Sometimes, I Wonder

“Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”

—The Gospel of Mark

SOMETIMES, I WONDER

Sometimes,

when the moon seems skillfully slung

to skip across the rushing clouds,

I wonder whose wrist and fingers

give the crescent of light its motion

and if the heart behind the hand knows I’m watching,

wading toward the deep end of the sky,

up to my neck now

and wanting to swim

in communion

with the reflection of the sun

along the surface of the lunar song

being sung across the skin of heaven.

Sometimes,

the light splashes

and I feel its current all around,

lifting me for a moment so brief

that it seems unreal,

as if it were only a fantasy of my own desperate yearning.

Sometimes, I feel the heart behind the hand

send me skipping, too, across the clouds

in the wake of the singing moon.

And then my wondering turns to wonder.

Always.

The Corner Of Your Smile Inside Me

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”

—the Gospel of Mark

I remember being a child in Nazareth,
sitting on the flat roof of our house under a night sky
so filled with stars
that I thought the darkness would turn itself inside out.

But there is more darkness in the world than is found in the night sky
and I prayed that one day, no matter what,
the light would turn all of that other darkness inside out.

That is still my prayer, God.

But I also prayed that the light would somehow turn me inside out, too.
And then one day you did.
The light of your love turned me upside down and inside out.
It still does.
Astonishing me.
Especially when I need it most.

And so here I am in this deserted place,
under the star-pricked sky,
feeling almost like a child in school
who has precisely followed his teacher’s instructions:
Make an imaginary night sky
by poking small holes in dark construction paper
to let the flashlight shine through from behind
like midnight constellations.

Almost.
Because I am the child
who chose to tear away the dark paper
and let in all of the light, instead,
forever shining your love into the souls
of those who’ve gone away now
with their healing and their scars,
leaving me weary but warily exhilarated
at the luminous possibilities of it all,
brushing the hammers and the nails aside
—even though they always return—
and living the life you dreamed I would,
feeling the corner of your smile widening inside me,

and a joy deeper than rumbling laughter
reflected in the moonlight sailing on the waves below.

And Jesus Sang With God’s Voice

“Just then there was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’”

—the Gospel of Mark

Suddenly all of the dissonance is gone.
But I cannot hear a thing.
Nothing at all.
Without the dissonance there isn’t a single solitary sound.
Nothing … but … this … other … thing.
This other thing that is not dissonance.
How can that be?
The dissonance said that it was here forever and then, just like that, it was gone.
I stumbled and fell, unbalanced without the dissonance, deafened by this new sensation of a world no longer shouting at me.
No dissonance to guide me.
No hope of escape from this new …
This new what?!?!?
The sky seems to fall.
Seems to kneel and touch my face.
Reaching out as far as it can to caress my cheek.
As if heaven, itself, is brushing my face with its lips.
Redeeming me, healing me, with a kiss.
Why would heaven ever want to kiss me, of all people?
The dissonance said that heaven never would.
Why would heaven ever care?
The dissonance swore that heaven never would.
And what did heaven do with all of the dissonance that used to fill my ears with its chaos?
The dissonance swore that it was the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So help me God.
So … help me what?
Why would God ever care?
The dissonance screamed that God never would.
Why would God ever want to brush my face with a kiss of even the smallest caring show of affection?
The dissonance promised that God never would.
But maybe—just perhaps—the dissonance wasn’t telling the truth. Not the whole truth. Nor any of the truth.
Because there it is.
Again and again and again.
A sudden harmony.
A harmony that wraps me up so entirely and so wonderfully that it makes me feel as if I were the only thing that it ever wanted for Christmas.
The only thing that it ever wanted for Easter.
The only thing that it ever wanted any day of every week in any month of every year.
A harmony that sings for me with such wondrous melodies that I am deafened.
So deafened that this time I hear everything that the dissonance was trying to cover up with its noise.
All of my senses listen.
I hear everything that I see within the light inside your eyes.
I hear everything that I feel in your healing touch upon my skin.
And all that is in the ember warmth of your voice speaking words that I never thought I’d hear.

When I See My Reflection In Your Waves

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

—The Gospel of Mark

Four-fifths of our world is covered in water.
Eighty percent of the planet Earth.
The currents and tides touch every continent.
Water that washes over all soles.
If I were to touch the last gasp of even the smallest wave at Virginia Beach I would be sharing that vast expanse of water with someone doing the same thing on the shores of Nigeria.
The wave wouldn’t care about the color of our skin.
Or where the beach was.
Oh, if we could only become more like those waves.
Just reaching out toward ever soul.
When I look down into the smallest stream at my reflection, my face is mirrored by water that will one day join the great oceans and seas that cover the earth.
Water that will mirror the face of every man, woman or child who looks for their own reflection beneath a sky that knows nothing of race or ethnicity.

