Inscriptions of Epiphanies We Share

The text of this sonnet can be seen at the end of this reflection.

Epiphany comes from an ancient Greek word meaning to reveal.  When we say we have had an epiphany we mean the recognition of a truth that has suddenly been revealed to us, an “aha!” moment.  The church season after Christmas is called Epiphany because it celebrates God’s presence on earth revealed not only in Jesus but also in the manifestations of light we can see in all people and all nature.

Humanity needs both kinds of epiphanies right now as we search for a way forward through a world that has been made strange to us by our own actions.

We need to see new truths, and we need to see ancient truths anew.  We need to shape a new story out of the old, expressing a new understanding of our place and purpose in the universe.  Following our old story, our society has become polarized, our earth unstable, greed out of control.  Racial, economic and environmental injustice are bringing society to the point of upheaval.  And yet the heart of the old story has truth in it that we need to carry forward.

The violent riot that smashed its way into the United States Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 carried signs, shouted slogans and blasted music that identified it as a white supremacist, fundamentalist, Christian-nationalist event.

The New Yorker published footage taken by journalist Luke Mogelson from the midst of the insurrection that he filmed with his phone. Continue reading

The Sound of Truth

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

We feel inspired by stories of people who overcome obstacles to free their voice.  Think of Helen Keller or Frederick Douglass.  Think of Greta Thunberg rising out of a mute depression to launch her climate protest.  Think of all the new voices emerging in the Black Lives Matter protests across America speaking for those who can no longer breathe.

These stories are heroic and uplifting, but there are the other stories, often preludes to those triumphs, that are tragic.

Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring warned of a day when song birds would be extinct because of human production and use of toxic chemicals.  The environmental movement and crucial regulations slowed the die-off she saw taking place, but sixty years later we are hearing fewer songbirds by a third and even fifty percent in some regions due mainly to pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.  Long standing environmental safeguards are rapidly being undermined.  We are accelerating toward that awful total silence.

Systemic injustice against other people imposes another tragic stifling.  Racism has deprived people of equal education and forced them into poverty and turned a cold heart away from their cries.

Voter suppression is one of the most unethical, outrageous, horrific acts of silencing.  It is hard to believe that politicians are getting away with this blatantly discriminatory abuse of power, but they are, and in many states.

Some of us have a difficult time speaking our truth for psychological reasons—in fact public speaking is right up there with death as one of our greatest fears.  Yet if we have the privileges of being heard when we speak and being able to vote without obstruction, we have a moral duty to use our voice and our vote on behalf of those who have been silenced.

Reparations usually refers to paying back the billions of dollars stolen from the African American and Native American peoples, but giving silenced citizens equal and easy access to vote is also a form of reparation.

You can find short descriptions of eight organizations that are working against voter suppression here.  There are other organizations as well, including excellent local and state groups.  Please act right now to support one or more of them, and please use your voice and vote.

Humanity and our democracy both are at a turning point with survival at stake, and the only way we are going to find our way forward is if we each listen to our deepest, heart’s core, to the spirit of life within us, and speak it. We need to listen especially to those who have been silenced.  Their cries of pain are the feedback we most need to heed.

Only when all have been given equal voice can we hear the sound of our complete collective truth and discern the direction that the spirit is calling humanity to take.

Thank you for doing your part.

The Sound of Truth

Rose breasted grosbeak whistles out its trill
and shines a scarlet sign against blue sky
high in the leafing beech.  It stands me still
despite onslaught of eager dog, mayfly
and never stopping thoughts.  A song so true
clearly expressed—repeats with variation:
is that not what we all are called to do,
to sing our part, one choir of all creation?
How long will you stay furtive, quelled by fear
or dulled by doubt from full rose breasted voice?
Someone is walking by who needs to hear,
who needs your truth right now.  Lament, rejoice,
share news of fuzzy sweet green buds you found.
My day was saved by one such honest sound.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

They Shall Run and Not be Weary, They Shall Walk and Not Faint

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

 

This is the second poem I am posting in honor of Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. C. T. Vivian who both died in Atlanta on July 17, 2020. The other was “In the Shadow of Absence” and by clicking there you can read an introduction relating to this poem as well.  I talk there about Lewis, Vivian and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement .  I talk especially about Grace Paley whose death moved me to write that poem.

