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.

Yesterday I took the well-worn 2022 calendars off our dining room and kitchen wall and hung the brand new 2023 ones. I like calendars. In the kitchen we have one from Iona and another with amazing photographs of turtles. On the dining room wall is my favorite, a Kelly Latimore Icon Calendar. Her Icon for January is Thomas Merton. The images on all three calendars are beautiful. We still have one with great Central Park photographs but are not sure where we want to hang it. Hanging the new calendars is one of my rituals at the beginning of a new year.

The year we begin in January is called the solar year. It was first introduced by Julius Caesar in 46BC. It was modified in 1562 by Pope Gregory and renamed the Gregorian calendar. (Isn’t Wikipedia wonderful!). I have always been fascinated by the many different ways people mark the movement and passing of time, the seasons, and changes in life around us and within us. “How do you mark the passing of time? What calendars do you follow?” are good discussion questions. My answer would include both the Liturgical Year and the Baseball Season. Marking time, I believe, helps us pay attention and not waste the time we have. I think of Mary Oliver’s great line, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. ” Paying attention to the movement of time and seasons helps us to not merely visit this world but to live fully in it.

As we start a new calendar year there are a lot of uncertainties. I believe that part of faith is turning the calendar page to a new year and embracing the journey ahead even though we cannot see where the road is going. Sometimes we feel lost as we follow the road into the future. When I feel lost, I need to pause to be present to the world around me and remember I am not alone as I travel toward that bend in the road which dissolves into the bright gray horizon.

The two poems this month share the same title: “January”. They are about traveling into a new year realizing, in Kate Baer’s words that we don’t know what comes next. Lynn Ungar’s “January” poem reflects that sense of not knowing as she reminds us how important it is to remember that “what I see is not the sum of what is there.”

Both poems are from new collections that I strongly recommend. Lynn Ungar’s poem is from her collection, The Brittle Beauty of It All. Thank you to Kate and Lynn for allowing me to use their poems and to Heather Drucker at Harper Collins for her assistance.



“January” by Lynn Ungar

Of course it’s to be expected:
the dim light and the early dark
and the endless days of rain.
And if the week of brutal cold
wasn’t what you signed up for,
well, it’s what you got,
so might as well make the best of it.
Other people are having blizzards
and friends have flooded basements
or lost everything to wind-whipped
wildfire. Of course, there’s nothing
less comforting than the notion
that others have it worse.
Misery doesn’t love company,
it just spreads like an oil slick
across the dull land, and we
have moved on from terror
to a cranky ennui. I’m told
the days have started getting longer,
although not so you would notice.
But one day last week the clouds lifted,
and there was the mountain, shining
in all its snow-clad glory.
My breath caught to remember
that what I see
is not the sum of what is there.

“January” by Kate Baer

it’s one of those mornings
that looks like the night
couldn’t get the darkness
out of its system.

The children,
asleep in their beds,
groan at the sound of me.

The cat stretches and moans
in her primitive tongue.

And I, the master of nothing,
walk through every room,
trying to remember
what comes next.


January ©2022 by Lynn Ungar is from her collection, The Brittle Beauty of It All, available at

January is from the collection AND YET. Copyright © 2022 by Kate Baer.
Reprinted here with permission from Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Rev. Dave Brown is a poet, writer, and the creator/host of Blues Vespers. The Washington Blues Society recognized him with the 2022 Keeping the Blues Alive award. The former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Tacoma WA. he serves on the PCUSA Self-Development of People national committee and the PCUSA Education Roundtable. Dave does programs with Imam Jamal Rahman about interfaith understanding and relationships.

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