Year of mercy


Washington Post correction

A previous version of this essay incorrectly identified the material Catholics apply to their foreheads on the first day of Lent. It is ash, not charcoal.


Chick Fil A (Supersize my waffle fries)

Genetically altered chicken breast
wrapped in bacon
dropped in grease
on white bread.

and St. Peter
ready themselves
for the onslaught.



"Jesus, Are You Real?"

Jesus, are you real?
Did we make you up?
Is salvation what you want
Or is faith enough?


Do you know where I'm bound?
Do you know who I am?
Are you just a word I use
When I don't understand?


Standing like a statue in the sea
In a little truck stop in Tennessee
And bombs are crashing down in waves
On a giant TV screen


And I am struck
I cannot move to make it stop
What can I do? People are dying in their beds
While this flag flies over our heads


Jesus, are you stronger than a loaded gun?
I'm beginning to believe you're not the only one
Strong enough to show your love, strong enough to give
Strong enough to go through hell, strong enough to live


And all night long I sat with you
In a darkened hospital room
And nurses checked in by the hour
I was made aware of a higher power


And how this fragile life we live
Is not ours to keep but ours to give
What in the world am I gonna do
If anything should happen to you?


All I do is doubt you, God
All is do is love you, God
All I do is question you
What else can I do?


This world was never solid ground
The past is coming back around
All I do is search for you
What else can I do?


And when I say I search for you
I mean I search for peace
I search for hope, I search for love
And one day for release


Jesus, my life does not feel the same
New things happen everyday, things I can't explain
But I am not a man of faith, I'm a man of truth
But is this feeling in my heart, is this feeling proof?


When you do not know, you know
And when you know, you do not know
And when you think you do, you die
And when you do not think, you grow


Are we left here in the dark
Or are we left here in the light?
It seems to me that both are true
And it's up to us to know what's right


All I do is doubt you, God
All is do is love you, God
All I do is question you
What else can I do?

This world was never solid ground
Religion cannot help me now
All I do is search for you
What else can I do?


And when I say I search for you
I mean I search for peace
I search for hope, I search for love
And one day for release


God give me strength to accept the things
That I just cannot know
And even when I lose control
I will not let you go 



Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it's mine. I can't exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
just what this play's all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can't conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can't take back,
stars you'll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run –
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven't seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn't even clear my throat offstage).

You'd be wrong to think that it's just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I'm standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there's no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I've done.
***Wislawa Szymborska
trans.  Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak


Morning Commute

(Easter 2015)
I hurry off to work
in the early dawn.

I cut through
the cemetery,
past the grieving
friends and widows,
and as I reach
the shade of
the caves,
I knock over
some poor soul.

As I reach my hand out
to lift him up,
I notice the scar on
his wrist.

"Nasty cut, you have there."

Arisen, he grunts and says "Thanks."

"A lot to do today. Shalom."

"Me too. Shalom."

And as I reach the east gate,
with my face meeting the rising sun,
I hear a cry
"He is not here!"


Mama told me

Some students take offense very easily.

During one lecture, a student asked a question I’ve heard many times: “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” My response was and is always the same: we didn’t evolve from monkeys. Humans and monkeys evolved from a common ancestor. One ancestral population evolved in one direction toward modern-day monkeys, while another evolved toward humans. The explanation clicked for most students, but not all, so I tried another. I asked the students to consider this: Catholics are the oldest Christian denomination, and so if Protestants evolved from Catholics, why are there still Catholics? Some students laughed, some found it a clarifying example, and others were clearly offended.

Two days later, a student walked down to the lectern after class and informed me that I was wrong about Catholics. He said Baptists were the first Christians and that this is clearly explained in the Bible. His mother told him so. I asked where this was explained in the Bible. He glared at me and said, “John the Baptist, duh!” and then walked away.

Defending Darwin


Ash Wednesday


No gifts.
No chocolate.
No parties.
No alleluias.

Just the faithful
gathering at
His command
on an
winter Wednesday.

