Thursday, April 24, 2014

Unexpected storm

He was expecting the storm
when it arrived, almost
suddenly, without portent or
warning, simply arising
in front of him. He held on
as it raged, tearing at his skin,
sharp nails with stinging points.
They found him there, still
holding on. He did not know
salvation was in letting go.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Poems of Padraig Daly

This post was originally published at The Master’s Artist.

Last fall, I discussed the poems of R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), an Anglican minister in Wales whose poetry reflected his faith, his Welsh nationalism, and his love for rural life. Taking a short trip across the Irish Sea to Dublin, one finds a contemporary Irish poet who has often been compared To Thomas – Padraig Daly (1943- ).

Daly is an Augustinian priest in the Dublin parish of Ballyhoden. He’s published several poetry collections and translations from poets writing in Irish and the Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti. In his own poetry, and especially The Last Dreamers: New and Selected Poems, the reader sees the similarities to Thomas, but also sees something that is uniquely Daly’s.

In these poems, Daly is focused on faith and how it is expressed, in the importance of daily life (be it in Ireland or Italy), in rituals, in loving and comforting, in prayer. The poems are wrapped in simplicity, but they are as deep as they are simple. Consider the poem “Errand:”

Carrying his knapsack,
He shuffled out in his boots
To where the stars hung burning.

The winds of space assailed him.
He was a speck
Smaller than a sootflake.

Dejected by vastness,
He wrapped himself in himself,
Hugging his own warmth;

Till the immense God,
Waking from his dream,
Brushed time and distances aside.

Daly paints a picture here, and you think you understand it on the first reading, until you read it again to find the meaning may actually be something different. So who is carrying the knapsack? And what’s in it? Assume it is a man, and the shuffling implies an older man, who moves outside. If he sees the stars, then it must be night. He’s assailed by winds, finds himself a small speck, is dejected, and can o nothing but wrap “himself in himself,” hugging his own inadequate warmth. And then God wakes from a dream, and brushes “time and distances aside.”

Nothing else is said, but that last line implies something profound has happened. God transcends physical reality, and the man carrying the knapsack is changed.

All of the poems in The Last Dreamers are like that – deceivingly simple. A particular favorite is “Prayer:”

We gather at the river’s edge;
One by one in the darkness
We place our flames in the darkness.

We watch them drift,
Fragile, flickering,
Out to the unsleeping ocean.

We fear at first that they will sink;
But the water carries them past every hazard
As if it loved them.

It’s a beautiful image to liken prayer to flames, tiny flames in the overwhelming darkness. They are fragile, and they drift almost as if meaningless on the ocean’s surface. But they are carried past the hazards, “as if the water loved them.” And, of course, the water does love them.

The Last Dreamers is a moving, thought- and soul-provoking collection, inviting us to deepen our understanding and faith.

Photograph by Anne Lowe via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Poetry at Work: The Poetry of Institutional Memory

I’m talking with a colleague at work about his retirement. We’re going through one of those endless series of departmental reorganizations, and he’s announced his intention to retire some months from now. I’m interested in the mechanics of his decision; he’s less than three years older than I am and once he retires, I will be what’s left of institutional memory not only for our organization, but perhaps even for the entire corporation of 23,000 people.

“I talked with people who’ve retired from the company,” he says. “And while there are the financial things you should have been doing all along, and there are things you might want to do after retirement, what they tell me is pretty simple. You can’t really anticipate it until you’re in it. No one effectively plans for retirement; there will always be little surprises, and likely some big ones to. You really are entering another phase of your life, and life can’t really be planned for.”

I’m reminded of something I just read at Donald Miller’s Storyline blog. “Knowledge over an issue gives us the false sense we can predict it and understand it and in some ways control it,” he writes. My colleague is telling me the same is true for retirement.

This is not idle question for me to while away the hours considering. The question of retirement is not assuming an urgency, but it is looming larger, larger than it ever has.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph by Mel Clark via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, April 21, 2014

“Making Manifest” Review Featured by Sandra Heska King

Last year, I reviewed Making Manifest: On Faith, Creativity and the Kingdom at Hand by Dave Harrity (it’s also available on Amazon). I enjoyed reading and using the book; it’s not your typical set of writing exercises and it has broad application to all kinds of writing.

Starting May 1, Sandra Heska King is hosting a devotional series on Making Manifest at her blog. She graciously asked if she could reprint my review, and posted it this morning. If you interested in the subject of faith, writing and creativity, head on over to Sandra’s place.

Jennifer Dukes Lee’s “Love Idol”

We all have them, those little whispers, reminders that we are not quite good enough, that we need to do more to succeed, buy more, look better, go with the flow, be part of the in-crowd, that then, and only then, will we be considered worthy. Collectively, in all their many permutations, they’re all about our need for approval.

We pay attention to these little whispers. We listen closely and hard. They become so familiar to us that we embrace them and internalize them. They become part of our thinking and our personalities. We do what they say, often without thinking. They become our idols, and in effect we worship them.

In Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes,  Jennifer Dukes-Lee says it doesn’t have to be this way.

A former political reporter for the Des Moines Register (she’s since been promoted to full-time farm wife and mother), Dukes-Lee might have been one of the last people you’d expect to have problems with approval. But she had them, and she still has them. The difference is she’s aware of them of them now, and sees how they come creeping into the most common and mundane of activities.

Like her daughter’s spelling bee. A missions trip to Haiti. Lusting to be assigned that career-enhancing newspaper story. Work. The desire for influence and authority. Volunteering at church.  

We want to be noticed, recognized, and applauded. We hunger for this approval.

Dukes-Lee was as caught up in this as anyone can be, and then slowly realized that she was already preapproved. All the things she was doing for approval were not only insufficient, they were unnecessary.

Love Idol is written squarely for women readers. If no one’s said it before, then let me be the first to say it: men hunger for approval just as much as women do. As I read her words, written in an engaging, straightforward style (I recognize the former journalist), I am reminded of my own need for approval and the ongoing struggle that continues within my mind and emotions.

It’s not only a good book with an important message; Love Idol is a needed book. Reading it will make you squirm at times, because its honesty hits home. Most of all, it’s a hopeful book: it doesn’t have to be this way. As Dukes-Lee keeps pointing out, we are all preapproved.

Illustration by Piotr Siedlecki via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


I never thought of God
as an exhibitionist but
what else can I say
when I am confronted with
the mountains with their heights
the sea in its depths
the sunset, radiant
the pearl encapsulating beauty
the moon permeating my eyes
the flowers in the field erupting
in their riots of color
the porcupine in its waddle
the tomb with its stone
rolled away, empty and
silent in realized glory.

Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Standing in presence

Standing in presence
there is heaviness, abounding;
I turn, slightly, toward
the neon light but turn back,
the reality of what’s before
me overwhelming. To see
the face is fatal, even to see
the back is searing, bleaching
my face, my hair, my soul
as I hide in this cleft. Even
my breath is scorched.

Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.