Some Prayers (2010-13)

For a long time, I have kept a record of prayers–I’ve never been sure of what to make of them, much less what to do with them. They are poems, I suppose, but more so they are just honest reflections of my prayer life put to words.

I decided to just post a few of them with the hope that maybe they would be helpful, enjoyable, and pray-able for others.  They are a few years old, and I have revised them a little bit as I’ve gotten some distance from them. I’m happy that some prayers are the same for me, and that some have changed.



David was not a god, but I am so jealous
of his heart, and how close he was to you.
Make me that close;
make my heart so big.


I want to slay giants
and behead them,
place them on sticks
for all to see,


to be bloody for my God,


to imitate Samuel
and prophesy without control,
as my Saul tries to overcome me,
as I clip his robe in triumph—


God, make me more solid today;
condemn my wickedness.


I am a weak man, full of pride:


open my closed fists,
slay my violent heart.



It rained today a little
and I had a great supper


Help me find you better
in my every day walking steps,
help me fly to depths
where the light is hidden,
yet ablaze with purpose,
as the eagle intent on flight,
hidden in a mountain crag


Help me see everyone but myself:
make me lowly in my high place


I want to fly
but I am sunk in dirt


Help me flourish in the garden
where you planted me


(I think it was just last spring
that I first learned
to grow)




Help me dig in the Word
where untold stories take root,
where my eyes yearn to bloom
and flourish


There will be trouble, he said,
but I have overcome this world, and I bet
Jesus loves the sound of this spring rain
almost as much as the trees,
who soak in its life,
and by twisting, desperate roots,
drink up this sweet spring rain
so much, and sometimes,
how different we are from the trees


Please, my Christ,
let me soak up
your water
so much



that I simply burst





how i long for you, father
you met my weakness with ferocity,
waves crashing after waves


you embraced my depravity, pulled
me up out of the depths, and i breathed.


my father, carrying me:
my spirits are lifted by your breath in me
and your life is yet life, in me


father, Lord over the waters,
descend again and again to me
i need you every day and hour,
for my fears need conquering,
and i call you Conqueror;
tether me closer and closer,
my ocean-anchor,
my gentle captain


now waves after crashing waves
are such sweet music:
and my father is the mighty song





O Trinity, the world is good:
my friends smile,
laying on soft grass in the courtyard,
throwing discs, rugby balls, stories,
ignoring responsibilities.


I find new songs today for you,
a thousand songs for your name:
the whole earth cries out your praise
and so will I!


For this earth is whole and so am I,


and Jesus you are whole
and Father you are whole
and Spirit you are whole.


Give me the movement of your shining, shaking
help me tremble in the joy of this innocent hour,
so that when I walk
the whole earth sings
of the living God who walks with me.






your unparalleled parables,
small blazing lights
ignite within me a strange undoing
of heart and presupposing thought,
like grenades in a cramped
and cluttered mind,
a clarity undone by ancient prose
(and everywhere the kingdom grows)


I bow to this eternal plot: my savior’s words
such mysteries so full and deep


let me forget myself in you
and let my heart be wrecked and torn
if that is what you feel so I
desire to feel brokenness


but in your winding winning words
let me rest and be restored
those wondered lights create my path
that lead me to your mind so deep


(and all this time will bow to space
when I am with you at the gates)



Jesus let me praise You with my words
though they are feeble, limited and bland
You are the sweetest breath—the strongest wind!
You conquered death before I ever feared
You fill up forests with your mystery
You whisper grace into the dying throngs
The dying eagle hears your Calvary cries
He lifts his head, acknowledges the Lord!
I wonder in the darknesses of day
about the Light you shine within my chest
Poke holes in me, like yours if I can bare
to shine your likeness in a dimming land
for you can puncture wounds and make them Love
and be the river washing clean the world!



Jesus: every drop of water
every drop of red
every bread-crumb broken:
the son of man, my only friend
the only guide in the dark world,
the sole rock of the soiled earth


I lift my eyes to you
and your face
I weep, sweep my tears
steal my sorrow from sight
I am unworthy of you
I am no true Israelite
no centurion


but a sinner with wet eyes
a sinner without excuse
a sinner with hands ascending


Lord God
teach me again
to fear the waters
to be washed by them
to hear the old fathers
to praise the Almighty
and deny the self


I need your every drop
your every crumb:

I am thirsty
I am hungry




O Lord my God, redemption (spelled in blood)
your justice captures me, I freeze, ensnared;
I ache under the iron chains I locked,
I fear the death, my sentence soon impends—
and wait—a man has blood poured in a bowl—
he stands a witness from the Skull, Golgotha—
he dips his shining hand under the red
and smears the crimson life across my head.
I am stained afresh with dripping life!
The chains fall off, they transform into bread—
the angel passes over me—I rest—
my God, my Christ, is making all things new!
This broken bread repairs my shattered heart!
The morning comes—hold on—I feel its warmth!





