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.
My two poems this month are about summer. They are short, sweet, and simple. For many, summer is a season where the rhythms of life change a bit. We take vacations, the days are longer, those who are active in congregations find the activity level slows down. Summer weather invites walks in parks, sitting in outdoor cafes or on the stoop of an apartment building. In the natural world, summer is a season of growth, flowers bloom and tomatoes ripen.
“Summertime and the living is easy…” I think of Gershwin’s words and I know that in many ways summertime in 2021 the living is not easy. There are concerns about the impact of those who don’t trust science and won’t get vaccinated, warm days remind us of the need to address climate change, the struggle against systemic racism continues as does our commitment to improve public schools and support our teachers. In the church, as we enjoy the summertime rhythms, there is uncertainty about how the church will rebound from the impact of Covid on worship and ministry.
Summer 2021 is a mix of things which is why I think it is imperative to stop, step back and pay attention to simple things, to life affirming rhythms of our life, simple graces that ground us in this season and every season. The two poems are about ordinary things that really are extraordinary. The poems invite us, in the midst of our questions and challenges, to appreciate the joy of a particular day and to notice the pear tree and be nourished and renewed by its beauty and fruit.
The poets Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon were married and lived in New England. Jane Kenyon died in 1995. Donald Hall in 2018. In my September 2020 column, I wrote about how they found faith and Christian community. As a young woman, Ms. Kenyon believed that you could not be a Christian and intellectual. Attending a worship service with a thoughtful, theologically grounded sermon that quoted Rilke changed that perception and she became an active church member. I think there is a lesson there for the modern church.
Onward to the poems. May we all be awake to the everyday miracles and be nourished by the beauty and wonder of creation, like the poets pear tree, and be grateful.
“Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer” by Jane Kenyon
We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done—the unpacking, the mail
and papers…the grass needed mowing….
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.
And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful.
“Summer Kitchen” by Donald Hall
In June’s high light she stood at the sink
With a glass of wine,
And listened for the bobolink,
And crushed garlic in late sunshine.
I watched her cooking, from my chair.
She pressed her lips
Together, reached for kitchenware,
And tasted sauce from her fingertips.
“It’s ready now. Come on,” she said.
“You light the candle.”
We ate, and talked, and went to bed,
And slept. It was a miracle.
Jane Kenyon, “Coming Home in Twilight in Late Summer” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by The Estate of Jane Kenyon. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org .
“Summer Kitchen” by Donald Hall from White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems, 1946-2006. Copyright © 2006 by Donald Hall. Used by permission of Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
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. (email@example.com).