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Archive for the ‘Christian themes’ Category

For Easter, remembering Easters past and those we shared them with . . .

Homeless Jesus

He lies there, on a metal bench, feet bare,
the nail holes boring into the very marrow
of our souls. This is not the angry prophet
who threw the money changers from the icy
temple. Oh no, this is Jesus, after what we
did to him. Yes, not they, but we. He is not
sleeping there because some sculptor thought
it smart for his art. God no! He is sleeping there
because we put him there, every day, every
hour, every second.

Look at the size of the holes. A child
was frightened by those holes, someone tells me.
Good. Let the child go home. Let the parents
tell the child what we did to him, what
we still do to him.
++++++++++++++++ And you, who read
these words, stop your cars, get out, go sit
with him and talk. Bend down and look
into that sleeping face beneath the hood.
Pour water through his parched lips, bandage
his naked feet. Cover the holes we have made.
Do it now, do it now, do it now, and perhaps
on Easter morning early you’ll drive by and see
the bench is bare, the empty cloak crumpled
on the ground.

Meanwhile, in a different town on a back street
in a cardboard box, another homeless Jesus waits.

 

Anthony S. Abbott
from Dark Side of North, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC © 2021 the Estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

John 13:34 (NIV)

 

 

 

 

Remembering . . .

Rick Flanery    (1945-2019)
Edwin “Skip” Ball    (1944-2020
Cora Burley    (1923-2020)
Charles McKenzie    (1931-2020)
Charlotte Case    (1923-2020)
Charles Hair    (1934-2021)

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[with 3 poems by Tony Abbott]

. . . each morning as a wrapped gift.

We parried, a friendly joust, this poet I knew who anchored his lance upon all poetry is about love. Later I would think how odd, a paradox in fact: this person seems to thrive on hate and even infected me for a time. Even later I read more of his poetry and reconsidered: perhaps hate is simply the anger and loss that bleed from us, caustic, when love is too distant, too longed for, too impossible.

But during our little tournament I countered with this novel thrust: all poetry is about death. You don’t, I asked him, believe the immortals on Olympus write poetry, do you? With no death to undergird, to prod, to threaten, without death they have no muse. They must rely on us mere humans to wrench and wrest verse from the earth of our dark condition.

How odd, a paradox in fact: I don’t think anyone would consider me the moody type. I don’t ruminate on death – or do I? The loved one whose problem seems to have no solution; the 4 a.m. wakefulness when all mistakes made and all hurts caused crowd around the bed with their sharpened sticks; the bitterness of an imagined future when I will not be there for my granddaughter, my grandsons – why do I invite such overshadowing darkness into my heart?

What might cleave the darkness, fill it with light? How is it possible, which indeed it is, that every one of us may discover some joy in a fragrant afternoon, a laughing child, a lingering kiss without inevitably asking what if this is the last?

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the moment which gives to all life / the aura of the mysterious, the sacred . . .

How does the man facing darkness bestow such light on all around him? I believe these poems by Tony Abbott. I believe the voices that have spoken to him and his voice that still speaks to us. That speaks of darkness becoming light.

During the last year of his life Tony treasured moments. He captured luminous moments and has held them up for us, to turn this way and that, to peer and to ponder, to treasure along with him and let in the light. A wrapped gift is one that must be opened to be loved. Light is something to be entered with regrets laid to rest.

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The Man Who Loved Trees

kept his distance this year as if he knew,
as if the dark possibility which haunted
his inner mind could only be kept at bay
by stark denial, a looking the other way.

And then one day, he forgot, and found
himself there at the very spot, and when
he finally brought his eyes up from the brick
walk to the tree itself, he knew he was right.

She was ordinary now, leaves still intact
but mustard brown and dry, dry as the dust
which had choked the air that fall, dry as his
own heart, which had slowed to a walk.

If you don’t wake her, he thought, the muse
goes back to sleep, malnourished, the roots die.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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That Without Which

The moment itself not being but coming into
or having been the moment itself that which
we wait for live for then like the five o’clock
winter sun fading into a rustle, a blowing
of the window curtains door to the balcony
open to the wind the walking on the beach
the stars the ringing of the communion bell
and the knowledge priceless that this might
have never been could never be but was
and is the moment which gives to all life
the aura of the mysterious, the sacred,
blessed and consecrated by the heart under
another name not known but felt how could
we live otherwise

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Last

The last walk, he thinks, the last stroll
down the wooded path with the dog
sniffing in the cool morning air.

The last knock on the red door.

The last subway ride – New York,
London, Paris. The ungovernable
steps. The violins at the Louvre.

