Respecting the awesome power of words!

journey

Fire on the Mountain

Joe Stephenson 65Photo by Owen Todd Jenkins
Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this 
great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 
(Exodus 3:3)

From the valley below,
fire could be clearly seen;
lighting up the overcast afternoon
like a great oil lamp.

Was smoke, however,
in short supply,
as this particular source
of combustion was beyond ordinary?
The storyteller leaves this detail
to our imaginations.

Moshe was so struck by its glow
that he soliloquied
like an actor in character,
declaring his intent to approach,
just in case the source
of the fire turned out
to be territorial.

That's when the voice thundered,
not so much objecting
to the trespass itself,
as requiring deep,
personal tactile engagement.

Barefoot and vulnerable,
the shepherd on the lam
risked responding,
to the point of objecting
to a return to the scene
of the crime, even if it was
on debatable grounds.

"Whom shall I say has sent me?"
Moshe inquired;
a perfectly valid question,
given the double-digits
of generations who had
crossed the bar since last
the Hebrew narrative
included a divine cameo.

"Is" came the reply,
or more specifically, "Am".
The verb of being,
existence,
presence.

And it is enough.
Enough for a returning bail-jumper.
Enough for a hungry prodigal.
Enough for you.
Enough for me.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins
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Creeksong

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Let me be a creek,
O holy one,
meandering through the deep woods 
of creation like a lovestruck couple
on a spring picnic,

singing creeksong
for all who wander near,
smoothing over the jagged rocks
as the years roll on,

teeming underneath with life
for all, shallow in some places,
rapids or deep pools in other,

smooth as glass in places,
reflecting the sky's crystal blue
and cotton-white clouds
so we'll all remember
to look to the heavens
from whence our help comes.

Let me be a creek,
O holy one; a creek
for your everflowing love.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

 


Grief’s Recipe

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When the slice comes,
it matters not whether
you heard it coming.
You bleed; sometimes
through your veins;
other times through your soul,
and maybe both.

  Either way, you’re searching
  for something to make
  the pain go away; something
  to turn back the clock
  to how it used to be –
  how you’d hoped it would remain –
  if not forever, at least
  for a while longer;
  a long while.

    Here’s what I want you to do:
    find a large bowl;
    the deepest one you have.
    Peer into the bowl.
    You're going to need
    a bigger bowl. 

  Place the cavernous bowl
  on the counter.
  Look at the floor around you.
  Go ahead and put
  the bowl on the floor. 

You cannot gather or assemble
the necessary ingredients.
You probably don't even
have them all.
Yet. 

  Get out your measuring cups.
  Look at them.
  Measuring is mostly irrelevant.
  Put the measuring cups away. 

    Remember the bowl?
    The one deeper and more expansive
    than you've ever seen?
    Some of the ingredients
    will never make it
    to the bowl.

  They'll end up being scattered
  all over the counter
  (Because, at first,
  you didn't want to put
  the bowl on the floor,
  did you?) 
  and all over the floor;

You can set the oven
at any temperature you want.
It will change from day to day,
even hour to hour,
to match the shifting flame
of your emotions.
Let the fire burn like it wants. 

  Sing to the bowl;
  sad songs, angry songs,
  songs of thanksgiving,
  whatever music wells-up in you. 

    Talk to the bowl;
    share memories, ask questions,
    demand answers, use whatever words
    you find bubbling up.
    Write the words, even and especially
    if it feels like you're scribbling
    in your own blood. 

  Invite another person
  to come sit on the floor with you;
  someone who'll refrain from sweeping;
  someone with ears agape and mouth shut;
  someone who's not afraid of weeping. 

Stir everything that makes it
into the bowl.
Let it rise over night,
night after night.

  Don't worry if,
  on some nights, it doesn't rise,
  or if the same thing is there,
  day after day, or if there are
  days when there's nothing there.
  Just stir, sing, talk, weep,
  scream, breathe, write.

    And listen.
    listen, even if it is
    only to silence. 

  You'll figure out when it's time
  to put it in the oven
  by listening to your heart.
  If you put it in too soon,
  it's okay to take it back out
  and resume your stirring. 

When it finally comes out
of the oven, taste it;
sit quietly and savor it.
You'll probably detect flavors
you don't remember seeing
in the bowl or scattered
on the counter or floor. 

  After you taste it,
  wrap the rest of it in your heart
  and carry it with you,
  wherever you go.
  In due time, you will feel others
  who need to taste it. 

    Accept the invitation
    to their kitchen.
    Sit on the floor with them.
    Share the recipe.
    Give them time and space
    to stir, sing, weep, write,
    and bake their own grieving mess. 

"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…” Psalm 34:18

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

 


Float

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We yearn for heaven, and,
standing on this side
of the river, our soul
is enraptured by glimpses
we catch of the other shore.

Still, we'll risk wading
in the shallows,
rehearsing our swim
whenever courage is flush,
carefully calculating trajectory
based on the strength
of our supposed morality,
completely forgetting
that floating is the way across.

Letting go, instead
of holding on;
this is the way
to traverse the river. 

© 2017 Todd Jenkins


 

 


One and the Same Time

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By memory we define ourselves;
bits and pieces of days gone by,
fed by stored mental photographs,
watered by emotion's tears
of both sorrow and joy
at one and the same time.

Through memory we anchor ourselves
to pasts cringeworthy and exemplary
at one and the same time.

Growing memory, we construct ourselves
into observers of each present moment,
anchored by virtue's roots and
rising above villain's graves
at one and the same time.

