The ecological vocation

hazelnut globe

People around the globe, religious and non-religious, are beginning to live the ecological vocation.

Among many religious people, traditional spiritual practices are returning, now in an ecological key. Each practical act represents a conversion to the Earth.  

They commit themselves to:

• Contemplation: Aware of the beauty of natural world, they look upon it with love:  “Seeing that the bush still burns, we take off our shoes.” (Ask the Beasts p.282)

• Asceticism: Aware of the needs of others, they adopt forms of self-denial for the good of all living beings.

• Study: Aware that their understanding is only partial, they commit themselves to learning more about the needs of the earth and all its species.

• Community life: Aware of the community of creation that surrounds them, they also recognize the power of community in human life. They support – and are supported by – local communities committed to the earth and to prophetic action on its behalf .

• Prophetic action: Aware of suffering ecosystems and suffering species, they work together to establish justice for the earth.

Beasts green earth 2

And so Ask the Beasts ends with a final question:


Conversion to the Earth?

Beasts green earth 2

Seeing the earth through a wider lens:

Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love conducts a dialogue between Darwin’s Origin of Species and contemporary Christian theology.

Throughout this dialogue, Elizabeth Johnson has “asked the beasts” what they can teach us about the world we all live in:

• Seen through the eyes of science, all living beings have emerged through a powerful, unscripted evolutionary process.

Seen through the eyes of ecology, all beings alive today – along with the planet itself – are under increasing stress caused by human action (and inaction).

Seen through the eyes of humankind, people of every language, nation, culture and religion are called to work together for the earth and all its species.

• Seen through the eyes of Christian theology, all living beings are dependent on the Spirit of God, who creates and indwells the whole community of life.

• Seen through the eyes of Christian ecology, caring for the earth and all its species is the necessary spiritual response to God’s own loving intent for Creation.

Ask the Beasts ends with the following question, directed especially to Christians:

The dialogue between Darwin’s view of evolution
and Christian belief in the God of love
has now led us to a crossroads:

The Community of Creation

Beasts green earth 2

(1) Protect creation (Reading Ask the Beasts, pages 260-262)

Protect creation … protect all creation, the beauty of the created world …
respect each of God’s creatures and respect the environment in which we live ….
care for creation and for our brothers and sisters …
protect the whole of creation, protect each person, especially the poorest ….
Let us protect with love all that God has given us!
Pope Francis, Inaugural Mass – March 2013

Pope Francis’ inaugural homily calls people everywhere to work to protect creation – yet most Christian churches still are not giving the ecological crisis anywhere near the energy they give to other matters.   A key obstacle to the churches’ conversion is the dominion paradigm – the idea that God has set human beings apart, to be rulers of the natural world.

(2) The dominion paradigm (Ask the Beasts, pages 262-267)

God blessed them, and God said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it;
and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air
and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Genesis 1:28

Genesis 1: Perhaps because Genesis 1opens the Bible, its view of the human-world relationship has long held sway in Christian tradition.

When the book of Genesis was composed in the 5th–6th centuries BC, the natural world was still mostly wilderness. Genesis opens with the Bible’s first story of creation, and Genesis 1:28 gives legitimacy to the human need for protection in the midst of that natural world.

But Genesis as a whole clearly does not give humans permission to dominate the natural world; rather, humans are to be God’s representatives (as Noah is shown to be in Genesis 6-8, when he gathers all species into his ark).

The dominion reading became especially ascendant in the modern era of industrial development and global trade for profit. At the same time Christian churches, while committed to charity, were focusing on caring for human beings threatened by development, rather than caring for the whole creation.

Genesis 2: The second creation story places humans and the natural world in a quite different pattern of relationship. Here humans are related to each other and to the rest of creation – made of the same stuff, immersed in a web of reciprocal relations with the land and other creatures, and charged to carefully use and protect them.

The stewardship model: An understanding of stewardship developed by contemporary evangelical Christians goes a long way to restoring the balance between the creation paradigms. The core idea is the belief that the Earth and all of its resources belong ultimately to God. In this model humans are seen as shepherds of creation, entrusted with its vitality and called to its care and protection.

But this model also has problems; it envisions humans as independent from the rest of creation, and establishes a vertical top-down relationship.

(3) The community of creation paradigm (Ask the Beasts, pages 267-269)

Evolutionary science has established that all life on this planet forms one community. Humans are not simply rulers of the life-world, but dependent upon it at the most fundamental level.

