Some Walked and Walked and Walked

Prophets and poets read the times and tell us of the world to come. Neither the poet or the prophet are readily understood. A poet is without honor in his hometown. One such polarizing prophet and poet was Daniel Berrigan, SJ (1921-2016).

A Jesuit priest, he was active in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King in Selma and visiting South Africa during Apartheid. He achieved notoriety in the Vietnam war when he traveled with Howard Zinn to Hanoi during the Tet Offensive. But it was his action on May 17, 1968, which landed him on America’s Most Wanted list, and later prison. He and 8 other Catholic activists (including his younger brother Philip, also a priest), broke into the draft office in Catonsville, Maryland. They destroyed 378 draft files in the parking lot while singing and saying the Lord’s prayer, making their prayer in the name of  the God “whose name is peace and decency and unity and love.” After this Berrigan was a fugitive of the law. He and his co-conspirators were arrested and convicted, spending three years in prison (Berrigan immortalized the trial with his play, The Trial of the  Catonsville 9, 1971).

Daniel Berrigan was passionate and willing to put his life and reputation on the line to pursue the peace of God. He was later was the Plowshares 8 in 1980, breaking into a General Electric Nuclear plant, damaging warheads and pouring blood on documents. He was also an Aids activist and opposed American intervention abroad, and capital punishment, advocating for a consistent-life ethic. 

Berrigan’s poetry intertwined with his sense of  call as prophet and priest. His poem Some is dedicated to the Plowshares 8 with love:

Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.

Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It’s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I’ve had it,” they cried,

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.

“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”

“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”

“Because the cause is
the heart’s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”

Ezekiel describes the judgment of God against false prophets of Israel that cried peace, peace when there was no peace” (Ezekiel 13:10). Ezekiel was a post-exilic prophet. He denounces both those who had given Israel and Judah a false sense of security before the nation was carried into exile and those in the midst of empire who tried to tickle the ears and tell the people what they wanted to hear.

We live in an era that should have no pretension of peace. War is in the water. Violence is everywhere. Another Berrigan poem The Earth Prison Poems, Viking Press, 1973, p, 82) describes the state of the world under empire:

When earth yielded up to our arms
the multitudinous children of her invention —
streams, starlight, storms — we were the pampered lovers then
of those who loved us, one flesh and blood, one bone.
O that embrace the state’s steel gauntlet
raced down on like a wild fire.  Wounded
in the nearest parts, part men only,
we wind, unwind our bloodied limbs
feverish, icy, swept by what sighs and tides . . .

This is where we live. Some may claim peace, a strong economy prosperity, but this is a world of violence, of suffering, of pain.

The poets and prophets tell us about the state of the world. They also tell us of the world to come. Berrigan was a faithful witness to the peace of God. When other’s walked away he walked and walked and walked. He stood. He spoke. He took pen in hand. May we also walk and write and stand and speak. 

The Peace Thereafter

It is no mistake that the symbol of peace, the dove, is the self-same symbol which Christians use for the Spirit. In the Upper Room, before his crucifixion, Jesus intertwined his promise of the Spirit’s coming with an assurance of peace “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:26-27). Similarly, in the opening verses of Genesis 1, there is the Spirit, hovering, beating its wings like a bird, far above the void and watery chaos (cf. Gen 1:2). In the visage of a dove we see an image of both the wind of God and Shalom—the peace each of us craves.

Jesus taught us to ask for daily bread, but prayers for peace find their way, also, into our daily prayers. We ask for peace—the cessation of war, for reconciliation for our broken relations, for justice for the oppressed, for an end to systemic racism, classism, and strife. We long for an end to the fighting, for peace to reign in our relationships, and closer to home, we wish also for peace in our hearts—freedom from the anxious thoughts that plague us. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Peace,is one of my favorite poems (I’ve shared it here before). In it, Hopkins described our longing for peace:

  When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs? 
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite 
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but 
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it? 

