This new sanctuary of freedom…

With church closed I’ve taken to the streets

for the long-hour’s walk each Sunday morning,

feeling no guilt at being seen elsewhere I’m

learning a new practice of distantly greeting

others exploring this freedom, nodding subtly

or lifting a hand to wave to dog-walkers;

we are all new to one another, now seen

instead of sermonized, this ‘peace be with you’

is our new liturgy, unled, unplanned and

even more satisfyingly so because it is ours alone,

and even some heathens jogging acknowledge

newcomers to this sanctuary of quiet streets

at eleven-AM on a Sunday – Amen and Amen.

What are you supposed to look at…

When singing a song in church and you know the words

where are you supposed to look? At the back of another’s head

bent to follow strange marks across the page and keep time

or up toward heaven (or the dirty ceiling tiles) and wonder

if cleaning is next to godliness. The woman just in front

of me has a hat on – she’s from ‘that’ generation apparently,

a small child to my right stares at the man next to me who

isn’t singing but appears to be reading the hymn book

and just then I catch the pastor’s eye and she’s not singing

no, she’s reviewing her notes before the sermon and

the child starts picking its nose, the hat slips to one side

ahead of me and I decide to look down at my hymn book.

It was nothing special…

A grandfather took his
granddaughter to church today,
and it was nothing special;

he sat aside her as she refused
to leave his side as strangers
came close to wish her peace and
she clung tightly to a small toy horse
as grandfather’s hand rested on
her shoulder – showing bandages

and bruising and new scares from
the kind of things that come to all
who live so long to live; his suit fit
him once, I imagine, but today it
overwhelms his diminishing frame

as his granddaughters best dress
will soon be outgrown, and the words
they shared were few and
inconsequential it seemed to everyone
of us ignoring them because
it was nothing special.

Church is now a coffee shop…

churchIt’s too early for this, for most,
for the man tying-up his big dog
to the bicycle rack being
scolded by a woman who was
slowed by his pausing, and
he just shrugged, entering through
the door held open by a man
staring at the chest of a passing
woman as would any gentleman;
a couple waiting in line together
as if they were strangers
and couldn’t’ care less the other
was alive, another couple sitting
too close and too obnoxiously
playing with a muffin, a bit
distracting to the two Bible studies
going on in dueling corners of
seriousness, both one-sided
lectures filling empty vessels
with pious clichés, nodding and
sipping – I can hear them both,
one about a Gospel and how
down to earth Jesus was, the other
in Leviticus about punishment
for sins that Jesus would be nice
enough to take care of for us;
and I’m sitting in my favorite spot,
back to a brick wall, legs
stretched out to hold my laptop
and I see through the window
the dog is staring at me, just me,
so I smiled and it sneezed to throw
off the accumulating snow.

A church fire…

church fireThe day the church burned down
was the day I found my faith,
because if fire can destroy bricks
and hardwood in just minutes
there’s hope for the likes of me;

even at nine years of age I knew,
it was drilled into me, there’d
be a lot to change but who knew
the great unchanging, infallible
tradition would shift from red
to blue carpet; rebuilt, grander,

new smells to learn, new pews
to christen, new saints to spy,
but try as they must they could
not remain unmoved, instead
of hiding behind rails and veils,
a fire was the only thing
that could ever change them.

Tell me again why…

History a tale of fallen’s friends
giving account of what had to be,
fixed by a sovereign who sees the end
saddled with desire to be free;

who erred that all are born this way
simply put, we all come going astray,
it’s sin, not hunger, that babies cry,
and not biology why we all die.

lost to be found, but only through Rome
intrude on our lust, our passion, our home,
named ex opere – the lusty lie
sprinkle the babies lest they all die;

create the fright, threaten what’s scary
touch our babes, but still necessary,
triumph assured, all wars justified
feelings condemned not capitalized.

