Songs of Discovery

I thought I would share a few poems on discovering our deepest selves, which connect with the themes of Psalm 103 we are discussing.


Secret Passage

big sister“There’s a secret passageway in grandma’s old room,”

said my same older sister

who once whispered to us tales of ancestors

who came not from the poor pig farmers

on daddy’s family tree

but instead born of a long forgotten prince

who gave up his rich palace for love

leading him to settle on Carolina shores.

secret passageLike those quickly disproved fairy tales she weaved

my heart leaped with wonder on this story

imagining my own private wardrobe door

with which I could transport to a world of magic wonder,

my own personal Narnia.

I searched under bed, in closet, and by every wall crease

for light from this secret pathway

until, frustrated with my efforts,

daddy showed us the door which lay

high atop the closet’s ceiling

popping our shimmering bubble of childlike dreaminess

with his ever brooding realism

“There ain’t nothing up there but insulation.

It leads nowhere but the attic”.

secret passage 2It took years to realize,

though her facts were off,

my sister’s promise was true:

all along I carried such a door with me,

my own personal transport to new worlds.

I found it on that day my world split open

when tumbling I like Dorothy fell through the rabbit hole

my eyesight gazing deep within.

The well to wonder that opened

to places bigger on the inside

and more full of light

was the shape of the spiderweb of cracks

which had spread

across the shattered glass of a broken heart.

Truly broken places

birthed the light of beauty

beckoning me within

where I discover daily

vistas of glory unimaginable.


Recovery Festival

Like trumpets of war I heard rough southern drawl

echoing across the pine wood skin

hellfire preaching

and a fist hammering the untarnished face

of a podium in a storefront southern church.

“Are you saved brother?” he cries,

“The altar is open. Come on down,

we have room for more”.

I remember hearing that cry

amidst thirty verses of “Just as I Am”

feeling my heart pulled like metal scrap to lodestone

though to me it was already clear

Jesus I knew

and Jesus knew me.


Yet I found myself

feeling damaged

broken asunder

like glass upon pavement

shattered glass.jpg

now adrift on rainbowed pool of oil,

beautifully tragic beyond all cleansing,

by that preacher’s siren song.


That was not the day I gazed deep

beneath what others saw,

plunging beneath the waters


salty with tears

and cold with fears

that lay beneath

the splintered mirror

of my soul.


It came far later

amidst momma’s scattered boxes,

crates of jewels and receipts

gathering dust

after her manic shopping sprees

revealing my content, as well as their own–

my memories of hiding


little and alone

from the rising tide

her waves of emotion brought

the feeling of hands covering my ears

from shouts that rose

like the rhythmic shaking

of military bombs on Fort Bragg streets

when daddy lifted cups of “special punch”

to his not quite ever parched lips.


That salty wetness

rising from my own tears

was my baptism

which cold and crisp

against my skin

woke me anew.

anabaptist baptizin

In that moment I knew myself,

and began a long journey to wholeness.


His echoing shouts of salvation,

Gospel truth be known,

now taste like ash on my tongue.


His calls causing me to recoil

carrying still with them

the lingering smells of brimstone

hanging like a sulfurous cloud

calling me to my imminent end.


I find instead

beneath the wreckage in my soul

piling high as some abandoned lighthouse

abandone lighthouserising just like those paint brushes, glue sticks, and cut fabric

borne of her creative projects dropped mid-stroke

and get rich quick schemes gone wrong.


Beneath an edifice that feels as high as the long-leaf pine,

I find



miraculously alive

a sparkling treasure as yet unseen

more precious than the fabled gold

I am told

pirates left hidden off Carolina coast.

Shining like such

long-lost piles of coins

found resting

upon Ocracoke or Hatteras beach

lit by summer sun on Atlantic waves

mother holding baby 1I find him,

radiant and shining —

a baby boy

somehow untarnished amidst the pain,

unbroken as when he emerged

aglow with the Spirit’s bright fire,

Her original blessing still upon him

like dew resting on the cool grass

of Appalachian hillside in spring.


That plunge beneath

one fateful April morn

led me to this fated find

the treasure of myself

not shattered beyond all fixing

like he with thunderous voice proclaimed


inner-peace (1)myself as I was before being broken,

as when Spirit breathed me forth

glistening with the starry hues

of divine essence

my only swaddling clothes

floating into daylight from Her

like some glistening bubble lifted on wind

from sudsy tub.


So, keep your words of salvation, sister.

I’ll go with recovery anyday,

recovering who I am

hamsaand have always been

in my Maker’s eye

as I learn

to make true the maxim

that “the eye with which I see Godde

is the eye with which Godde seems me”

Song of the South: Born Just Fine

Embracing our identity as children of God, as gift, is beautifully pictured by two songs of the South.


