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.
“April is the cruelest month,” TS Elliot wrote in his poem, “The Waste Land”. I might beg to differ. In my experience, January is a cruel and hard month. In the Pacific Northwest where I live, the days are dark, grey, and wet. Spring feels a bit too far away and the joy of Christmas a receding memory.
January 2022 comes with more than the seasonal changes. In January 2022, we face unique and difficult challenges. The pandemic lingers impacting everything and in particular making huge demands on our siblings who care for people in hospitals. Covid uncertainties has added stress and made huge demands on educators at all levels. January 2022 is a hard season as churches face decline and ponder the post covid future. It is a hard season as many of us express deep concerns about the future of American democracy. That topic seems to come up again and again not just in the media but in numerous conversations with friends and family. April is the cruelest month? I don’t think so. January 2022 is pretty rough.
So, where is the good news? I believe that ultimately light will overcome darkness and that in life and death we all belong to God. But faith does not mean denying that there are a lot of reasons for this time to be a difficult season. For me, faith is trust in God and the way of Jesus. It is not wearing rose colored glasses that block out difficult truths which is why I like the poem, “The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass. Her poem is about being honest about grief, sadness, difficult challenges while believing that as hard as it is to believe, the time will come when things will be better.
So, where is the good news? Again, I don’t think it’s in denying the challenges and difficulties. The good news is, even in hard times, life surprises us in positive ways, often in ordinary experiences. Ordinary things can feel quite extraordinary when we pay attention. Barbara Crooker does that as she celebrates the beauty and delight of a making and enjoying a good BLT sandwhich.
As we face challenges and discern how we are called to actively love our neighbor and creation I think of Annie Dillard’s words from “A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” (1974), “…beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try and be there.” January 2022 is a difficult month. In the midst of it all may we “be there” and recognize beauty and grace in things grand and things simple.
“The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again
“BLT” by Barbara Crooker
“Enjoy every sandwich.”
–Warren Zevon, talking with David Letterman about his terminal
lung cancer shortly before his death.
Here’s how to make a great sandwich:
country white bread lightly toasted,
contoured with mayonnaise, leaf
lettuce spilling over the borders,
overlays of tomatoes, train tracks
of bacon leading straight
out of town. No need for road
maps, potato chips, or pickles.
Yes, winter is waiting, just over
the horizon. But right now, I’m
going to sit in the sun and listen
to birdsong. I’m going to eat
every crumb, every plottable
coordinate, now, while I can.
“The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass is from Mules of Love, Copyright © 2002 by Ellen Bass. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc, on behalf of BOA editions Ltd., www.boaeditios.org.
“BLT” by Barbara Crooker is from Some Glad Morning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Barbara Crooker. Used here with the permission of the poet.
 “April is the cruelest month” is from “The Burial of The Dead”, the first section of TS Elliot’s poem The Waste Land. The poem was written in 1922 and first published in the UK in the literary magazine The Criterion.
Rev. Dave Brown is a writer, creator/host of Blues Vespers, one of the PNW Interfaith Amigos and former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA. He serves on the PCUSA Education Roundtable. (firstname.lastname@example.org). His most recent poetry collection is, I don’t Usually but…
PS—During this hard month lets all take time to reach out with offers of assistance or at least words of encouragement to educators, especially public-school teachers, trying to do their work in a very difficult time.