A Cry for Help!

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G.K. Chesterton‘s lyrics come to mind again in this strange year of 2019. Our earthly rulers falter, and the wall of gold entomb us.

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

G.K. Chesterton, O God of Earth and Altar. stanzas 1 and 2.

The God to Whom Chesterton cried out was not a god that never says “No!”. Nor was it the god of Western culture that justified colonial invasions and occupations, the god of God in Christ shrunk to fit the mortal confines of creed, race, and nation rolled into one. Brutal terrors of white supremacy and white nationalism like the attacks on mosques and synagogues, and the terrors in high places gilded in gold and wrapped in lies of tongue and tweet drive us to our knees. They lead us to speechlessness, or to cry out for the God Who does say “No!”

O God of Earth and Altar hymn Y0uTube reproduction.

“Bow down, O God of earth and altar; bow down, and hear our cry. Good Lord, deliver us!”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 19, 2019.

For further reflection, see “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” p. 110-13, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR).

“Lent” – a Verse by Steve Shoemaker

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Steve Shoemaker (1942-2016) shared equal time on Views from the Edge until his untimely death. Steve’s genre was poetry. Often his poems and verses led readers by the nose through his lines to the surprising last line that shed a humorous light on all that had come before. Steve was a 6’8″ gentle giant who lay on his side at night, quietly typing a new inspiration into his iPhone in the dark so as not to disturb his wife Nadja at 3:00 A.M. Poems like this one were waiting in my in-box in the morning.

Steve lived to write and craved desserts (especially his nightly bowl of ice cream) and sex, matters about which, so far as I could tell, he hadn’t lied. Nor did he brag or exaggerate. Of the seven friends who knew each other well over four decades, Steve was the least self-centered with the wryest sense of humor. He never denied himself a bowl of ice cream!

LENT

I will give up writing poems for Lent

I will give up eating desserts for Lent.

I will give up sex for Lent.

I will give up thinking about sex for Lent.

I will give up lying for Lent.

I will give up bragging for Lent.

I will give up exaggerating for Lent.

I will give up self-centeredness for Lent.


I will give up self-denial for Lent.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

March 5, 2014 (Ash Wednesday)

In this era of ill-humor and self-indulgence, Steve’s tongue-in-cheek verse again rings the bell on the betrayals of our best intentions, and our common need for repentance and forgiveness.

Between the Banks of Time

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Matthew Arnold‘s poem The Future came to mind this week in light of the eulogy for local artist and gardener Lynn NiskanenClick HERE for the obituary. Scroll down for her brother-in-law’s poem honoring Lynn’s life.

The Future [excerpt]

But what was before us we know not, 
And we know not what shall succeed. 

Haply, the river of Time— 
As it grows, as the towns on its marge 
Fling their wavering lights 
On a wider, statelier stream— 
May acquire, if not the calm 
Of its early mountainous shore, 
Yet a solemn peace of its own. 

And the width of the waters, the hush 
Of the grey expanse where he floats, 
Freshening its current and spotted with foam 
As it draws to the Ocean, may strike 
Peace to the soul of the man on its breast— 
As the pale waste widens around him, 
As the banks fade dimmer away, 
As the stars come out, and the night-wind 
Brings up the stream 
Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea. 

Looking out at the infinite sea

In your abandoned garden

Lynn, in your abandoned garden
your presence - like sunlight - can still be felt.


At your invitation
the butterflies, hummingbirds and cardinals 
your absence still unknown to them,
keep returning.


In your abandoned garden
the purple iris - by your own hand planted,
sleeps tonight beneath her snowy cover,


and awaits the divine kiss of rain.

-- Will Niskanen, brother-in-law. Excerpt from Will's Eulogy for Lynn Niskanen, Feb. 18, 2019, at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church Chaska, MN

Although Lynn was “a practitioner and bringer of light,” as Will described her, she did not draw to attention to herself. The pews and church parking lot overflowed their banks.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 21, 2019.

Yes Mary. Everything Does. And Too Soon. Way Too Soon. (RIP)

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David Kanigan’s tribute to Mary Oliver arrived this morning while waiting for word of the end of a best friend’s life that will die too soon from pancreatic cancer. His family and friends are paying close attention, kneeling down in the grass for a holy rest and peace at the last.

— Gordon

Live & Learn

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell…

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You Tyrant!

Recalling Steve Shoemaker’s post “A Song for Each Kind of Day” after returning to the habit of reading the Psalms each morning, I am stunned by the aptness of the Psalm for today.

The Psalms are existential in nature. They are profoundly personal, but they also address public life. They give voice to the heart’s desire in a given time and place — our thanksgivings, yearning, exultations, lamentations, and cries against injustice. Often they are the poet’s responses to public life in the light of faith.

THAT’S NOT NICE!

You tyrant, 

why do you boast of wickedness 

against the godly all day long?

 You plot ruin;

Your tongue is like a sharpened razor,

O worker of deception.

 You love evil more than good

and lying more than speaking the truth.

You love all words that hurt,

O you deceitful tongue.

 Oh that God would demolish you utterly,

topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,

and root you out of the land of the living!

 The righteous shall see and tremble, 

and they shall laugh at him, saying,

“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge,

but trusted in great wealth

and relied upon wickedness.”