The last sigh under the stone stairs.

Better not to know. Tomorrow
or ten years. Better to receive
each morning as a wrapped gift.

The last glimpse of the crescent moon at midnight.

The last swim in the smooth lake,
the last flash of the sun
as it sinks into the sea.

The last wave reaching high and sliding back.

The last poem, the last linking
of lines, nothing more to be said
anyway – the last silence between words.

The last of the lasts that have already been.

The last kiss, the last touch, the last
image of arms at midnight
the last breath before

the last.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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Thank you, Tony, always. We do continue trying, and we will not stop trying, to make something beautiful from the brokenness that we are. Together. May it be and become so.

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The North Carolina Poetry Society has honored Anthony S. Abbott’s memory and shared Tony’s poetry at its January, 2021 literary meeting and with a commemoration in the Winter, 2021 edition of its quarterly publication, Pine Whispers.

Better to receive / each morning as a wrapped gift.
The Last

the moment which gives to all life / the aura of the mysterious, the sacred . . .
That Without Which

Links to biographies and more information about Tony Abbott and his work.

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Tony Abbott]

Mike and I met at a remote trailhead below Mt. Pisgah to hike up into Shining Rock Wilderness. We planned to spend one night at our favorite site after reaching it by this unfamiliar approach. End of September, gorgeous reds and golds, brittle blue sky, and we were prepared for cold above 5,000 feet.

No camp fires permitted in a Wilderness Area. We made tea over a little alcohol stove, sat on the ground, and talked until it grew too dark to see. The ultralight 2-person tent Mike had packed was cozy, which is to say it was more like a 1 ½-person tent. We’d be keeping each other warm.

I woke up after midnight in dense darkness and couldn’t breathe. Got out of the tent, pulled on my balaclava, walked away to pee, sat on a log – deep silence, no owl hoot, no chitter of flying squirrels, not one breath of wind. When my butt started to freeze I tried squeezing back into my mummy bag. No good. My chest tightened, the thick black pushed down on my face, I had to claw its hand away. Worst claustrophobia ever.

I finally dragged my sleeping pad and bag out to a level space in the pine needles, wrapped a jacket around my feet, and hunkered in just as the moon rose through the red spruce. Cold light expanded my lungs. At some point, hours creeping, moon in my eyes, I fell asleep. Mike woke me at first sun.

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What can bring light into darkness? What hand comforts the clench of fear? What consoling faith casts away doubt? What companion banishes loneliness?

The forward to Anthony S. Abbott’s book Dark Side of North, published posthumously by Press 53 this year, consists of a remembrance presented by Dr. Jacqueline Bussie at Tony’s memorial service on October 17, 2020. Here is an excerpt:

Suffering didn’t make Tony unique. What he did with it did. Tony was the first adult, and the first teacher, I’d ever met in life who was willing to talk about the hard stuff. He taught us that suffering sucks. That suffering denied is suffering unhealed. He taught us to never sugarcoat suffering, smack a pink bow on it, or shove it to the back of the drawer. In one of my favorite lines in Tony’s poetry, he urges us to get down to “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.”

Dr. Jacqueline Bussie, page xiv, Dark Side of North

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The Boy from Somewhere Else

lived in the open mouth of the world.
He chewed on the dry branches of time.
He was handsome enough, to be sure,

but there was in his voice
the deep well of absence.
He was with them, but not of them.

His speech was familiar, but not theirs,
and when he told tales
of his drunken uncles and stage-struck

sisters, they nodded politely
and they spoke in their apple-round voices
of kith and kin, and told how their

grandfathers had founded the first
bank in Hitchcock County.
He would wait, this boy.

He would find one day the person
who could hear his music
as blood red leaves matched autumn.

He could not be mistaken about this.
When she came, he would recognize her
at once – as one knows the coming storm

by the first, distant clap of thunder.
Perhaps he could not keep her.
Perhaps one can never keep such a gift.

But, still, she would grace his years – the buds
of his growing up, the rattling trains of the
middle passage, the brittle bones of the slow

descent, the icy nights of the final coming down.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Light in the Window
In memory of Nancy Abbott Hieronymus (1926-2017)

How early I must have known that she was
my true mother, that when she packed her bag
I must go with her. She would keep me safe.

How early I must have known that she was
my true teacher, making the sounds of the words
with her mouth so I could learn them, too.

How early I must have known that she was
my true protector, throwing herself across me
slashing her knee on the broken windshield glass.

Later, when I was nearly grown, cocky sophomore
in prep school, riding the subway home at 2 a.m.,
she left a light in the window on that I

would turn out when I came in. I didn’t know
she stayed awake until she heard the door open
and close, heard the click of the light going off.