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu 
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite, 
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

Hopkins describes Peace here, not as a gentle dove descending but as shy wild wooddove that darts about, under the boughs but at a safe distance from human hands. He longs for peace to come close. When, when, Peace, will you Peace?  Though he has experienced peace to some measure, it is but a piecemealpoor peace. Wars still rage and we still live under the threat of them. Peace, as we know it, is but a raid on the warmongers, not a full sail abolition of war. That comes later. The Peace thereafter. Until then we wait.

Hopkins was an adult convert to Catholicism. A Jesuit priest and professor of Greek and Latin in Dublin, he wrote this poem at the end (or near the end?) of World War I.  Personally, he was an anxious soul. He worried about the egotism involved in publishing his poetry(thus kept most of his poems from publication until after his death). Though a committed celibate priest, he struggled with his sexuality (attracted to a man in college and instructed by his confessor to sever all contact with him). He knew what it was like to be overwhelmed with anxious thoughts. The world that Hopkins was in was ravished by war. 

This week of Advent, the traditional theme people reflect on is peace. We say Peace, peace but there is no peace. Violence is everywhere. Mass shootings, police violence, war (America’s sponsorship of the Saudi War effort in Yemen is but the latest example). We are stressed and anxious. Injustice abounds.

We love the idea of peace but we bristle against its promise. Really? We have so little experience with anything we can really call peace. Peace is a whole different reality. We cry How Long O Lord? and When, when, Peace, will you Peace?  Peace is our longing but it seems intangible and inaccessible to us. 

“Peace” is the gospel in short form. The biblical concept of Shalom is a world made whole, everything as it should be, where nothing that shouldn’t be is. There is no war, but also no anxiety. No violence, and no sickness. No death, and consequently, no mourning.  The good news is that God’s shalom is the peace thereafter that the world is moving toward.

In the meantime,  when peace comes to our house, 
he comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

Waiting: Love (Advent Week 4)



Love came to town and found
no room at the inn.
But someone found
room enough—
sweeping out a stable,
tying the animals to one side
(the hearty ones left in the cold).


Mary, great—not feeling so great—with Child:
the waters above,
the waters below,
broken, now.
all creation groans. . .
the sky explodes,
 new Light.


Love came to town and found
no room at the inn.
Somehow we found
room enough
for each of us, inside Love:
new Human—new humanity,
all things new.

Waiting: Joy (Advent Week 3)

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, Gaudete¹


“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”
These words penned
in prison—
written by
an old man,
in a cell
on death row.
He was almost
blind but
still hoped
he’d taste
His release.


“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”
Though the
The dark
is long and dusk
devours days,
Behold, a
light shines

the Sun’s rays—
a joyful rage,
against the
dying of
the night.


“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”
The Theotokos
aching and sore,
her hips hurt.
And back.
She’s so tired now,
she lowers herself down
on the couch,
rests her hand
on her belly,
she smiles and asks:
How Long, O Lord?


One day soon:
kings will topple
from their thrones,
the poor will rise,
the hungry feast,
and broken mend;
whole and healthy,
the lame leap,
blind see,
and every
prisoner will
be free.
“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”

[1] The Introit to the Latin Mass for the Third Week in Advent, Gaudete Sunday,  is the Latin translation of Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord Always, I will say it again: Rejoice!”  This week is all about joy, the rose candle a joyful reprieve to the season’s penitential purple.

Peace on Earth

Jesus, in the song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth?
This peace on earth -U2

It is hard to hold out hope for peace.

We attend to peace like a river, mindful of where it is moving us to, and we yearn to have the peace that passes understanding down in our hearts to stay. We work to prepare the way for the Prince of Peace to come. But we feel the cognitive dissonance between the world we experience every day and the promised peace of our soon and coming King. “Jesus, in the song you wrote/ the words are sticking in my throat,” sings Bono and we feel with him the angst of a hope and history which just won’t rhyme. How can we hold out hope and sow peace in our wartorn land of discord?

Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Peace describes this same sense of elusiveness—our longing for promised Peace when we’ve only seen a peace, piecemeal and poor:

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

When, Peace, will you, Peace? How long, O Lord? What pure peace allows/ Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it? 

I had planned to write, today, ways we can welcome more of God’s shalom in our midst, but it struck me that such preachy platitudes would ring hollow if we didn’t stop and notice how hard it really is to hope for peace. We know far too much of grief and sorrow, death, terror and war, oppression and hate, we know far too little peace. It is hard to watch the news and not feel profoundly disillusioned and cynical. There is too much that is broken. How can such a world be made whole?

And yet we hope and wait, work and wonder. Peace is our hope but we hate the delay.  We’ve seen just enough to have some trust, but hope the way is not far off.  The opening lines of Bono’s song are:

Heaven on earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all of this
Hanging around
Sick of sorrow
Sick of pain
Sick of hearing again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on earth

We are sick of all we see and suffer. We long for your Kingdom come. How much longer? Prince of Peace, don’t drag your feet. 

Image source: Land art sculpture by Hein Waschefort, Maluti Mountains near Lesotho (Wikimedia Commons)

The Poetry of Communion: a ★★★★★ book review

I love a good poem. Poetry has the power to sacramentalize daily life. It lifts the mundane out of its ordinary frame and allows us to see reality with brand new eyes. Nature reveals the hand of God, human beings are transfigured before us. We are free to re-engage our reality with our sense of wonder restored.

communion-of-saintsThis is some of what I felt in reading Susan Miller’s collection of poems,  Communion of SaintsMiller teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, is a two-time winner of the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize for poetry, and her poetry has appeared in several journals (Image, Iowa review, Commonweal, Sewanee Theological review). The poems in this collection reflect on Saintsin the capital “S” Catholic sense, notable figures, friends, and her own daily life. These are brought into communion, Miller often depicting episodes of daily life (of herself or friends) and the deep resonance between them and the lives of the Saints. [I know that poetic voice and the poet are often different, but Miller’s own notes indicate that she and the poetic voice are one and the same].

Mark Doty’s forward describes this as a process of triangulation (xii). Behind Miller’s friend Angela, a consecrated virgin living in the world, we find the visage of St. Agnes—Patron Saint of Virgins (pp. 7, 113).  The Franciscan mystic, St. Bonaventure stands behind Gregory Orr (Miller’s teacher at the University of Virgina) in her poem A Portrait of Greg as St. Bonaventure (pp 64, 118). And there are many other examples of the communion of saints in these poems: Portrait of Chayo as St, Jude Thaddeus, Portrait of Charles as St. Francis, Portrait of Josh as St. Pascual Baylon, Portrait of Father Santo as St. Anthony of Padua, etc. 

Miller also has pilgrimage poems, poetry about her readings of  Gerard Manley Hopkins, Flannery O’Connor, Nina Simone, and Gwendolyn Brooks, and serious engagement with the Christian tradition. The title poem in this collection, the Communion of Saints, reflects while her purpose, “Communion of Saints refers to the concept of Communion of Saints— that all Catholics are called to be saints whether the church beatifies us or not. The communion of saints makes us all contemporaries, no matter what century was ours on earth” (120). The poem itself links the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents (from the Lukan nativity narrative) with NICU ward at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital.