The Holy Spirit of God doesn’t fill our sails to narrow our journey.
The Holy Spirit fills our sails to broaden the reach of our heart.
The reach of the love for which Jesus gave his life; the truth that Jesus died for: God is love and God loves us all.
On every beach.
On any shore.
Every square inch of earth.
Be it desert or oasis.

There is something we’d be wise to understand:
If we are good enough for God—and God’s love declares that we are—then we are good enough.
Period.
For anyone and everyone.
Period.
Kings, queens or presidents cannot take that truth away.
Nor any act of Congress.
So, that has to mean that we are good enough—we must be good enough—for each other.
Period.
Or … that’s the way it should be.
Unfortunately, we are separated from each other on this planet by more than water.
We are separated from each other by ourselves.
Jesus knew what he was doing when he asked us to follow him and become fishers of people.
There are over 28,000 species of fish in the world.
We could never catch them all.
But there is only one human race.
Fishing for each other should not be—would not be—such a difficult thing.
If we’d only try.

What The Voice Of The World Won’t Say

“Nathaniel said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’”

—The Gospel of John

The young boy heard The Voice Of The World shouting, “Can anything good come out of this child?”
The Voice was talking about him and its tone seemed to answer the question.
No, The Voice Of The World quite clearly felt, nothing good could ever come out of that child. And The Voice Of The World made certain that the child heard the answer.
But the child wasn’t the only one listening.
Jesus heard, too.
And Jesus wept.
Tears flowed for this child and for all of the children of God—no matter how old they were—who’d heard The Voice Of The World so often question, challenge and demean their child of God selves.
Challenge them with war.
Demean them with abuse.
Question them with callous indifference.
Swallow them with disease.
And enslave them with poverty.
Before abolishing their very existence with death.
The Voice Of The World shouted so loud that even the waves in the sea seemed to retreat, leaving the beach where children once played behind, turning it into a desert.
But the tears of Jesus were like rain.
And Jesus lifted the child.
Jesus lifted the child and told him something else.
Raised the child up.
Jesus gave him another word that The Voice Of The World had tried so hard to erase.
Resurrected the child with four simple letters that Jesus carefully arranged:
L…
O…
V…
E…
Love? the child wondered.
Really?” the child asked.
Me?” the child pleaded.
“Come and see,” Jesus answered.
And so the child, carried in the loving heart of Christ, followed.
Followed despite all of the odds that the world said were stacked against every child of God.
Followed despite all of the statistics of probability the world declared would defeat all children of God.
Followed.
Miraculously.
Because Jesus carried him.
Because Jesus carries you.
Because Jesus carries all of the children of God to the truth of God’s love for them all.

And we are all children of God.

No matter what the World says with its hammers and nails.
No matter what the World tries so desperately to make the children of God believe.
A child risen.
The child in us all.
The child that God wants us all to be and believe to be our truest self.
Just who we are and just as we are.
Loved.
And nothing but loved.
“Come and see,” Jesus told Nathaniel that day so long ago in Galilee.
“Just come,” Jesus tells us every day, “and see.”

The Straight Line Of Love

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

–The Gospel of Mark

The alarm sounds early.
Sunrise is nearly two hours away and it’s so cold outside in the darkness beyond this windowpane that even shivers are frozen solid.
Seven degrees.
Then five.
Three.
Now two.
The electric candle on the window sill shows how busy the cold had been while I slept. The storm window is filled with jagged, deliriously crooked strokes of ice that point in every direction.
Were the windowpane a compass, and were I to follow its directions, I’d be lost.
Hopelessly and forever lost.
Out beyond this pane, where I cannot see, I know that the maples and oaks are bare in the darkness, their limbs and branches holding tightly to the secret of spring as if their lives—as if the existence of everyone—depended on it.
I remember last night, standing out in the cold, filling my lungs with its freezing and the darkness with my breath.
I remember the night before and the night before that.
I remember all of the nights put together as if they were all one long, never-ending night.
I remember the stars making the night sky look like it was breaking out in a rash of ice.
And I wondered if one day I would fall through the ice into the sky.
Or somewhere else.
I sit here by the window now, looking at the stained glass cross that is hanging from the window latch; its green and orange, its yellow, blue and purple declare all that the darkness tries to hide in its cold silence.
And I know one thing for certain: when the sun rises, the light will shine toward me, into the frost and through the cross, in the straightest possible line.
With that truth deep in my heart, I suddenly see the miraculous beauty of the frost painted across my windowpane, lit up by the candlelight, the artist all around me, showing me the blooms of winter.