Now I sit by her bed and watch her sleep and wake,
sleep and wake, and tell me how she loves
her precious Dick, how she will hold his hand

all the way to heaven. Beyond the light in her window
the evening comes over the island, the deer prick up
their ears, the foxes peek from their dens. In the pines

the gold crowned kinglet waits. She is coming, they say,
our friend is coming, the one who loved us all these years.
Tonight I will go home, and the friends who loved her so

will arrive, one by one, to take her in their arms,
and the next night the angel will stand at the foot
of her bed. You are loved, he will say, and enfold her

with his bright wings. And she will go where that brightness
is and, like a light in the window, shine upon us all.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Long Afternoon

All through the long afternoon
the wind moved in the branches.
I had lived in the city and had seen
only the dust from the tires,
the diesel gas from the gray brown
buses with their leaden burdens.

Here it was different. Here on the grass
we had found by chance, walking
away, just away from everything
and then, a clearing and green
grass and the wind moving
like silver over the water
and in the branches, too. Yes,

all through the long afternoon
the wind moved and we were silent
in awe of the day and leaves
yellow and red and orange,
which floated slowly down
into our waiting hands.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Later
I found these leaves in a book
where you had put them for
safe keeping, a book you knew
I would take down and read
some distant starry night.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

 

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Thank you, Tony. We will continue trying, and we will not stop trying, to make something beautiful from the brokenness that we are. Together. May it be and become so.

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The North Carolina Poetry Society has honored Anthony S. Abbott’s memory and shared Tony’s poetry at its January, 2021 literary meeting and with a commemoration in the Winter, 2021 edition of its quarterly publication, Pine Whispers.

The line “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.” is from Tony’s poem Before Forty in his book The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat (St. Andrews Press, 1989) and collected in New & Selected Poems (Lorimer Press, 2009).

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2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

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[with three poems by Wendell Berry]

Y’all sure do favor!

So folks say when they first see my father and me together. He’s 94. I can’t say I see it but others do so there you are.

On the bookshelf in his living room is a small framed photo of my father about age 3, the same age as our grandson Bert right now. Now those two do favor! Two peas in a pod, cut from the same cloth, much of a muchness. Look at them with that one smile between them, look at those eyes, little imps, look at the domes of those foreheads. Let me just scroll through all these photos Bert’s parents have texted us and you’ll surely see how Wilson and Bert favor.

But where are the photos of my father at 3 making a face, lining up his lead soldiers, stacking his rough-cut handmade blocks? Where dancing? I suspect that framed studio portrait was a Christmas present from Grandmother’s brother Sidney – the rest of the family was surviving the depression on grits and squirrel gravy, the occasional bartered hog shoulder, never two nickels to rub together. The rare snapshots we have of aunts and cousins are from Uncle Sidney’s camera, the only one in the family.

Another depression is upon us now. We are all doing without something. Photos abound but Bert is not free to stand beside his great-grandfather, to show us their one smile between them. When will the day return that may show us how much we all do favor?

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The poetry of Wendell Berry returns me to the center: the center of the fields and woods he walks; the center of time that stretches from long before me to long after; the center of meaning in a universe in which I am not the center but which nevertheless makes a place for me.

These three poems are from Mr. Berry’s book Sabbaths, published in 1987. A moment of stillness, of contemplation, of connection to the earth and all that fills it makes any place sacred and any day Sabbath. My dread, my grief, my struggle during these times are no different really from any times. These things don’t recede, they don’t disappear. They simply take their place in this moment: no before, no after, only now, and I and you and all of us connected in the journey to discover within them some promise of peace.

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VIII (1979)

I go from the woods into the cleared field:
A place no human made, a place unmade
by human greed, and to be made again.
Where centuries of leaves once built by dying
A deathless potency of light and stone
And mold of all that grew and fell, the timeless
Fell into time. The earth fled with the rain,
The growth of fifty thousand years undone
In a few careless seasons, stripped to rock
And clay – a “new land,” truly, that no race
Was ever native to, but hungry mice
And sparrows and the circling hawks, dry thorns
And thistles sent by generosity
Of new beginning. No Eden, this was
A garden once, a good and perfect gift;
Its possible abundance stood in it
As it then stood. But now what it might be
Must be foreseen, darkly, through many lives –
Thousands of years to make it what it was,
Beginning now, in our few troubled days.

