i’ve talked before about my love for mewithoutYou’s album brother, sister, and my desire to “illustrate” it, so to speak, through photography and other media. a desire four or five years in the making finally got off the ground last march when i did two shoots based on “messes of men,” the first song on the album.
then life happened — i couldn’t decide for sure how i wanted to edit the photos, of which i’d taken far too many and i couldn’t bear to part with any of them … i was involved in five weddings from august through december … my schedule seemed crammed to the gills … anyway, all that to say that i’ve finally finished editing them. whew! now to plot out the mixed media finished product.
here, for your enjoyment, are some selections.
‘i do not exist,’ we faithfully insist
sailing in our separate ships
and from each tiny caravelle
tiring of trying there’s unnecessary dying
like the horseshoe crab in its proper seasons sheds its shell
such distance from our friends
like a scratch across a lens,
made everything look wrong from anywhere we stood
and our paper blew away before we’d left the bay,
so half-blind we wrote these songs on sheets of salty wood
caught me making eyes at the other boatman’s wives,
and heard me laughing louder at the jokes told by their daughters
i’d set my course for land,
but you well understand
it takes a steady hand to navigate adulterous waters
the propeller’s spinning blades held acquaintance with the waves
as there’s mistakes i’ve made no rowing could outrun
the cloth blowing on the mast like to say i’ve got no past
but i’m nonetheless the librarian and secretary’s son
with tarnish on my brass and mildew on my glass,
i’d never want someone so crass as to want someone like me
but a few leagues off the shore, i bit a flashing lure
and i assure you, it was not what i expected it to be!
i still taste its kiss, that dull hook in my lip
is a memory as useless as a rod without a reel
to an anchor ever-dropped, seasick yet still docked
captain spotted napping with his first mate at the wheel,
floating forgetfully along, with no need to be strong
we keep our confessions long and when we pray we keep it short
i drank a thimble full of fire and i’m not ever coming back
oh, my G-d!
You say “be anxious for nothing” —
i sometimes wonder if You realize
how big “nothing” is to someone
of my smallness. (of course You do.)
i saw the planets shining brightly
in the early morning darkness
and remembered how impossibly vast
were the tiny pin-prick stars
barely visible to my sleepy eyes.
they number beyond the billions
yet You know all their names;
some days i hardly remember mine.
things are not what i expected
but i still don’t know what they are …
time and again i leap from my chair
with the wish to run for miles
but just clench my fists in silent screams.
did You ever feel this restless ache,
You who bore with stubborn humanity
far beyond the breaking point?
All-Knowing, Strong and Present One —
what are You working through my frailty?
Jesus, i am tired out.
this year has been
such a long and furiously short one
full of not what i expected.
i want a silent night
of my own
and bright and beautiful
and clean and safe.
but, if i’m honest
with myself, i know
Yours wasn’t like that either.
we make that stable
so sanitary, don’t we
in our paintings and
and all the players enter
right on cue without any
we don’t feel the bustle
and jostle of census crowds;
we say “there was no
room in the inn,” but
we don’t hear the clamor
or see the squalor.
in Your cozy quarters
the cows are compliant
the donkey never dreams of braying
the goats, for once, are
not curious enough to nibble
on Your swaddling.
and there, in the lantern light
Your halo softly gleams.
what injustice we do You
to forget You were born
in blood and sweat and tears,
in holy awe and terror —
by angel cries and shouting stars!
You, the Image of the Invisible
now in the midst of man
the ancient promise
of the Dangerous Wild and Lovely —
You, born to die
for the sins of the world,
for me and my stubborn
You know weariness
far more keenly than i
will ever have to. yet
Your joy knows no bounds.
God-Man born to die …
and now nothing is the same
sometimes i forget what Your name
means, o Emmanuel, God with us.
it rolls off the tongue easily
as a lesson learned by a little child —
a foreign word made familiar,
innocuous, even, by frequent use.
but God — the Consuming Fire
the Beginning and Endless
eternally in present tense
the Speaker into being
of that which was not
and Sustainer of all
which in Him is …
God with — among
inextricably joined to …
God with us — us?
the King of glory stepping
into flesh like ours
that tears and wears out,
the Light of the world
looking through eyes
limited by darkness,
the ageless Word arriving
as a baby, with nothing
but a cry?
God with me
once more, i sit down to write You;
once more, i don’t know what to say.
i’ve been thinking about words like
love, enough and everything
and wondering if i even know
what they mean. love has begun
to feel like a fight to the death,
and i am still not good at dying.
You don’t give us what we expect,
do You? a little bloody baby born in a cow shed,
the Wisdom of the universe
kicking reflexively against the cold,
our Creator swaddled and burped
and rocked, cradled like any of us.
what am i supposed to do with You?
i imagine mary thought more than once
as You repeatedly defied the limits
her human understanding had conceived.
and so You confound mine. my mind
is finite, and i cannot comprehend Your
everythingness — the Sum that is greater
than the parts i can see and more than
i have the ability to imagine. and yet
You make Your home in the littleness
of my heart and cheerfully chip it away
so i can hold more of You. profound!
or do i mean ironic? perhaps it is both.
and, perhaps, what we mean by Your
enoughness is that our feeble minds
can’t restrict You by how little we
know our need, and in our battle
of give and takeaway, You never leave us empty
when You slay our pride; You are the Giver
and the Gift inside.