Preacher: Julia Baker-Swann
Scripture: Ephesians 2: 10
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (NRSV)
The Greek word for handiworks is “poiema.”
For we are God’s poem,
What would it be if we saw ourselves, humans and every created thing, as God’s poetry?
Rather than God’s proposition?
How does that change the way we live upon the earth?
To engage this an obvious question is
what is a poem?
Yet this question of definition slips through my hands like water,
asking not to be grasped with a simple sentence of Webster’s who says,
a poem is a composition in verse.
When I reflect on this passage in Ephesians
I imagine God crafting the world like a poem.
I think about how I write a poem,
it is an alive process,
I invite you to walk with me
as I craft, listen and create,
to see if we can engage the questions
of what a poem is,
and what it might mean to live as the poetry we are.
Many of my poems begin on morning walks.
In the woods I wander trails made by person or deer
in the same way that I sit in front of a blank page.
No destination in mind or agenda in hand.
I enter the unknown.
I wait and walk until nudged to stop.
I may have heard a word or line
and sit where I am and write.
I follow words like I follow trails,
letting metaphor, memory, sensation and image guide
where the poem might want to go.
Sometimes I just write that heard word,
sitting with it until the birds who vanished
with alarmed calls at my sight returned to gentle song.
Other times my invitation to stop is a call
not from words within but
from stone, sticks, flower or leaf on the earth in front of me.
I gather these living ones, like I gather metaphor or image,
carrying them with me until a page of earth reveals itself as
the place to follow the pattern into form.
I have long been inspired by the land art of Andrew Goldsworthy.
His materials are found natural objects—stone, leaf, sticks, ice and the passage of time.
Goldsworthy makes site-specific ephemeral art pieces.
He then photographs his pieces as they decay and shift,
—a sculpture of driftwood on an Irish beach washing out to sea,
a rope of leaves floating down a river.
He names this undoing as just as much a part of the piece.
He says of his work,
“It’s not about art, it’s just about life
and the need to understand that a lot of things in life do not last.”
When I return to my home and desk
I spend time with words
and enter into revision.
To see again.
Much of my poetry writing process
is in taking away, releasing
the words that are not needed.
Letting go, letting go.
Letting the words decay like the leaves in the circle under the maple tree.
Moldering back into soil.
Re-vision is being okay with the changing shape of the poem,
welcoming the change as part of growth,
Sometimes only a line or two from the original
scrawl in my notebook remains in the typed final form.
On my walks I am never alone.
We all carry a library within us, a canon
of all the conversations we have had, books read,
moments, images, and sensations remembered and not.
Many of my conversations partners I have never met
but dwell in loved pages of books.
One of these is the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
Last fall I wandered into a local bookstore and left
with a thin red copy of his book In Praise of Mortality
a translation from the German to English by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows.
This from their introduction:
“In naming what is doomed to disappear,
naming the way it keeps streaming through our hands,
we can hear the song that the streaming makes.
Our view of reality shifts from noun to verb.
We become part of the dance.”
We become part of the poem. I say.
Macy and Barrows name the thread in Rilke’s as a deep acceptance of impermanence,
they write, “Rilke had no patience with the fear of death.
The very fact we are bound to die can be cause for gratitude,
for it delivers us into the immediacy and fullness of life.”
the immediacy and fullness of life
What we, the living poem, were created for.
I sense this is what Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus
is encouraging, for these new Jesus followers to deeply feel the presence of Grace
as they releasing the ways of the world that mire
and to live into the fullness of life.
This winter as I walk into the frozen woods seeking the immediacy and fullness of life
within years when the stark awareness that a lot of things in life do not last
is especially strong.
The evidence of natural let go around me is a gift.
I walk daily into the earth’s poem of transformation, death and change.
The meadow that began as a bursting yellow field of goldenrod is now silver and seed.
The pond covered with pea-green algae slowly dies to black water.
Leaves colored, withered, fell.
I return to a circle of sticks or stones
I had made into a pattern after one day or several weeks
and am delighted in the way the form has changed.
The change is always beautiful.
In this postured attention to the seasonal let go
I feel more tangibly my kinship with all life forms
—all of the “capital P” Poem.
As I observe the beauty and what is-ness of the impermanence around me,
this opens more space for the let go within myself.
The let go within and without as one and the same.
Because I am a part of this breathing world my walking and creating,
and releasing attachments has a direct effect on those I am creating with.
Fling the nothing you are grasping
out into the spaces we breathe.
Maybe the birds
will feel in their flight
how the air has expanded.
A question I often get is:
how do I know when a poem is done?
There is a sense of completion that arrives
but I am not sure that a poem is ever done.
A poem is not a proposition
that names a fixed statement to be clung to.
It is a changing, becoming, alive conversation.
And to me this is where God’s naming us as poem
is so freeing, it is permission giving.
We are such complex beings, in a complex world.
I know I can often get twisted up in that.
When I think of living as Poem
I think of living with an posture of attention,
of wonder and beauty seeking, waiting in silence,
of revision, release, open handed truth naming, of healing
and a deep bow to the Mystery, to the Co-Creator.
I heard a recent definition of a poem by
The US poet laureate Joy Harjo
who says a poem is an energetic construct made of words
that holds what you can not understand.
We are created for what urpasses understanding.
I invite you into the poetic Mystery we are, that we live in, that we are created for.
As you experience these poems and ephemeral art pieces.
Walk with me.