The community of creation paradigm also sees the interdependence of all life, grounded in the creative, redeeming God of love. Nothing would exist apart from the life-giving, loving power of the Creator.  The dominion paradigm is not the only Biblical view of the relationship between humans and the natural world; looking at the whole Biblical story, the community of creation paradigm is more common.

Elizabeth Johnson writes, “At the core of their identity, humankind and otherkind share this same fundamental status of being finite creatures. As such, human beings and other species have more in common than what separates them.” (Beasts, p. 268)

In this view humans are situated within, not over, the circle of life – whose center and horizon is the generous God of life. Each member gives and receives, but all are grounded in absolute, universal reliance on the living God for the very breath of life.

The community of creation paradigm introduces a powerful dose of humility to human beings. At the same time, the image is bursting with God’s delight in the flourishing of life in the natural world – a joy which God calls humans to share.

(4) The community of creation in Scripture: (Beasts, pages 269-280)

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind…
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding…”
Job 38 – 41


Job contains the Bible’s longest piece of writing on the natural world. Chapters 38-41 paint a picture of God’s activity in creation, emphasizing that the human role in the life of other species is next to nothing.

Job – and through him all human beings – are put in their proper place vis-à-vis the Creator and other created beings who are beyond human control. Shifting from an anthropocentric to a cosmocentric perspective, Job now knows a bigger God.

The author of Job is not interested in our current ecological questions. But the book builds its argument on a vision of relationship that places humankind in a remarkably different position from the dominion text of Genesis 1. There is no mandate to have dominion over the natural world. Instead, Job is led to see divine activity in the working of the natural world.

These responses from the whirlwind are crucially needed in our time of ecological distress. (And note that this non-anthropocentric vision is tremendously confident of its own truth, ascribing its articulation to God’s own voice.)


O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures…
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew that face of the ground.
Psalm 104:24-30

Psalm 104 views humankind as part of a wonderfully diverse creation. (In fact, v. 35 notes that humans are the ones who disrupt the harmony of creation.) Psalm 148 shows humans joining with all the other creatures in praising God. By virtue of their being held in existence by the loving power of the Creator Spirit, all beings give glory to God simply by being themselves. Without the metaphor of worship highlighting nature’s voice, our human minds can overlook the reality of orientation-to-God embodied within the physical world. Psalm 96 views creation as already praising God; the psalm brings this to our human awareness. When we join our fellow creatures in their own clapping and singing, we come to understand that their value for God is not based on their usefulness for us – an awareness with enormous ethical implications.


Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel…
there is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land…
Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing.
Hosea 4:1-3

The prophets’ view of the community of creation is often laced with sorrow. The prophets are most concerned with trouble that comes as a result of human wrongdoing. Then not only do people suffer, the community of life does as well. Creation cries out in lament: ‘the land mourns’ (Hosea 4:1-3); the vineyard is ruined and mourns to God (Jeremiah 12:11); ‘even the wild animals cry to you because the watercourses are dried up (Joel 1:20). This view runs through the prophets from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel to Hosea, Joel, Amos and Zephaniah. Flowing into the New Testament, it undergirds Paul’s revelatory passage in Romans about the whole creation groaning in travail, eagerly longing to be set free, its destiny intertwined with the human children of God (Romans 8:18f) The prophets, however, announce a future redemption which will revivify the people and the natural world together (Isaiah 35:1-2).

(5) The community of creation in Christian liturgy:

The biblical vision of the community of creation sets the idea of human dominion back into the wider context of all scripture. It identifies human beings as creatures embedded in the natural world; it understands our reciprocal interdependence with other species, and our dependence on the life-giving systems that support us all.

From the earliest centuries of the church, Christian eucharistic prayers have always begun with a thanksgiving to the Creator. Long before the Nicene Creed was written, the ‘Great Thanksgiving’ not only praised God for creation, but professed belief in the Creator and in the community of creation.

What follows is drawn from several contemporary eucharistic prayers.
Note the theology this prayer expresses:

It is always right to give you thanks and praise, O God of Love, O Lover of all.
Fountain of life and source of all goodness,
you make all things and fill them with your blessing.
You create us in your own image,
giving us consciousness and conscience,
and giving the whole world into our care.

