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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

hammers

and too many

nails.

Until

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


Under
brutal
interrogation,
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
thing
up.

Small Fragments Of Faith

By Ken Woodley

Bethlehem Translation

With a sheepish
grin
God remembered
that
LOVE
wasn’t
in our vocabulary
yet.
So a shepherd
came
in that darkness,
reaching
for our scattered
hands
and silent
hearts.


Against The Odds

A polar light
bears
witness
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
small
candled
hope.


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
identical
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.
Church-bombings.
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.

Even In A World With A Mask On Its Face

By Ken Woodley

Imagine being one of the apostles near the Mount of Olivet during the scene described in verses six through 14 in the first chapter of the Book of Acts. There we are, with the risen Jesus, who is giving us our marching orders: to be his witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth.
If being with the resurrected Jesus isn’t mind-blowing enough, we then watch as he is lifted up and taken out of our sight in a cloud. As we’re gazing up toward heaven, two men in white robes suddenly appear at our side and ask why we’re looking up into the sky. Jesus, they tell us, has been taken away from us into heaven but will come back in the same way.
What a conversation we would have had during the day-long walk back to Jerusalem after this experience. Dumbfounded silence would have been interspersed with gushing voices falling over each other recounting what had just happened.
But, what had just happened?
In all likelihood, I suppose, the two men were angels. They match the description of the two who appeared to Mary Magdalene when she went to Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning.
The one thing I know better than anything else—the one thing I know best of all—is that there is a ton of stuff that I don’t know. This passage from the Book of Acts is among the many things I cannot explain.
And that makes me very happy.
You and I—all of us—need far more than what the human mind could possibly conceive. The transformation of humanity into a world of love and compassion requires far more than anything I could dissect and explain. This time of global pandemic underscores this truth with a million exclamation marks.
Knowing that God is in the process of lifting us all toward one another—if we allow it to happen by not misusing our free will—is incredibly reassuring.
We can feel ripples of God’s movement, like a breeze against our skin or a river’s current and the pulling of a tide along the shore as we wade out together.
But I cannot take the wind in my hands and hold it tightly, even for a second. Rivers and tides flow right through my fingers. I cannot begin to grasp the awesome fullness of what is happening and how it is happening.
There are clues all around but I won’t pretend to solve the mystery before your very eyes.
God is on the case and I thank God for that.
All I know is what I have faith in: there is an awesome transformation underway and taking shape. It is, indeed, happening. Even in a world with a mask on its face.
The love and grace of God will eventually prevail in the world because it will some day prevail in our hearts. Prevailing in the human heart, one human being at a time, is how that love and grace shine like beams of light into the friendless corners of the world that surround us.
The alternative, so often clearly illustrated, is darkness spreading one human heart at a time.
So, here we are. Gathered with Peter and John, wherever we are in this world. Gathered with James and Andrew, with Phillip and Thomas. Here we are, gathered with the mother and brothers of Jesus.
Gathered with each other.
Something wondrous has happened on our journey to Jerusalem—and is unstoppably underway—that we cannot fully explain.
Or stop.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.


The Holy ‘Ghost Writer’


