A Poem, a Person, and a Path

About 20 years ago, toward the end of college, I went through a profound spiritual shift. It was during this time I began my slow journey from orthodoxy to orthopraxy. I was sick of church and religion. I couldn't even stand to go inside a church. So, on Sunday mornings I would take my bible and a book of George MacDonald's sermons and wander off to be alone.

I exclusively read the gospels. For about three years I read the gospels over and over. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I read them over and over. Again and again.

What I found over those three years was not a set of beliefs. Rather, I found a person and a path. I didn't find a set of dogmas or doctrines or rituals. Rather, I found a teacher, a master. And I found a path and a lifestyle, what the early Christians called The Way.

Much of this exploration was motivated by a dream I had. In my dream I saw the shimmering golden outline of a person I knew to be Jesus of Nazareth. When I awoke from the dream its meaning seemed clear to me: I didn't know who Jesus was. It was just an outline of a man. The dream was asking for me to fill in that outline.

And so began a journey.

During that time, in an effort to fill in the person-hood of Jesus, I became obsessed with with trying to "see" Jesus as he really was. In language I didn't have at the time, my journey was incarnational in intent, an attempt to put flesh and blood on the man who was only an Idea to me at the time. I was convinced that when I had filled in that outline, when I finally "saw" Jesus, that the way forward in life would become clear to me.

So, my "bible study" during this time took a peculiar course. First, I would read the gospel accounts. And then I would write stories or poems trying to imagine myself in the story. Seeing the sights, smelling the odors, and hearing the sounds. I tried via these literary/imaginary explorations to enter the story. To see Jesus firsthand.

I still have those 20 year old stories and poems. The other day I decided to share some of them. I've changed a lot during the last two decades, but I still feel a connection with the person who wrote those words. And I owe him a debt of gratitude because I was able to see something during those years of the journey.

But before I share one of the poems, a few preliminaries.

First, the poems were written while I was in college. It is scary enough to share you poetry with people, but sharing your poetry from COLLEGE!? The point is, the poems are a little too sweet and sentimental as I read them now. This was a romantic phase of my spiritual journey. Which brings me to my second point...

Given the tone of my poems, I expect that my more sophisticated, cerebral, and cynical readers (whom I love as they are my soul-mates) won't like them much. But I also figure I might have some LESS cynical readers who might like to read something happier and more optimistic on this blog. So, this poem is for you happy few...

Reveries and Remembrances

Never met I
a man so free
from society's encumbrances.
Yet he behaved as royalty
amidst tramps and peasants
and through his companionship
ennobled them.

His was the most
adventuresome heart
I have ever known.
And yet,
so at peace, so calm,
within the storm
of persecution and opinion.
He could voice
the truth
against an entire
established order,
and never flinch,
never quail,
in voice or visage.

I have never met
a mind so daring as his
as he would challenge
and dare
customs, traditions and Law.
He pitted his heart,
and ours,
against them all.
And that probing,
that questioning,
broke down so many barriers
of class, prejudice, and egotism.
Ancient systems of presumption
crumbled before him.

I have never met a man
so strong
yet so tender and gentle
in heart.
A man raised
with labor
in his father's shop.
A touch so capable
with the power to crush
yet choosing, instead,
to caress
a wounded world.

I loved the way
were attracted to him.
How his sensitivity
enhanced his masculinity.
How his eyes twinkled
with their laughter
and danced
with their games.
Perhaps they,
more than anyone,
recognized his heart.

Sinners were his saints,
his friends.
And prostitutes
became princesses.
For his presence
granted them
such ability, such power,
to transform their lives.
his steady gaze
could so transfix
that a man's
or woman's
intersection with him
would change them

Life with him was magical.
Water was wine.
Death was life.
Blindness, sight.
Weakness, strength.
Lepers laughed.
The lame danced.
The speechless shouted.
And two fish and loaves
could be a feast
for thousands.

He was, spiritually,
a knight in shining armor,
defending the defeated ones.
But he was also an outlaw,
wandering in forsaken places
where only outcasts lived.
Yet from them
he made a band
as unlikely as they seemed.
And he robbed from the rich
and gave to the poor.

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6 thoughts on “A Poem, a Person, and a Path”

  1. I absolutely loved it! My favorite bit: Prostitutes became princesses. How very true. I feel as though I am entering this same kind of journey, although I believe that everyone goes through their own journey. Last summer I too could not stand the sight of a church building and hated the so called traditions. But what I have read this morning, it is so very true that God is faithful. I think it is difficult to let go of the idea of Jesus and religion but when we do then we can really see Jesus for who he really is, and then you begin to really change. Then will our blindness turn to sight, our weaknesses into strength, our death into life.

    My dream is where Jesus is in the sky and when I go up to meet him I can only see his feet. I can only see his sandle covered feet. The rest of him I cannot see, he is covered by thick darkness and light at the same time. But his feet are clear as day. Perhaps my dream is saying that my journey is a journey of washing feet, worship, adoration, and love, for in doing such things like serving others and loving God with ALL my heart and befriending sinners will I discover who Jesus really is and who I really am... a princesss made by the hands of a carpenter.

  2. Richard,

    Glad to see you are recalling your poetry. Your poem shows one of your strong suits--cognitive activity. When you are concrete, you speak clearly, poetically, pedagogically, and from another part of yourself. E.g.

    Lepers laughed.
    The lame danced.
    The speechless shouted.
    And two fish and loves
    could be a feast
    for thousands.

    That you felt lonely, isolated, and angry--as most post-adolescents do--and mixed in the Gospels with MacDonald's sermons wedged you away from your headiness so you could loop back into it at a higher (or deeper) level. That's my guess, anyway. By the way, MacDonald is too little read and appreciated.

    Poetry is a marvelous enrichment to headiness. Consider Gerard Manley Hopkin's "Peace":

    WHEN will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
    Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
    When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
    To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
    That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
    Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

    O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
    Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
    That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
    He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
    He comes to brood and sit.


    George C.

    P.S. I'll be speaking to (poetic) inspiration with my next blogpost.

  3. Thanks all. Looks like the risk of sharing post-adolescent poetry was okay:-)

    Roxanne, I particular appreciated your poetic words.

    George, I agree about MacDonald. I would say he has been the one of the most significant theological influences in my life.

    (Steve, I've been following your reading of the James biography. I was so excited to see you had gotten it. I hope you are enjoying it. From you blog it looks like you have. Best.)

  4. I just found this, and appreciate you sharing, Richard. It is a scary thing to share poetry - but this is lovely.

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