The Sympathetic Edges of Their Chairs

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.

This month’s column is one that should have been out in September. I apologize for the delay. I’ve just returned from a visit with family/friends on the Danish Island of Bornholm. It was beautiful and filled with love. More about that another time.

The first poem in this column is “The Blues” by Billy Collins. I used part of the poem last year but due to lack of publisher permission not the whole poem. This year I have the permission of the publisher to use the entire poem and I am grateful. It is one of my favorites. I love the picture of a Blues club the poet paints and how the music nurtures empathy within those listening.

I find myself thinking we need a little more empathy today, a little more “feeling with” those around us. Empathy requires intentionality, that we slow down, take time and be present to another. It is a sign of our interconnectedness. We affirm a shared humanity when we allow our selves not just to understand (sympathy) that someone is experiencing pain, but when we allow our selves to feel, as much as one can, what someone is feeling. Having empathy with someone is taking time to be present to their humanity. That is easy when the other person is a fellow traveler. The challenge is to have empathy with someone whom we disagree. Empathy, “shifting to the sympathetic edges of our chairs”, reminds us that those who we disagree with, and we might see as ‘the other’ are human like us.

The second poem is one I wrote imagining Jesus singing a Blues song. The British Blues singer Son Jack Jr. read the poem in my poetry collection and asked to make it into a song. The version below is the one he recorded. There are tapes of the song online. It will be on his 2023 recording. As we live into fall, seeing the winter season on the horizon, may we remember, with all the other things competing for our attention, that after all, “It is love alone that matters.”



“The Blues” by Billy Collins

Much of what is said here
must be said twice,
a reminder that no one
takes an immediate interest in the pain of others.

Nobody will listen, it would seem,
if you simply admit
your baby left you early this morning
she didn’t even stop to say good-bye.

But if you sing it again
with the help of the band
which will now lift you to a higher,
more ardent and beseeching key,

people will not only listen;
they will shift to the sympathetic
edges of their chairs,
moved to such acute anticipation

by that chord and the delay that follows,
they will not be able to sleep
unless you release with one finger
a scream from the throat of your guitar

and turn your head back to the microphone
to let them know
you’re a hard-hearted man
but that woman’s sure going to make you cry.

Walk On Water
(Son Jack Jr. and Rev. Dave Brown based on Dave Brown’s Jesus Blues poem)

Don’t say that you love me darling
if you think it’s about the rules.
You’ll be walking down life’s highway
looking like such a fool.

Don’t say you love me, baby,
oh, if you think I walk on water.
Its love alone that matters
for all God’s sons and daughters.

It’s not the fancy words
in your memory,
they may make you feel better
they don’t mean nothin’ to me.

The road is long, sometimes good,
sometimes too bad to mention.
Love is all around you
lift up your head, pay attention!

It’s what you do my sister,
how you love my brother
It’s not your religion
It’s your love for one another.

Wake up little darling,
open your eyes my friend
It’s not the creeds or buildings
that matter at the end

Its love alone that matters.
Its love alone that matters.
Its love alone that matters.

Love until the end,


“The Blues” © by Billy Collins is from the collection, THE APPLE THAT ASTONISHED PARIS. Copyrite © 1988, 1996 by Billy Collins. Reprinted with permission of the University of Arkansas Press,

“Walk on Water” © Dave Brown/Son Jack Jr is used with the permission of Rev. Brown and Son Jack Jr.

Rev. Dave Brown ([email protected]) is a 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 where he is a member of the Self Development of People National Committee and serves on the PCUSA Education Roundtable. Dave, with Imam Jamal Rahman, does programs around interfaith relationships. His most recent poetry collection is, I Don’t Usually but…

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