By Ken Woodley

Think back, for a moment, to the best meal you’ve ever had in your life. Whether at a fine restaurant or cooked at home, with family at Christmas or over a campfire in the woods by a lake.
A meal that lives long in memory, and may even be one that you’ve enjoyed while surrounded by the coronavirus.
Okay, hold that thought as we listen to what Jesus has to say about the Holy Spirit in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Of the three figures of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the most difficult for many people to fully grasp. God we understand. Jesus we comprehend. But the Holy Spirit? The Holy Ghost? Ghosts aren’t part of our everyday lives. Except this one.
One can think of the Holy Spirit as a “feeling” that comes upon us when we are deep in prayer or, as can happen, when our mind is on something else entirely. A feeling that reminds us of God and Jesus, gives us a feeling of their presence and what it means in our lives, a feeling of inspiration, a feeling of insight, a feeling of hearing, seeing and understanding the spiritual more clearly, suddenly and sometimes only for an instant. An instant, however, that lingers in memory—like the best meal you’ve ever had.
Think of God as the Master Chef. Master Chefs express themselves through their culinary masterpieces. God’s back in a kitchen that is literally out of this world and God is cooking up the best meal we could ever possibly be served—an expression, or articulation, of God’s life-transforming love and grace. That’s what God, the Master Chef, prepared for us: love and grace that change our lives.
Now, think of Jesus as the meal, itself, as the way God’s love and grace were expressed and articulated into the world. God served love and grace to us through Jesus and the meaning and ministry of his life, death and resurrection.
But how does the Holy Spirit fit into all of this? Think of the Holy Spirit as the aroma of that meal that God prepared for us and then served to us through Jesus. Though the Master Chef, the meal and its aroma are three distinct and different things, they are also, somehow, part of the same thing.
Think about aromas. We can’t see them. We can’t touch them. But they sure are real. They are like spirits of what has been prepared for us and then served as a meal. They are culinary “ghosts” but we know for a fact they exist. We smell them every day.
The aroma of a meal is part of the meal, itself. The aroma comes directly from what has been prepared. The aroma of a steak is literally part of the steak. The Holy Spirit is no different—It just doesn’t have anything to do with a rib-eyes.
And all aromas do something quite special.
Think back to that best-meal-ever in your life. If you could somehow smell the aroma again it would bring that meal back to life for you. The aroma would remind you of every nuance, nook and cranny of that meal: how it looked, the way it felt on your tongue and, especially, its flavors.
That is exactly what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit allows us to feel, to “taste” the expression of God’s love and grace that was prepared and served to us through Jesus.
Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit to ensure we’d never go spiritually hungry. God’s love and grace are being served every day and COVID-19 cannot shut that down.
The Holy Spirit makes deliveries wherever you are, and there is always “take-out,” as well, no matter where you find yourself.
Simply enjoying the meal, however, is not God’s dream for us, nor why Jesus lived for us, died for us, and was resurrected for us. Being transformed by God’s expression of love and grace—even just a little bit—is why God brought all the ingredients together and invites us to the feast.
No degree of transformation is insignificant. Consider how one single comma, rather than the tiny dot of a period, can change the meaning of a sentence that alters the plot of a chapter that transforms the end of a novel.
Our own life stories are being written every day and a Holy “ghost writer” is just waiting to be our co-author.
So keep typing.
And follow that scent.

God Doesn’t Do Social Distancing


By Ken Woodley

What a place God’s house must be.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled because in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
Some translations of the second verse of the 14th chapter describe God’s house as a place “of many rooms.” The King James version uses the phrase “of many mansions.”
I like “dwelling places” best because it suggests, or allows one to imagine, a place beyond standard housing architecture.
A “dwelling place” might be anything anywhere. A mountaintop overlooking a beautiful valley or the sea. A deep forest filled with the song of the wood thrush. A dwelling place is not confined to a room in a building. Though, don’t get me wrong, if God’s house is filled with many rooms I’m totally cool with that. I don’t need a mansion. A room will do nicely. Imagine the view through the window.
A house filled with many dwelling places or mansions seems rather fanciful and altogether beyond our imagination. And the thought of Jesus coming back to take us there is an incredible one. Some folks, in fact, might find it hard to believe.
But there are clues to this future reality all around us, in and out of the pathways of our lives. If we look and feel closely into our souls and think about the world around us—however troubled that world feels today—we’ll sense that truth.
Consider how many “dwelling places” the Holy Spirit of God and Christ share with us now.
And all without putting any “social distance” between us and them.
The places where we can encounter their Holy presence is without limit: Our home. Our car. The hammock under the tree. The front porch. A meadow. A mountaintop. Or the final few yards of a dead-end street.
Wherever, in fact, we find ourselves in meditation or prayer is the place where the Holy Spirit can find us and abide with us for a sacred moment. Even at times when our thoughts might seem drifting away from God, in fact. Indeed, spiritual cul-de-sacs and wilderness times sometimes find God blazing a trail straight to us in response.
And, thankfully, we don’t have to maintain a distance of six feet from our prayerful meditations and the Holy Spirit’s loving reply, which so often comes in the form of that feeling of “peace which passes all understanding.”
This Love is the real thing. If five million people are deep in prayer at the same time the Holy Spirit of God and Christ have no difficulty being in five million different “dwelling” places at the same time.
Where each of us dwells in a moment in or out of prayer in this life is where the Holy Spirit will brush against our soul.
So, if that is not only possible but a daily fact of life in every corner of the world right this minute, what might be possible after our souls make that final spiritual journey to dwell in God’s house?
The sky isn’t the limit.
Nothing is.
But, however wondrous, heaven is for another day.
For just a moment, let’s allow our very real coronavirus anxieties to slip through our fingers like water flowing downstream and hold on to this truth: all of us are sharing the same dwelling place with God’s loving Holy Spirit right now.
No matter what language we speak. No matter the color of our skin. No matter where we live. No matter what.
Perhaps the current demands of social distancing will allow us to see that truth with greater clarity when we are once again find ourselves in a crowd, or right next to someone on a street corner.
Maybe when that blessed day arrives we’ll do a better job of treating all people as a member of our family and a child of God.
Because the truth is that, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, too many of us all over this world were already keeping our “social distance” from people who needed our love, instead.
That’s no place for us, or anyone, to dwell.






















