When I Fell In Love With God

By Ken Woodley

“Jesus put before the crowds another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’”

Neither of us saw it coming.

It just happened.

A heart-on collision.

There were so many broken pieces

that I couldn’t tell where mine ended

and yours began.

Your headlight was in my backseat.

My steering wheel spun on your left axle.

We put ourselves back together again the best we could

but I’m not sure we did it flawlessly

you said with my voice

as your heart beat inside me

that day in Galilee

by the sea,

or the foothills of Virginia,

and the word love so far beyond the tip

of our tongue

that it spoke in the air we breathed,

sending us out into the world together

to see what might happen next.

Himalayan Morning

By Ken Woodley

“Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea”

—Matthew 13:1

My desert feelings can’t remember the flat line of their own horizons

and my valleys of shadow recall nothing

the darkness ever said to them.

I awake to an inexplicable altitude

and the music of the last voice I heard

before I woke up

echoing off vertical feelings that cover me

like the sunshine after it has lifted mist.

“Going up?”

The answer surrounds me, like the smell of coffee.

I yawn and stretch into the passing shapes of clouds

that seem to know just where they are going.

My peaks are everywhere.

At the end of a day’s climb

I stand upon the ridge of all that I have ever known.

The air is thin and bright.

I breathe as deeply as I can,

only to exhale in surprise.

A harmony beyond the sky has filled the deepest,

the everest part of me

and no matter where I look

I know the melody will go on forever

if only this afternoon

I can remember to memorize the tune God has just sung to me

and bring the mountaintop home.

Again last night I was certain that I never could

but tomorrow—once more—I believe I shall

remember one more note at least and this:

No matter what happens next

every note of the melody remembers every note of me,

even those that I have never heard,

the ones I must believe in enough to discover for myself

and then sing to my deserts and my valleys.

The Second Shadow

By Ken Woodley

The weight is so heavy.
Too burdensome.
I don’t see how I can go any further.
No way.
It has been so hard for so long.
Years and years, it seems, so another single step feels impossible.
The valley of this shadow seems to stretch forever and the slopes that surround me look and feel too steep.
Each time I try to climb up and out of this, I slip and slide and stumble and fall. I am cut and bleeding and still this burden refuses to fall from my shoulders, fall away from my heart, or from my soul. Its weeds are everywhere and there are days when I cannot see my flowers. Can’t even smell them.
Today is one of those days.
The weeds of this burden blind me to even a single petal of one solitary flower.
And all around me are people on the same journey.
Carrying their own burdens that are too burdensome.
They don’t see how they can go any further.
No way.
It has been so hard for them, too, for so long.
Years and years, it seems, even if it has been a few days, weeks or months, so another step feels impossible to them.
The valley of the shadow surrounding them seems to stretch forever and the slopes surrounding them look and feel too steep.
Weeds surround them. Their flowers are nowhere to be seen. They can’t even smell them.
All of us have stumbled and fallen and the weeds seem certain to take every one of our blossoms away.
But, on our bruised and bleeding knees we pray.
Unable to gaze skyward any longer, we look down and see our bent and humbled shadow in prayer.
Prayer is all we have left, hopeless words searching for hope.
And that—yes, that—is when we see the second shadow.
A second shadow beside us.
Beside every one of us.
The shadow of someone carrying a yoke across his shoulders.
This shadow of the man and his yoke look just like the shadow of a cross, a crucified man somehow journeying right by our side.
Has he been there all along?
Did we mistake our burden for his?
Or his burden for ours?
None of that matters, we realize, as the flowers of this moment bloom, the sudden petals painting even the weeds into some kind of rainbow pasture where we rest and feel our burdens lifted. Our heads are anointed with oil.
In a moment, we shall all journey on.
Our burden won’t be gone but it will feel lighter because we do not carry it alone.
Jesus knows all about crosses.
That is why he can help us carry our own.

Casting Our Nets

By Ken Woodley

I throw myself into the water,

just where Jesus tells me to,

his voice reaching out through the darkness from the shore

where small flames begin to flicker into fire,

and I swim around the fishing boat on my back

looking up at all of the sudden stars

that twinkle like happy eyes

a very long way away

that still seem right beside me

and I open my own eyes wider

to catch all of their light

and twinkle back,

hoping they will feel that I am

right beside them, too.