I wrote this sonnet after the death of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin. It is a cliché to call a prophet a lion.  The late Donald Hall would probably have called it a Dead Metaphor, but the metaphor was alive and well as long as Bill was, and from what I have read and seen on film it lived in John Lewis and C. T. Vivian.  If you want to see a living lion, watch this short video of the Rev. Vivian confronting Sheriff Bull Clark in Selma, Alabama:

Or you can see a living lion here in the Rev. William Sloane Coffin even after he had a stroke:

This poem, “They Shall Run and Not be Weary, They Shall Walk and Not Faint,” connects Coffin (and Lewis and Vivian and all lions) to the Hebrew prophets.  The title is a quote from the prophet Isaiah.  The poem uses a Hebrew word, ruach, which has three meanings, the same as the Greek word pneuma.  It means breath, wind and spirit.  Here are two passages that show how it is used in the Hebrew scriptures:

“The Ruach of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
(Genesis 1:2)

“Behold, my Servant whom I uphold…I have put my Ruach upon him.”
(Isaiah 42:1)

There is no question that Lewis and Vivian, and Paley and Coffin, were extraordinary people, but what made them extraordinary was the ruach that filled them and flowed through them, and they would insist that it can fill us each.

The hope of the world that Bill talks about in the video above is that the same spirit will fill Jews and Muslims and Christians and people of all faiths and no faith—the hope of the world rests in humans who are filled with the spirit of love and compassion, justice and peace, the spirit of nonviolence that forms beloved community out of conflict and chaos.

The power that formed the earth and informed the prophets wants to work through us to save the earth and save democracy, equity and freedom, values and ideals based on the Golden Rule that ruach has been causing to evolve in humanity for millennia because they are necessary for life to flourish on earth.

Please rise to this moment.  Please be as much of a lion as you can in the place and with the life given you.  Trust in the spirit to carry you in your weariness.  Trust that if you let it flow through you, you will not faint or fall, you will fly.  Trust that we can do far more than we can even imagine with this power in us.  So say all the lions before us, and they prove it so.

They Shall Run and Not be Weary, They Shall Walk and Not Faint
(after hearing that the Rev. William Sloane Coffin had died)

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Adonai is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth….giving power to the faint, and strength to the powerless…. those who wait for Adonai shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31

What happens to old lions when they die?
This morning I looked up above the hill
behind my house and learned.  The lions fly.
I saw a golden eagle spread and fill
his wings with ruach—spirit, wind and breath.
I watched him circling up and up to soar
above the shadowed valley of his death,
echoing still with his last ringing roar.
Nothing is lost in God.  Have you not known?
Have you not heard?  God gives the weak great power
when strong ones fall exhausted to the bone.
Our old guard lion dies.  Let us not cower.
Those trusting God mount up on eagle wings.
Old spirit fills new prophets.  On it rings.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

In the Shadow of Absence

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

 

I am posting this poem in honor of Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. C. T. Vivian who both died in Atlanta on July 17, 2020.  This is a sonnet in free verse form that I wrote when I heard that my neighbor, the author and activist, Grace Paley, had died.  I know people in Atlanta are feeling this kind of loss of someone near and dear to them, and throughout America and the world.

I was only thirteen when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.  I participated in the march of protest, grief and rage through my small town in Ohio, but at the time my impression of the Civil Rights Movement came through my friends and through snippets on national television news.  I could name only three or four Civil Rights Movement leaders.

I learned more in high school and college but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that John Lewis, C. T. Vivian and so many other inspiring heroes came alive to me when I watched Eyes on the Prize.  (You can stream all fourteen episodes and download a study guide for free by clicking here. I highly recommend it as important historical background to the movement for social, economic and environmental justice today, and as a deeply moving experience.)

The women of the movement whom I had not known particularly moved me, including Diane Nash, Myrlie Evers and Fanny Lou Hamer, among others.  Many more men stood out for me, as well besides Lewis and Vivian, like the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.  The intensity and intimacy of Eyes on the Prize made these all feel near and dear to me, the way I felt about Grace.

We have lost two at once now and feel that grief, but Lewis and Vivian died with hope in their hearts because at this very moment people as heroic and inspiring as they were are rising in a movement that is fighting not only for individual issues like defunding police or climate legislation but for what King called “a revolution of values,” a “restructuring of society” built on social, economic and environmental justice.  It is fighting for the survival of our democracy and democratic ideals, and for the survival of humanity and all living species.