They pray that
their hardened hearts
be opened
so the ashes
of pain and sin
that are
encased in
be scraped away. 


To Be Rid of a Rival

For this curse,       you need a liter of good grain liquor
and a heartful       of unquenchable hate.
Keep the bottle corked,       and spend a long, dry night
thinking of everything       your rival has
that ought to be yours.
                                     At dawn, roll up your trousers
and set off barefoot       down an unmaintained
side road that dissolves into sand,       then dead-ends
at the river.       Walk upstream until you see
the swift skein of the water       tangle and fray,
marking the snag
                              where the river dumps its garbage.
An almost spokeless       bicycle wheel, an oil drum,
two traffic cones       and the aluminum
bones of a beach chair       have fetched up on this altar
of wet rock and weed.       Wade in as close
as you can to make your own
                                                 ugly offering.
The stream may be icy,       but your stoked-up rage
will keep you warm       as you unstop the bottle
and drink deep,       wishing your rival
gone gone gone gone.       Your curse will gain
strength with every swig.
                                            Picture a heart attack;
picture a jittery       mugger with a gun;
a missed stoplight       and a truck; a sailboat
in a thunderstorm.       When your head starts to swim,
take a final pull,       then throw the bottle hard
onto the trash heap. A trail
                                               of white lightning will
glitter for an instant like shards       of glass across the air.
Wish once more.       If your libation is accepted,
some misfortune will soon       carry your rival away­—
cast off, washed up, worn down—       until nothing is left
but a slight catch       in the river’s throat.



The trick is that you’re willing to help them.
The rule is to sound like you’re doing them a favor.
The rule is to create a commission system.
The trick is to get their number.
The trick is to make it personal:
No one in the world suffers like you.
The trick is that you’re providing a service.
The rule is to keep the conversation going.
The rule is their parents were foolish,
their children are greedy or insane.
The rule is to make them feel they’ve come too late.
The trick is that you’re willing to make exceptions.
The rule is to assume their parents abused them.
The trick is to sound like the one teacher they loved.
And when they say “too much,”
give them a plan.
And when they say “anger” or “rage” or “love,”
say “give me an example.”
The rule is everyone is a gypsy now.
Everyone is searching for his tribe.
The rule is you don’t care if they ever find it. 
The trick is that they feel they can.
Khaled Mattawa



The desire to grow without dying
reveals not all childish things have been put away.
This was the still and wounding prick
Peter felt during the cock-crow at dawn.
Boy, I bet that was quite the morning, huh? -
a warm-up crucifixion before the main event.
All illusions of hasty transformations were squashed
as the sun began its crawl over Golgotha.
There the stony disciple began his betrayal of
the gross inadequacy of speedy recoveries
in favor of the long difficult repentance
required to save the soul.

John Blase



Youth is not a period of time.

 It is a state of mind, 
a result of the will, 
a quality of the imagination, 
a victory of courage over timidity, 
of the taste of adventure 
over the love of comfort. 

A man doesn't grow old 
because he has lived a certain number of years. 
A man grows old when he deserts his ideal. 

The years may wrinkle his skin, 
but deserting his ideal wrinkles his soul. 
Preoccupations, fears, doubts, and despair 
are the enemies, which slowly bow us 
toward earth and turn us into dust before death. 

You will remain young as long as 
you are open to what is beautiful, 
good and great; 
receptive to the messages of 
other men and women, 
of nature and of God. 

If one day you should become bitter, 
pessimistic and gnawed by despair, 
may God have mercy on your old man's soul.

General Douglas MacArthur


The power of women

There were 11 people – ten men and one woman – 
hanging onto a rope that came down from a helicopter.

They all decided that one person should get off, 
because if they didn’t, the rope would break and everyone would die.

No one could decide who should go, 
so finally, the woman gave a really touching speech saying how she would give up her life 
to save the others, 
because women were used to giving up things for their husbands and children, 
giving in to men, 
and not receiving anything in return.

When she finished speaking, all the men started clapping.


Little Flower

It seems to me that if a little flower could speak, 
it would tell simply all what God has done for it 
without trying to hide its blessings. 