And when we reject your love and go your own ways,
careless of each other and of the world you have made,
you do not abandon us.  In your mercy you come to our help:
again and again you call us back into covenant with you;
through your prophets and through Jesus, your Son,
you teach us to walk the way of salvation.

Great Lover, your presence fills the world with hope and joy,
calling us to love as you love, to care as you care.
And so we join the saints and angels in proclaiming your glory:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts..
the whole earth is full of your glory…  (Isaiah 6:3)

Every eucharistic prayer continues with thanksgiving for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and for the ongoing gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But stay with the first section of the ‘Great Thanksgiving’ for a while:

What has it always taught us about God and the community of creation?



Ask the Beasts: Art for Meditation

Francis preaching to the birds
* Saint Francis preaches to the birds *
Giotto – Upper Church of San Francesco  – Assisi

Ask the Beasts
and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In God’s hand is the life of every living thing,
and the breath of every human being.
Job 12:7-10

* To view all the frescos depicting the life of St. Francis, go to


Recommended books – May 14

As we approach our last discussion of Ask the Beasts (next week, May 21),
Barry Turner recommends these books for further reading:

Berry Dream of the Earth

The Dream of the Earth, by Thomas Berry (1988) – A new intellectual-ethical framework for the human community which posits planetary well-being as the measure of all human activity. Shows us how the convergence of modern science and a more venerable spiritual and religious affinity for creation can lead to a new covenant of ethical responsibility for the natural world.

Berry Universe Story

The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry (1992) – “Could be the antidote to fragmented commitments and nihilism – the narrative from which future generations can live appropriately to our real natural-historical situation.”  (John Cobb)

Berry The Great Work

The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future, by Thomas Berry (1999) – Thomas Berry is the bard of the new cosmology. He unerringly finds the mythic dimension and the moral significance behind scientific facts. He shows us where our work lies.

Berry Evening Thoughts

Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community,  by Thomas Berry, ed. by Mary Evelyn Tucker (2006) – “What we look for is no longer the Pax Romana, the peace of imperial Rome, nor is it simply the Pax Humana, the peace among humans, but the Pax Gaia, the peace of the Earth and every being on the Earth. This is the original and final peace, the peace granted by whatever power brings our world into being. Within the universe, the planet Earth with all its wonder is the place for the meeting of the divine and the human.”

Berry Sacred Universe

The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the 21st Century, by Thomas Berry, ed. by Mary Evelyn Tucker (2009) – “These essays enable us to follow the broadening and deepening vision of a passionate lover of wisdom. Berry inherited the ancient task of philosophy: to seek comprehensive understanding of the most important questions as a guide to life. With insight that is unexcelled, he writes graciously but uncompromisingly about the profound changes that must occur individually and collectively.”  (John Cobb)

Books by other authors: 

The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution and the Power of Love, by
Ilia Delio (2013) – “With effective mentoring by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Ilia Delio has constructed a convincing case for love as the source and goal of the evolutionary process that makes it ever-more clear that we need to become increasingly conscious of ourselves as ‘love creatures’ and how this way of being human might contribute to the healing of violence in, among, and around us.” (Michael Crosby)

From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe – ed. by Ilia Delio (2014) – “A useful and much overdue contribution! These wonderfully diverse and helpful essays (13 in all) will open up many new access routes to a Christian mystic whose time has definitely arrived.” (Cynthia Bourgeault)

Transforming Christian Theology: for Church and Society, by Philip Clayton (2010) – “One of America’s premier theologians seriously writes for ordinary Christians, inviting them to become their own theologians.” (John Cobb)


Enter the Humans – 2

Ask the Beasts Schubert sonata
The wild forces of nature, created within us, have the power to set us free…

Early in chapter 9  – ‘Enter the Humans’ Elizabeth Johnson writes,

Cave art from 35,000-15,000 years ago shows that the creative human spirit was already formed, giving our species self-consciousness, language, and fluidity of behavior. Our consciousness was already rich with self-reflective, symbolic, and linguistic abilities.

With our imaginations we can dissect and reassemble a vocabulary of tangible symbols; with our languages we can pass ideas from one mind to another; and through our cultures we pass ideas and inventions from one generation to the next. (summarizing Ask the Beasts, pages 236-240)

As Johnson approaches the end of Ask the Beasts, she argues that the fate of our world depends on our ability to develop a common vocabulary – a language that can help us pass facts, ideas, and values from one mind to another – for the sake of the earth itself.

