Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, photo (c) 2018 by Wade T. Jones
In recent troubles and dark days, personal and political, my peace of mind has been “saved” by reading one poem a day by J. Barrie Shepherd, an octogenarian retired Presbyterian pastor but unretired author who this summer sent me his “chapbook” (a small collection of poetry) entitled, If You Don’t Have Twenty Minutes Don’t Stop! The title is a reference to a sign on Chebeague Island off the coast of Maine that graced the garage door of an inveterate storyteller who loved chatting people up.
After floundering for morning prayer reading material following the eventually overwhelming Tao of Physics, which regular readers will remember, I chose Barrie’s brief book of poetry. Initially I read several poems at a time, but soon realized contemplation was better served by reading only one per day. “Be here now!” each poem urged, as poems tend to do, much like pericopes of scripture, exactly what I needed as Wade and I dealt with the vicissitudes of a friend dealing with mental health and addiction issues, even as we in the United States deal daily with a leader like that in our government.
Focusing on one-a-day made me think of that wonderful Psalm 131 (NJB):
Yahweh, my heart is not haughty,
I do not set my sights too high.
I have taken no part in great affairs,
in wonders beyond my scope.
No, I hold myself in quiet and silence,
like a little child in its mother’s arms,
like a little child, so I keep myself.
Let [us] hope in Yahweh
henceforth and for ever.
Barrie and I have exchanged emails from time to time about this blog, and I am grateful to have his encouragement and readership. I have told him that his books of poetic meditations helped me, early in life, to maintain a steady prayer life. Knowing I had one of his books made me eager to make time in my morning routine to read and reflect and pray. His gifts and those of others whose meditations I have used inspired my own books of meditations and prayers, including this blog to encourage progressive Christians to take time for contemplation.
Longtime readers will remember that I began this blog when I was told by publishers that there was no market for meditation books for progressive Christians because we supposedly don’t take time for contemplation! My first publisher told me the same thing about LGBT Christians when I wrote Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends. Publication of those prayers by another publisher helped create a market, and then my first publisher asked me to write a daily med book for LGBT Christians, which I entitled The Word Is Out.
As we approach and begin a new year and through the season of Epiphany, I’ve decided to re-present some of my writings for you in the hopes that they will have the same effect Barrie’s poems have had on me during the last several weeks, offering you peace of mind. I begin with Day 10 of Coming Out to God, a book whose prayers are broken into phrases not with any poetic pretensions but to slow the reader down:
I don’t know what to say to you today.
It’s like sharing a meal in silence with a friend,
or dropping wordlessly exhausted once home from work.
I do not believe
I will be saved by my words,
though I usually feel compelled
to say them.
I do believe, God,
your grace is sufficient
to save me
even if I were silent.
I need times
to express your grace
I also believe
I need times
to experience your grace
Intimate Spirit, today
I simply want to be in your presence.
Speak to me in this silence,
and let this silence speak to me.
Copies of either J. Barrie Shepherd’s If You Don’t Have Twenty Minutes Don’t Stop! or his latest chapbook, A Piper Shores Christmas may be purchased @ $10 + $2 shipping by writing: J. Barrie Shepherd, 15 Piper Road, Apt K325, Scarborough, ME 04074. Proceeds go to charities. (Remember, there are twelve days of Christmas to use the latter chapbook!) You may also write him at email@example.com.
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Copyright © 2018 and Coming Out to God copyright © 1991 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.