Poetry, Politics

i hear you call, apophatic theology

I Hear You Call, Pine Tree by Yone Noguch

I hear you call, pine tree, I hear you upon the hill, by the silent pond
where the lotus flowers bloom, I hear you call, pine tree.

What is it you call, pine tree, when the rain falls, when the winds
blow, and when the stars appear, what is it you call, pine tree?

I hear you call, pine tree, but I am blind, and do not know how to
reach you, pine tree. Who will take me to you, pine tree?


One of the best things I did this summer was sign up for the Academy of American Poets’ poem-a-day. Through this daily email, I’ve been introduced to more diverse and eclectic poets, beyond my usual, yet still utterly amazing Francis Choi and Mary Oliver.

Today’s poem by Yone Noguchi knocked me to the floor. It leaves me with many questions. Is the pine tree calling out to the writer personally or to anything or anyone who will listen? Is this call actually a command? Does the call change depending on the environment of the pine tree (i.e. rain, wind, at night)? The blindness of the writer too is curious at the end. Are they blind to the call, as if they need an interpreter to translate? Why would the speaker ask the pine tree for a companion, if they don’t even know what it is saying in the first place?!? This poem fills me with such content while at the same time has me wanting more.

What attracts me to this poem is the sense of mystery and what I believe to be an apophatic theology poetic style. The call from the pine tree is never understood fully. The writer thinks the pine tree is talking to them, yet doesn’t know with any certainty. In the apophatic tradition, God can only be understood as beyondness. For example, God is beyond any human conception of love or goodness. God is beyond being. I’ll have to think further on this metaphor of God as pine tree. 

Yet, the last question still lingers: “Who will take me to you, pine tree?” Perhaps it is not a person at all, but an experience. The experience of mystery. The experience of beyondness. Or perhaps it is a person, but not an interpreter of the call, but someone just to hold our hand. Perhaps.



Poetry, Tuesday Poetry

poetry for the election season

Give us water and food to pursue our tasks. 
Help us not become wards of the state, 
impoverished, homeless, destitute, crushed 
under the heel, buried in systems, imprisoned, 
dead, hospitalized. We die die die. Our dogs 
will not walk themselves after we go. Our bodies 
will not burn themselves after we go. Our apartments 
will not pack themselves after we die. Instead, 
bright ribbons of work, tangled in our bodies, 
will be vomited out and indeed bright ribbons 
will be vomited out. In the meantime, 
the light’s eyelashes open and close. 
And in the meantime, work and reprieve. 
Lie down; don’t lie; lie flat; lie still. See these 
Books bound in itching white leather? They are
your life. And each feathery page, lifted by hot wind. 
O summer air, o gardens, o seasons ô châteaux. 

The glaring day, it binds, o occurrence, o soil o soul.

Today I heard this poem from the podcast Poetry off the Shelf (“Extreme Exposure“). It begins in a prayerful manner, petitioning that one does not get caught up in the unjust prison system or to be marginalized as the homeless. It then transitions to focus on death, ‘bright ribbons will be vomited out,’ and how possibly our lives are like books ‘lifted by hot wind.’ Or how possibly that we are buried in ‘o soil o soul’ and books represent our stories which will continue way beyond our existence? Either way, this poem is fantastic and can be interpreted in many many ways. 

It feels appropriate too that we hear/read this poem in an election season. It’s not that electing someone new into the White House or Congress might actually change our imperial politics as usual. But that for those of us who work for a more peaceful and just world, we don’t want to be “wards of the state”or “die die die” while our utopic visions are unfulfilled and someone else has to walk our dogs. Honestly, Turkey has been on my mind, and their dictator locking up and/or killing hundreds of “people whom he assumes is against him,” is a reality I fear. While it may never happen in the US, although we certainly lock up people who release information about the US that shows our imperial nature, it doesn’t make us look good to be supportive of countries who do such acts or even help with such acts (i.e. School of the Americans, Salvador Allende, etc.).

a change of rulers

My hope is that we continue to be granted “food and water to pursue our tasks” for new realities where everyone is housed, with full bellies, and communities where you care for your neighbors. 
A People's History of Prayer, Poetry, Prayer

a people’s history of prayer: elizabeth thunderbird haile

Elizabeth Haile1

“O God the Creator,” a hymn by Elizabeth Haile, Shinnecock, and Cecil Corbett, Nez Perce/Choctaw

O God the Creator, the Three in One
The Creator of Earth and moon and sun
You have loved and protected us since time first begun
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love, in God’s love.
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love.

For the Earth is our Mother, where all things grow
And her valleys are green where the waters flow
Gentle deer and the eagle and the mighty buffalo
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love, in God’s love
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love

We are one in the Spirit, in the great mystery
Walk together in beauty as we dwell in harmony
Bringing all of God’s children into one community.
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love, in God’s love
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love.

Send a sense of Your presence as we seek leadership
Pray that God will join us in our vision quest
Welcome God to come into our hearts as our guest
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love, in God’s love
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love.

“O God the Creator” was co-written by Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile, a Shinnecock Elder, in 1977. The song describes the Earth as our Mother, the Spirit as bringing all God’s children into one community, and asks God to join our vision quest. It was written to be sung to the melody of “They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love,” which was composed by a Catholic priest, Peter R. Scholtes. He wrote it as an ecumenical civil rights song in 1968. When Haileasked to use the melody, Scholtes denied her. It wasn’t until 1989 when Joy Patterson wrote the tune KASTAAK to accompany these epic words. This hymn can be found in the New Century Hymnal and the Presbyterian Hymnal: hymns, songs, and spiritual songs (sadly it did not transfer to the newest Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory to God).

You can learn more about Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile here.

A People's History of Prayer, Poetry, Prayer

a people’s history of prayer: gwendolyn brooks

A People'sHistory of Prayer
The Preacher Ruminates Behind the Sermon

I think it must be lonely to be God. 
Nobody loves a master. No. Despite 
The bright hosannas, bright dear-Lords, and bright 
Determined reverence of Sunday eyes. 

Picture Jehovah striding through the hall 
Of His importance, creatures running out 
From servant-corners to acclaim, to shout 
Appreciation of His merit’s glare. 

But who walks with Him?—dares to take His arm, 
To clap Him on the shoulder, tweak His ear, 
Buy Him a Coca-Cola or a beer, 
Pooh-pooh His politics, call Him a fool? 

Perhaps—who knows?—He tires of looking down. 
Those eyes are never lifted. Never straight. 
Perhaps sometimes He tires of being great 
In solitude. Without a hand to hold.