I read these poems as a lowly protestant, but one who believes as strongly in the communion of Saints as Miller does. On a technical level, these poems are quite good. I found myself tracing meter and appreciating her evocative use of language. The poem that stands at the head of this collection is her Manual for the Would-Be Saint (previously published in Image Journal):

The first principle: Do no harm.
The second: The air calls us home.
Third, we must fill the bowls of others
before we drain our own wells dry.
The fourth is the dark night; the fifth
a subtle scent of smoke and pine.
The sixth is awareness of our duties,
the burnt offering of our own pride.
Seventh, we learn to pray without ceasing.
Eighth, we learn to sense while praying.
The ninth takes time: it is to discover
what inside the seed makes the seed increase.
The tenth brings sorrow, the eleventh light.
The twelfth we reflect on the Apostles,
their flame-lit faces turned toward us or away.
The thirteenth, we practice forgiving Judas.
The fourteenth, we love Judas as ourselves.
The fifteenth is a day of feasting; the sixteenth
is a day of ash. Seventeenth, we watch and wait.
Eighteenth, we enter the stranger’s city
at the mercy of the stranger’s hand.
Nineteenth, love flees the body,
and the spirit leaves its husk. And suddenly
the numbers do not matter: nothing that is matter
matters anymore: all is burned, all is born,
all is carried away in the wind. (xvii)

I give this collection five stars and commend it for the way that Miller brings the Saints to lives in her (and our) daily experience. ★★★★★

Note: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review

Hungry Avidity Here: a ★★★★★ book review

What makes poetry good? Is it the poem’s voice or the music of the words? Is it the use of metaphor, the poet’s intuition, or her keen observation of the world? I don’t always know what makes poetry good but I know a good poem when I read it. Regina Walton’s The Yearning Life is a wonderful collection. Her subjects range from childhood and motherhood to art, nature, Sunday worship, scripture, friendship and medieval mystics. She captures both holy longing and delight.

the-yearning-lifeWalton is an Episcopal priest whose poetry has appeared in Poetry East, Asheville Poetry Review, Spiritus and Anglican Theological Review and other journals. She is also the first winner of the Phyllis Tickle Prize in Poetry for this collection.   Her poems are organized under four headings: Spirit and Marrow, ShowingsVisitations and Seven O’s: Antiphons. the latter section has the seven “Great O Antiphons” (short verses before the Magnificat chanted in the monastic office through Advent). They are produced here in Latin, and translation with one of Walton’s poems accompanying each antiphon.

Sometimes religious poetry seem unearthly, tending toward the super-spiritual with more ethereality than reality.  Such poems might be luminous, but they forget the path of roots and stone. However, the  physical and spiritual embrace throughout Walton’s poetry, “So thickly knotted,/The Holy twins—/Real and ghost,/Untold apart” (from Spirit and Marrow, 17). Consider the interplay between physicality and spirituality in  Walton’s Psalm 131:

My grandma put her breasts in a drawer
And that was that—
The prosthetics, anyway, meant to fill her bra,
The originals claimed by cancer in my childhood

For all her children, her breasts had never suckled—
The doctors put her under before each birth,
Then told her
Nursing was for savages.

Ann, after the Virgin’s mother,
she prayed out loud and often to her own.

On the feast of Annunciation,
Five years gone, she visited me
And in the no-place dream space,
Our bosom-embrace renewed, I felt them—

Hesed, womb-love that moved over the abyss,
That mothered the churning darkness into life—
Her wholeness shocked me awake. (49)

I love the way Walton’s imagery draws together the psalm alluded to with her grandmother’s body and experience, Annunciation, covenant and resurrection.

There is also a spiritual hunger underlying Walton’s work. This is captured by her title poem, The Yearning Life,  which envisions Flemish mystic Jan van Ruusbroec reflecting on that space between lives active and contemplative. Walton describes Ruusbroec’s yearning, “Each holy favor, eagerly awaited, consumed,/Only melts into more craving./And satiety is the missing dish” (32).

These poems range from the ordinary to the extraordinary, the prayerful to the playful. I’m still chuckling at Walton’s Enoch’s Wife, “I wish I never said/ If you love God so much,/why don’t you go/and live with him instead” (59). Other poems give snap shots of conversations, theological and biblical musings, and observations of the world. I enjoyed reading these poems out loud to just to hear Walton’s words play on my tongue. This collection is well deserving of the accolades it received. I will be on the look out for more from Regina Walton. I give this book an enthusiastic five stars. ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.