First the upbeat, thoughtful song by Rev. Meg Barnhouse, Unitarian pastor and musician from Texas, “Born Just Fine”:


Also, the old classic southern Gospel hymn, “Blessed Assurance”:

Both, from two different angles theologically, reflect the fact our idea first and foremost is not in what we do, what we accomplish, but who we are: children of God, of infinite worth.

Your progressive redneck preacher,


Song of the South: Smoke and Sparks, Til I’m Too Old To Die Young

Southern literature, according to Flannery O’Connor, paints a picture of a “Christ-haunted landscape”.  I find traditional southern music and literature richly describes the vulnerability and weakness we are discussing in reflecting on Psalm 103’s description of us all as dust and ashes.

One song in this tradition which I think of often during my work as a hospice chaplain is Grant Lee Phillips’ “Smoke and Sparks”.  Another is “Til I’m Too Old to Die Young”  Both beautifully pictures to me both the fragility and vulnerability we carry in our lives, and also the enduring all-surrounding grace that surrounds our days offering hope that such vulnerability is not the final word — both of which Psalm 103 points us toward.  May it bless you today!




Songs of Vulnerability

I want to share two poems about my own experience of vulnerability.

The first describes my own struggle through a recent grief, and the other the way I found life in the midst of it.

I would love if you shared how you came to grips with your own experience of vulnerability.



“Grasping Through Morning Shadows”

rain on tin roof

The days darkness fell over me in sheets
cold, wet, and grimy
like the unexpected summer showers
that caught me when Paul and I went running,
searching, exploring summer nights in my teens
mixed with the filthy dust of smog-filled spring mornings
with air that tasted of cigarette ash and burning plastic
that I gulped down nervously
while sitting beside a busy L. A. street waiting for my bus.

Those mornings when waking was like falling into dreams
I moved like my feet were stuck to sun-melted asphalt streets
And my skin goose pimpled as my body was chilled even to the bones.


Heart Song

mistRising like all enveloping cloud,

morning mist which both conceals color, distance, and faces
while revealing shape and feeling,
even of tiny pebbles that are but pin pricks on the soles of my feet,
embraces me in cool dampness.

I cannot see the dimly lit dropoff but a few feet away
that mountainside beyond which lies unspeakable beauty
made visible by simple stroke of sun’s golden fingertips
yet now shrouded by silky threads of fog which
shelter us like those many pinioned swings the Psalm sang of falling over us.

mist 2

And yet, though unseen,
such looming depth seems more visible
a pull like gravity
both promising and threatening like the hoot of the screech owl heard in the evening
screech owlto which my own wild man wakes up,
a call which that part of me still pumping
the blood of hunter gatherer tribesmen
through my veins
on hearing longs to walk
the green trail
hear the rustle of leaves
sing the song of the creeks
join in the heart song of growing things
yet alarming like the distant call of the train upon the mountain
which shatters sleep in an instant
a moment in which that high pitched wail,
growing ever louder, seems to call out my name.

And perhaps it does.
Perhaps I do hear some long black train, the one old songs name.
long black trainPerhaps such beauty does remind me
that it swooped down for her – unexpected, unbidden.
Such shock lies on the horizon of my mind, always present.

God knows I hear that train song each day,
as my palm graces the back of a strong woman,
fierce in pride and independence
now wasted to skeleton,
days from cancer taking her
yet still afire with poise, grace, and beauty.

God knows I hear that wail, loud and shrill,
as I hold the hand of a man tough as nails,
face grizzled by years
seeing the light of your coming in his eyes
like sunrise reflected on the dancing blue green of the Eno’s winding waters
and see his face break into childlike grin at the sound of his name upon your voice.

Perhaps so
and yet
deer in woodsbeneath it all in the thick mist
gathered around me like grandma’s blanket
thick and comforting
I hear the song
sung by the call of birds
the rustle of deer almost hidden in the trees
the cry of the katydid
the whistle of a morning pot of tea
and the quiet coo of newborn child

Though I will always hear your call,
oh long black train,
it is to this song I will not fail to move,
my body a wave on its passing river
my heartbeat a note in its melody.

Those mornings, when awakening might come with nightmare scream,
when I remembered her lifeless form
remembered as my hand stroked the empty place beside me,
cold to the touch as cold as her hand when I, heart in my chest, rang the paramedics.