It would not say, 
under the pretext of a false humility, 
it is not beautiful or without perfume, 
that the sun has taken away its splendor 
and the storm has broken its stem 
when it know that all this is untrue. 

The flower about to tell her story
rejoices at having to publish 
the totally gratuitous gifts of Jesus. 

She knows that nothing in herself 
was capable of attracting the divine glances, 
and His mercy alone brought about 
everything that is good in her.

Thérèse de Lisieux


Six words

It is said that the shortest story ever told was 
written by the then young Ernest Hemingway, 
who said he could write a complete story in 
only six words!

His colleagues disagreed, 
and each bet $10 against the claim.

Hemingway wrote down the words on a napkin
and passed it around.

Everyone agreed that he won the bet.

Here is the shortest story ever told:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.


I believe…

I will never know or understand
You or Your ways.

Your birth or death
Heaven or Grace
Miracles or exclusive love of all
And especially - Resurrection.

Instead I believe. 
As carefully as the cupbearer
That serves Your blood 
At the Sabbath sacred meal.

let it go

let it go - the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise - let it go it
was sworn to

let them go - the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers - you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go - the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things - let all go

so comes love

e.e. cummings


Everything is Different Now

Peter was hurt
because of the Boss’s repeated questions.

Who could blame him?
We want to be forgiven
As quick as possible.

And Peter in a passive-aggressive manner states:
“You know what the answer is,
But I will say it again and again until You stop:
I love You.”

Then, like that day in Caesarea Philippi
The Master after hearing the answer
He was searching for
Told Peter of the path ahead.

Again with murder
and glorification.

But unlike the first time,
With his outburst and the Master’s rebuke,
Peter humbly obeys the command:
Follow Me.

Yes, Peter was born again ,
But he wasn’t born again yesterday.

Best in City

Now my ice cream truck is painted like a cheerful Panzer tank,
with a freezer full of ices and a fylfot on the flank.
And the music box is set up --hey, it's not against the law!--
to play 'Deutschland Uber Alles' after 'Turkey in the Straw'.
And although I scorn the Untermensch, the deviant, the Jew:
I tell them so politely, and I serve them ice cream too.

But so narrow-minded are they (so unethical as well!)
that they seldom come to sample the fine ice cream that I sell!
Nor even will they enter into rational debates
scheduled daily in my ice cream truck with all my skinhead mates.
So you see, it's a rankest prejudice -- as blatant as it's shitty --
that my fine all-natural ice cream has not yet won "Best In City".



Seek Your Servant

O Lord, 
Omniscient One.

You who knows what
the internet can't record.

The actions,
                       and defeats
of the eternal war
between the spirit and the bone. 

O One,
who does not forget
His own,
I humbly repeat
your cross-mate's request
"Remember me."

Lenten Thoughts Of A High Anglican

Isn't she lovely, "the Mistress"?
With her wide-apart grey-green eyes,
The droop of her lips and, when she smiles,
Her glance of amused surprise?

How nonchalantly she wears her clothes,
How expensive they are as well!
And the sound of her voice is as soft and deep
As the Christ Church tenor bell.

But why do I call her "the Mistress"
Who know not her way of life?
Because she has more of a cared-for air
Than many a legal wife.

How elegantly she swings along
In the vapoury incense veil;
The angel choir must pause in song
When she kneels at the altar rail.

The parson said that we shouldn't stare
Around when we come to church,
Or the Unknown God we are seeking
May forever elude our search.

But I hope that the preacher will not think
It unorthodox and odd
If I add that I glimpse in "the Mistress"
A hint of the Unknown God. 

John Betjeman

Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth

Everyone wants to understand painting. 

Why don’t they try to 
understand the song of the birds? 

Why do they love a night, a flower, 
everything which surrounds man, 
without attempting to understand them? 

Whereas where painting is concerned, 
they want to understand. 

Let them understand above all 
that the artist works from necessity; 
that he, too, 
is a minute element of the world 
to whom one should ascribe no more importance 
than so many things in nature 
which charm us but which we do not explain to ourselves. 