Most of us grew up in an era when Catholics still could not share ideas with Protestants, when Christians still refused to be in dialogue with Jews. Our own generation was born around World War II – which included the Holocaust, which (defined very simply) sought to eliminate those human beings whose ideas and heritage were different from the majority.

Now, the differences between Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Jews, seem almost minor. Now, it is not just varieties of the human species that are endangered, but every species and the planet we all live on. There is a great need for common action, but we still are learning how to talk with each other.

For a common cause,

Can scientists find a language to help them communicate with non-scientists?

It seems clear that many scientists today are working diligently to communicate their discoveries and theories to non-scientists.

Can believers find a language that includes non-believers in the discussion?

It also seems clear that many believers are still unwilling to communicate with believers from other traditions – let alone non-believers. 

Our ongoing discussions of Ask the Beasts have led us to explore the variety of ‘languages’ we humans use to describe the world we live in – the languages of science, of theology, of poetry, of art.  This Thursday our alternate ‘language’ will not be poetry or art, but music.

Like all languages, music has distinct vocabularies and has developed out of very different cultural traditions – but the language of music has the potential to open every human spirit to new ideas and deeper appreciation for the world we all live in.

Thursday we’ll be hearing a movement from one of Franz Schubert’s sonatas.  In ‘Looking for Schubert’ John Lienhard writes that Schubert tells us that

“The wild forces of nature, created within us, have the power to set us free.”

We hope ‘Looking for Schubert’ will whet your appetite for more Schubert.


by John H. Lienhard

On Tuesday, I read a New York Times review of a Symposium on Schubert The Man: Myth vs. Reality. Now, two days later, I’ve met a very different Schubert. I’ve just heard the German lieder singer, Michael Schopper, sing the Schwanengesang cycle.

The New York Symposium was a post-modern dissection of Schubert. It ended with a two-hour analysis of Schubert’s sexual preferences. Was he gay or straight? One participant found a homosexual agenda in his Unfinished Symphony. Another plumbed the profundity of his heroic suffering and isolation.

Now I’ve met Schubert himself and all that stuff has washed away. For two hours Schubert has added his huge musical dimension to the works of six German Romantic poets. For two hours he’s told us what we really need to know.

The poems dealt with themes of unrequited love and human pain. That’s what German Romantic poets liked to talk about, but Schubert has gone in a different direction. Something else entirely rose out of the music and touched me tonight.

This was the age when great iron machines rose up over Europe. It was an age in which we rebuilt nature. That’s what the Romantic mind was all about. The Romantics said that nature rises within us. For the Romantic poet, and for Schubert, nature was expanded. Waterfalls were higher, darkness more terrifying, light brighter, thunder louder. Forests were deeper and more mysterious in our minds than in the real world.

Tonight I met nature, far larger than life. Schubert created a world of murm’ring brooks and moaning winds. I could smell the forest humus. I could feel leaves crunch under my feet.

Science and technology responded to the Romantics with the grandest creative upwelling the world has ever seen. Already the Romantic vision of nature had started to include locomotives and the boiling smoke of collieries. Already that creative vision had given us both Frankenstein and Goethe’s Faust.

Up on the stage, singer, poet, and Schubert all tell us that the wild forces of nature, created within us, have the power to set us free. Listen to the words:

. . . Stilled by the breath of the spirit.
We feel the creative breath
Pervade our souls.
The rushing of the wind, God’s own wings,
Deep in the dark night of the forest;
Free from all restraints
The power of thought soars; . . .

Schubert answers his dissectors with powerful force. Look inside your own minds, he says. Look upon your own nature. For that’s where you’ll find the truth. That is where you shall recreate the earth.

from Engines of Our Ingenuity: Looking for Schubert
by John Lienhard, University of Houston

Enter the humans – 1

Ask the Beasts homo sapiens

This wonderful image comes from IMEO
(Instituto Médico Europeo de la Obesidad) in Madrid, Spain.

(1) An evolving singularity (reading Ask the Beasts, pages 236-241)

Physically, like all living creatures, homo sapiens emerged from the material universe. Our life-fluid shares the common molecular structure of water; our eyes respond to the same electro-magnetic waves of light; the rhythms of our days and nights pattern our own behavior, and we share the genetic heritage of every other species.

