Triune God, inhabiting the deep of us,
Reassembling the broken chaneys of the mind,
The wide and empty spaces
Our earth orbits in have their own solidity;
And your laughter swells across
The undulating bubbles of the void.
Master of the waves that hold the stars,
The loops enfolding all there is,
You look on us, nodules on a clod,
And give us minds to comprehend
Driblets of your design,
Awing us with skies and tides
And glittering dust,
Teach us to know that we are loved;
Immense caldera of incessant flame,
I come before you with my little life
And all its frets,
Holding my breath for awe,
Convinced you know yet who I am
And take my weight
And too the weight of all the bound
And prayerless of the world.
Lord, who never near or touch us now,
Our heads, and not our hearts,
Keep trust in you.
We labor on, not knowing
If the yield be good or ill,
Stranded on banks that cave before the sea.
Once we basked on sun-blessed islands.
Light breezes stirred across us where we lay.
Clean waters laved us.
Your love was certain:
We felt it every moment of our day,
Who feel its distance now.
A blank wall blocks my reach to you.
How believe your more-than-presence
In a man walking by a trickle in Galilee?
How live among a people
Who neither need nor know you?
How watch the lovely spaces,
Where we sat rapt, fall empty?
And all our givens gone.
Awed by ourselves,
We have no need of you, through whom all is that is.
Puffed with delight at our cleverness,
We dip into millifractions of the intelligible.
The conundrum of our being does not engage us.
How move to see you then, brotherly
And fleshed and boned?
A gray that covers earth and sky
And all the steeped-in-sunshine day
Stops short my stretch to you:
Nor can my earnestness
Penetrate the dull that hides you.
Yet, like a shivering compass stick,
Some deep in me holds to you still
Through mind’s blur and senses’ numbness.
Ambitious for your kingdom,
I begged for faith and clarity
That my words might be storm lanterns
For flounderers in uproarious seas.
But you have left me swinging still
From faith to numbness and back again,
With hesitancy like a nailing to a cross.
I marvel at those who readily assert
Knowledge of you
When all I do
Is clutch on gossamer.
You who lift the lambs,
Take time too for hoggets,
Wethers, ancient tups and ewes
And all that is draggled in the world.
Lift us, too, we beg,
Clasp us as when we were young
And needed comfort less.
Once more, I still myself for prayer,
Looking vacantly over sweeping lawn,
Neglected pathways, bright hydrangea,
Snap of white mock orange,
Midges crowding the last rays of sun,
Bringing before you the broken of the world,
Who plague me day on day for intercession;
Knowing an all-evening presence
Even in the desolation of the heart.
We are numbed, Lord, by number;
But you, being Other, know
Each single form that kneels at night,
Each heart enchanted by a meadow;
And hear our joys and heed our sighs.
And all we have and are, as we come naked here—
The very self of us!—
Comes from no thing in us
But from you, who make in us an emptiness
That you alone suffice.
I must give up thinking of you, Lord,
For this poor mind,
Awed by what you lay before us,
Cannot, staying sane, hold thought of you.
Less and less, now I grow old,
Do I open palms as I was wont
To lay before you all I am,
Begging you to sift, discard, or rearrange
The me of me.
Instead, I close my fingers into fists,
Holding fast what is not mine to hold
Against you, my Good.
We who are weak
And altogether weightless,
Enraptured by the surface of what is,
Closing ears to what is dissonant,
Eyes to what is unbeautiful,
Throw ourselves in nakedness before you,
Who have upturned the world.
My own, who hide
In the light and shadow of the world
And in the plunging ravines of the heart:
Lost in the labyrinths of reason,
Few and fewer find you;
And we who do
Have but stumbling words to voice our certainty.
How can I comfortably call you Father,
Speak of you with homely adjectives,
Accept, in this swirling universe,
My own consequence,
How the writher on the cross
Writhes for me?
Yet what is Otherness
But a being beyond the bravest edges our thought?
And why should not the Other bend?
How gloriously you make us, Lord!
How entrancing our little yards and houses!
How ordinary your being among us!
Our biggest sin
Is to consider ourselves slightly—
Random furze on fields returning to heath—
Who are phrases in the symphony of infinity,
Flashes in the fire of Trinity,
Golden furze in your gardens, God.
I stand at the city gate as men and women pass,
Beautiful in the sun
And long to kneel before the glory
Of each irrepeatable one.
How is it that you, being opposite,
Should tie yourself so tightly to our nonentity,
Open yourself to our fickle profferings of love?
That you, being opposite,
Should take upon yourself
The humdrum of our days,
The disharmonies between us,
The small loves that carry us?
And how may we,
Cast on deserted seas,
Trust the swell upholding us?
Up and down, out and in,
No matter how or where I travel
Through the mazes of creation,
I am blocked by impenetrable whiteness.
I am a small bird
Hammering against a bastion
That rises beyond the daringest endeavor
Of its flight.
I feel neither your shelter
Nor your affection.
And so I halt;
And, in a solitary crevice above a tide,
Wait for you, who found me first,
To search me out again.
Lord, who pity crawling things—
Cockroaches in down-at-heel hotels,
Bluebottles sating on carrion,
Spiders in thickets throwing webs—
Pity us, too—the myriad of us—
Bees at a meshed window clamoring!
Lord, who having toppled me,
Raise me again to laughter,
When I consider your craft with sun and sea
And the glory of your human artifaction,
Keep me still in joy; and be my joy
Even when all about me falls
And I, to putrefaction bound,
Plod wearily along sorrow’s ground.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.