Easter week 3/ Earth Day 2012 poems

Having spent yesterday weeding and trying to ready a garden plot, for this years vegetables. I spent a good part of yesterday with my hands in the dirt, hunched over and seeing how much the soil teems with life–beetles and spiders, worms and slugs and the odd gardner snake warming herself on a stone. In the northern hemisphere Easter coincides with new life and growth. So I thought it appropriate to share some poems which reflect on this seasonal rising. Below are two poems taken from Luci Shaw’s The Green Earth: Poems of Creation and one poem from Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997.

From Luci Shaw

Rising: the Underground Tree
(Cornus sanguinea and cornus candensis)

One spring in Tennessee I walked a tunnel
under dogwood trees, noting the petals
(in fours like crosses) and at each tender apex
four russet stains dark as Christ’s wounds.
I knew that with the year the dogwood flower heads
would ripen into berry clusters bright as drops of gore.

Last week, a double-click on Botony
startled me with the kinship of those trees
and bunchberries, whose densely crowded mat
carpets the deep woods around my valley cabin.
Only their flowers — those white quartets of petals —
suggest the blood relationship. Since then I see

the miniature leaves and buds as tips of trees
burgeoning underground, knotted roots like limbs
pushing up to light through rocks and humus.
The pure cross-flowers at my feet redeem
their long, dark burial in the ground, show how even
a weight of stony soil cannot keep Easter at bay.



The tree, a beech, casts the
melancholy of shadow across the road.
It seems to bear the enormous weight of
the sky on the tips of its branches.
The smooth trunk invites me to finger

five bruise-dark holes where rot
was cut away. Years have pursed
the thickened skin around the scars
into the mouths that sigh,
“Wounded. Wounded.”

As the hurt feels me out,
wind possesses the tree and
overheard a hush comes; not that
all other sounds die, but half a million
beech leaves rub together in the air,

washing out bird calls, footsteps,
filling my ears with the memory of
old pain and a song of cells in the sun.
“Hush,” they say with green lips.

From Wendell Berry

Another Sunday morning comes
And I resume the standing Sabbath
Of the woods, where the finest blooms
Of time return, and where no path

Is worm, but wears its maker out.
At last, and disappears in leaves
Of fallen seasons. The tracked rut
Fills and levels; here nothing grieves

In the risen season. Past life
Lives in the living. Resurrection
Is in the way each maple leaf
Commemorates its kind, by connection

Outreaching understanding. What rises
Rises into comprehension
And beyond. Even falling raises
In praise of light. What is begun

Is unfinished. And so the mind
That comes to rest among the bluebells
Comes to rest in motion, refined
By alteration. The bud swells,

Opens, makes seed, falls, is well,
Being becoming what is:
Miracle and parable
Exceeding thought, because it is

Immeasurable; the understander
Encloses understanding, thus
Darkens the light. We can stand under
No ray that is not dimmed by us.

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.

A Prayer for Easter, Week 2 (John 20:24-28)

Resurrection changed everything
    but one week later we sit in the house,
    frightened with the door shut.
Among us is Thomas, famous for doubts
   but he is just the most honest–
   we saw his broken body walk through walls
and felt his hot breath, but here we are.
We didn’t believe. . .not yet, not really.

Jesus came as before and smiled at the honest one.
    Peace be with you!
     Put your finger here. . .
     Reach your hand here
            Stop doubting and believe!

We saw all doubt and reservation melt from honest Tom,
       “My Lord and My God!”

Thank you Jesus that by your resurrection
    You brought hope to the world,
     You broke death and the power of darkness.

We confess that like your disciples,
   we disbelieve the testimony of others,
   we demand proof and have
   reservations about you.
Still you come to us in our woundedness and
    calm the storm raging
in our hearts.

Lead us to deeper faith
   so that in the face of war and destruction,
                                 misogyny and abuse,
                                 racism and systemic poverty,
                                 and countless other injustices that persist.
May we also gaze on You and exclaim,
        “My Lord and God!”

Prayers for Easter

Today marks the high day of the Christian calender. Jesus is risen, He is risen Indeed! Here are some prayers that help mark the wonder of Easter, and the newness it brings. The first is from Lent & Easter Readings from Iona, a prayer of blessing from Kate Mcllhagga. She names the reality of new life which we experience this time of year (Northern Hemisphere, and relates it to Christ’s resurrection:

Easter Blessing

How beautiful is the blossom
spilling from the tree,
the hidden primrose
and the bluebell
ringing out the news
He is risen
he is alive
we shall live
for evermore.
The dark winter is past,
the slow, cold, foggy days are over.
May the warmth of your resurrection
touch our hearts and minds
as the warmth of the sun
blesses our bodies.

The next prayer comes from Walter Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. Easter confounds the wise and troubles the strong. Brueggemann does a good job of challenging those of us who are safe and smug move beyond our pontificating into wonder:

We are baffled

Christ is Risen
He is risen indeed!
We are baffled by the very Easter claim we voice.
Your new life fits none of our categories.
We wonder and stew and argue,
and add clarifying adjectives like “spiritual” and “physical.”
But we remain baffled, seeking clarity and explanation,
we who are prosperous, and full and safe and tenured.
We are baffled and want explanations.

