Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Basket of prayers"

Basket of prayers
A hymn of offering to God
My heart, O God, my heart
Enters now the Holy Place,
Where You wait with open arms
To meet me face to face.

My heart, O Lord, my eager heart
Bows low before Your Throne,
And trembles Lord to hear You start
To speak to me alone.

My heart, O God, my grateful heart
I offer now to You
A basket of my prayers;
To You beloved Lord,
A basket full of tears
That You alone have wiped away;
A basket full of fears
That You alone have cast afar;
A basket full of hurts
That You alone have healed;
A basket full of hope
That You alone have blessed me with;
A basket full of joy
That Calvary earned for me;
A basket full of prayers,
A basket full of prayers,
A basket, Lord, that’s full of praise,
A basket Lord, that’s full of praise,
My heart, O Lord, I give to You,
A basket full of praise.

(c) John Robert Lee 2011
(c) Haitian child. Getty
(c) Basket. J.R. Lee

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Kingdom Poets (a blog by D.S. Martin)" of Canada

I've just come across a great blog that features Christian writers. It's called "Kingdom Poets" and is produced by poet D.S. Martin of Ontario, Canada. His blog is a veritable anthology of great Christian writing, from the past and into our contemporary literature. Indeed a work of love and dedication. Martin writes short notes to accompany each blog entry alongside an excerpt from the writers' work. This provides a useful introduction, especially to writers we have not heard of. He is the author of several collections including Poiema, a winner of the 2009 Canadian Christian Writing Awards. He also contributes articles on poetry to several well-known magazines, like Books and Culture.
With his permission, I share his note on Robert Cording, contemporary writer, and one of Cording's poems.

"Robert Cording is an award-winning, contemporary poet living in Connecticut, and teaching English and creative writing at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. He has five poetry books to his credit, the most recent being Common Life (CavanKerry Press). He tends to write from a faith point-of-view but often in a way that doesn’t primarily focus on the spiritual.

When I asked Robert Cording about the relationship between his role as a poet, and that of a Christian, he referred me to something he had said when his book Against Consolation received the Arlen Myer Prize. He'd said: "My task of late has been to evoke what I would call the primordial intuitions of Christianity. What are they?—that we live in a world we did not create; that God’s immanent presence is capable of breaking in on us at every moment; that most of the time we cannot 'taste and see' that presence because we live in a world of self-reflecting mirrors; that only by attention alone...can we live in the world but outside of our existing conceptions of it."

The following poem does this: causing us to look at ourselves but then to look well beyond ourselves.


They’re everywhere, baby-cheeked cherubs flying
On boutique signs, on cards and magazine covers,
In the serene sky of coffee table books.

They surround us like a halo that is no more
Than a suggestion, a dim waking to something
At the edge of our gaze when we look up.

Trees sway, a bird sings, propelling us to worship
Some source of warmth that will fill in the blank
Spaces of our hearts. Our angels never flash swords,

Flap their six monstrous wings like the sound of chariots,
Mete out judgement, or announce unexpectedly
A precocious child. They tell us to forgive ourselves

And love who we are; they focus us on abundance
So we may have enough for car and house payments,
The kids’ tuition bills. They whisper— there’s a god

Inside of you—and we believe. How good we feel
About ourselves, how unencumbered and free,
As if some transformation had surely taken place.

And so our days unravel in summer pastels,
The sun a mild version of itself, its trellised light
Nearly graspable, dappling the patio bricks and a table

Where a book is opened by the wind, a sign
Without meaning but beautiful, serving almost
No purpose at all except to create a kind of mild
Annunciatory sense that, yes, everything is about us."

(Posted with the poet's permission)

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, February 7, 2011


The ionic columns hold nothing up
Not the twin cupolas that welcomed mariners to Port-au-Prince
Not the grand round windows of stained-glass ikons
Not the novenas of those who died in the fallen girders,
Unless you count the blue dome of vacant air
The ruined, ruined facades
The hovering stench —
Has Boukman triumphed?
Do Legba and Ghede aka Baron Samedi mount the buried altars?
Does Ogoun lie entombed in this broken peristyle?
Do these curious questions matter to the houngan
Crying down the mess of fallen masonry
To touch his daughter’s ears?—

Outside the shattered cathedral
The women kneeling in the dust
Raise rosaries to the familiar Haitian sky
And lift their psalms
Past the ionic columns
That hold nothing up.

(c) Photo by Shaul Schwarz/Reportage by Getty Images.
(c) John Robert Lee

The Madonna of Port au Prince

You who look like Alice
Your eyes red with shattered plaster and weeping
Your full lips bruised with dirt
Your hairpiece of locks slipping back like a cowl
The powder dusting your oval cheeks is grey concrete —
If the rest of you was not buried under rocks of blasted wall
And the figure in the foreground was not blood splattered
And someone’s leg was not trapped behind you,
You could have been a pretty girl
With sand on your bare arms
Writing your name on a shell
On some beach off Les Cayes—

You who look like Alice
Another lost girl I used to know,
Not an ikon’s model
On a chapel wall in Jacmel
But a strange Madonna anyhow
Flat on the scattered masonry
Sans enfant, or enfant gone from your hands
To the devouring earth —
The ikon herself
Impassive Erzulie, gazing through your Carib face
From a palette of pixels
Framing now before me.

(c) John Robert Lee
(c) Photo by Daniel Morel/Photomorel of Haiti. One of the first news photographs to appear after the January 12th 2010 Haiti earthquake.

"In Caravaggio's ikon"

© John Robert Lee 2010

“In Caravaggio’s ikon”

In Caravaggio’s ikon of Thomas seeing Christ
all eyes are locked to the doubter’s firm finger
poking around the torn flesh, under

the strong hand of the Carpenter. Thomas,
Apostle to our secular, mocking, murderous
new age, meeting his worst-case scenario

with the firm grit of flesh under his thumb
that index of incarnation— incarnation, Immanuel
God is with us — under the impossible rubble

as we claw at the unimaginable earthfall, Immanuel—
over the body of someone’s son fallen in crossfire
in shrieking shadowlands of betrayal

through terminal disorientation of disease, Immanuel.
Because that wound is real, the death was certain
here, beyond reason, beyond the apocalypse

of  private disasters, is something else
is Life beyond life, beyond heartbreak
beyond assassination, beyond the tremblor

at 3 in the afternoon, beyond the amnesiac cancer of the mind.
Here, under our finger, is faith, here is hope,
and He asks us, against the brutal heel on the locked door

the harsh fist of imploding earth
the shroud covered bier—
“Love one another.”

© The Incredulity of St. Thomas. Caravaggio, 1602.