We Plowed the Fields and Planted

“Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him,
‘Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

Luke 17:5-10
We plowed the fields and planted;
we waited for the rains.
We did as you commanded—
O God, what have we gained

but dirt beneath our fingers
and sunburns on our backs,
an even fiercer hunger
for all the world yet lacks?

We worked on, even knowing
the harvest still could fail.
We labored through the growing—
O God, to what avail

but tenderness for seedlings,
and hope for future years,
and mercy in our weeding,
despite the weight of fears?

The seasons stretch out farther
than all our days gone past,
to threshing after harvest—
O God, when shall we rest

but when the bread is broken
and laid before the least?
God, help us in the working
and call us to the feast.
Brooklyn Museum – The Sower (Le semeur) – James Tissot – overall – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2006, 00.159.119_PS1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10195964

Baker

You scooped up from the garden
three measures of fine dust—
of heart and mind nad body—
You kneaded and made us.

Can bread become the baker,
the baker be the bread?
Creation hold its maker
within a manger bed?

But so it was, Messiah:
You came, past all belief,
to see your stars from this side,
your heavens from beneath.

And, kneaded from the same earth,
our God from God's own hands,
you joined us by the same birth:
a mother's labor pains.

Her body broken open
to bear and nourish yours;
your body blessed and broken
to feed a starving world.

The dust of earth in heaven,
and heaven filling earth:
This is the feast you set us,
O savior of the dirt.
Madonna of Port Lligat 1950 by Salvador Dali https://globalworship.tumblr.com/post/71134594422/christ-child-madonna-by-dali-1950

I Don’t Have Flocks

I don't have flocks to offer you,
just these two turtledoves;
if they could be enough for you,
you have them with my love.

I lay no treasures at your feet,
no more than two small coins.
All that you first have given me,
I give to you again.

Little enough, the gift I bring;
I pray, let it suffice.
Though but a meagre offering,
it is my sacrifice.

If I had cities in my hold
or talents in my grasp,
or harvests ripening to gold,
you would have but to ask,

but if I have no more to give,
do not be angry, Lord.
Still let it stand for all I'd have 
if you had given more.

And let me be content with this,
with giving you my mite.
If you have made me only this,
it's good, then, in your sight.
Frescos in Ferapontov Monstery – Lesson of the widow’s mite and Healing of two blind men, Ferapontovo, Vologda Oblast, Russia By Dionisius – http://www.dionisy.com/rus/museum/120/200/index.shtml, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97153736

My Life Shall Praise the Lord

From today’s readings, especially Psalm 146:

My life shall praise the Lord—
I sing, and I will live—
who wrought me with a spoken Word.
Each breath I take, he gives.

And God shall be my hope,
my saving help his name,
who made the heavens in their scope,
the depths of earth he made.

If I have bread at all,
it came but from God's hand,
and from my hand it must go on
to feed a hungry land.

If I stand up unbowed,
it's God secures my right,
and I must work for justice now,
that others stand upright.

If I do anything,
make any good on earth,
it is the Lord who works in me—
in God alone, my worth.

I sing: It is his breath,
and when it ends, I die.
And God, who lays me in the earth,
will raise me to the skies.
Crispijn van de Passe (I), Maerten de Vos – Lazarus in the home of the rich man 1589 – 1611 RP-P-1908-5618 – https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/nl/collectie/RP-P-1908-5618, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76254085

It Will Be Good

Mashing up Psalm 126, James 5, and therapy. Set to music by the inimitable Paul Zach:

We sowed the fields in sorrow
and watered them with tears,
but we will reap tomorrow
the harvest of our years.

The hopes all came to nothing,
the seedlings choked with thorns,
but something else is growing
among the seeds we've sown.

At dawn, we went out weeping,
seeds falling from our hands,
but we will come home singing
when dusk has touched the land.

Then let the rains come early,
and let the rains come late.
The seasons still are turning,
if only we will wait.

So watch the fields with patience
and love the fallen seeds;
the God who hears us praying
will give us all we need.

It won't be what we planted
or what we understood.
It won't be what we wanted,
but, oh!, it will be good.
Vincent van Gogh – The Sower – the-sower-vincent-van-gogh-1853-1890/DgGm5xSd6Ik5rg at Google Arts & Culture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=116387347

You Drew Me

Riffing on Psalm 40:

You drew me from the muddy pit,
from thorn and thicket set me free.
You set a rock beneath my steps
and asked no sacrifice of me.

