D. S. Martin
D. S. Martin is the author of five poetry collections, including Ampersand (2018), and his newly-released book Angelicus (2021)—both from Cascade Books. He is Poet-in-Residence at McMaster Divinity College. He is also the Series Editor for the Poiema Poetry Series, where he has edited more than thirty poetry collections and three anthologies. He and his wife live in Brampton, Ontario; they have two adult sons. Visit his blog Kingdom Poets and his website: dsmartin.ca
MIDRASH ON THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father simultaneously far & near
my insufficient fear could never drive me
to dive deep as Titanic
on the wide Atlantic's floor
for there's nowhere to hide
or if I tried an astro-Jonah
scooting to some far star
that's where you'd be
especially for me since you've made
a walking temple of this aging cage of bones
that could never contain you
& though your notorious silence
shakes the last leaf from my tree
I can't push you from my consciousness
stress only what I see
for this shrivelling balloon of a world
would be so hollow in your absence
& my only escape from blame
would seep away
Hallowed be your name
We pray for what is & what will be your divinity
spreading kingdom seed into its valuable dying
so that what is grows & so reality
subtracts our macro-negativity from our micro-good & so
our mess doesn’t mess with your sovereignty
as if it ever could
Give us this day bread
with strawberry jam
even if made by our own hands
for though I worked for coins
to buy flour
& I worked the dough before
it went into the pan
& I helped hull berries for
the slow rolling hosanna
without sun & rainshower
there'd be no grain
or berries ripening in rows
We shall not live by bread alone
but by every sweet jewel
I know my mind forges manacles & the keys
my heart jingles are slow
to click in those rusty locks so the miry sorrow
of those who’ve wronged me
will be a swamp they must wallow in
May we release ourselves
as you have already released us
for it’s not until the last chain falls away that we go free
Lead us not into sensation but deliver us from
revealing what we think proves us right
Uncover our hiding Rip sunglasses
from our faces our defence
against sunlight on into the night
Spit on our eyes or pluck them right out
to be made new & without offense
after Emily Dickinson
Imagine an implement that permits
you to reach further than you
otherwise could flinging your
speech further than megaphone
telephone or internet ever would
to breach the high atmosphere
to where there’s no gravity or air
so your words are heard even in God’s ear
through the apparatus of prayer
THE INSCRUTABLE NAME
I was out in the field where the wheat
grows golden in the heat of the afternoon sun
when the grain parted & you came forward
brighter than the tawny grasses
than the glistening sky
You withheld your name as being beyond
our perception stood by
the rock of sacrifice with far greater light
emanating from you than arose from the fire
& as it blazed higher you ascended in the flame
rising like the wonder of your name
NAMING EL ROI
I stumble in desperate headlong flight
from the sharp bite of a woman empty
of what her god has promised envious
of what seems to be coming my way
How foolish of me to flee
into the arms of death Sun-scorched
& breathless I make for the well
with nothing to eat & nothing to draw with
& the child in my abdomen kicking in confusion
I'm met by a man who gives me a drink
more than a man who pours hope in my heart
the god of my mistress the god of my distress
the nameless one to whom
since I know no better
I give an intimate name
The God Who Sees Me
HOW TO LISTEN FOR GOD
Turn off your cell phone lace up
a good pair of hiking shoes
leave everything at the trail head
except the words of the prophet Isaiah
& set out on your own Open the book
of field mouse & shrew where unseen
songbirds call from the green & a hawk
slowly patrols the cloud-enhanced blue
like an illumination from some
ancient manuscript so the distractions
of reports & percentages seem abstractions
& there's no street noise to normalize
the ugly things you've said Don't be afraid
to squirm at your hollow justifications
to feel far from holy to wipe your hands
again & again You're learning to listen
Soon you may even hear well the whisper
some have heard on fiery hillsides
when you're confined to a room as narrow
as Bonhoeffer's cell in Flossenburg
"Midrash on the Lord's Prayer" first appeared in Alliance Connection.
"The Inscrutable Name" and "Naming El Roi" first appeared in Reformed Journal.
"How to Listen for God" first appeared in Presence.
Pastor Jenni Ho-Huan was raised and ordained in the Presbyterian Church. Her desire is to live with authenticity and help others develop a vibrant faith-life in their particular circumstances and personalities through developing a strong inner life, a logos ordered by divine love. She founded a community, To Really Live, to question our usual narratives of life, and offer resources to encourage us to slow down, savour and serve from a place of Grace. An avid writer, Jenni was a columnist for Impact magazine. She has authored six books, and now writes on Medium and the usual social media spaces. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (NUS), a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Theology (Trinity Theological College).
You know what I find disturbing about us Christians?
We have a holier-than-thou attitude.
I would not have said this ten years ago. But a lot has happened in ten years, the most important being this: I have seen the darkness in my soul. Yes, I have come to the place where I understand that when Paul called himself the chief of sinners, it wasn't hyperbole. We all rank first place when it comes to harbouring demons in the dark alleys of our souls.