Notes for my Unborn Son

My wife and I are due to have a baby boy in January. I don’t know how one prepares for a first child, but as someone who writes poetry, that is how I am doing it (as well as, of course, buying lots of things for his nursery and all). Anyhow, these are just little notes I I’ve been imagining saying to my son: as I’ve seen him coming more alive; as I’ve seen my wife go through this amazing process; as I’ve thought about his life to come and the conversations we will have as he grows and explores this God-given world.


Notes for my Unborn Son




where to begin?
with a handful of dust
and a prayer

I know less than I did
when I started this poem
I have become less
and wild John was right

I must




last week I had a group of college students
staying at our house
their eyes wonder-wide
hungry for the wisdom we call advice
and I gave it
like a fool

but son
we never get there
we never feel sure
we merely cup our frail hands
before the pouring fountain
and pray to our Father:

more, more, more




life is inexpressibly

your mother walks by me
humming to herself in reverie
and again she is an angel, a quiet mystery
floating past in her silken robe—
what words, what feeble cages
could contain even her shadow?




I once saw a young man
pluck a tulip from a bed
but for me and God
and the watchful dead
deep in the soil:
he was alone

he walked twenty yards
and tossed it in the trash

I also held hands
with an old woman
dying at the hospital
all of her family
prayed and sang
like cherubs before dark

her fearless eyes glowed
when we saw her glimpse
our veiled future

at times this all may seem
terrible, aimless, futile

but trust me that pain
ends, suffering
transfigures, death
at the close
meets her reflection

and shudders




I am sorry God called me
to this pilgrim
cross-haunted life
I am sorry the world
is the world
I am sorry that I
am not Jesus
I am sorry to drown you
in his waters
to join you
to his sufferings

his costly, narrowing life

I pray I only bury you once

but child
I know of no
other road
that finds




forgive me
for wanting to save
you already

give me time
to trust you to God

a few moments
where your fragility
does not frighten me
but emboldens me
to become strong

I know that someday
I will let you save me—
feed me          nurture me

I will let you sell my home
make all the decisions
even cry like I taught you

more than I ever could

but long before my stone is overgrown
I will lose you to the happiness
of sense and life—I will long
to lose you

I will beg you
to wash me
into the realm of dreams

but for a moment
till that moment
cry and cry away this night

The New River

I wrote this pantoum about and for my father a few years ago, based on a picture I had from a white water rafting trip we took when I was in Scouts, taken right before I got flung into the rapids (I looked terrified). I hope you enjoy it on this Father’s Day. Sorry I couldn’t find the picture it’s based on!


The New River

You will soon ride under the river alone.

The photo was taken offshore, by a professional

waiting to capture my fear before I faced what they call the Hole,

a Class-5 Monster, the Big Dip of the New River.


The photo was taken offshore by a professional.

He caught that stupid yellow duckey, my front tilting up

over the Class-5 Monster, the Big Dip of the New River.

My eyes are wildfire. Father’s stay steady and blue.


The stupid yellow duckey is lopsided,

father anchors into the water, pushes me up.

My eyes are wildfire. His remain steady as blue

waves overwhelm us with the river-white foam.


Father weighs down in the water, but the river will push me out.

The picture shows my oar, halfway out my hands,

waving, overwhelmed by the river-white foam.

I wish I could tell my 8-year-old self: don’t worry


the oar is halfway out my hands,

but father’s will not be moved.

I tell myself even now: do not worry,

my father’s hands are sure. He will not leave me.


My father will not be moved.

He already can see the end of the rapids,

and his hands are sure; he will not leave me.

He will never be ashamed of my fears.


He can already see the end of the rapids,

the rapids that teach me to fear death,

but he will never be ashamed of my fears:

he shares them with me. By his outstretched hand


my father will teach me to fear death, but also

to keep my young eyes still, my new arms strong.

He shares his with me by an outstretched hand.

He looks ahead for me and tells me what is coming:


Keep your eyes open. Your arms strong.

Release your fear as you face what they call the Hole.

I will not always see ahead of you, or know what is coming.

You will soon ride under the river, alone.



They have always been like giants to me

eager to squash and munch and bellow


but as I hush the voices of NPR

and my eyes scan the hills and knobs

of this great winding mess called I-65


as I duck and dodge these monsters

I am struck with wonder:

What’s in all those semis?


I mean, where are they going?

Where is it all coming from?


Tearing through their metal sides

I see their wonderful secrets


one semi is full of piñatas

the shape of crosses

stuffed with expired Easter candy


the other has live monkeys

no cages and no rules


one contains a discothèque

pulsing with the sweat of teenagers

who fall as one at every pothole


another has piles of wax statues

crude, colorful imitations of the Greek masters

all falling short of their god’s glory


one hosts twenty-six princesses, all sitting in front of mirrors

putting on lipstick and wiping it off again

unable to screw their face just right


the other has a single pea under a pillow

blissful and still as he could be


there we all were

rushing off

going somewhere

showing something

hiding most of it


after all that dreaming

I felt so transparent and boring

with my non-tented windows

and my silver 2006 Corolla


I wondered what hidden things

these semis might find in me?

