Let Me Die Like This

redWhen I die, Lord, let me go in a plane crash, spiraling down, earthward, earthward, apportioned enough time to pray but not nearly enough to forget what we’re all prone to forget: that the end comes, it rushes up to greet us, every one in flight.

What I’d pray in my downfall is: forgive, sweet Christ, forgive, and this: let me see. Let me see myself in your mirror so I may know, before the end, if I am known.

They say it’s easier to conjure faith in desperation, but I suspect the opposite is true, that all we hold in our trembling hands, when the earth charges up to embrace us for the last time, is what’s really there, what we really believe, what we really love, be it God or ourselves or our children or our comforts, or likely some combination of these, with salvation turning perhaps not on a choice so much as on the algorithm, on our hammered-out parameters of love. [Read more...]

Not Your Mother’s Book Tour

Runyan imageIn my world, a typical book signing involves sitting behind a small publisher’s table at the annual AWP Conference book fair. Along with dozens of other poets throughout the day, I peer at passersby like a shelter dog whose time has run out. If I’m lucky, someone might stop to say hello, taking a complimentary butterscotch disc as they shuffle away without my book. “Got just one carry-on bag this year,” they’ll say. “You know how it is.”

The book signing I attended this week was different. In fact, it wasn’t really about books—or signing them—at all.

Jenn McAllister, otherwise known as Jennxpenn, is a nineteen-year-old YouTube sensation who started making videos about her teenage life several years ago. My twelve-year-old daughter, Lydia, and her friends follow Jenn and other millennial vloggers, like Super Woman, Taylor Oakley, and Miranda Sings, on their four-inch screens every day. So when Lydia and her friend Emma heard that Jenn was coming to the Chicago area for a signing, we had no choice but to take a ninety-minute road trip—on a school night—to see Jenn in real-life retina display. [Read more...]

Seeking Refuge

KK_Boat_Drop-OffI’d just put my two young sons to bed when I opened the computer to see the picture of Aylan. My sons are two and five, and the youngest has round soft legs, like Aylan, and little shoes, like Aylan. I saw the picture of Aylan and felt my blood go cold.

That day I had been humming through hymns in some music planning for our small startup Episcopal community in rural Washington. “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord,” came to mind, an old camp song. Good energy for coming back together at the end of a summer. Now the music stopped.

One in the spirit and one in the Lord? I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind. How blind I was to God’s people struggling each day just to live? Aylan must have tussled and played with his older brother just like my little one, but his brother drowned too. Aylan’s mother must have tucked them both in the same way I tuck in my sons, until she drowned that same day. I started to feel desperate. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” the hymn goes. How was I showing Christ’s love?

My feeling of discomfort grew. I emailed a friend who does overseas mission work, but she didn’t know a way to plug in directly. What if my family flew somewhere, worked in a camp? There were places to give, but that didn’t seem enough. We could take a family into our home, but the US has only permitted immigration to 1,500 Syrian refugees. [Read more...]

Prayers in the River

9186219783_2c482b06e7_mI stand hip-deep in a river, casting into the eddies. I am not the kind of man who routinely stands hip-deep in anything, but the kids are still asleep, and I need to pray somewhere—God knows—so here I stand. The water is frigid and it soothes my feet, sore from stumbling over stones to rescue my lure. All I’ve caught in this damned river are rocks.

I’m here mostly to pray and because I want to fish in peace. Lord Jesus Christ—cast—son of God—lock—have mercy on me—reel, reel, reel—a sinner. In his last scene in The Godfather II, Fredo tells Michael Corleone’s son his fish-catching secret is to say a “Hail Mary” when he casts. Maybe that works for Catholics; this Orthodox Jesus Prayer is getting me nothing. [Read more...]

The Eucharist: Eat, Eat!

By Shannon Huffman Polson


We sit in the back pew at church with intention; there’s an easy exit if our two-year-old’s patience has run out, or if ours has. Bible stories shine down on us hopefully from brightly colored stained glass windows on either side of the church.

Earlier I made spelt French toast for breakfast and my son ate three pieces, but halfway through the service he’s hungry again. He’s played with the hymnals and retrieved every stuffed animal from the basket at the rear of the church. We work on silent diversions when he tries to use the visitor card pen on the pews themselves.

Then he has another idea. “Eat, eat!” he says, with sudden and sincere desperation in his eyes, just as the congregation says “the Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and gave it to his disciples, and said ‘take, eat, this is my body…’” [Read more...]