Those mornings, when pulling the sheet off my face
was like leaping off the cliff, often I felt frozen by fear,
two things were like the candle
blazing bright as a thousand suns
though only a pinprick of light
in the canvas sheet of my surrounding darkness:

Cold wet noses,
slobbery with canine love that called me to lay the armor away.
For if I curled up and lay down, letting my soul die too, where were they?
Walking them in the winter wood
my eyes would open for but a moment
to the sunlight sliding through the leaves
to the sight of squirrels busy with their errands
to the life splashing wet upon river rock
and I lived.

and her words “I ache every day
yet I must choose my joy.
I must live while I have breath.”
If, when pain stole sight from her eyes,
so I had to steady her each morning
she could grasp the thread of joy
I must hear my breath
listen to its message
I must crawl out of my borrowed tomb
I must leave my prison
and remember
while I live each moment I must find my joy
Each breath is a call, a gift, a challenge
to grab my golden thread
and, with the creek,
though my voice cracks in the effort,
find the strength to sing.


Song of the South: Found

Continuing our reflection on the Sacred Feminine, out of Psalm 103’s language of compassion as “womb kindness” or “womb love” in the original Hebrew, I wanted to share this poem I wrote some time ago celebrating Proverb’s imagery of the Sacred Feminine in Lady Wisdom going out into the streets, seeking wayward souls in need of help & teaching.

What images for the Sacred Feminine resonate to you?  What do they teach you?


Your progressive redneck preacher,




Voiceless from the pain

a choked whisper catches in my throat

one word: “Save!”


I have fallen upon gravel road

night dark about me

body aching

knees bloodied


blanketed by frigid shadows


lady wisdom 3Howling voices cry out

“Failure! Liar! Cheat! Scum!”

from eyes aglow dripping crimson

and glistening teeth

hot air on my neck

wind like wolves panting for blood.


My eyes shut, terrified

Muscles stiffen, jaw clenches

body and soul ready for the final blow.


lady wisdomThen a voice, like the fall of rose petals

afloat in spring breezes

whispers melodic in my ears

“Child, you are safe”


A gentle grip lifts me

eyes flickering in shock

glimpses of luminescent limbs holding me tight

relax my rigid frame.

I know no more.


My eyes open in my father’s house

safe and secure,

the rosy fingers of morning caressing me awake

the din of night now long forgotten.


Looking down, I am bandaged,

still broken but healing.

Safe by her caring hands.


lady wisdom 2“Sister Spirit, who are you?”

I cry, as tears of joy drip

thick as summer storm.

Over the tumult of my cries

a sound like silence echoes

those gilded halls,

and in the whispering winter winds

I could almost swear I hear a name:


Life Weaver

This is the first of a few poems I want to share, drawing on images of the Sacred Feminine from Scripture, which Psalm 103’s image of compassion as “womb love” is one example.

Life Weaver

seamstress 2

I see her, needle and thread in hand,

knitting away her fear and sorrow

for the little one laying before her,

knitting away the losses that lie

at the root of each fear

with more precision than I,

knees and hands caked in dirt,

ever can pull up my weeds by their roots

in my own garden,

yet also knitting hopes and dreams,

as if each new strand

creates a brighter future

for this child of love.

And perhaps it does.

They say our intention, when deeply held

in meditation,

in prayer,

in concentration,

has some quantum power

to shape our world.

The story is that water,

placed under microscope,


When people speak in anger

tightly held in focus over it,

the lens shows such water

will have a chaos, a fury, a lack of order

which water under the same lens

frozen instead as words of peace, joy, and compassion

are spoken over as the heart’s true focus.

I am no quantum mechanic.

I lack the toolkit to tinker with fate,

let alone determine if such claims are true.

Or do I?

For this young woman seems certain,

her eyes tightening and hands furious at work,

certain that the only tools she needs

to shape the web of life,

these quantum threads of fate,

for this littlest of ones, are

her needles, her thread, and her heart afire with love.

Who can say she is wrong?

I have upon my mantle

a worn yet welcome scarf

woven by such a woman,

a weaver not young but threadworn,

battered by her years.

When I touch it, my fingers come alive.

I can almost feel some unseen flame dance,

setting my whole soul to tingling.

Is this not why mother

baked cakes with care

to give to the mourning we knew,

that they may be nourished

not just by some crumb of bread

but by the taste of human kindness?

Is this not why the preacher raises bread and cup,

muttering ancient words,

why each sacred eve words of kaddish are spoken

by chosen people before meal,

why Sufis spin,

and some pilgrims bow five times

toward the East upon their mats?

In truth, is this not also why,

taking pen in hand,

I too weave my strands of stories,

each word a gem,

hoping to craft my own worry beads

upon which I can join

my muttered prayers

or, better yet, weave

some ornate blanket

to warm not just myself

but others against life’s winter chill?