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Hopelessly Devoted: Mark Chapter Nine Verse Two

In light of this past Sunday’s reading, this morning’s devotion is a poem by Mark Jarman, entitled “Transfiguration.” These are the last three parts of the poem.

And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses and they were talking to Jesus.

…They were talking to him about law and how lawgiving should be
Like rainfall, a light rain falling all morning and mixing with dew–
A rain that passes through the spiderweb and penetrates the dirt clod
Without melting it, a persistent, suffusing shower, soaking clothes,
Making sweatshirts heavier, wool stink, and finding every hair’s root on the scalp.
And that is when you hurled judgment into the crowd and watched them
Spook like cattle, reached in and stirred the turmoil faster, scarier.
And they were saying that; to save the best, many must be punished,
Including the best. And no one was exempt, as they explained it,
Not themselves, not him, or anyone he loved, anyone who loved him.

Take anyone and plant a change inside them that they feel
And send them to an authority to assess that feeling. When they are told
That for them alone these waits a suffering in accordance with the laws
Of their condition, from which they may recover or may not,
Then they know the vortex on the mountaintop, the inside of the unspeakable,
The speechlessness before the voices begin talking to them,
Talking to prepare them, arm them and disarm them, until the end.
And if anybody’s looking, they will seem transfigured.

I want to believe that he talked back to them, his radiant companions,
And I want to believe he said too much was being asked and too much promised.
I want to believe that that was why he shone in the eyes of his friends,
The witnesses looking on, because he spoke for them, because he loved them
And was embarrassed to learn how he and they were going to suffer.
I want to believe he resisted at that moment, when he appeared glorified,
Because he could not reconcile the contradictions and suspected
That love had a finite span and was merely the comfort of the lost.
I know he must have acceded to his duty, but I want to believe
He was transfigured by resistance, as he listened, and they talked.

Damascus – Mark Jarman

Headlong in your career, breathing out threatenings
And slaughter against enemies, dictating trouble
68d459a310fb0ecc1aa9b2b7f8021111For anyone advanced ahead of you, gambling
That you can stay ahead of your rep, checking off
The list of those to chop off at the top, and the place
Your name will be inked in, all the while businesslike,
Congenial with associates and flattering
To authorities and enforcers, bloody and obscene
Only in private mutterings and unspoken dreams,
On your way to yet another hanging, stoning, gossip-
Mongering swap meet of assassins, you’re surprised
As much as anyone to be chosen–though it requires
A certain blindness on your part and such a change
You wouldn’t know yourself–a vessel of grace.

Election Year Wisdom from W.H. Auden

If we were never alone or always too busy,
Perhaps we might even believe what we know is not true:
But no one is taken in, at least not all of the time;
In our bath, or the subway, or in the middle of the night,
We know very well we are not unlucky but evil,
That the dream of a Perfect State or No State at all,
To which we fly for refuge, is a part of our punishment.
Let us therefore be contrite but without anxiety,
For Powers and Times are not gods but mortal gifts from God;
Let us acknowledge our defeats but without despair,
For all societies and epochs are transient details,
Transmitting an everlasting opportunity
That the Kingdom of Heaven may come, not in our present
And not in our future, but in the Fullness of Time.
Let us pray.

For The Time Being; A Christmas Oratorio

Reasons to Be Happy – Tony Hoagland

From his newest collection, Application for Release from the Dream.

Some birds are people-watchers.
The worms can hear us stomping over them.
The loaves and fishes multiplied the Christians.

51-Ykjg7onL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_We were wrong about so many things.
We thought the world was mute,
or dead, or just disinterested.
Yet the sunrise liked being looked at
by sleepy cabdrivers. The billboard
was unashamed of its Southern Comfort ad.

The night wind rustled
through the tops of cedar trees
standing all around a certain house

where worried people
lay in bed and listened.
What were the names

of those old Greek gods?
And where did they go?
Atlas—he’s the one

who spent a long time
holding up
what did not belong to him.

“The Convert” by G.K. Chesterton

van gogh lazarus

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

A Poem for Autumn: “Grace” by Wendell Berry

The woods is shining this morning.
Red, gold and green, the leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.
It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is. Running or walking, the way
is the same. Be still. Be still.
“He moves your bones, and the way is clear.”

Unholy Sonnet 42 – Mark Jarman

Instead, you can walk backwards into life—
Undo your steps and gain ground as you yield,
As long as ground remains beneath your feet.
It’s like one way of wading into surf,
Putting the swell behind you as it breaks.
The other is to take life diving under
With eyes shut tight until it washes over.
Either way, if you don’t want to face
The world mounting towards you, wave on wave,
Or setting up its obstacles perversely,
You can make a virtue of reversal
Or submission. Then, perhaps, you’ll have
That certain feeling of being vaguely shepherded
Or that someone somewhere knows where you are headed.

Please Don’t – Tony Hoagland

Please Don’t – Tony Hoagland

From the poet’s new collection, Application for Release from the Dream. His take on the non-toiling flowers of the field (Mt 6).

Please Don’t

tell the flowers–they think
the sun loves them.
The grass is under the same
simple-minded impression

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Religion Comes – Czeslaw Milocz

A fragment from his “Treatise on Theology”:

Religion comes from our pity for humans

They are too weak to live without divine protection.

Too weak to listen to the screeching noise of the turning of infernal wheels.

Who among us would accept a universe in which there was not one voice

Of compassion, pity, understanding?

To be human is to be completely alien amid the galaxies.

Which is sufficient reason for erecting, together with others, the temples of an unimaginable mercy.

A Sleep Poem by Wendell Berry

From the 1990 selection of Sabbath poems.

The body in the invisible
Familiar room accepts the gift
Of sleep, and for a while is still;
Instead of will, it lives by drift

In the great night that gathers up
The earth and sky. Slackened, unbent,
Unwanting, without fear or hope,
The body rests beyond intent.

Sleep is the prayer the body prays,
Breathing in unthought faith the Breath
That through our worry-wearied days
Preserves our rest, and is our truth.

What Would You Write If You Weren’t Afraid? Mary Karr on the Art of Memoir

What Would You Write If You Weren’t Afraid? Mary Karr on the Art of Memoir

September is always a great month for books and music, and this one is no exception. Among the many releases to be excited about is Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir. In celebration, I had planned to reference her 2009 interview with The Paris Review in a weekender, but then I (re-)read it, and Bam. Simply too many sections jumped out, both one-liners and extended exchanges with Amanda Fortini, the interviewer. They talk about writing, family, memory, addiction, God – what more could you ask for? Since she was working on the new book when their conversation took place (not…

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