Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Much?

Not just, “How long?” but
“How much can one family take?”
When the “C” Reaper circles
the block, over and over,
faith is hard pressed to
maintain its full-bodied flavor.

We cry in the closet sometimes,
trying to be strong for others,
because that’s what we think
we’re supposed to do.

But you, O Lord, have created us
for community, for each other,
and if there’s any time we need
each other more than ever,
surely it is now!

Surround us with the love
of those who can and will
sing the songs of faith for us,
recite the creeds on our behalf,
believing for us, for a while,
until we can breathe again.

As much as we think we want to
see and understand the big picture,
what we’d really like right now
is to change the smaller picture,
re-pixeling the molecular details
of our very beings until
normal returns from its exile.

Into your hands, O God,
we commend our lives,
our love, our souls.
Hear our cries and answer us.
Hold us with the fierce but tender care
of a mother and father;
breathe into us your life that is sustained
now and forevermore. Amen.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, October 19, 2009

Deep & Dark

So, a friend says to me, “Why are your poetry/prayers—always about depressing stuff?” This is not the first time I’ve heard this question. It made me think, because I do not really know why.

That led me to an earlier conversation with someone else, who had inquired as to the source for a recent prayer for someone dealing with cancer. My reply was, “There is often a particular event or story that triggers the Muse’s flow, but each piece carries the accumulation of many people and stories.” I have figured out at least this much.

As a pastor, I hear many stories and receive many requests for prayer regarding all sorts of tragedies and dire life-circumstances. That’s when people most often find and claim their own true faith: in the midst of challenging and threatening times. It stands to reason, then, that empathy and compassion are often centered around difficulty.

Hope—the kind of expectation that transforms lives through and beyond the valley of difficulty’s dark shadow—most often comes from the bottom. The deepest and darkest places are the ones from which light and life eventually spring. The most authentic and long-lasting experiences of joy can arise, not from abundance and providence, but rather from nothingness and absence. It is often in the midst of emptiness that we first find the gift that truly fills.

In my younger days, I did some SCUBA diving. I’ll never forget the feeling when I first went 100 feet below the surface of a spring. After we got our bearings and settled in the bottom of the cavern, we turned out our lights. There, with the multiplied pressure of atmospheres squeezing in on me, in the blackest darkness I could ever imagine, I felt a great peace.

I would be lying if I said that there was not a simultaneous sense of panic trying to gain my attention. But, trusting my instructor and my equipment, I set aside the panic and gave in to the peace. When I hear and immerse myself in others’ stories of injury, illness, disease, pain, and suffering, I feel as if I am back in that cavern. I know that panic and fear are lurking. But I also know that peace and hope are available. In my prayers and poems, I try to realistically describe our human condition—including its inevitable suffering—and then find a connection to the place where hope springs eternal and grace abounds.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Everlasting Hope

(For all those who are dealing with lung cancer.)

The breath of life itself is at stake here, O God;
shuttle that transports oxygen to work
and brings carbon dioxide home
after an exhausting “day.”

Somewhere in the midst of this bodily function
we try to identify your gift to humanity—
the thing toward which we all aspire;
the gift with which you inspire.

Spirit, breath, wind:
all part of divine inspiration
that claims us as your own, O Lord.

And then the "C" word rears its ugly head,
stepping outside the bounds of cell’s cycle,
refusing to yield, hell-bent on growth,
damn the torpedoes-- full speed ahead.

Our plea is for you to intervene,
through medicine or miracle.
Bring your healing touch.
Show us the hem of your garment.
Our arms are outstretched.
Let mercy triumph once more.

As pulse elevates and anxiety rises,
give us pause to notice our own respiration;
give us focus to appreciate both the gift
and the calming effect of its slow and deep practice.

Let us feel, in strong, measured intake,
your comforting promise.
In exhalation, give us release
from all that we cannot control or understand.

Wrap us and those we hold dear
in the peaceful blanket
of your everlasting hope;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hole in My Soul

“The Dark Night of the Soul” is a phrase that describes the vacuum that many people experience in the depths of their intentional journey to God. When our expectations of God’s presence or performance are dashed, the silence is deafening. This is not the place where I want to tackle the question of whether God is ever really absent. My experience is that, as human beings, we are not capable of distinguishing between the perception of God’s absence and the reality of it. For us, then, the perception of God’s absence is as real and effective as God’s absence itself.

When we perceive God’s absence, or even the dislocation of God from the center of our beings, we become aware that something essential is either missing or askew. Franciscan Richard Rohr describes the recognition of this dislocation from God as, “the hole in the soul.” We are well-trained by our culture and our economy to fill the hole with lots of things, and to fill it as early and as often as possible. Never mind that the other-than-God things we pour into it have no hope of filling it. Never mind that it is a God-shaped and God-sized hole that only stops gaping when it is filled with the very self of God.

Some time ago, while thinking about this hole and our attempts to fill it, I wrote this song:

There’s a Hole
(Sung to the tune of “Give Me Oil in My Lamp”)

There’s a hole in my soul, and it’s burning.
There’s a hole in my soul that’s deep.
There’s a hole in my soul and it’s burning;
tried to fill it but it just won’t keep.

There’s a hole in my soul and it’s empty.
There’s a hole in my soul that’s dry.
There’s a hole in my soul and it’s empty;
stuff I’ve filled it with just makes me cry.

There’s a hole in my soul and it’s God-shaped.
There’s a hole in my soul that shows.
There’s a hole in my soul and it’s God-shaped;
fills up only when my spirit overflows.

There’s a hole in my soul but it’s filled.
There’s a hole in my soul no more.
There’s a hole in my soul but it’s filled;
gift of grace from God’s own store.

Filling this void with other things and steadily pouring in stuff, in an attempt to avoid the emptiness, only increases the chances that the experience of God’s presence will become more remote. While there is no mystical formula or ritual that can conjure up God’s presence, living with the discomfort of God’s absence is precisely the way that we can prepare ourselves to recognize and eventually receive the very self of God. Focusing on the empty hole, instead of what we can fill it with, is the path that eventually leads to being filled.

© 2008 Todd Jenkins