What dreams has the dreamer

failed to see? What dances

under my hood?

What lies asleep in my trunk

coughing and crying

hoping and waiting

even by these monsters

to be seen?


I’ve sat around all day, really.
I read a theological magazine.
I watched a kung-fu television show
all the way to its campy finale.
I took a walk with my dog.
And I even wrote a poem about God.
But it’s today that’s vexing me.
Did I do enough?
I’m sure I didn’t love anyone,
or even talk to anyone face to face
(except for my neighbor John
and he barely got a hello).
But I enjoyed the pink blooms
on a nearby cherry tree
and I also made and devoured a delicious turkey sandwich.
I even toasted the bread.

But the most important work I did today
was on my walk
when I stopped to enjoy the rare sunshine
cutting through the grey Spring clouds.

I heard God say to me
Isn’t this enough?
Is my earth not enough?
Am I not enough?

And I wonder now
as I sit in watch for the dark to come
if my lazy, wasted, fruitless day
can count as one long
heaving sigh of


Polynices: I. Icarus


This is the first part of a four part poem entitled “Polynices,” named after the brother of Antigone. It’s about an experience I had as an on-call chaplain, in my attempt as a young white man to minister to an African-American family whose 22 year old had been shot and killed.

I. Icarus

Last night
I dreamed about you again
kneeling outside the ER
squawking, flailing, moaning

your old mothers perch beside you
cooing and humming
their clay faces
lined with the contours of grief
hardened by years of this—
this terrible familiarity
with shotguns
and the cracked shells
they leave behind

the grandmothers in their wisdom
nest a home for your cries
beside you on the sidewalk
folding you in close
with sighs of oh child
and the deep, winged memory
of men and their guns

your aunts and sisters swoop in behind
to preen your moans, searching for answers
hatched in the silence that death brings

your lament breaks the starless night
with rushing, un-prescribed pain
your pain is an eagle of the river
bald and black and wild

escaping the cages
forged by the hospital and its managers of risk

was he your brother? your cousin?
your lover?

(I mean the dead black body
the police are keeping as evidence

or as Christ put it
where the vultures gather)

I don’t remember now
who he was to you

I just remember flying
away from you
up through the door
past the guard
and the nurses
to catch my breath
and stretch my tightened chest

and I’m still flying
up and up
away from you

because a man like me
too close to a pain like you

who knows
my wings might finally melt

A Question

This is one of many poems I wrote during my experience as a chaplain’s intern at Duke Hospital. I haven’t really known what to do with them–they just contain these little snapshots of the hopelessness, but also the grace, that is found in trying to minister to the sick and the dying.

the patient was eighty-nine years old
I bet on Sunday he is an usher in a big old church
with a grey suit and pocket square
but not tonight
tonight he was groaning, blind
ready to meet Jesus
a dying Ray Charles who’d lost his voice
and sunglasses

they phoned the chaplain
because the man might “hurt himself”

I could see why
his wrinkles tremored with the knowledge of pain
stretched across his crisscrossed
black skin, weathered by decades of memory
hardened by the near-misses and nearness of death

I sat and held his trembling hand
as he moaned like sandpaper:

I can’t keep on like this
I don’t want to keep on like this
I just I don’t I can’t      anymore
Prea—cher?                 he sang in a deep baritone
Prea—cher?                 What do I do?

my infant tongue flew up and stuck
to the roof of my mouth
the question shot within me
and bounded like an old-fashioned bullet
the kind that doesn’t go straight through

even as I write this now, the shrapnel
of his words cut and bounce under my thick skin
with a strange, piercing echo:

Prea—cher?                Prea—cher?
What       do     I       do?




Haiku: Mass

Cold rain, the blue noise

beats upon us weary men;

Father, Kyrie.


Green corn, opening,

your life breath moving, cooling;

the Spirit reigns, flies.


In dark terror, I

cling to firm cliffs, solid land,

your words affirming.


Holy holy Lord,

the forests sway, erupt, shout

this Sanctus solstice.


My great Messiah

soars through rushing waters, that

ferocious current.


The fallen oak stands

up: life gushes from God’s Lamb

a green, breathing world!

Ash Wednesday: A Prayer

These ashes feel silly, black strips of cracked grease
smeared on my forehead, like a child’s paint
Am I not a man with days ahead?
Am I not a god until I’m dead?

O Lord, these ashes are flung to the dusk
forgotten and hated specks of mud
hurled at the sun, in spite and scattered
and where are you? and does that matter?

if these ashes are winning, I am sunk in death
my breath damp-dry, my cough unending
weighed and buried in long black robes:
the rocks and bones my clothes

And yet I hope to turn again
from this dead soil to greener patch
still me now and at the ceasing of my breath
and resurrect these ashes from their death