A Very ‘Sheepish’ Memory

By Ken Woodley

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my memory—my ability to recall—needs to be recalled by the manufacturer.
On more than one occasion, for example, I’ve come around the corner of an aisle in a grocery store and heard someone call me by name.
I knew that person.
I knew I knew that person.
That person knew I knew them.
But I could not recall their name at that moment to save my life, or the life of anyone else.
The explanation is one I understand: I was totally pre-occupied with my own thoughts, that had nothing to do with shopping, while simultaneously trying to remember all of the things I needed to buy. Had I seen the person from a distance it would have given what sometimes passes for my brain time to remind me of their name.
Or, that’s what I tell myself.
But I know it’s not just me. I’ve also been on the receiving end of “name non-memory.” I’ve said hello to someone and the look on their face tells me all I need to know. They can’t remember my name to save their life. Or anyone else’s life. I understand. Been there and forgot that.
So how utterly amazing is it that Jesus knows all of his sheep by name?
Totally astonishing.
Just think how many sheep Jesus has shepherded throughout the whole wide world over the past 2,000 years. Yet, Jesus knows us all by name.
But he also knows more than that. Jesus is aware of all that we have been, all that we are, and all that we can be—if we follow our Good Shepherd.
Jesus knows when we need to lie down in green pastures. And when we feel, in our soul, the holy spirit of Jesus guiding us to a restfulness that feels like a green pasture it is more than okay for us to do just that—to stop being so busy, physically and mentally, and chill out in the abundance of the green pasture he has led us to.
Likewise, when we feel Jesus lead us beside still waters there is a reason for it. Pause. Refresh. Rest. Drink in the feeling of peacefulness reflected toward our soul by those still waters.
No matter what else is going on in the world. And there’s a lot going on in the world, which sometimes feels to us like one huge valley of shadow.
We mustn’t feel like we have to keep pushing ourselves through what surrounds us and going and going and going. If we do, we run the risk of pushing ourselves beyond Jesus, too, like a sheep going beyond its shepherd.
Then we get lost and, let me tell you, life’s “wolves” love it when that happens. Fear is one of those “wolves” and that wolf is roaming widely and wildly right now all around us, and all around everyone else.
Whenever Jesus seeks to revive our soul, there is a very good reason and we should let him do it.
Don’t feel guilty about it. Let it happen. Jesus knows better than ourselves what we truly need. We can see up to the bend in the road. Only Jesus can see around the bend.
So don’t worry about what’s around the bend, either. I say that knowing full well there is an awful lot to worry about out there. But I also know that worry doesn’t make anything go away, nor does it make anything even slightly better. Jesus counsels against worrying for that very reason and because he knows how worry can deteriorate us inside.
The rod and staff of Jesus will comfort us and when we need it most we will feel our head anointed with oil and our cup running over. That is: we shall feel the certain peace inside us that passes all understanding.
That sense of peace doesn’t last forever. It comes and goes. But we very much can hold on to the fact of its existence.
Goodness, love and mercy will have followed us no matter where we went—even when we wandered off—and we will know deep down inside that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We may forget someone’s name in the grocery store next week—especially if they’re wearing a mask—and someone might forget our name tomorrow. Especially if we’re wearing a mask.
But Jesus never will.
Ever.