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. In this monthly column, ‘Setting the Inner Compass,’ I share some of the poems I find nourishing to the soul.

April was National Poetry Month. Although this column began in 2020 as a National Poetry Month project, I skipped the April column this year in part because there are lots of places to find poems in April. One gift of National Poetry Month is that poetry is widely shared and new poetry anthologies are published. One of those new anthologies is You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World edited by the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States, Ada Limón. This fascinating anthology consists of 50 previously unpublished poems that seek to engage the reader in a particular landscape or aspect of the natural world. The book is related to her “Poetry in Parks” project, a project of the National Parks Service that has installed poetry near picnic areas in seven national parks. Check it out.

I came across a second anthology last month that was not new but was new to me: The Splash of Words: Believing in Poetry by Mark Oakley. It was first published in the UK in 2016. Mark Oakley is an Anglican priest, poet, writer, and a strong advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in the Church of England. The introduction to this book is absolutely wonderful. His response to each poem that follows is engaging and satisfying. In the introduction Oakley writes, “There is, though, a sense that when we start talking about poems, we are talking about a soul language, a way of crafting words that distils our experience into what feels like purer truth. ” And I say amen!

This May I am particularly drawn to poems that help the reader focus on, see and experience the world around us. It is all too easy to get lost in our worries, concerns, work, and struggles. We can be so preoccupied with our to-do list or the latest headline that we block out the wonder of creation: ignoring, for example, how good it feels when the early summer sun warms on our face. We can be so darn busy checking messages and e-mail on our phone as we walk that we don’t notice the beating of the glittering green wings of a hummingbird as it hovers over the red flower. I find myself thinking that when Jesus said, “Consider the Birds” he wasn’t just using the birds to teach a lesson but, rather, he was telling us to Consider the Birds! Pay attention to the world around us, to the details and to beauty of creation.

On to the poems: The first poem, “Heliophilia”, which means a love of sunlight, is from the Poetry in the Natural World anthology. The poet teaches in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi. The second poem, “Consider the Birds”, is in my upcoming collection of poems.

Consider the Birds…


“HELIOPHILIA” (Desire to stay in the sun/love of sunlight) by Aimee Nezhukumathil
Don’t call it an affliction
call it affection. I’d stay under
the sun all day, never hiding
under a copse of trees if I knew

I wouldn’t burn, but isn’t it
more accurate—that I burn
for the sun. To be pulled to the light
is nothing to be ashamed of: look

at flowers, butterflies, seals lounging
on a rock. Rhubarb sings in dark gardens
but truth be told it sounds more like
a wet cracking and popping. I think

it secretly counts the hours till it can turn
towards the sun again. For me, the sun
has always been easy to love, as easy
as it is to love whatever small light

bees bestow on fallen leaves—easy
to love the light they give just before
they crawl into honey-hungry sleep,
just before the fall of snow.


Was there a particular bird
in Jesus’ mind when
he spoke those words.

Perhaps it was the bird
we now call a
Common Hoopoe:

colorful birds with a distinctive
orange crown of feathers and
black and white stripped wings.

Or maybe it was a tall white stork,
dignified and beautiful, standing on
long skinny orange legs.

Could it have been
the brightly colored small
European bee-eater

with its yellow neck,
long black bill with bright
blue and orange feathers.

Jesus walked through
a landscape with so many
beautiful birds.

“Consider them”, he says.
Pay attention,
be awake.

Don’t be afraid,
the birds are cared for,
you will be as well.

Don’t be afraid,
lift your eyes and see
the beauty in the world.

Consider the birds,
beautiful, unique
precious creatures.

Just like each of us,
beautiful, unique, and precious,
just like the white throated kingfisher

perched on a high post
outside Jerusalem
early in the morning.


HELIOPHILIA by Aimee Nezhukumathil from YOU ARE HERE: POETRY IN THE NATIONAL WORLD: Edited and Introduced by Ada Limón (Milkweed Editions; 2024) Used by permission of the publisher.

CONSIDER THE BIRDS from his upcoming collection: New and Selected Poems. Used by permission of the poet.

Rev. Dave Brown is a poet, writer, and creator/host of Blues Vespers now entering its 26th season. He will publish his second poetry collection, New and Selected Poems, later this year. The Echoes of Panhala FB poetry group published “Consider the Birds” last month. He is chair of the Western Task Force of the PCUSA National Self Development of People Committee. Dave preaches once a month at Fox Island UCC and has served four Presbyterian congregations, three in the Tacoma/Seattle area and one in Green Bat, WI. ([email protected]).

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