The Endless Sound Of Light

Gleaning In The Fields Of Light

By Ken Woodley

In the beginning, the Gospel of John tells us, was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And John tells the truth.
But there is more.
Forget the past tense.
The Word still is. The Word lives. The Word surrounds us. Taps us on the shoulder. Knocks on the front door of our hearts. If we don’t answer, it knocks on the back door.
If we still don’t answer, it knocks on a window. If it must, the Word will slide down our chimney and do something far more meaningful than fill our stockings with toys.
The Word wants to fill us with joys.
Joys to the world.
Joys for the world.
In the beginning, the Gospel of John tells us, the Word was with God.
And John tells the truth.
But there is more.
Forget the past tense.
The Word still is with God.
And God is trying desperately to whisper in our ears. To speak softly in our hearts. To fill our soul with resonant words of love. If we don’t listen, God finds other ways to speak:
With songs and books and paintings and poetry and the bloom of flowers and the absence of leaves on the trees because those bare limbs speak with assurance of spring.
In the beginning, the Gospel of John tells us, the light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
And John tells the truth.
But there is more.
Forget the past tense.
The light still shines.
Darkness still cannot overcome it.
But the darkness tries.
The darkness tried in the beginning and the darkness tries today.
The darkness tries to distract us when the Word taps us on the shoulder or knocks on our door.
The darkness tries shouting to drown out the soft whisper of God.
The darkness tries to banish the light.
But still the Word speaks to us.
Still the Word is with God and God is with us.
Still the light shines all around us.
And still the darkness cannot overcome it.
The light-filled Word of God speaking love to us will never be silenced or extinguished.
Just as it was in the beginning, it is now and it ever shall be.

Another Night Before Christmas

’Twas the eve before Christmas, when all through the night
not a creature was stirring in fear or in fright.
The stockings were hung in a world full of cheer,
knowing that peace and that love could be here.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
no nightmaring vision haunting their heads.
Their mothers and fathers were safely inside
and no reason at all for any to hide.
When up on the hillside there arose such a noise,
of angels and shepherds all singing of joys.
Away toward that manger we walked through the snow
as if there was no place that we’d rather go.
The moon hung like a stocking high up in the sky
but a star shone far brighter and seemed so nearby.
There were swords turned to plowshares just waiting for spring
as we drew ever nearer a bell-sounding ring.
The chime, we discovered, was deep in our heart,
a carol of music that never would part.
For as long as we wished, we knew it would stay
if we made it a place deep inside us to play.
Closer we came to the manger scene now,
immune to the cold in some way and somehow.
There wasn’t a wise man, no, nowhere in sight,
just ordinary folks feeling love’s holy might.
There was no barn and no stable, no building at all,
but the child still within us did answer the call.
The babe in the manger would find shelter there,
in our hearts, in our souls whenever we care
For others who hurt, for others in pain
and give of ourselves, with nothing to gain
But a turning of cheeks when the anguish is ours
and a field full of thorns then blossoms with flowers.
No room at the inn but room inside we
who give birth to the message and meaning we see
In the love Jesus promised God has for us all,
whether we stand or whether we fall.
Angels we have heard on high
and angels we have felt so nigh.
There is goodwill at this season to cover the Earth
as a present at Christmas for this sacred birth.
But a gift to keep giving across the whole year
would be deeper than cups or bowls of good cheer.
Away in that manger, no crib for a bed,
but born every day in our footsteps, instead.

A Desperate Reach Of Love

There is a flickering in the wilderness.
Certainly we saw something, you and I, in the depth of all this darkness.
Over there, just to the left.
A light.
Somehow.
Pushing back against the darkness that tells us every day in screaming headlines that there is no God and that we are not—and could never, ever be—loved.
Something that seems to have fallen from the stars.
Come from the sky.
Tumbled down from a heaven which the darkness denies.
The darkness trying with all of its might to persuade us to believe that the voice we have followed, the voice we heard crying in the wilderness, is a figment of our imagination.
But the voice won’t be stilled or silenced.
And the voice is not mine.
The voice is not yours.
We both hear the voice testifying at this moment to the light.
And now, look. Certainly, the flickering grows brighter, as if our persistent steps have somehow fueled the light’s desperate reach of transcendent incandescence.
A desperate reach toward …
Can it be true?
A desperate reach of transcendent incandescence toward us?
Toward us all?
My, God! It is true!
But there’s more.
There is something inside the light.
As if the light has wrapped the greatest gift of all inside its bright shining:
A love brighter than the sun we cannot see.
A love that the darkness cannot hide forever.
Or even for another second.
An advent.
A coming that the darkness is powerless to stop.
A coming that has found us.
Finally.
Found us holding candles in a darkness that has become, for us, nothing more than a place for the light of this love to shine with greatest effect.
And now—just like that—the wilderness of sand has given way to the straw of a manger.
To a mother and her newborn.
To a father carefully tending the small fire that keeps us all warm as we gather with those who were there in the darkness with us, called by the light to unwrap this love.
A love that breathes.
A love that cries out into our own wilderness until our wilderness is healed.
A love that has a name:
Jesus.
A love that tells us that this love has other names, too.
Our own.
If.
If we let the light of this love reach out its incandescence through us toward those whom the darkness still binds with its lies.
If we go out into the wilderness of others and scatter their darkness with this truth:
There is a God.
We are loved.
And that love is forever.