But there are those not baffled, but stunned by the news,
stunned while at minimum wage jobs;
stunned while the body wastes in cancer;
stunned while the fabric of life rots away in fatigue and despair;
stunned while unproperouus and unfull
and unsafe and untenured . . .
Waiting only for you in your Easter outfit,
waiting for you to say, “Fear not, it is I.”
Deliver us from our bafflement and our many explanations.
Push us over into stunned need and show yourself to us lively.
Easter us in honesty,
Easter us in fear;
Easter us in joy,
and let us be Eastered. Amen.

Finally this prayer comes from St. John Damascene, 8th Century, excerpted from the Prayer Book of the Early Christians. What I like about this prayer is that it names the whole arc of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and resurrection:

Hymn to the Life-Giving Cross

O Christ our God,
Ceaselessly we bow
Before your cross
That gives us life;
And glorify your Resurrection,
Most powerful Lord,
When on that third day
You made anew
The failing nature of mankind,
Showing us revealed
the path to heaven above;
For you alone are good,
The Lover of the Human Race.

Can a Kid’s book carry the cross? (a book review)

This is the first time I have reviewed a kids book here on my blog, but as the father of three young kids, reading kids books comprises the better part of my reading. I also am highly invested in their spiritual formation, so when Kregel Publications offered me an Easter kids book, Simon and the Easter Miracle, I jumped at the opportunity to review it.

Synopsis: Based on a traditional Polish folktale, Simon and the Easter Miracle tells the story of Simon, a farmer, heading to Jerusalem to sell his wares at the market. When he gets into the city, on a busy festival day, he sees an angry crowd sneering, shouting, “Crucify Him!” and a beaten prisoner struggling under the weight of the cross. A solider orders Simon to put his wares down and to carry the cross for the prisoner. As Simon nears the man to take the cross, the prisoner thanks Simon and Simon is amazed at his gentle sincerity. He asks the man what he did to deserve death and he replies with a shrug, “Preaching a message of peace.”

Simon carries the cross and when they came to the place of crucifixion, he leaves, unable to bear the cruelty and jeering of the man’s enemies. He returns to his wares only to find his pack had been overturned, his bread trampled, his wine spilt and all but a dozen eggs broken. Dismayed, he carries the dozen eggs home knowing it was hardly worth his time to sell them at the market.

At home, after a day of Sabbath rest, he finds the dozen eggs he brought home broken and empty as though hatched. He walks out to his olive grove and sees a dozen white doves and understands these birds as a sign of God’s peace because God blesses all those who work for peace. And he noticed how quickly spring had “warmed the new city’s crop.”

How well is the story told? Does it reflect the Great Story?

Mary Joslin tells this story in an engaging and interesting manner. It is well paced and full of symbolic significance (trampled bread and spilt out wine at the moment of crucifixion, broken eggs, the doves, Simon’s crops). As a children’s book, most of these symbols will not be readily understood by young readers ( i.e. my children) but it does open up interesting discussions.

I was disappointed that the author had Jesus giving the reason for his crucifixion as his ‘preaching a message of peace.” Clearly there is more to it than this, the Prince of Peace didn’t bring peace but a sword, pitting family members against one another. Jesus was crucified because he challenged the social, economic and political institutions of this day. He didn’t go to the cross for preaching a message of peace, but to obtain our peace with God and others. Preaching peace doesn’t get you killed, calling into question the ‘peace’ of the establishment does.

So while I think Joslin is fine writer, this doesn’t come off as a full-orbed account of the gospel. Perhaps Joslin thought that little kids wouldn’t yet fully understand, but there is so much in this book that is over their heads so I see little excuse for softening this point.

How Well is this Story Illustrated?

Anna Luraschi did a nice job of illustrating this story. I enjoyed looking at the various pictures and images. My one complaint is that Jesus, Simon and all the other characters in the book are pink-skinned rather than boasting Mediterranean olive-toned complexions. I know too many children and adults who were hurt by an eurocentric presentation of the gospel and have rejected Jesus as being a “white man’s God.” So perhaps if this is only read by white kids in a white community, no harm no foul, but I really would have loved to see some colors besides pink and pasty. I would suggest reading this book alongside others which are more culturally sensitive.

How did my kids like the book?

My kids loved the illustrations and they sat through multiple readings, asking questions and were engaged by the story line.For this reason I like the book even if I think Joslin oversimplifies Jesus crucifixion. Lots of Christian kids books miss the point at one point or another. A Christian parent’s responsibility is to fill in the gaps where necessary. This book does tell the story of Christ’s crucifxion (and resurrection, symbolically). Because of the rich symbolism here, it might be a fun book to read along side ‘resurrection eggs’ or a similar activity.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this fair and honest review.