Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Passion Of Christ, Yr B)

THE HANDS OF THE PASSION
(Mark 14:1 – 15:47)

I tell of the hand, its suppleness, strength,
how it performs every wish of our thought:
subtlety to smooth and shape wood, clay, paint;

and by its powers great structures are wrought.
With the hand we salute, we show caring,
kindness; the hand undoes the tangled knot,

lifts the fallen and helps the ones bearing
the heavy load; the hand the instrument
of holding, releasing; keeping, sharing –

whatever it is that our hearts have meant
to accomplish. Consider then the hands
at work in this story. See the pair bent

to pour the perfume on Jesus. It lands
fragrant, filling the still air with rich breath,
gift of tenderness to one whose commands

had healed many, but for whom, she knows, death
looms. From hands flow love. But hands, too, clutch greed,
cruelty in their fists. See Judas, met

by the chief priests in the grip of their need
to be rid of Jesus. Judas’ hands reach
for the coins of betrayal. He will feed,

one of the twelve, at the table, where each
will protest steadfastness. See their hands dip
with Christ’s in the bowl. And what does it teach

when Christ’s hands break bread for us, when the sip
of the cup handed round is his blood? When
his hands wash our feet on their dusty trips

through the roughness of the world? Can we learn
forgiveness from his fingers? Or will ours
be the hands of injustice, those that spurn

mercy: swords waved in the garden, glowers
of fury on faces, hands tearing clothes,
hands striking, abusing him through the hours.

See the guards hang on him a purple robe.
The hands whipping. The ones placing the crown
of thorns. Words and hands conspiring as goads

as he stumbles on his way up the hill. Down
the long years we have seen what they did there,
the hands swinging hammers, nailing his own

to the cross. But see, with the curtain’s tear,
God’s hand at work too: the cross is the way
to salvation.
At last with Joseph’s care

hands are tender again, and thus display
again the heart’s power to love; and so
even a tomb, on this darkest of days,

becomes touched by the presence of grace. Go
to touch with that grace whatever you will.
Be Christ’s hands. Let the redeemed heart show,
that this crucifying world know his love still.

Copyright © 2015 by Andrew King

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Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Advent 2, Yr B)

AT THE EDGE
(Mark 1: 1-8)

You shuffle your feet at the water’s edge,
shield your eyes with your hand
from the blaze of the sun,
take another glance at the face
of the man in the river
that long ago was the boundary

between an old life and new, and you hear
his word of summons, words
that urge repentance for preparation
for the Anointed,
and he offers the water to flow
over your skin as a sign

that your sins have been forgiven,
and he’s saying there is One
coming after him to baptize
not with water but the Holy Spirit of God,
so that you think, as you stand there
at the edge of the river, how on the edge

you are of something quite powerful
that feels larger than words, than
the mightiest river, washing over and into you,
drowning your heart with something
like joy, like the goodness of a hope
you’re almost afraid to believe in,

but every time you shuffle
your feet as if to leave
they grow a little wetter with the water,
until at last you take a step, and then
another, and again, until it’s you
waist deep with John the Baptizer,

and the sun beating down on the flowing
surface seems to say
“Yes!” to your heart
which isn’t drowning after all,
which in fact, in your chest,
has gone striding into the world,

following the sun past the river to
what comes next on the horizon,
amazed, expectant, praising.

A Poem For My Father – II

Robert M. C. King turned 88 this month.

HAND

Laid across my face once, made me
see stars, my left ear ringing.
Both our cheeks burning.

In the car for church, smoothed
my morning hair, his pocket comb
repeating (his own hair mostly missing).

Summer Saturdays crusted, stained
with soil (his hoe a cane until he gained
the garden, then weeds flailing –

his leg that had been lamed, not
his hand). How strange to me
to see it age, the slow deforming.

Long so deft at carving beef,
correcting math, pressing the pants
for Sunday, shoes polishing,

here it is in the last weekend ritual:
stiff, bent, wrinkled,
shakily placing each cribbage peg.

The cards carefully dealing.

Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Lent 3)

MEETING AT THE WELL
(John 4: 5-42)

You can’t hide from your need for water.
From the others – the ones whose eyes
are like their words, whose words have felt

like bones, like stones in the chest –
from them you hide till noon, the heat
as hard as earth baked by the sun:

from that too there is no hiding,
like your shame, the cindering pain
of your mistakes, the regret of every

failure, the ruined relationships
lying heavy on your heart
as a jar full of water in your hands.

You can’t escape that weight.
You have carried it and carried it,
the freight of shame that shrinks you

in your attempt to hide from even
your need for the acceptance
that your heart craves like water,

that deeper need that will not let you go.
And neither do the eyes of the man
who meets you at the well this heated

day: his eyes that hold to yours with
no hostility, with no judgment;
that are gentle, calm as waters

in a deep well. Your habitual distrust
of men, strangers, the Jews
is hard-baked, yet – how strange – you

feel no need to hide, no sense of danger,
just curiosity when he asks you for water
just as if no gulf exists

between you to cross. Stranger still
his words that follow, promising
a gift of living water which will

satisfy forever, gushing up into life
that is eternal. How his words echo
within you, as in an empty well

where unhealed ache lies parched
like withered ground, where your deep
need for love has gone unfilled.

How quick your answer in reply: Sir,
give me now this water, that I
may no more need this well – and

that the well of need within me
may be filled.
And here it is, in the way
he gives it – he opens up your pain,

he confronts with you the shame
that has held you prisoner, but
from him no condemnation

of the failures that have fractured
your life. How like a flowing river
is this unflinching acceptance,

how like a thirst being quenched
this taste of love. Now there is
no more need for hiding; and let

the jar you took to the well be left
for later. That other weight you carried
has been left there too, and in its

place this lightness, this freedom
of breath, of being, that from now
will be carrying you in words of call:

The Christ who meets you at your well
is for the world.

A Poem For My Father

There was a huge police funeral in Toronto this week for an officer who died in the course of his duty — tributes poured out for the kind of man he was. And of course the tributes flowed at the massive memorial service — as they have around the world — for Nelson Mandela, as inspirational a human as history has given us.

To me this is a good time, then, to share a poem about a man who has personally been an inspiration to me, whose example in life I wish I could live up to; whose attributes of courage, faithfulness, kindness I wish I had more of; whose love for family and optimism in daily living continue to buoy himself as well as those who visit him. The man I speak of is my father, now living in the Northridge nursing  home in north Oakville.

Here is a poem I wrote a while ago:

THE WALKER

The old man tells his children of the summer
after the war he laboured on the bridge
over the muddy Humber

at lunchtimes wrestling, just for fun,
with men who’d fought as soldiers overseas;
of high school football years, one of

the 60-minute men, practically padless
(knocked out once tackling a future pro);
how at U of T he’d run to classes

across the width of campus, rarely late,
barely out of breath. . . . Almost never
does any conversation take

a turn to that which, 50 years ago,
laid him flat-backed months long, more
than a little near death — the polio —

except to tell last of what pace,
past the pain and the white walls,
he successfully got rid of the brace.

________

His home now a room, one of many in halls.
In his chair he wheels each metre,
and though the courtyard is small

he repeats every corner, sometimes in snow
(though jacketed just to comfort his children).
Not all of them live near, but on his phone,

tireless hunter, he tracks their lives,
dutifulness pinned to his calendar;
calls often to ensure they’re on time

for chat, a game of cards. Then the old man
grasping, standing on the handles of his walker.
While his grown child hovers, hiding hands,

eyes tensed on each jelly-jointed step,
he makes his march of the carpeted street,
arthritic knobbed knuckles clenched,

bent shoulders shaking, breaths hissing.
And long before the chair can take him once more
the floor cracks open:

the muddy Humber glistens
beneath his feet.

In Memory Of Nelson Mandela

Thinking of the passing tonight of Nelson Mandela, the following lines keep coming to me, from a poem by Stephen Spender entitled “I Think Continually”:

“I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. . . .

“Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”

(Read the whole poem here.)

If there is any person of the recent past who has “left the vivid air signed with their honour”, it is Nelson Mandela.