Intellectually, what propelled the evolution of homo sapiens was a rapid increase in the size and complexity of the brain, accompanied by changes in the position of the larynx which made speech possible. Now a threshold was crossed; cave art from 35,000-15,000 years ago shows that the creative human spirit was already formed, giving our species self-consciousness, language, and fluidity of behavior.

But the human mind cannot be easily reduced to the material function of the brain. Rather, a new complex organization of matter allowed new capacities to emerge.  Human consciousness became rich with self-reflective, symbolic, and linguistic abilities:

• With human imagination, we can dissect and reassemble a vocabulary of tangible symbols.

• With language, we can pass ideas from one mind to another.

• With the passage of ideas and inventions from one generation to another, human cultures have taken shape.

• With the development of cultures, humans made an exponential jump in intellectual powers.

Alone among creatures, humans can decipher the very process of evolution.

  Now a species has evolved that can massively effect the evolution of other species, for good or ill.

Homo sapiens today is a potential agent of evolution – by destroying habitat and changing the environment so rapidly that many other creatures are disappearing in catastrophic numbers.

(2) Human responsibility (Ask the Beasts, pages 241-248)

Since we began using the earth as hunter-gatherers, humans have discovered ever-new ways of interacting with the natural world. In our day the cumulative effect of this activity has reached damaging proportions.

• Population growth: By 1650 AD, the human species had grown to around 1/2 billion members. By the early 1800s this number had doubled to one billion, and then doubled again by the mid-20th century. This dramatic progression puts intense pressure on other species.

• Resource consumption: The earth is now reaching a point of resource exhaustion. Current human use of both nonrenewable and renewable sources cannot be sustained.

• The unequal distribution of resources complicates the picture: around the globe, mistreatment of the environment is intertwined with injustice towards other humans.

• Pollution in many places is exceeding the capacity of natural systems to regenerate.

• Denial does not change the fact that our planet is sick at the structural level, making it unable to provide the resources for all life-forms to flourish. (See Sallie McFague, Blessed Are the Consumers)

(3) Extinction: never again (Ask the Beasts, pages 249-253)

“Death cuts off life; extinction cuts off birth.” (Edmund Wilson)

In Darwin’s theory, extinction plays an essential role in the evolutionary process.

The historical rate of extinction has been about one species per year. There have also been at least five catastrophic events of mass extinction.

• Recovery from mass extinction is slow: it took 5–10 million years after past mass extinctions for new species to evolve.

The current rate of extinction is now far above pre-human levels. 150-200 species now become extinct every day; current forecasts anticipate that as many as 1/4 –1/3 of the world’s animals and plants are on a path to extinction within the next 100 years.

The resulting loss of biodiversity is ecologically dangerous, breaking up the envelope of life that surrounds our planet as a whole. Many scientists now see a sixth mass extinction coming, caused by human beings.

(4) The promise of nature (Ask the Beasts, pages 253-255)

Seen with the eyes of both science and faith, the living world is full of enormous promise:

• The Origin of Species and subsequent biological research describe the progression of life over time.

• Directionality: while there is no clear blueprint, the human capacity for discerning patterns can see in retrospect that there is a sort of directionality to the story of life.

“From a Christian theological point of view, life and evolution are the universe’s response to the presence and promise of divine persuasive love.” (See John Haught, The Promise of Nature)

In view of the still-unfinished creation of life, we must leave room for future species:

• For all people, religious and non-religious, allowing the embryonic future to perish is a turning away from the promise that lies embedded in all creation.

For religious people, human treatment of other species may be seen as idolatry, brought about by policies that place lesser good and in particular the gods of money and comfort above the God of life.

(5) Conversion to the earth (Ask the Beasts, pages 255-259)

Human beings need a deep conversion (that is, a turning) to the Earth:

Spiritually, we must turn from a human-centered view of the world to a wider view that includes other species in the circle of what is considered spiritually meaningful.

Emotionally, we must turn from the delusion of the separated human self and the isolated human species to affiliation with other beings who share our common status as creatures on this Earth.

Ethically, we must turn from the view that a moral universe is limited to human beings to understanding that our ecologically destructive actions are degrading the conditions that make life possible for all.

Socially, we must turn to poor and marginalized human beings, whose health and survival are intertwined with the Earth’s health and survival.

