Cross-Fire

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020

[In memory of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, killed in the crossfire by police on March 13th, 2020 when they broke into her home in Louisville, Kentucky.]


Blessed the meek, it is they who will inherit the land.

Matthew 5:5

Seeker,
Are you strong enough to be gently tenacious in trying times?

I was a young man in the early 1980s,
crossing Belfast city
during deeply troubled times.

From the bus stop I watched
whirring helicopters
announce armored personnel carriers.

Strings of camouflaged soldiers emerged,
hugging doorways, scanning streets
through crosshairs.

Two of them pursued me
to the upper deck
of the bus.

The crucifix around my neck,
advertising my denomination,
targeted me for trouble.

Pointing his rifle,
with booming profanity,
a soldier interrogated me.

Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.
Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Scared speechless,
I stared at the muzzle,
so close to my body.

In the mounting tension,
I noticed the other barrel
gently trembling.

Looking up,
I caught the wide eyes,
of a soldier my age.

One disarming glance
captured centuries bloodied by strife,
sectarian and state sponsored.

Scared like me,
young like me,
caught like me.

Like me, I could see
he wanted off that bus;
to make a break

from spirals of repression and rebellion,
with their myths and martyrs,
hallowed heroes, villains and so many victims.

Surely he did not wish to succumb to a sniper’s bullet,
or shoot at rock-wielding children?
Nor did I desire to be caught in the crossfire.

When finally I alighted,
I was determined to leave behind on that bus
a heritage of rebel songs, slogans and religious bigotry.

I sought a new identity, to inhabit a wider world;
a deeper peace, to no longer be afraid and angry;
a larger love, to set me free.

We can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world … there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.

Dorothy Day

Four decades on, in another inner city,
I keep anxious vigil under
the staccato throb of helicopters and screaming sirens.

As young ones stand boldly,
amid clouds of tear gas
and the boom of shock grenades,

my weary hearts sinks
and I shudder;
after all these years trapped on that bus.

Spirituality is not learned by flight from the world,
by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.

Meister Eckhart

Borrowing from highland clans in my homeland,
hooded figures spread terror in this land
by setting crosses aflame.

Still, across this nation,
racial domination reigns with systemic supremacy,
bolstered by fear and apathy.

Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Paradoxically,
redemption rests in the tenacity of meekness.
If you think meekness is weakness, try being meek for a week!

Rejecting imperial ways and means,
Jesus resisted with the radical nonviolence
of the humble of the earth.

Such meekness is not for the timid.
Well-rooted in compassion, with courageous resolve,
it refuses to submit to the subjugation of anyone.

Have you witnessed nature’s
magnificent meekness,
her enduing power to persist and resist?

Let us invoke that gentle strength
to stand up, stand strong, stand together for a worthier world,
gently and stubbornly, with the tenacity of trees by the waterside.


joe

A NEW BOOK BY JOE GRANT

Find me on Facebook and Instagram@InTheStormStill
Visit my website: inthestormstill.com

Made to Be Mended

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020


At table with them, he took bread,
blessed and broke it and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened …

Luke 24:30-31

Ten years after a horrific genocide
I was privileged to visit the rolling hills of Rwanda,
still reeling and dealing with trauma.

I visited a humble pottery project
bringing together people
from both poles of the conflict;

one among many
brave initiatives,
fostering healing through reconciliation.

Just souls are in the hands of the Holy One,
where torment no longer touches them.

Wisdom 3:1

A simple earthen hut
boasted a modest array
of handmade pots.

Mud-spackled potters took pains to explain
how they fashioned coiled bowls by hand
from local, blood-red clay.

These they blackened
with charcoal ash
before placing them in a brick oven.

In their time of visitation, they will glow,
running like sparks through stubble.

Wisdom 3:7

They cautioned visitors
that these were fragile vessels,
manufactured for decoration not utility.

A small recess,
held stacks of
cracked and crumbling bowls.

