Tag Archives: Poetry

Of Spiritual Writers and Poets

booksWhen I packed up my office, I brought home NINE boxes of books!  Well, to be honest, some of those boxes contains file folders, photographs, and my cross collection.  But most of them are books!  There are plenty of things keeping me busy these days, but I try to spend a little bit of time each day reading, and I have a plethora of books from which to choose!

I always start the day with scripture – usually in the form of the daily mass readings or sitting with the psalms from the liturgy of the hours.  I especially enjoy Pamela Greenberg’s translation of the psalms and keep of copy of her book The Complete Psalms close by.

My coffee table is cluttered with books about discernment including the classic Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, a well-worn copy of When The Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd, and a copy of Henri Nouwen’s posthumously and recently published Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

I’ve started a running list of definitions for ‘vocation’ and ‘discernment’.  These three are scrolled into my journal, and I refer to them often:

  • The purpose of discernment is to know God’s will, that is, to find, accept, and affirm the unique way in which God’s love is manifest in our life. To know God’s will is to actively claim an intimate relationship with God, in the context of which we discover our deepest vocation and the desire to live that vocation to the fullest.  It has nothing to do with passive submission to an external divine power that imposes itself on us. It has everything to do with active waiting on a God who waits for us.  – Henri Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life.  
  • The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it.  So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs done, but to become aware of what God is doing so I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it.  – Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor (as quoted in When the Heart Waits).  
  • What makes our daily life a vocation is our willingness to use it as a way of praising God, regardless of how mundane or boring it may currently seem to us.  … Pray to the Holy Spirit, in order that you might more fully listen to and do the will of God in your life.  Pray for wisdom to know God’s will, courage to do God’s will, and hope to love God’s will.  – Tim Muldoon, The Ignatian Workout

Given the unexpected nature of my departure, there are several other books that have proven helpful not only for people in transition, but also during times of abrupt change.  Several years ago, I discovered Robert Wicks’ book Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times.  He offers this parable for those seeking a new perspective:

[This] … is an unasked for and unusual opportunity to be graced with radically new ways to relate to ourselves, others, even to life itself.  There is a Persian proverb that sums it up well: “If life throws a knife at you, you can catch it by the blade or by the handle.”  The question is will we recognize and take this opportunity, or will we only focus on the suffering and miss the opportunities for radical inner change that this spiritual experience offers?

Another great book is The Other Side of Chaos: Breaking Through When Life is Breaking Down by Margaret Silf.  I devoured this book in less than a day!  It includes short chapters with titles like “God Bless This Mess”, “Can Bad News Be Good News?”, and “Will You Save Your Life or Spend It?”  I’ve enjoyed Margaret Silf’s writing for many years.  She is a witty story teller who quickly cuts to the heart of the matter while extending deep insights to her readers.

Finally, in my work with college students, Transitions and Seasons were common themes – from  retreats, to spiritual direction, to graduation, and when saying good-bye at the end of the school year.  I amassed a myriad of poems and prayers for times of transition that I promise to share from time to time.  One of my favorites “The Annunciation” by Denise Levertov prompted me to check out her collection of poetry from the local library.  In it, I discovered several new favorites.  In closing, I will share just one that seems to capture this journey on which I find myself:

A Traveler
by Denise Levertov

If it’s chariots or sandals,
I’ll take sandals.
I like the high prow of the chariot,
the daredevil speed, the wind
a quick tune you can’t
quite catch
but I want to go
a long way
and I want to follow
paths where wheels deadlock.
And I don’t want always
to be among gear and horses,
blood, foam, dust.  I’d like
to wean myself from their strange allure.
I’ll chance
the pilgrim sandals.

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The Annunciation

The Annunciation by Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lecturn, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.

She was free
to accept or refuse, choice
integral to humanness.


Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.


She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,


She did not cry, ‘I cannot, I am not worthy,’
nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

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