  • Psalm 52:1-7 (Book of Common Prayer)

Psalm 52 isn’t nice. The psalmist knew nothing of Watergate or the Mueller investigation, or Donald J. Trump. Nor was he imbued with an ethic that told him not to judge, to be kind, to watch his tongue, to believe that all’s right with the world because God’s in His heaven or the claim everything happens for a reason.The psalmist is not a fatalist or a determinist. He holds sacred his personal responsibilty for public life. His life is not his own. He knows himself to be a member of a commonwealth. When the integrity of the commonwealth comes under threat, his heart must speak.


BREAKFAST WITH A PSALMIST

Former U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson is remembered for “the Saturday Night Massacre” when he resigned his office, refusing to obey President Richard Nixon’s order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. 

NYTimes_Saturday_Night_Massacre.jpegYears later, Elliot Richardson came to Minneapolis as the featured speaker at the Westminster Town Hall Forum. As was the custom, he moderator and the guest speaker enjoyed conversation over breakfast the morning of the Forum. At his initiation, the convsersation turned to religion. He was writing a book, occasioned in part by the growing public agreement with John Lennon’s “Imagine There’s No Religion,” arguing that, if the slate of human history were wiped clean of religion, we would re-create it in a heartbeat because it’s in our nature. Searching Amazon’s listing of Richardson’s books, it appears it was never published. If we had the opportunity again all these years later, I would ask him if he had crawled inside Psalm 52 before he took the leap of faith that made him a hero of personal conscience and public intergrity.

ONLY A POEM (A PSALM) 

Some things are matters of the heart. Some things in public life pierce the heart so deepLy; some sins against the commonwealth are so egregious; some wealth is so obscene; some abuses of power against the commonwealth so obvious, that only a poem (a psalm) says what we feel. There is a psalm for this kind of day.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, Dec. 18, 2018

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Mary Oliver’s “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness” — a poem of love for the world in the season of autumn leaves and shorter days — arrived this morning from Canadian David Kanigan’s blog.

Live & Learn

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was, is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but what
else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

~ Mary Oliver, “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness” in A Thousand Mornings 


Notes: Poem source – Thank you Karl @ Mindfulbalance. Photo via afaerytalelife

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Beauty and Truth: Adjoining Rooms

IMG_9456

view outside the window

These days leave me cold. I feel the need for beauty and for truth. The beauty I can see just outside the window at sunrise and sunset, in the maples, oaks, red osier and prairie grasses waving in the wind I cannot see. But inside the human house where lies freely fly, truth is scorned and hard to find. Only the poets give voice to what I feel.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth – the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

  • Emily Dickinson, I died for beauty but was scarce

EmilyDickinsonGrave

Emily Dickinson headstone in family plot

 ` Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2018

 

 

 

Barbara Streisand and G.K. Chesterton

256px-Gilbert_Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton, by Ernest Herbert Mills, 1909

00-PEN-777x437Posting Barbara Streisand’s “Don’t Lie to Me” last night brought to mind the hymn lyrics from G. K. Chesterton’s “O God of Earth and Altar”on which my generation was raised in the church of my childhood. In times like this, I return to it often for solace and strength.

O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide;
Take not Thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation of honor and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

  • G. K. Chesterton

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 14, 2018.

Why I Wake Early

This photograph of early dawn and Mary Oliver‘s poem “Why I Wake Early” greeted me early this morning, as did Aldous Huxley‘s wisdom about walking more lightly, thanks to David Kanigan‘s “I Can’t Sleep” post.

Photograph by spanishlandia re-blogged on Live & Learn

I’ve been feeling heavy lately. Not on the bathroom scales — that weight is down — but on the scales of the soul, the psyche, my spirit. That weight is up. Every day I get heavier. I don’t know what to do. Maybe you don’t either. The news is dark and heavy. The UN climate change report just gave us a decade to act before we trip over the edge of global warming. These are scientists with no vested interest in producing conclusions that would make us smile. Meanwhile, as the latest storm weighs heavily on the hearts of people across the country, a President who insists that climate change is a hoax calls the press and television camera crews into the Oval office to show his concern and assure television viewers that he’s on top of it.

Mike (a retired federal investigator) and I catch a bit of the live coverage. The President is sitting behind his desk. Two members of his Administration are standing near his desk. The President crosses his arms over his chest. “He’s defensive,” says Mike. “He’s hiding something. He’s feeling threatened. He’s feeling exposed.” Later in the day, while Hurricane Michael storms its way through the South, the President boards Air Force One for another photo with a cheering crowd in Erie, Pennsylvania. Before the crowd, the cameras again focus on the President. His arms no longer fold across this chest. His hands are free. His face is smug. I feel sick. I feel heavy. I go to bed. I toss and turn. I can’t sleep.

This morning I rise at 4:00 A.M., go downstairs to make a pot of coffee and check my emails. David Kanigan’s post on  I Can’t Sleep: Live & Learn is waiting to greet me. I open it. The beauty of the photograph lightens my spirit, chases away the heaviness. I read Mary Oliver’s “Why I Wake Early” and Aldous Huxley’s words, written just for me, or so it seems, and, maybe just for you.

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them” — Aldous Huxley.

I’ve finished my third cup of coffee and determine to try not to try so hard, to walk more lightly, even when feeling deeply.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2018.

White Privilege

Trumpeter Swans
know nothing of
white privilege

White is what they are
down under and above
the down

Except for beaks
as black as ebony
on ivory

Their trumpet calls
are not the honks
of honky privilege

Proud cobs and pens
teach their cygnets
that down is up

With no guile or sneer
at loons and redwing
blackbirds

Ebony and ivory
nesting on the marsh
they share

Beyond the gates
where honkies honk
of privilege

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland with the Trumpeter Swans, loons, and redwing blackbirds, June 21, 2018