Sunday, April 26, 2009

Beyon Emmaus: A Poem

Today, the Third Sunday of Easter, we read the story of Jesus' appearance to the disciples after his meeting with the two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Like all the stories of Easter appearances, and like the Acts of the Apostles as it recounts the life of the early post-Easter Christian community, this one reminds us that Easter was and is a life-changing event not only for Jesus but for every life he touched and touches.  We see the first disciples and the early Christians struggling to make sense out of what they have witnessed, to pick up the pieces of lives whose basic assumptions had been blown to bits, to forge a future out of hints and guesses (with lots of help from the Holy Spirit) in order to be faithful to their call.  Any conversion that brings new life presents us with these same tasks.  They may be exciting, life-giving, joyful--but they are always also confusing, sometimes frightening, even paralyzing as we fight to get our bearings in a whole new world we had not expected.  This poem seeks to express Easter's effect.  

On Easter’s road we meet the Mystery,

half seen, half hidden from unwilling eyes

that know the invitation but resist

lest we be burst asunder by surprise

and find ourselves made new before we take

farewell of what we were, before it dies.

The taste of daily bread seems passing sweet,

though yesterday we found it hard and thin.

New leaven makes a wilder loaf that breaks

in fragments we can barely gather in,

for all our baskets now have grown too small

to hold the feast we hardly dare begin.


The wine is heady as it spills from cups

that careful craft cut shallow by intent

to mete out life by sips too cautious now

to hold in check the vintage that has rent

our wineskins with a stone-displacing force

erupting from a fountain never spent.


We thought we knew you when you spoke to us

the word that seized our lives and turned them round

to face a different sun than we had seen

along the roads we tramped, eyes on the ground

to measure steps with care lest pebbles trip

or unsuspected crossroads, met, confound.

What fools we were—we never knew you then,

who hardly know you now by voice or face,

but only in the breaking of the bread

catch sight of what you are and were.  The grace

spills through your wounded hands and floods the room

with fragrance from some strange, familiar place.

©2008,  Abbey of St. Walburga
Reprinted from Beside the Streams of Babylon (Virginia Dale, CO: St. Walburga Press, 2008). All rights reserved. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lazarus Among the Dead: A Poem for Holy Saturday

This poem was written during the fifth week of Lent, when the gospel of the raising of Lazarus is read either on Sunday or, as this year, on an alternative weekday. It was not written for Holy Saturday, but it seems appropriate as a reflection on one connection between the story of Lazarus of Bethany and the story of Jesus as we recall the line from the creed: "He descended into Hell."

Today I took the book in hand and read
the tale of Lazarus among the dead.

The darkness, gray, is tinted by the stench
of rotting souls. Their faces, white, drift in
and out of sight.
“Here we exist between
the day and night, our twilight timeless. Why?
Oh yes, we know. We are the ruin. Here
the garden stood, and we its trees. You have
heard tell the fruits that we were born to bear:
love, joy, and patience, peace and gentleness,
staunch faithfulness and generosity
and kindness, luminous upon the stem
of self-restraint.
Behold us now: the worm
found invitation in our discontent
with what we were but did not know we were.
We drank the wormwood and the gall, and lo!
the beauty blackened on the branch,
the sweet fruit poisoned to the core, the roots
sunk deep in streams polluted by our choice.
And we are legion. Look: our children’s seed
and theirs, down generations wasted by
our sin.
The tree of life is barred to us,
but we await in this gray world the spill of light
to flow from its pierced fruit.”
The Voice breaks through
their whispers. “Lazarus, come out.” Unbound,
he sees the sun. The Eyes are dark. They know
what Lazarus has seen. The others think
him pale from four long days of silence in
the dark of death. He wishes it were so.

I laid aside the book in cold and dread;
for I had seen my face—among the dead.

Genevieve Glen, OSB; ©2009, Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale CO. Once again the technical limitations of Blogger make it impossible to place the broken lines correctly. Here I have chosen to insert a blank line before each of the lines that should be indented to complete the previous line.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Poem for Good Friday


And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him,
they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb.
Acts 13:29

With careworn hands, the Mother tends her Son.
She does not notice, when she lifts the thorns
with tender care and wipes away the blood,
her fingers bleed. She smoothes the tangled hair,
sweat-drenched and limp. She pays no heed to stains
upon her dress where rests the tortured back,
red-cloaked, but not with majesty. His weight
lies heavy on her lap where once the babe
lay just as still in sleep, thirst satisfied.
She knows his hands and feet feel nothing now,
but her hands ache with something deeper than
the age of bones. When friends have lifted him
to bear him to his bed of stone, her feet
will follow, pausing now and then to rub
the bloodied footprints from the sand.

The chill
will never leave her once they roll the stone
across that charnel cold. Though he will rise,
the flesh that bore him will not ever lose
the imprint of that final dark. The hour
of night that seized the earth at afternoon
once light was quenched, will settle in her soul
as memory no morning sun will quite
And so, remembering, she tends
the wounded flesh of all the human race.

Genevieve Glen, OSB; ©2005, Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale CO 80536-8942. Reprinted from On Threads of Hope (Portland OR: Pastoral Press, 2008). All rights reserved. Please note that the technical limitations of Blogger do not allow the proper placement of the broken lines.

A Hymn for Holy Thursday

How could a friend betray you,
A follower deny?
How could they then forsake you
And leave you there to die?
How weak our claims of fealty,
How little does it take--
A handful of their silver
To put your life at stake?

Yet you, when handed over,
Accepted at the hands
Of brutal and dishonest
The pain of torture’s brands.
And when they crucified you,
You prayed, “O God, forgive”;
You knew the ones who slew you
And died that they might live.

How could we doubt the mercy
That bled for us that day?
When we have seen the nail marks,
How could we walk away?
Our sin deserves your anger;
You give us life instead.
Before your cross we tremble,
To take your wine and bread.

Your gifts have far exceeded
All human want or need:
You lay your life before us
With wounded hands that bleed.
You ask of us no payment,
You welcome us to eat
Like guests at your own table—
But first you wash our feet.

How can our thanks repay us,
Our lives make some return
For this vast debt we owe you?
Our hearts with longing burn
To offer you some token
Of all we cannot say—
Take these, the hearts that love you,
O Christ our God, we pray!

Meter: 7676D

Genevieve Glen, OSB, b. 1945; ©2008, Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale CO 80536-8942. All rights reserved.