Poetry Friday: “Advent”

Watts, George Frederic; After the Deluge; Watts Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/after-the-deluge-13387

Of course you’ve heard of “El Niño.” And you know that it refers to the Pacific Ocean’s warming spells, which can cause heavy rains and even cyclones in the tropics. But did you know that El Niño (Spanish for “the boy”) is so named because it occurs around Christmas time? And did you know that there’s a sister phenomenon, “La Niña”—a cooling ocean effect that also causes major climate events? In her poem “Advent,” Ava Leavell Haymon takes these climatological facts and brilliantly conflates them with the coming of the Child which we await during the Advent season. “El Niño crawls in the manger, time runs out / El  Niño rocks himself dry on the edge of a continent.” Then “the weather channel shows us rain / Angels proclaim in vain…” This Boy’s coming will not evoke the sweet sentiments of Christmas cards. No, it brings cosmological turbulence: ”Comets snuff out in dirty skies: Lovers of chaos, / computers roll back their zero eyes  The trumpet cries…” We pray to Los Niños to “spare us,” but their answer— “We have come for the children” — has a sinister undercurrent. That “for” is intentionally ambiguous. It could mean “for the sake of,” which is the usual Christmas message. But “come for” could also mean “to take the children away,” which a killing cyclone will certainly do. Here is a poem that makes us think twice (or three times or more) about what Advent brings.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Good Letters Is My Devotional

Image Glen OnlineBy Cathy Warner

I came to Christianity in my mid-twenties and joined a Protestant church whose denominational arm publishes devotional booklets that called to mind the copies of Watchtowers Jehovah’s Witnesses used to foist on me.

As a new believer, I was supposed to develop a disciplined spiritual life, the cornerstone being morning devotions: Rise at dawn, open the booklet, read the single line opening prayer, open the Bible to the selected lectionary verse, etc.

But I’m an insomniac who began my sleep-deprived days with a quick shower and breakfast eaten while commuting. I tossed the tiny booklets with their small font and facile prose in the recycling, unread.

By the early 2000s I was writing poetry, prayers, and meditations for my congregation and denomination. Finally, in the act of writing itself, I had found a form of spiritual discipline. I never woke at dawn, but I remained faithful to the practice.

Though I was adept at writing the devotional formula, it quickly began to feel constrictive. I wanted to read outside the “inspirational” genre. I began to hunger for risky, authentic, platitude-free writing that could inspire my own clumsy efforts.

I shared my longing with an artist-painter-pastor who recommended Image. [Read more…]

The Ghosts of Home

natalie-vestin-drive-imageWhen I visit my family in northern Minnesota, I find myself on the same roads I’ve known—back and forth—since I was a child. Often I ride with others because I can’t orient, even in my small town and the outskirts made of barely-there townships and roads that veer only toward themselves. I think of small pathways on Midway Road, and I look for the town hall, for the church, for the dilapidated gray house with scorch marks at the roof. The churning root beer float of the St. Louis River to the south.

I gave up my car last year, though I still love the way the air and light changes on a drive, the way that movement and change of scene feels like prayer. Like close prayer, as if God is in the ditch or the jack pines, a new side of God available when you move a certain way or enter a different terrain. [Read more…]

A Farmer’s Lament

christina-peterson-farm-imageLast weekend, I cooked lunch for three farmers. One of them was my husband. The other two were a couple who were being forced to close down the small organic vegetable farm they’d been building together for nearly a decade. I could see the loss in their weary smiles, in the holes in their clothes, in the fact that they were even sitting with us. They were usually working so hard that they didn’t have time to go anywhere.

They’d given everything to a dream of beautiful clean food. And they hadn’t been able to make it continue. [Read more…]

Saying Yes to the Annunciation

annunciazione-by-fabrizio-boschi-on-wikimediaOf all the Gospel episodes, the Annunciation has long been one of the favorites of poets. The scene is unique and literally earth-shaking: Gabriel’s sudden appearance to the girl Mary, his announcement that she will bear a son who will be “the Son of the Most High,” her puzzlement (“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”), and her final yes—“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” [Read more…]