Those who attempt to explain a picture are on the wrong track 
most of the time.

 Pablo Picasso
Boisgeloup, winter 1934


Easter Day

THE silver trumpets rang across the Dome:  
  The people knelt upon the ground with awe:  
  And borne upon the necks of men I saw,  
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.  
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,         
  And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,  
  Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:  
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.  

My heart stole back across wide wastes of years  
  To One who wandered by a lonely sea,  
  And sought in vain for any place of rest:  
“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,  
  I, only I, must wander wearily,  
  And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

Oscar Wilde 

The Gift

(Easter meditation)


What are you doing with 
this resurrection life you have been given?

What are you doing now that
sin is dead?

What are you doing now that
death is not the victor?

What are you doing with 
this resurrection life you have been given?

What are you doing with 
this resurrection life you have been given?

What are you doing now that
Love has replaced the Law?

What are you doing now that
the last will be first?

What are you doing with 
this resurrection life you have been given?

What are you doing with 
this resurrection life you have been given?

What are you doing now that
you are a new creation?

What are you doing now that
you do not regard anyone with a worldly view?

What are you doing with 
this resurrection life you have been given?


Passion Play

(Good Friday Meditation)

“Surely it is not I, Surely it is not I”
“I have written what I have written.”
“I do not know, I do not know, I do not know him!”
“Crucify, crucify, crucify, crucify him.”

The Director halts this repetitive babble,
with his signature line:
“It is finished.”

The curtain rips and falls,
and the cast and crew
wonder if this is
the final act
of their careers. 

All the Kingdoms of the World

(Second temptation of Christ)

‘So here’s the deal and this is what you get:

The penthouse suite with world-commanding views,

The banker’s bonus and the private jet

Control and ownership of all the news

An ‘in’ to that exclusive one percent,

Who know the score, who really run the show

With interest on every penny lent 

And sweeteners for cronies in the know.

A straight arrangement between me and you

No hell below or heaven high above

You just admit it, and give me my due

And wake up from this foolish dream of love…’

But Jesus laughed, ‘You are not what you seem.

Love is the waking life, you are the dream.’

Malcolm Guite



At this particular place, what you’re seeing, essentially, is the process that had widened that valley over the last [glacial period]. … What you’re seeing is a landscape still recovering from glaciations. It’s a 15,000-year hangover." 
***Geologist on the Washington mudslides

O Mother Earth,

you still remember 
how the ice cut you

 and never forgot
the rape of your trees

while ignoring
 the houses of the
recent arrivals.

Did you feel the
small tremor 
the False Pass fault
coming through 
your saturated limbs
triggered you to
abandon your
show of strength 
caused you to be
 fully separated 
from your weaknesses.

The First Night

         The worst thing about death must be
          the first night.
--Juan Ramón Jiménez

Before I opened you, Jiménez,
it never occurred to me that day and night
would continue to circle each other in the ring of death,

but now you have me wondering
if there will also be a sun and a moon
and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set

then repair, each soul alone,
to some ghastly equivalent of a bed.
Or will the first night be the only night,

a darkness for which we have no other name?
How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death,
How impossible to write it down.

This is where language will stop,
the horse we have ridden all our lives
rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff.

The word that was in the beginning
and the word that was made flesh—
those and all the other words will cease.

Even now, reading you on this trellised porch,
how can I describe a sun that will shine after death?
But it is enough to frighten me

into paying more attention to the world’s day-moon,
to sunlight bright on water
or fragmented in a grove of trees,

and to look more closely here at these small leaves,
these sentinel thorns,
whose employment it is to guard the rose.
 Billy Collins


Awake O Sleeper

I don't know
why I am trying
to answer her
rhetorical question
as I cringe from the sight
of the string
of bloody floss.

The bright lights.
The rubber fingers. 
The salty blood.

Maybe it's 
one of the few
times in life when 
one is fully exposed
by their negligence.

And at the end,
I pause at the front desk
to schedule
my next confessional.