In The Footsteps Of A Dream

(Note: the following is my keynote speech at the December 10, 2017 re-naming dedication ceremony of the Barbara Rose Johns, Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library)

What a truly good day this is.
A Sunday where we share this communion together.

I commend the Town of Farmville, Town Council and Town officials who have made this communion possible.

A communion that speaks for the transforming journey that is possible in this world when people are committed to becoming Founding Fathers, Founding Mothers, Founding Brothers and Sisters together in a nation still striving toward a more perfect union.

The United States of America is not a finished work.
The Founding Fathers did not complete the job when they signed these words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Founding Fathers were just beginning the process, commencing a national journey to give full birth and long life to those founding ideals.
We are still in the course of our human event as a nation.

A human event greatly shaped by the woman we are gathered today to honor by adding her name to this building, this treasure trove of knowledge, visions, ideas, ideals and creative imagination, a hub and gathering place of open minds.

For that is what this library most definitely is, as operated and cared for with such excellence by library staff, board members and volunteers.

But this library has also now become an historic milepost on our national journey together, all of us here now deep in the course of our human event.

Not everyone in America wants us to succeed. The tragic events in Charlottesville over the summer declare the intentions of those who preach and practice racial hatred and hope to prevent us from ever making Barbara Rose Johns’ dream come true.

And Barbara, truly one of this nation’s Founding Mothers, had such a powerful dream.
She believed that the story-book ending could come true.
She believed that we would all live happily ever after.

But the world isn’t always kind to dreams.

Fairy-tale endings—even one based on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America—are most often confined to fairytales.

After leading the historic student strike that gave birth to the Civil Rights Movement on April 23, 1951 Barbara Rose Johns had to leave Prince Edward County. A cross was burned at Robert R. Moton High School and there was a sense of danger all around. Suddenly, she was just gone, off to live with relatives in Alabama, leaving even her best friends wondering what had happened.

Three years later, the Johns home in Darlington Heights was completely destroyed by arson after the U.S. Supreme Court had validated the dream of Barbara Rose Johns with its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Prince Edward County’s Massive Resistance to the Brown decision turned the dream of Barbara Rose Johns into a nightmare.

But not forever.

Her dream is alive and well and standing in our own shoes.

The decision by the Town of Farmville to re-name this fabulous state-of-the-art library in honor of Barbara Rose Johns—who spent her entire adult life as a librarian in the Philadelphia public school system—is a milestone moment, a mile-marker showing how far the dream has traveled since 1951.

It joins the Moton Museum and Prince Edward County’s Light of Reconciliation as an indelible moral marker of this community’s progress. And it joins them as an example to a nation still so deeply divided over race.
The Barbara Rose Johns Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library will forever speak with emphatic clarity:

We shall overcome those who attempt to divide us over the God-given color of our skin.

Today, there is a Johns family home in Darlington Heights, built on the exact spot where the flames of arson had burned down the home where Barbara dreamed her dreams.

Wondrously—despite everything that had happened to drive her away—it was Barbara, herself, who had insisted that her brothers and sister re-build at their home place in Prince Edward County. And Barbara drew up much of the construction plans, herself, and consulted with the local contractor, often visiting the building supply company here in Farmville to see the materials herself.

Barbara wanted the family to have a home to come back to when they returned to Prince Edward County to visit friends and, as it turns out, to celebrate this community’s ongoing journey of racial healing and reconciliation.

A journey that offers living proof, and living hope—not only to the nation, but also to the world—that our lives, that we ourselves, can become human bridges across the deepest chasms.

Unfortunately, cancer claimed the life of Barbara Rose Johns in the fall of 1991, before construction on the new family home was complete. But she did see the foundation. And, in her mind’s eye, I am sure she saw the finished house because she was a human being of extraordinary vision, seeing things that nobody else saw.

Like her vision of “happily ever after” for us all.

Some people in this nation will shout, No, not ever.
But the Town of Farmville today provides the nation with a different answer.

Happily ever after is possible and it is what a loving God is hoping and praying that we will achieve together from sea to shining sea.

Not in the way that it is portrayed in the world of fairy tales. But in the way that life offers us happiness in the real world if we are willing to sweat and strive for it…

If we are willing to be wounded and then healed together.

Wounded and healed together.

Today, we are closer to that dream come true than we were yesterday.

And yesterday we were closer than ever seemed possible in the fall of 1959 when the schools were locked and chained.

This Sunday of communion is no fairy tale and Amen to that.

May God bless us all as our national journey together, as children of God, continues. Founding Brothers and Founding Sisters. One family. Under God Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.