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X (1982)

The dark around us, come,
Let us meet here together,
Members one of another,
Here in our holy room,

Here on our little floor,
Here in the daylit sky,
Rejoicing mind and eye,
Rejoining known and knower,

Light, leaf, foot, hand, and wing,
Such order as we know,
One household, high and low,
And all the earth shall sing.

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III (1982)

The pasture, bleached and cold two weeks ago,
Begins to grow in the spring light and rain;
The new grass trembles under the wind’s flow.
The flock, barn-weary, comes to it again,
New to the lambs, a place their mothers know,
Welcoming, bright, and savory in its green,
So fully does the time recover it.
Nibbles of pleasure go all over it.

all selections from Sabbaths, Wendell Berry, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1987
Thank you, Anne Gulley, who gave Linda and me this book many years ago.

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White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, ELKIN NC

 

The Birds’ Carol
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: Mark Daniel Merritt

Elkin Community Chorus
51st Annual Christ Concert / December 4, 2011
Director: David L. McCollum / Piano and Organ: Amy Tayloe and Amy Johnson

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By 2010 Linda and I had been singing for several years with VOCE, Surry County’s invitational chorale, directed by Sandy Beam and assisted later by Mark Merritt. Mark is a talented composer and had asked me before for lyrics. That spring VOCE had been invited to perform at Bilmore House in Asheville, NC, during the Christmas season and Mark wanted to create a suite we could debut there. The Birds’ Carol is the first of three movements in The Wanderer’s Carols. The following year David McCollum selected The Bird’s Carol for Elkin Community Chorus’s 51st Annual Christmas Concert.

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The Birds’ Carol

“Morning! Morning!” trills the lark, “The Babe brings gold to the sky!
A song of light now showers the earth, And we shall know God this day.

Now is the dawn of our new life,
And we shall know God this day.”

“This coat I wear,” caws the rook, “So black, so heavy, so grim.
Only One knows the way to make it bright – The Child who reclaims us from sin.

He lifts our burden upon himself,
The Child who reclaims us from sin.”

“Come rest with me,” coos the dove, “In this humble stable take ease.
Kings and shepherds together embrace The Prince who unites us in peace.

You make us one in all the earth,
O Prince who unites us in peace!”

“I . . . Thou, I . . . Thou,” vow the geese From dark earth to heaven above –
“May we join with Thee in a world made new; May we fly forever in love.

Give us wings of Your perfect light,
And we’ll fly forever in love.”

 

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VOCE of Mount Airy performing The Birds’ Carol, November 14, 2010, Winston-Salem First Presbyterian Church:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDPm6MYvacA&feature=related

Discussion of the symbolism of Lark, Rook, Dove, Goose:
https://griffinpoetry.com/2011/12/17/joy-hope-peace-love/

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: David L. McCollum

 

Elkin Community Chorus 58th Annual Concert
December 2nd, 2018 – First Baptist Church, Elkin, North Carolina

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This year (2020) would have been the 60th annual concert of the Elkin Community Chorus. The ensemble draws singers from towns and counties across northwest NC, rehearses for seven weeks, and gives two free concerts to the public on the 2nd Sunday in Advent. Linda and I have sung with the group for more than 30 years. We miss it. We’re listening to our stack of recordings from previous years and holding onto the hope that we’ll all be vaccinated and singing together again next fall.

David McCollum has been one of the group’s directors for more than 20 years. Several years back he asked me to write a Christmas poem for which he would compose the music. ECC debuted Wilderness Advent in 2018. Thank you, David, thank you Amy Johnson and Amy Tayloe for your accompaniment, thank you Tonya Smith, co-director, and thanks to the 90 or more of our neighbors whose voices make the waiting, the yearning, the anticipation of Christmas a sacrament.

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)

A stranger here, I sleep beneath the slash of stars,
The Pisgah forest deep and friendless.
I close myself to love, my heart requires the dark;
Can night within this cove be endless?

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song – Can it be Him?

Is it madness or a dream that seems to whisper here?
The murmur of a stream or singing?
It chants, a still small voice, I’ve nothing now to fear
For tidings of great joy it’s bringing.

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song and welcome Him!

And now the music swells as every fir and spruce
Unloose their boughs to tell the story:
May all God’s creatures wake, hearts quickened by the truth,
Invited to partake of mercy.

Come, we’ve slept so long
That love grows dim.
Awaken that our song may worship Him.

Come sing it with the wind and all the Pisgah throng:
The Child reclines within the manger!
With owl and bear and deer my soul’s reborn in song
For none of us is here a stranger.

Come, you’ve slept too long;
If love grows dim
Awaken to a song for it is Him!

Waken . . . welcome . . . worship . . . it is Him!

IMG_7974

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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IMG_1948

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