You the Horizon
swallowing an ocean tanker whole;
You the Sea that tides my desire
over and over and over again;
You this perpetual Ache that
washes me from head to toe
so that I know nothing of
myself save wanting of You.

Now, this orange I taste is Your lip
this wind on my arm Your finger tip
this warmth of sun Your breath on my neck
and this spirited laugh that wells from within
is now Your Spirit, spinning me round
and round until I collapse into
my Desire, into You.

Dear Mom,

Dear Mom,

It’s been nearly six years since you left us, although you didn’t depart altogether. Every now and then, I find you in my shadow, banging pots about in the kitchen, flavouring this, tasting that. You carried me in your womb, your prayers, your heart and now I find myself bearing you, in divers ways. The other day, for instance, I found myself peeling a potato, and felt you hand guiding mine, sliding along the contours of this root of the earth, sensing that a potato was capable of bearing love, and that cooking for those I love is as holy as was my pious prayers at the altar today, where I sensed you yet again.

You have given me many things, Mom. But one of the best is a respect for women. I am surrounded by strong women: my wonderful wife who has imbibed deeply from her own Mother’s well of wisdom and has also found some wisdom of her own; my courageous daughters who continually redefine success for me; sisters and in-laws whose faith buoys me; friends and colleagues who leave me in awe with their talent, their dedication, their ability to know exactly what to say to me when it needs to be said.

You have given me the gift of eyes, Mom. What a precious gift that is! As yours faded so many years ago, in some small way I think they migrated to mine, and every now and then I think I see through you… well, only in part, dimly, through a glass darkly, as the good apostle says. I will never know what it means to be a woman, but from what I can see from where I sit, it is a marvel and a challenge, a contentment and a frustration; a holy calling.

Men sometimes stereotype women as emotional, but those leaky eyes I encounter here, and there; this turn of the head when cheeks become beds for rivered emotions; this weeping is pleading for justice and a burden for peace and healing. These tears often prophetically announce that things are not as they should be, and are begging for a world more just. I stand in awe of such tears and wish them for myself: to be able to cry peace and righteousness; to be fit to sob for the healing of creation. This I covet when I find myself paralyzed. But the women in my life, Mom, show me the way, just like you did for so many years: be not afraid; look for the opportunities to brighten someone’s world; invite people into relationship; knock at the door until someone opens; be of good courage; pray always and in many ways.

I miss you so, Mom, but I know that you are in a good place. I also know that you are never so very far away. That veil separating us is thinner than we imagine. And I thank God for your example: you were not perfect and you taught me that I don’t need to be either. You taught me that love takes many forms, and it needs to be embraced for its diversity. You taught me things that you did not know you taught me.

Today is Mother’s Day but I think on you every day and know that what made you a marvel was not so much that you are my mother, but that you were you, that you are you. Your being you, unapologetically, reminds me every day that the sacred slips into our lives askew: now in a potato peel, now in a tear, now in song, now silence, now.

Lovingly yours,

Allen

Waves of You

I don’t know what to do
with this love. You
invade me and I collapse.
Words fall from my mouth as if
I have become a child bereft.
I feel waves of You in
Your absence. And
then You return. A
frazzled God, You
dazzle me in
proximity and my
head, my
heart spins. You
win me over yet again. You
begin in me differently. But
still I hurt. Still I weep
You in tears.

The Present in Your Presence

Today You touched me
and I trembled – the world
slid a little to one side,
and adrift
I held to You in the
gap – Your eyes
holding and warming me,
Your heart encompassing
mine. You, God, You
meet me in so many
ways – now
with a glance – now with
hope: here a dream,
there a memory:
there, yes, there, when
the past kisses the future
and ushers the present in
Your presence.