Filling my soul with poetry during Holy Week 2022 (updated daily)
The Poet Thinks on the Donkey
On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight.
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.
Monday in Holy Week
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard,
anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.
God does not promise to save you from suffering,
or to remove you from this life and its jagged edges.
God shares your space in it, offers blessing in it,
anointing your nights as well as days.
The cross is no scheme to get you off a hook somewhere;
it’s the Beloved, with you in your pain.
Let the Beloved pour herself out on your troubles,
let her pour out a jar of tears for you,
wipe your aching feet with her hair.
Let the whole house of you be filled
with the fragrance of God’s blessing.
Others don’t feel your pain but she does,
they will flee but she will be with you.
Lay before her your sorrows and your rage.
Feel her hands upon you, her hair, her heart.
You are in the holy of holies.
The world’s derision fades away outside the gate.
She looks at you with love
that will stay with you forever.
Tuesday in Holy Week
Jesus: a prophet or a god
Because in the shop, he
Made, as every carpenter
Of the time:
Tables and chairs—
Out of wood came the
As the original impulse
Was to hide
Behind an act. One can’t
Be a prophet or a god with-
Out a cover. Something to
Till the word
So to speak—and as metal
Was not a thing for laymen
To play around with, it had
To be wood,
The only dry thing
That could catch
Fire, and lead—like the
And angels—off course,
Toward the light.
Wednesday in Holy Week
Jesus washes Judas’ feet.
That moment, when you knelt before him,
took off his sandals, readied the water,
did you look up? Search his eyes?
Find in them some love, some trace
of all that had passed between you?
As you washed his feet, holding them in your hand,
watching the cool water soak away the dirt,
feeling bones through hard skin,
you knew he would leave the lit room,
and slip out into the dark night.
And yet, with these small daily things –
with washing, with breaking and sharing bread,
you reached out your hand, touched, fed.
Look, the kingdom is like this:
as small as a mustard seed, as yeast,
a box of treasure hidden away beneath the dirt.
See how such things become charged,
mighty, when so full of love. This is the way.
In that moment, when silence ebbed between you,
and you wrapped a towel around your waist;
when you knew, and he knew, what would be,
you knelt before him, even so, and took off
his sandals, and gently washed his feet.
The grass never sleeps.
Or the rose.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.
Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it even sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.
— Mary Oliver
Psalm 22 (paraphrase)
My God, My God,
You are the sparrow’s fall
And the flower’s garments.
You are the hallowed hammer
And the hanging tree.
I am poured out like water.
Why have you forsaken me, my father?
Yet surely I was cast on you from birth.
From the ordinary altar of my mother’s womb
You have been my God.
You are the light’s benediction
And the silent sky,
Both the chasm and the passage,
My canticle and call.
I am the veil, gripped and rended,
In the darkness until the dying is ended.
You have pierced my hands and feet,
Yet as long as light has walked between stars
You have been my God.
You tell the sun your grief
And darkness dances across the noon.
You are unyielding.
I am cross-hearted and heaving.
All who cannot keep themselves alive
Will kneel before you.
You have been my God.
You shake the shattered earth of its ancient dead.
You are the breath in buried chests
Who rise and walk and praise you again.
I am the fountain found
I am the holy wine swallowed down.
I am trussed and scattered.
As grapes are crushed, I stagger.
Though the beasts surround me,
And trouble is near,
I will find your face
For you have been my God.
You dreamed of flesh in the ground, growing.
For you are the God of scattered seed.
But now I am kernel crushed
Chaff blown, flayed and flying.
I am the flesh you dreamed of dying.
Why are you so far from saving me?
I can count all my bones.
My heart melts. I lay in the dust.
As long as the afflicted have lifted prayers to you,
You have been my God
I am the holy bread, chewed and eaten.
I am the Prince of Peace crowned and beaten.
Onto a Vast Plane
You are not surprised at the force of the storm
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.
The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.
Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.
Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
During Holy Week 2022, I am immersing myself in poetry, art and verse on the themes of each day’s scripture lesson. This blog post will be expanded each day.