And this was my catch:


not fish,

so much light

that my net could not contain it.

All of the light went shining off in every direction

toward everyone else fishing in the darkness

for a reason to keep sailing upon this often stormy sea.

Just as their light has often found me

and led me on

to this very moment

where I understand that light

is not meant to be caught, scaled and sold in the marketplace.

This passage through the darkness is meant for sharing.

Meant for a holy and loving communion with others,

Jesus explains when I stand

warming my water-dripping shivers by his fire

on the shore,

his eyes twinkling like two happy stars

right beside me

as he gives me a roasted fish to eat for breakfast

and a loaf of bread that he has broken for me

and for you

as we embrace in this shimmering pool of light.

And So We Sing

By Ken Woodley

And so I sing

a broken song

of fragment notes

and shattered melody

splintered on a wooden cross

and smashed

beyond repair.

And yet I sing

this broken song

because this broken song

sings the broken song of me,

my broken song of shattered notes

and fragment melody,

splintered on a wooden cross,

smashed beyond repair,

about a sun that’s rising

into a broken day

from the fragment dreams

of a shattered night

that had no hope of dawn

because there were too many


and too many



there were none at all

and the broken sun

kept rising

into my broken song

and yours

and we shone

through every fragment note

and shine through all

the shattered melodies

no longer splintered

on a wooden cross,

nor smashed beyond repair.

Now even the broken darkness sings

the persistent song

of a rising sun

that warms our wondrous scars

and paints them on the sky.

Butterfly Out Of The Cocoon Looking For God

By Ken Woodley

My long and desperate sleep is over.

No more subterranean dreams about constellations.

Darkness slowly unravels and the stars see me shining

as if the sky is carefully untying its ribbons and bows

to stand naked and present beside me.

Everything has been turned inside out.

I open my eyes to speak.

I open my mouth to see.

I am neither worm nor angel:

just me,

stretching toward a higher place inside me and beginning to rise

on a breeze that feels like a hurricane holding its breath.

Anything could happen next.

All or nothing.

I am a fluttering brushstroke of seasons,

a water-colored apostrophe in search of the sentence,

or just one word,

to explain

how I got these stained-glass wings

and why I feel the pattern of your

fingerprints dusted all over them.

The one thing I do know is this:

Your touch is the only way I fly.

Cloud Confession

By Ken Woodley

the sun
relentlessly refuses
an alibi
for shining
in a blue sky
on everyone and everything,
infuriating the raining power,
which washes its hands
of the whole matter,
allowing a small mob
of thunder and lightning
to pass judgment.
So they crucify
the sun,
nailing its light
to a darkness
they believe eternal,
but the stars
bleed small pools of shining
and the moon
digs in its heels,
shouting for all the world to hear:
“I am not the light.
There is something out there
so wondrous, pure and bright
that I cannot possibly
refuse to reflect
its message and meaning.
You can shine, too, unless
you turn yourself off.”
And then literally the very next day—
no apocryphal myth, I assure you—
the sun actually rises,
I mean, straight up,
just as promised,
absolute dawn
despite hammers and nails and thorns
and our own Judas clouds
that sometimes cover
the whole

Small Fragments Of Faith

By Ken Woodley

Bethlehem Translation

With a sheepish
God remembered
in our vocabulary
So a shepherd
in that darkness,
for our scattered
and silent

Against The Odds

A polar light
to the snowbound
tracks of spring’s
small revolution
against the tyranny
of the sky’s misunderstanding
of the colors of its reflection
in our eyes
as our hands hold
this one

Sing The Sudden Same

All notes
of the universe.
In unison.
Chorusing for us.
No need to refrain
from this love within
us all
in different voices
for each other.