These ‘seconds’
had fissured in the firing.
Destined to be crushed, re-formed, re-fired.

Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hands.

Jeremiahs 18:6

Handling these broken receptacles,
I noticed their lacework of fractures
that surely made them brittle.

In these dark
fragmented failures
I beheld beauty.

Chipped and broken,
they begged
to be handled with care.

Blessed to be broken, destined for disintegration,
their story had not yet ended.
They were marked to be remade, and thus to be mended.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen

I carried back
a trio of black,
hand-sized seconds, fractured in the fires of Rwanda.

Despite careful wrapping,
they crumbled further
on the homeward journey.

They have since,
known more degeneration,
and been crudely reassembled.

This has made them
ever more appealing;
honestly humble crockery, whole in holey-ness.

In clay jars we carry this treasure, making clear the surpassing power is sourced not in us, but in the Holy One. Though in every way hard-pressed, we are not completely crushed; anguished, not driven to despair; persecuted, never forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed …

2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Like the lovely, scarred souls of Rwanda
they bear
hard-won lessons.

In the years that followed,
I was heart-broken and repaired;
put back together, not quite the same.

Those leaky vessels
reveal in incompleteness
that we are conduits, not containers of light and love.

While breaking pains,
mending heals
and hurts as it remakes us.

Broken open, not broken down,
with chinks for light to get in and love to get out,
they become an earthy icon of holey-ness.

Only those who know they are broken can know healing.

May you not recoil
from shining a light on your own
losses, let downs, and stumbling failures.

For we are not fashioned for utility,
nor merely for display.
Brittle are we formed, to crack and crumble, and holey be remade.

joe

Find me on Facebook and Instagram@InTheStormStill
Visit my website: inthestormstill.com

A NEW BOOK BY JOE GRANT

Benediction

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020


Bless those who curse you, pray for the ones who mistreat you.

Luke 6:28

Three decades past,
I was blessed to be among fisherfolk
by the banks of Amazon.

Regularly, I found myself surrounded
by swarming clouds
of chattering children.

“Me dê uma benção!Give me a blessing!”
they begged and beamed,
as they clambered all over me.

Putting palm to each holy head,
I extended the expected benediction:
“Abençoado! – Blessed be you!”

So frail in the face of so many challenges,
I wondered about their future
as I willed and worried and prayed for wellbeing.

Even after all the years,
I can recall their shining faces and joyful voices.
And echoing that benison, still I wonder what became of them.

That singular command
I do not understand,
Bless what there is for being,
Which has to be obeyed, for
What else am I made for … ?

W. H. Auden

In the end, how we respond
to the momentous challenges of this time
will determine who and what will endure.

When cursing, we careen down a slippery slope,
till, head over heart in tumbled-down rancor,
we are left with bruises that add ignominy to animosity.

But blessing is the fulcrum between blight and beauty,
since those who know their blessedness
bring benediction to our holy mess.

Blessing transforms
the sub-stance (under-being) of our experience
with under-standing.

Choosing benediction – to speak well –
cannot make any one or thing
any more holy than it already is.

In blessing we buff for shining display
what is already sacred,
and somehow this changes everything.

Such blessing power, given us all,
presents us with the luminous authority
to re-consecrate whatsoever has been desecrated.

Blessed the clear-hearted who see the Holy One (in everyone and everything).

Matthew 5:8

In unsettled times,
Jesus preaches scandalous subversion
that goes against the grain of meritocracy.

Unmasking myopia, with penetrating perspective,
he presents a corrective
to sharpen our seeing and brighten our holy being.

Because you are simple, humble and mourning,
peace-loving, justice-hungry, lost or forsaken;
you are welcome; you are already holy; you are blessed.

Blessed too are you who are targeted
because you stand,
sullied with the exploited of the earth.

Blessing simply gives voice
and intention
to our deepest motivation.