Oh, Hell I Guess…

Dante has his seven circles
Homer his Hades, Isaiah his Sheol,
Jesus a Gehenna of unquenchable fires,
Muhammad a threatening Jahannam,
and John a Lake of sulfuric Fire
for a Disney Land of torturous pain
too much for old-school ameliorists
just wishing for annihilation or the
Great Nothing which means so much
more nothing when capitalized, and
it’s Joseph who gives us two hells – one
temporary for pain and anguish in-between
and romantically tolerable like another
purgatory, but the other a serious forever
of outer darkness for Saints gone astray
or souls beyond their reach or anyone’s;

we have nothing of the kind today,
no gnashing of teeth, unquenchable fire
to torment the wicked and straighten
our ways today by some pragmatic and
self-audited karma of paying it forward
to match the bitch of being paid back,
or peril of judgment tomorrow or
the childhood threat of Santa keeping lists,
instead we have dreams of nothing
like falling asleep – a long rest
or life simply not being so complicated,
a benign-ness beyond feeling, even a light
that everyone wants to walk toward
all met by the certainty of some
that the world is ever-worse
because hell is no more and you’ll see;

but what if – and this is what sticks – what if
even a hint is true of the unknowable,
that’s Pascal’s wager I guess because that’s
all it can be – a guess of what I should
or ought or must do today
while Joseph’s haunting outer darkness
makes me wonder of an even more
lost and irredeemable wilderness,
something beyond the imagination
and that’s what keeps me wanting,
guessing, believing there is more to
believing than believing in hell.

Morning rhymes with nothing…

Too Early for Words

In the quiet of the morning
in the ease of rest refreshed
with the stillness stillness still
and the dawn God blessed

the spiders have spun a yarn
the dew has bathed it in peace
when all’s uncertain and true
and night has started to cease

there are no found words to speak
there are no new chores to do
verse has failed me yet again
and left me alone to stew

all is forgotten in fog
all too gone to pray a prayer
the unseen is left best that way
and rhyme is nostalgia there

Is heaven supposed to be a lovely place…

Heaven has become a parody
A lampoon of itself somehow
Beulah land made a game show
Answers in question and you’ll know

Why? is answered with clarity
But why? receives a rationale
It’s better, and it’s a better place
Spared this life, saved disgrace

Priest consoles parents bereaved
Much suffering babe’s been spared
And preacher of dear Emily’s fallen life
Remembering all Lot’s wife

Why face it true while dance macabre
Baptism the pyre for faithless bourgeois
Gnosis the alms of this shangri-la

The deserved grave of richly aged
Welcomed passing when well passed
Only then is rest the Bard’s silence
The grave deserved comeuppance

It is no longer God’s cemetery
Adoration is drowned by homily
But in this veil the last enemy prevails
Mocking clerics spinning tales

We gather because we must
To speak dearly of the departed
Doubt given sense, answered pence
Death is living in past tense

Rejoinder due this bare pain
Fear that nothing wounds as nothing
Ignorance defeats death’s diffidence
Banqueting with wink and wince

Welcome must a proper death
Blessing one’s own Golgotha
Barn sour is requiem’s pale horse
Pall bearing a tour de force

Through hallowed valley I charge
Lively in my step, brave of heart
No Ilyitch be I, ending friendless as he
Receiving viaticum finally and finally

We ate casseroles once upon a time…

 – Casserole

I come from a family of casserole-eaters,
growing up in the 60’s when frozen and condensed
were all the rage in a life that was busier
than any had ever imagined (or so we were told)
until the weekend when Mom would spend all day
Saturday baking and roasting and stewing
and creating left-overs because no one had time
on Tuesdays and especially Thursdays,
so a ‘single-dish’ meal was the all the rage
with everything covered with cream-of-whatever
soup and baked forever covered with aluminum foil
to be topped with crumbled crackers or, if
you were lucky, those fried onions, and we’d
sit together somehow and eat seconds and
thirds until my brother wondered aloud if
they would be enough for leftovers and Mom
would laugh in embarrassment over leftover-
leftovers and we didn’t understand.