Yelling at kids?
Thinking of divorce?
Entertaining hurtful thoughts?
Seized by discontent?
Lack of love?
What if i try out...?
Been there, been that.
This reckoning has in turn done two things. One, I am much less shocked by confessions. Second, I have begun to strip away at the notion of ‘the other’. I identify with others more than I differentiate from them.
If you have ever met a personal darkness, sensed a shadow, wrestled with a demon, chances are you want to either reach for HyperGrace—it’s no big deal, or we collapse into UnderGrace—we are wrecked with guilt and try our best to cover it all up.
This happens to the individual, and even to groups and entire churches.
The problem is that both of these take us away from Transforming Grace, which the Bible says is given to the ‘humble’ (see 1 Peter 5:5–7).
Peter wrote this.
I dare say no one knows about Grace and humility the way Peter does.
He was the blustering disciple who boasted of his loyalty only to find it crumble when faced with the threat of persecution. He is the one Jesus recreates a memory of his calling (read John 21) so that he could be restored. He tasted Grace that morning when his professional fishing efforts yielded no gains. He tasted Grace in the fish on live coals and the poignant words of restoration Jesus spoke into the depths of his being.
He humbled himself in admission of his shadows and failures and was reunited with His Lord in love and mission. Still, he would have moments of weakness, but those are moments and not definitions.
Being humble is connected with casting our anxieties on God.
We are anxious whenever we don’t know the outcomes to things or when we anticipate a negative result. But Peter, he has learnt that. All his bravado cannot gainsay the truth that he has limits and he cannot really fix some things, even if he can swing a sword the way he can throw a net.
Transforming Grace—that flows downward to the bowed and receptive heart—happens when we humbly agree with God that we don’t have the answer but we know God does.
I love Danielle Strickland’s definition of humility: agreeing with God about who you are.
Mind you, God does not think small of us. No, he thinks wonderful thoughts beyond our wildest dreams. Yet, he remembers and knows we are dust. We are finite. We do well to remember that of ourselves and others. That’s when Grace happens. Peter tells us that God’s intent is to exalt us. God knows we cannot reach the heights of who we truly are unless He raises us up.
Form ‘Other’ to ‘Another’ and The Wide Mercies of God Our Cradling Grace
My life has some pretty basic routines. One of them is going to the neighbourhood mall Junction 8. By now I know the street, the spots to park free, the stores and the shortcuts pretty well. But still, I never quite get used to all the life I will meet each time I venture out.
Even a familiar place can yield the unfamiliar. The expected can throw up a surprise.
We can walk like the dead, going about our routines, operating like the rest of kingdom animaliae; just trying to survive another day. But we get restless, we question, we mourn, we get served a notice that jolts us awake.
Today for example, in the hustle I saw this skinny man whose eyes did not seem to focus really well.
He’s not really old, not more than thirty. He was in his green and yellow uniform, standing right there in the sea of humanity streaming around him scrounging for bargains and queuing to make payment. There he stood, quite oblivious, waving his arms with palms up as if to catch falling water. I looked for a leak but did not see any. He seemed consoled too that he did not catch anything, and then proceeded to pick up his broom and pan.
I am rushing through my grocery run routine and I am as usual feeling thirsty; and all this Life is asking me to pay attention.
We are all but souls with skins on. All trying to make it through.
There was a time when our thoughts were ‘other’—we see someone different and we thank God we are not born/bred/turned out so. We feel a twinge of sympathy and when the charity drives come along, we are moved to help with our monies. But there remains an I/they divide. What’s more, we often compare and augment ‘I’ by classifying and categorising ‘them’ so that the ‘I’ feels stronger/better/more.
But there comes a time when we see just ‘another’. It is just another life really; and very much like ours. Another life wanting to mean something, be useful, to laugh, be loved and love. The garb and language and colour and words may all be different, but it comes to the same stuff of dust seeking glory. This is why I am upset these days—
when I think how we interpret Jesus’ words that he came to give us life
abundant as a narrow, materialistic, self-indulgent offer that we deserve.
when i find myself forgetting so quickly that the awkward, badly dressed
teen is imago Dei as I am.
when I push my closest ones away too quickly because my soul is out of
shape and I don’t know what to do with my jutting angles; and it is their
fault for coming too close.
In Brennan Manning’s final book, All Is Grace, he writes simply of his life without fanfare or any need to embellish. His was a lifetime of struggle with alcoholism. His was a life others can only dream about: book successes and a life message about Abba Love... Yet here was a man, another, like you and me. He had his triumphs and his demons. He lived as honestly as he could. His is not written to garner a book prize. It almost read like a child’s retelling of a long adventure.
The simple truth that grips your heart and changes you is this: Ordinary life shines because it is all Grace.
What would your life and mine look like if we lived like we truly believed this Grace is wrapping us safe and cradling us through the storms?
What would our world look like if we saw each other as just another, and helped each other sip often of the sweet nectar of Grace rather than rush around thirsty?