And we become beatitudes
by welcoming these benedictions
and extending them broadly.

Beneath that look
behind those eyes
benevolence in abundance lies.

Have you beheld
the blessed gaze
that pierces pain-filled, hateful haze?

To gild each hurt and hope in life
such power to you is given,
dissolving loss back into love with that gracious glare of heaven.

joe

May you be moved
to transfigure the substance of daily experience
by blessing whatever graces your gaze.

So fragile the petal the earth, as fragile as love.

Mira

As you cast a caring eye across your life-scape,
squint if you must to see love’s golden hue
reflected in strangers and friends and enemies too.

Choose to burnish the good
and put a shine
on these tarnished times.

Just to be is blessing. Just to live is holy.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

So, while there is breath within
and a sparkle in your eye,
waste not this fleeting chance

to let the weary world know
just how much in love with life you are,
just how blessed it is to be here together with You.

joe

Find me on Facebook and Instagram@InTheStormStill
Visit my website: inthestormstill.com

A NEW BOOK BY JOE GRANT


Just Imagine

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020


This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Mark 13:8

Seeker,
Facing recurring pandemics, what are we turning into and turning away from?

Before time and darkness—
awash in absence and no-thing-ness—
sacred imagination flared into explosive creativity.

All being is born of this mysterious Source,
for no thing becomes real unless first imagined,
and imagination craves a challenge.

The painful pause presented by global pandemic
provides a teachable moment
for the earth community.

Now, can we flex our fantastic capacity
for re-creative re-conception and entertain
un-imagined opportunities for restoration.

We have more power at our disposal today than we have ever had,
and yet we are more alienated and estranged from the inner ground
of meaning and of love than we have ever been.

Thomas Merton

When we attend to resonant wisdom within,
we discover we already have all we need
to make a new beginning.

Regarding Nature,
we are bathed in beauty,
inspired by her resilient resurgence.

Exploring creative connections
with isolated neighbors,
we discover the elixir of smiles and abundant kindnesses.

Humbly baring our souls
before the Mystery at the core,
we find our compass contained within “compass-ion.”

There is nothing like shared suffering
to bring us to our senses
and bind us back together.

This is the hour of change, and within it we stand quietly together on the border of light.
What lies before us? Where shall our hearts turn?
Shall we draw back, or shall we cross over?

Shabbat Prayer

Wondering how we might emerge,
we ready the way for re-creative imagining—
our first tentative step toward realization.

Personal preservation graduates into social responsibility
in turning our heart’s attention beyond the now
toward the next, and out to neighbors near and far.

Winnowing begins when we start
to sift out seed grain
amid the castings of what used to be.

Surely, we are not consigned
to gun-ridden dystopias
where hoarding mobs crush the vulnerable?

There are wars and rumors of war, poverty and plague, hunger and pain.
Still, the sap is rising, again there is the resurrection of spring, and the continuing promise to us that God is with us always, with comfort and joy, if we will only ask.

Dorothy Day

When imagination is fired,
illuminations enlighten, with eyes rinsed clear,
that promised possibility of a peaceable future.

We are not the source of illumination,
yet our lives and longings provide a lens through which
light and love are refracted, reflected, re-directed.

In difficult times, visionaries emerge
to point out possibilities
below the horizon.

Prophets are not gifted with foresight,
but with insight to illustrate
what is needed and what might be.

Boldly calling out inequity and injustice,
they also call us together to address
suffering with bold creativity.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

Arundhati Roy

Just imagine grassroots communities everywhere
reshaping themselves around
the needs and gifts of the most vulnerable.

Even as we gasp for breath,
we can begin to imagine
what a peaceable world might just be like.

Compassionate creativity is urgently needed
in a world suffering
from a catastrophic failure of imagination.

What can you imagine?
joe

Find me on Facebook and Instagram@InTheStormStill
Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
A NEW BOOK BY JOE GRANT