Ecologically, we must turn to a view of the Earth as an inherently valuable, living community – and we must bend every effort to be creatively faithful to its well-being.





Poems and prayers – Words

Prayer why pray 2

In recent weeks we’ve heard what contemporary theologians think about God’s presence and action in the material world – and in response we’ve thought that these theories have made God sound more than a little impersonal.

If we are to view God as a process within and around the material world – creating it, sustaining it, and drawing it forward into its end point – then a vital question arises:

Can we make a personal connection with this God? 

A few weeks ago, one member of our discussion group raised the question in a very concrete way, asking,

“Then why do we pray?”

Another way to ask this question is

“Do our prayers make any difference?”

As we reflect on our relationship to this God, here are two more questions about prayer:

What do I think I’m doing when I pray? … and … What do I think God is doing?

Almost everyone, in the discussion and online, sent responses to these questions.  The responses not only describe your times of prayer, but your images of God. *

Here is one response – not one paragraph, but two poems:


I wait in the sun, rejoicing in
the goldfinch swaying in ferns above the pond,
the white lilies, unfolded on its surface,
the slivers of light where water glimmers,

the way my shadow
merges in the shallow bottom
with dark
misshapen images of fern, bird, and flower,

the way I sometimes allow myself to merge
with fullness and symmetry,
tumbling down among oaks and manzanita,
a pair of hawks in mating flight,
the owner
of a small bakery pouring herself fresh coffee,
a bicyclist trailing her baby in a cart,
a frightened cancer patient,
a woman of seventy reading
a blessing to her friends,
an old man, dying alone,

and I begin to pray,
May I assemble
the glory of the earth from your knee, Mother,
partake of moments, not infinities, of beauty
and journey with you forever
through nothing more than the present.

~~~~~~~~~Carol Alma McPhee

Carol adds, But part of an answer to the question about what God is doing is in the poem below: She is living through us as we live our prayers, having aligned ourselves with Her intentions in the world.

May the gift of ourselves be accepted by God this day and every other.

Afternoons she carries ginger ale
across the hallway to a neighbor’s room.
They rummage ice, pour two glasses full,
repair to their recliners on a small

untidy terrace. Over the way platoons
of mallard families patrol a wide canal.
Down by the freeway on-ramp an egret
stiffens in her hunt. The hum of shaft

on steel, the day’s commuter onset,
deepens as they sit, minding the waft
of fickle breezes through a patch of reeds,
the shadows slowly growing right to left.

Words come and go. Now and then
she speaks of yesterday, but soon regrets
this carelessness. Usually she concedes
her friend’s forgetfulness and repetitions.

She tells old stories, provides flattery
when needed, always trying to permit
the time they have to narrow to the space
they occupy. Only nearness matters.

~~~~~~~~~Carol Alma McPhee


* You can read all the responses in the comments, below.



Lazarus’ Tomb – Poetry for May 7

Nearing Lazarus’ Tomb
by Laura Wang

He’d seen it all. Swathes of nothingness
spun into stars, the slapping of the first fin onto land,
and now these creatures, by far the cleverest
and the saddest—though listing it that way
felt faulty, as if all happenings unfurled inch by inch
instead of blooming in one cacophony,
the apple crumpling just outside the city walls.

And it wasn’t even an apple, or fig,
or pomegranate glinting with infernal seeds,
though he’d accommodate their legends,
accept provisional truths, the same way they worked
with the earth un-sphered and stilled
in leaf-thin sketch.
……………………………………To overlook
imprecision in the premises, concede
to the limits of both flesh and paper,
was what it meant to translate, as to love.
Which struck him as strange pottery:
roll everything that’s been into a coil
and score it with each day; cram self into cage
of clay and bone; daub their closed eyes in slip
and wait for it to flake off to new sight. It seemed to take
what they called a lifetime.

But they didn’t have that, not right here,
beside the village known as House-of-Misery
whose people rent their clothes. Before he even spoke
Mary’s tears were falling warm onto his feet,
carving clear trails through the coat of dust.

If you had been here. He stood
enveloped in the sound of all their moans,
entangled in her locks of dampening hair.
If you had been here. All grief’s audacity
pitched in her splintering voice, she raised her head
to look at him, and in her water-darkened eyes
he who’d seen all things felt this:
pain’s veil dividing now from everything
that is not-now. And he began to weep.