Black And White

By Ken Woodley

Sometimes the whole world seems to speak a foreign language that I do not understand.
Times when the whole world makes no sense at all.
Hearts are shut down.
Voices are raised.
Meaning is lost.
Darkness seems to be in control of every light switch.
I wander like a stranger in a strange land, hearing people declare that the color of their skin makes them better than others.
At those times all of the world’s words are a closed book to me.
There is no dictionary. No definition to explain it all. No meaning to anything. Just noise, noise, noise.
But no sounds that I want to hear.
And all of the dark and dividing voices seem certain that God is fighting on their side.
Some of them stand in front of a church holding up a bible that, in their hands, looks more like another weapon being wielded.
Just like it did when the first slave ships arrived.
Like it did during lynchings.
During cross-burnings.
Just like it did when a trigger was pulled in Memphis, Tennessee.
A black man is killed because he is black.

And it keeps on happening. On and on and on. Keeps on happening today and, if we do not stop, it will keep on happening tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Sometimes I imagine I am standing in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago in the days before Pentecost, understanding nothing at all.
I am surrounded by Parthians, Medes and Elamites, by residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and visitors from Rome.
But … then something happens.
Suddenly, the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus plays a note.
Just one note.
A note of such wonder that I don’t need to understand every word, or any word, that is being spoken.
Everything is being said—everything that truly matters—by the melody of that one note.
The borderless Holy Spirit opening all of our ears, all of our minds, all of our hearts with one true note so wondrous that it can somehow play a one-note melody inside us.
The same note within us all.
Black and white brothers and sisters.
Black and white children of God.
If we’d only listen.
If we’d only sing along.
Dividing every division until there is nothing left at all.
But people.
Nothing left at all but us—the harmony that God has been praying would one day fill the world.
But too, it has seemed for far too long, the hardest thing for a human being to do is open their heart and feel what God feels toward every person in this world.
Black and white.
All colors.
And accents.
Open their mouth and speak what God would say to all the people of this world.
Black and white.
All colors.
And accents.
Open their mind and understand what God understands about everyone.
Black and white.
All colors.
And accents.
A note of true beauty needs no explanation, no dictionary, no interpreter.
It only needs us to understand and accept that God has planted the seed of that one true note in all of us.
Black and white.
All colors.
And accents.
Without exception.
Black and white.
All colors.
And accents.
This is something I believe with every fiber of my being: The world would make total sense—the sound of one heart beating—if we’d only let it.

Hold Yourself Up To The Light

By Ken Woodley

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord … the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good … All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
— 1 Corinthians, chapter 12
Each of us is a piece of stained glass through which the love and grace of God can shine into the world. No piece of stained glass is more important than another.
Consider the most magnificent stained glass window you’ve ever seen. Now, in your mind’s eye, knock out one piece of its colored glass.
The emptiness of that missing piece takes away from the whole. Anyone looking at the stained glass window is going to find themselves unwillingly drawn to that empty space. That is what their eyes are going to see, no matter the beauty of the rest.
Each of us has a talent that we share with our family and the world beyond our own four walls through the willing exercise of that God-given gift. None of these gifts is more, or less, important than another.
Even the seemingly simplest act of service—which might not even seem like a piece of stained glass—is a crucial openness of the human heart which is, in itself, a powerful gift that our world so desperately needs shared.
Each of our gifts is also like a spoke on a wheel. Each spoke is connected to the same wheel hub, just as our gifts come from the same Holy Spirit. Remove even a single spoke and the wheel is weakened and then one day breaks and the journey—wherever our family or community were headed—is delayed or jeopardized entirely. Every spoke matters equally and is a blessing.
Look at our own hands. One of our fingers cannot pick even a penny up off the sidewalk. But when our fingers work together we can take a sword and pound it into a plowshare.
God gives each of us our own unique gifts so that we will work together for the greater good. The more we work together, the greater the good.
Nobody has all the gifts they will need to live a full and truly happy life. And if we did, how terrible to be alone with so many gifts and nobody with whom to share them.
Even when the world feels surrounded by clouds—as it does now—there is a light still shining behind them and through them. Through our own piece of stained glass into a world that needs us now.
Needs to be together with us now more than ever. Nobody else has what you can give the world. Nobody else is the piece of stained glass that you are. Don’t keep it to yourself by pulling it from the stained glass window. Don’t make an empty space where your unique gift is most needed.
And don’t despair. Your gift can do great good. Especially now.
Hold yourself up to the light.
Not the darkness.
Let that light shine through you.