In sleeping memory,
we dream ourselves into tomorrows,
slogging through valleys of despair
and wafting on currents of celestial breath
at one and the same time.

Searching for  memory,
we watch loved ones lose
bits and pieces of their story,
lamenting fragments
faded long-past sepia
and rejoicing in brief flashes
of love and cognizance
at one and the same time.

In memory we hallow special days,
honoring so many brave ones
who've sacrificed and pushing back
against the hell of war's existence
at one and the same time.

Resurrecting memory,
we weave a sacred response
to grace's unfettered gift,
lamenting all the times
it steadily swirls around us unnoticed
and praising Yahweh for the glimpses
convincing us to dive in headlong
at one and the same time.

By memory we were and
are and will continue to be held,
when we've forgotten all and
when we’ve remembered scarcely enough
at one and the same time.

Memory: our deepest curse
and richest blessing
at one and the same time.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

They

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They demanded and
even forced your labor,
offering no or little wages.

Silly me; I assured myself
I was doing comparatively well,
and somebody had
to be at the bottom,
mostly glad it wasn't me.

They took your dignity,
with images and cultural narratives
painting you as lesser,
or airbrushing you out
of the picture altogether.

Foolish me; I looked
in the mirror and saw
the right shade and shape,
assuming I still had
shreds of my own remaining.

They kicked you out
by banning and deportation,
as if culture, language, and religion
were legitimate wedges.

Trembling me; I fell
for scapegoating, ignoring
the malignancy
of systemic dis-ease.

They broke your spirit,
kicking you in the gut
with insufficient opportunities,
boot on your throat
with charges of laziness.

Ignorant me; I thought
I could prop mine up
with consumption and dogged pursuit,
not of my dreams, but
of what they told me to desire.

They're here
to steal your soul,
and it slices through my own,
clearly awakening me
to our eternal tether.

Now, I realize I've been
a part of "they" all along,
with my blind eye,
my silence, my privilege,
my vested interest votes.

Maybe we can't go back,
but I know that,
wherever we must go from here,
it will have to be together.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

Pursuit

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In the end, as in the beginning,
and every place and time
in between, God refuses
to accept our rejection;

both our personal distancing,
and our sociocultural writhing away.

We are divinely desired,
and we will always be
sought by the sacred.

It is the uniqueness
of this seeking that makes it
both confounding and compelling
at one and the same time.

We have experience and metrics
for a whole host of stalkings,
all of which are unyielding
and often even violent;

but the steadfast pursuit
of unconditional love is
another creature altogether.

It is aromatic breath
from the depths
of the darkest places
into which we flee
or are pulled;

not necessarily the scent
of a sweet dessert
to which we are irresistibly drawn;

more like a mysterious fusion
of spices and herbs
gently tickling our olfactory imagination
in places we never knew
sensation could exist,
wondering us toward a depth
both haunting and hopeful.

Pay attention to your nose
because, when it comes
to paths toward the holy,
it knows.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

Anger River

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Old Stone Fort (Manchester, TN)

Anger River is sourced
from three primary tributaries:
plans gone awry,
predictability thrown out the window,
and control dismantled.

It doesn't matter whether
these creeks flow
through the mirror or
the magnifying glass,
the outcome is the same:

a raging torrent sweeping away
all hope of mercy, forgiveness,
and especially, love.

Sometimes, you just need
to struggle to the shore,
sit in the sun until
your clothes are dry,
and choose to wade
into another creek.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

Timid Rain

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I woke to low visibility today,
not so much in my mirror
as in the world
outside my window.

It was as if the rain
lost its courage somewhere
between clouds and earth,
afraid it might cause pain
if it fell full force, or somehow
became sidetracked on its fall,
and didn’t want to arrive
in the wrong place and time,

so it hung mid-way,
clustered in large numbers
of small particles,
attaching themselves
to anything and anyone
within the vicinity,

forming a sheen of moisture,
weighing down any and every
thing with pockets to absorb
its molecules of moisture.

There are other forces
lingering mid-way
in our lives like that; some
for better, others for worse.

Be careful which ones
you allow to saturate
the fabric of your life.

When fear, anxiety, and
mistrust are fogging you in,
you might as well
leave on your slicker;

but soak up compassion,
pocket generosity,
fill your pores with hope;
these are the mists
of divine hydration.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

 


Home by Another Way

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So much of what's important
in life is learned
from paying attention,
which is precisely
what the Magi did.

That, and risk an adventure
to a faraway place
to behold a sight no one
had ever seen before.

Herod was a hoot,
quite sure they had come
to blow smoke up his royal robe;

but when they confessed
their desire to find a child
who'd been born to lead
the very people
he was sure he controlled,
he flipped his lid.

Surrounded by yes-men
attuned to his agenda
and his alone,
he never stood a chance;

but that didn't stop him
from scheming
a murderous plot.

First, he feigned interest
in also worshiping
this new king.

Never mind that Herod's
idea of worship included
a slit throat.

The sojourning stargazers
were nothing, if not persistent,
trekking all the way to Bethlehem,
where they were not disappointed,
paying homage and leaving
their now-famous
trio of gifts behind.

Of course there would be
one more dream
in this mystical tale;
this one urging them to go
"home by another way."

Now that we know the story,
how seekers from a faraway land
were first to bow the knee,
how a displaced family became refugees,
how dreams drove the whole story, and
how God chose this precarious tale
as a path to arrive in-the-flesh,
do we have the courage
to live with such imagination,
expectation, and abandon
in our own incarnational narratives?

The children are waiting,
and hoping that our answer is yes;
praying that our answer is life.

© 2016 Todd Jenkins