Archive | November 2013

Bare Tree

bare tree

(I pass this tree each day on my afternoon walks.  She has become a friend.)


Alone she stands, my silent friend,

stark, but stately as a queen;

bare arms splayed across a bright blue sky,

fingers caress the clouds by day, the 

distant stars by night.


She didn’t want to lose her leaves—

who willingly gives up life’s greens?—

but knowing dormant winter strength could not

sustain all that their lively work and play demand,

my friend insisted that they leave.  They were not

happy either; shouted protest, faces flaming red and

orange and brown; but in the end, each beloved

whooshed or glided to the earth, heaping one

atop the other, sloshing in the wild winds; a

macabre, playful dance of death.


She seems forlorn.  Of course forlorn.

How could she not be so?  Those leaves were not

mere finery she donned, but part of her, her

poetry, her songs, her prayers.

But heeding the primeval call to let them go,

she gives herself to winter rest, enclosed in roughened

bark that shelters, holds her inner strength against the

icy blasts, against the weight of snows that

sure will swirl and settle on her empty limbs.   


I stop and bow in awe of who she is, of

what she lives; and stilled, I hear her sigh,

profoundly sad, but strong and tough as well, and I am

sure—my soul bones tell me so—that far beneath the wind

against her bark—and ours—her memory, deep-rooted, firm,

quiet hums for her—for all of us—a dream of warm

spring ecstasies of green.

A Song in the Philippine Night

purple flower

“My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.  Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”

(Psalm 42: 6-8)


     Like these fallen oak leaves, the shattered bodies of thousands lie this afternoon across the Philippines.   Waves and billows have crushed scores of lives and have shattered the dreams of scores more, so many of whom were already living lives perched on the edge of poverty and all its accompanying woes.  Devastation stretches as far as human eye can see.

      As we watch the pictures tumbling across our screens, we cannot help but ask the ancient questions that have haunted human life from the beginning of time.  Why, God, why?  And how are we to live and pray, and at this festive time of year, how give thanks in the midst of such chaos across the ocean?

     I don’t have the answers.  I can only lament with the psalmist of old and lift these shattered lives to God in prayer, praying as well for all those who will be offering help and sustenance. 

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

     But in the midst of my lament, I want also to follow the psalmist’s lead.  I want to listen in this dark, dark night for the song that I trust God continues to sing.  Listen to know that we are not alone.  Listen to be aware, if only dimly, that God is still the God of our lives and continues to command God’s steadfast love for us.

      I went on the internet a short time ago to do just that, to listen.  To hear any sound of hope that might be coming from the piles of rubble strewn across the news.  And there I heard it—the sound of gentle grace notes rising through the rubble.  A young woman by the name of Emily Ortega, after swimming through the waves and billows of Haiyan, reached a haven of safety and gave birth to a healthy baby girl at an emergency airport clinic in the city of Tacloban.  Bea Joy Sagales.  

Bea Joy Sagales!

Truly a song in the night.

Bea Joy Sagales

A small purple flower sturdily blooming in the pile of dead oak leaves.



Harold’s Hand


In memory of my friend Harold Bertha, who died recently

Often, at the altar rail, I’m there, but not so

very there; cupped hands receive the bread,

lips sip the holy wine; but all the while I’m

wand’ring through my yesterday or tracing my

tomorrow’s fears, leaving little room to feel the

sacred sign and seal etched deep into the

clutter of my noisy, needy soul.

But I remember once, not long ago, the

mystic wine and bread transported me and

seamed me to a vastness far beyond my

solitary pew, my petty fretfulness;

bound me deep to ancient, ever-present healing cross;

tinged tongue and soul with foretaste of a heavenly feast to come;

wrapped, enclosed me in a joyous, holy openness.


And then that sudden hand upon my shoulder;

hefty, solid, strong, it reached into my solitude;

brought me back to the very here and very now of

shuffling feet and downcast eyes and kneeling hopes,

all waiting for a taste of God upon their tongues.

I remember taking Harold’s hand, aged and weathered,

burly, rough; remember looking deep into his

furrowed face, creased by scores of years, but with a smile as

warm and gentle as the summer sun; and in his touch I felt

another sign and seal, fixing me to Now, bonding me with

him and with all earth-worn saintly sinners begging grace.


Harold is no longer Here; now There,

but etched upon my shoulder—the forever

print of Harold’s palm, and fixed within my

soul the endless shining of his smile, a gift I’ll

carry with me to each holy altar rail; as well to every

ordinary altar where I work or play or pray each day.