A New Christmas Poem

I have a story in my head, of an old shepherd minding the camp while the younger men take the herds out to graze. At first I thought to tell the whole story in verse, but that proved to be too much. Then I began to write the story, with little bits of verse by the old shepherd, interspersed throughout. That also proved too much to finish by today. But the bits of verse hung together fairly well, so I polished them up a bit this morning. The story will come as I have time.

The Shepherd’s Rhyme

by Jim Thorp

O fallen are the souls of men and death the sinner’s doom

And who but you, O Lord of all, can make the desert bloom?

And who but you, O Lord of hosts, can split a winter’s night

To flood the weary world below with wonder, warmth, and light?

The heart, a stony seed within; a man, the dusty ground

And who but you, Creator blest, can make new life abound?

And who but you, O Lord above, our sunshine and our rain,

Can soak and swell a shrivelled soul and make it sprout again?

The crocus blooms, the rocks rejoice, the dry rills run with water

The heavens ring: A king! A king! is born to virgin daughter!

c.f. Isaiah 35

Made To Be Broken

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

Life in this world seems to dispense blessing with one hand and heartache with the other. In the past few weeks, we’ve enjoyed weddings and worship, family, and friends, brewing and canning in abundance—and learned of the passing of friends, the decline of others, lost children, and struggling families.

Have you ever wished you couldn’t feel each loss so keenly? The joys of life are wonderful, but at times, the temptation to not feel at all becomes so strong that you harden your heart even against the good to avoid the pain of the bad.

Hardness is not a virtue. As a physical trait, it has the peculiar tendency of making a thing seem solid and strong, while rendering the thing more brittle and fragile. (Diamonds are a rare exception, and the conditions required to create one in nature are extraordinary.) Scripture warns specifically against hardness of heart, and many people know from experience that the thicker the shell we build around our hearts, the more painful the blow and crack that finally breaks it open.

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Hope In Abundance

This post will appear as a column in the May 30, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin. I am posting it early because somebody, somewhere, needs this today.

It’s been a tough few weeks. First some close friends lost their son—a veteran, husband and father of two—after a long struggle with mental health and the ongoing impact of combat violence. Another friend lost her mother, and yet another friend lost his wife and mother of his three adopted children after a long battle with cancer. Then I woke to the news that my grandma, Rowena Thorp, had passed in her sleep this morning (Tuesday, May 25) at age 90.

We always experience sadness at the death of a loved one, even if their rest is well earned. We miss their faces, voices, laughter and advice. We sometimes regret questions unasked or things unsaid, and we often wish we could see them one last time.

When we lose someone too soon or to circumstances beyond our ability to manage or understand, the loss can be devastating. How, in these cases, do we persevere in hope?

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Mercy Made Easy

This post ran as a column in the Sunday, April 11, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

A friend frequently reminds me to “keep my armor polished.” By this he means if I stumble into a significant sin—or even if it’s just been a while, and the daily imperfections have smudged and tarnished the sheen on my soul—don’t wait; get to Confession.

I was pressed for time in the run-up to Holy Week. I wasn’t struggling with anything grave or intentional, and with my schedule packed and my energy ebbing, something had to give. So I postponed Confession.

Then, as usual, the fog descended.

I don’t know about you, but even the accumulation of venial sins obscures my spiritual sight. I think less clearly, feel more anxious, see challenges in a worse light, and feel temptations more keenly. On Monday of Holy Week, I sat down to examine my conscience and six weeks of debris tumbled from my heart and onto the paper. Suddenly the weight was apparent, so that even the long lines at the penance service could not deter me unburdening myself.

When my turn came at last, I stepped past the screen to look Father in the eye. I was surprised not to recognize the priest: a stocky man with a fringe of clipped hair around a bald dome, and calm but serious eyes. He began without greeting: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

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Christmas Poem: Conception

In endless absence, Presence spoke a whispered Word, and Love awoke.

The Word, unheard in any tongue, created all: The stars were hung;

The earth and waters teemed with life—the man woke singing to his wife.

In love the cosmos had its start, and at its core: a flaming Heart.

In perfect rhythm dwelt our kin until in pride they chose to sin

And, grasping godhood, fell from grace, condemning all the human race.

 

When in God’s time the angel spoke his gentle ave, Hope awoke

Inside Maria’s sinless breast—and grew with her obedient yes.

The Holy Spirit took a wife; her virgin womb then bloomed with Life.

Her fiat was Salvation’s start, and in His chest: a flaming Heart.

It beats though punctured by our pride, and new life gushes from His side,

Restoring mankind to God’s grace, for He has suffered in our place.

 

So to my knees I fall and pray: How shall I conceive Christ today,

Like that heroic holy girl, and bear Him to a waiting world?

 

Blogger’s Note: My Christmas poem is a few weeks late, due to an unusually eventful (and fruitful!) December. Check out past Christmas poems and other related writings!