I'd waited—long I'd waited, Lord—
until you heard and stooped to me
with all the hope I'd waited for,
and made no sacrifice of me.

No Isaac burning on the fire,
no ram as fragrant offering—
no gift of mine did you desire,
but gave me then a song to sing.

As you have written in your scroll,
your word, O God, is my delight,
for you have written in my soul
the words that make my darkness bright.

Then let me be a living flame;
a word that flares but does not singe;
a candle flikering your name,
no matter if it's bright or dim.

And let me be a living scroll,
proclaiming, singing to the world
the music that sustains my soul
when in the pit again I'm hurled.
Saint Paul, Christ and the Christian as a philosopher is a theme in Early Christian art. Paul’s dress (the pallium philosophicum”), the scroll in his hands, and the container with more scrolls at his feet, all identify Paul as a philosopher. By Leinad- – http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/early_christian_art.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=509625

As Children, We Inherit

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
 and destroy the poor of the land!
 “When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
 “that we may sell our grain,
 and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?
 We will diminish the ephah,
 add to the shekel,
 and fix our scales for cheating!
 We will buy the lowly for silver,
 and the poor for a pair of sandals;
 even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
 Never will I forget a thing they have done!

Amos 8:4-7
How long, O Lord, your patience?
How long will this go on?
Swear by the pride of Jacob:
Remember what we've done!

We buy and sell the needy
to throw their lives away.
Look down, O God, and see them:
How long will you delay?

But still you offer mercy,
and still our hearts and turn.
Take our dishonest earnings
and comfort the forlorn!

For if we are the stewards
who tally your accounts,
let justice make us true ones
who pay back every ounce.

But if we are the beggars
in need around your door,
let mercy make us gen'rous,
for we ourselves are poor.

All that we hold and cherish
we never could afford:
As children, we inherit—
so may we share it, Lord.
Woodcut of the Parable of the Unjust Steward: the rich man and his housekeeper seated at a desk on which a calculating table has been drawn. Printed in Basel by Adam Petri. By Hans Schäufelein – Digitised image, British Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92275892

You See Into My Secrets

Riffing on Psalm 32:

You see into my secrets,
forever open-eyed;
what I have buried deepest,
from you I could not hide.
You see into my failure,
my anger, and my shame;
you know the sins I cherish,
and still you call my name.

O God, I have been silent
while embers burned in me:
I have not wept or cried out,
nor set my anger free.
But you, who hear the stars sing,
hear what I do not say:
You know my heart still hard'ning,
but have not turned away.

Then, Lord, hear my confession
of sins you know full well.
O, hear and give me blessing,
though things unblessed I tell.
Put out the burning embers,
the buried bones renew
as softness I remember
and turn again to you.
The page from the Seven Pentiential Psalms for Five Voices by Simon Bar Jona Madelka. – Madelka, Simon Bar Jona; Michl, Jakub (preface) (2007). Sedm kajících žalmů pětihlasem vyzdobených. Prague: Editio Bärenreiter, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5633440

Empty

I hear the promise whisper
and echo through the days;
it beckons from a distance
down all your winding ways.
You call me, but I linger
and stop to look behind:
What if the jar goes empty?
What if the jug runs dry?

Beyond all reassurance,
beyond the bounds of hope,
your whisper calls me further 
and urges me to go
where there is no more plenty,
no solid ground to find,
where every jar goes empty
and every jug runs dry.

Oh, give me then the courage
to go on all unsure,
to catch the Spirit blowing
and let the sails unfurl,
to find when I am empty
and when my heart is dry,
that you are yet unfailing
and mercy still is kind.
Greek amphora, National Archaeological Museum of Athens, showing the goddess Athena. By Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) – taken by Ricardo André Frantz, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2276568

It Makes No Sense

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them he addressed this parable.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance.

Luke 15:1-32
It makes no sense to go,
to leave your ninety-nine
and search the desert high and low,
one straying sheep to find,

to leave your treasures there
untended in the fold
and wander God-alone-knows-where
one tarnished coin to hold.

All reason cried out, “Stop!”
Obsession drives you thus
to fill and overfill the cup
and pour out more for us.

Why would you do this, Lord?
Why leave a world you'd won
and risk it all to gain still more?
Why break yourself for one?

Would any do the same?
O Savior, let it be
that someone senseless, in God's name,
would find and rescue me!

Though I cannot repay
or even comprehend
the love that tracks my wand'ring way,
oh, find me still! Amen.
James Tissot – The Good Shepherd (Le bon pasteur) – Brooklyn Museum – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2007, 00.159.106_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10195949