Reading poetry is one of the ways some of us nourish our faith, a way we set or reset our inner compass and stay focused on the big picture, on the spiritual journey. I know that is true for me. ‘Setting the Inner Compass’, is a column where I share poems that I find meaningful and hope others do as well.

Last weekend I presented at a conference alongside an Imam, Rabbi and a Roman Catholic sister who is a Zen teacher. It was a wonderful event and a reminder that in this era where organized religion is in decline, spirituality is not. The room was filled with those who live spiritual lives, many in faith communities. My guess is that if asked to identify as “religious” or “spiritual” they would choose the later. The theme was finding joy in the midst of troubling times. My presentation focused on the idea that “joy” or a sense of being loved or “grace” does not erase pain and sadness but lives alongside of it. The first poem by Mary Oliver reflects my theme. The second poem is one I wrote about how grace or light shines even in hard times. All we have to do is pay attention.

Finally, as I write this, we have just passed the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Feb. 24, 2022). I decided to close with another poem that I wrote. This one ends with a focus on Palm Sunday in Ukraine and the hope still present for peace.

In the Christian household, Lent is a time to reflect and engage in spiritual disciplines as we anticipate Easter, the dramatic reminder that ultimately love is stronger than hate. It is a time when I ask the question of myself that I share with you: How do I/we nourish hope and joy in our lives so we can be a source of light and hope and peace to others?




“We Shake With Joy” by Mary Oliver

“We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.”

“February Friday Morning” by Dave Brown

Sitting at the dining room table
reading more bad news in the paper
with a headache creeping up from my neck
I looked up and stopped.

The morning light, coming through the window
brushed against the orchard growing
in the yellow ceramic pot highlighting
the little flowers brilliant color.

Three red flowers with white centers glowed
with an amazing radiance
that caught me by surprise
as I turned the page of the NY Times.

It was lovely, the light illuminating
The delicate red and white flower causing
it to glow with an almost other worldly light
that made me glad it was in this world.

Three red flowers in morning light
while two tight white buds
waiting to bloom in a few days
taught my morning lesson.

The light is still shining
illuminating beauty even when
we don’t look up to see it,
so why not remember to look up?


Every day I walked to the garage, lost in my thoughts.
Until one day I stopped and paid attention to the world around me.
There they were, waiting for me to see, a gift waiting to be opened,
a doorway or portal to walk through.

Standing in a pot on a late winter’s day were the
pussy willows I rooted the spring before.
Gray fur-like nubs were growing on three branches.
They were soft and tightly bound against the cold.

I remembered that my mother liked the pussy willow plants
that grew in the corner of the yard in our New Jersey suburb.
A few weeks later, on Easter the pussy willows caught my eye again.
The soft gray nubs had blossomed,

They were now brilliant delicate pollen coated yellow flowers.
I was awestruck, surprised at the beauty.
The gray pods that transform to intense yellow flowers are
called Catkins from katteken, the old Dutch word for kitten.

Such a transformation!
Changing from gray pod
to brilliant yellow.
A gift of spring I had never seen before.

As the Catkins on my pussy willow plant bloomed on Easter Day,
across the globe, in Ukraine people gathered to celebrate Palm Sunday.
They celebrated with pussy willow branches, like the ones growing in a pot in my yard.
Like the ones growing in the corner of the yard of my New Jersey childhood home.

In Ukraine, palms are scarce.
Some even call the Sunday before Easter Willow Sunday.
This year, in a time of war they celebrate with pussy willows
the entrance of the Prince of Peace.

In Kyiv, Odessa, and Mariupol
surrounded by the rubble, scars, and stench of war,
they gather in old churches
and wave pussy willow branches with gray catkins.

They sing, praise, hope and pray that just like the gray catkin
will be transformed to brilliant yellow flowers
that soon, somehow, darkness
will become light again.

The noise of war will stop.
The stillness of peace will come.
Life will blossom in places
destroyed by hate.

Until then, the people are faithful, waving the willow branch
welcoming the prince of peace,
getting ready for Easter,
praying for new life, resurrection.

March 2022


“We Shake With Joy” © Mary Oliver from her book, EVIDENCE (Beacon Press 2009)
“Friday February Morning” © Dave Brown is used by permission of the poet.
“Catkins, The Pussy Willow’s Gift” by Dave Brown is from the collection” The Courageous non-uniformity of Stones A Gift of Poems (2022 The Scottish Poetry Library: Interfaith Scotland) Used by permission of the poet.

Rev. Dave Brown is a poet, writer, and creator/host of Blues Vespers. He is a member of the PCUSA National Self Development of People Committee and the PCUSA Education Roundtable. He will publish his second poetry collection this spring. The Echoes of Panhala poetry FB group will be using another one of his poems next week. He is the former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma WA
([email protected]).

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