This is the greatest social movement the world has ever seen and the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and Peace Movement and all the liberation movements of the mid-Twentieth Century are the reason it exists.  We owe them much, so it is important to take the time now to honor them and grieve their loss and let their memory inspire us to carry on the struggle, giving our all as they gave theirs.

I was lucky enough to serve for many years as the pastor in the Vermont village where Grace Paley lived.  We worked on peace and justice campaigns together and we shared poetry (although she was disgusted by my choice of the sonnet form, which is why I disguised “In the Shadow of Absence” as free verse—for my excuse for writing sonnets click here).

I loved most our regular casual encounters at the Post Office or concerts or Town Meeting because even when she was struggling she was full of warmth and love and light.

One of my favorite stories about her was told at her memorial service in the Thetford Hill church.  Someone found her late in her life bending over and backing out of a public restroom.  It was a comic position, and knowing her sense of humor the person laughed and asked her what she was doing.  She said her feet had been all muddy and she was cleaning the floor as she came out so that an underpaid custodian would not have to do it.  It was a matter to her of both courtesy and justice.  She was generous-hearted, truly great hearted,  and I am among the masses that miss her. Continue reading

Adoring You

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

This poem follows “Perfect in Her Eyes,” and the introduction to that poem would be helpful to read in this context.  The two sonnets were written many years apart, but themes tend to recur.  In this case the connection between them is imagining how much joy the spirit of life must get out of all its very different manifestations.

It is important to let our share of that great joy rise to consciousness now when the survival of life on earth depends on our collective will to love and save it.

I wrote “Adoring You” almost twenty years ago when I was first trying the sonnet form.  The poem came out of two close encounters in nature—watching an otter play from fifty feet away and then watching a beaver that crossed my path twenty feet in front of me.  I was close enough to hear its teeth gnawing the wood and the chips falling on the ground.  I stood still as it took down a tree and struggled to haul it back to the river.  I saw the tree get hung up and the beaver do what the poem describes.

The older I get the more I marvel at the variety in nature and the vast differences in strategies for survival or for satisfaction of the basic drives that we all share.  The milkweed with its amazing flower, pod and seed, contrasted with the little milkweed beetles or monarch butterflies that depend on it for their own survival and satisfaction.

I love Northern Woodlands magazine—for years it has been the only publication I read cover to cover.  Some of my favorite articles are about the tiny lives of the woods and waters, like this one about caddisflies, or this one about the golden tortoise beetle larvae fecal shield.

The most fascinating creatures of all, of course, are humans.  My father fondly observed people’s foibles and follies, saying dryly, “There’s a little human nature in all of us.”  I know people who frolic through life like otters and others who plod like beavers, and many more who are sometimes one and sometimes the other.  Whoever you are and whatever your approach to life may be in any given hour, please take this poem to heart.  The spirit of life is…

Adoring You

An otter swims the beaver pond at night,
not going anywhere, not fishing, just
splashing and somersaulting, feeling light
and fast, fulfilling muscles’ joyous lust.
Meanwhile the beaver plods across the dam.
His tusks gnaw hard heartwood to carve their V.
He lugs out cut-down trees.  They snag and jam.
He pauses, turns.  He stands.  He jerks them free.
Can you imagine a god that loves both these—
the otter celebrating pond and power,
the beaver struggling to catch streams with trees?
I think God loves the good use of an hour,
adoring spirit’s flow through every child
who tames the world with work or swims it wild.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

As the Hart Panteth After the Water Brooks, So Panteth My Soul

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

This sonnet is dedicated to: my dear boyhood friend, Bob McPhee; my cousin and companion in countless hours in the fields and woods of his farm, Duncan Kinder; and my friend and colleague the Rev. Dr. Michael Caldwell. They each have been with me on the journeys the poem describes.

Many people have found great comfort out in gardens, parks, fields or woods during this pandemic.  Wild or semi-wild nature has always been a source of solace and spiritual connection for me, a place of playfulness and creative inspiration as well as work.  Now I long for it and need my daily immersions in it more than ever.

The title of the poem is taken from the first line of Psalm 42 in the beautiful King James Version.  I have laid the poem out as free verse, but it is a conventional, law-abiding sonnet if you track the feet and rhymes.  I hear it and feel it as free verse, with the rhythms below the surface like cricket sound or a stream flowing on the edge of consciousness.

As the Hart Panteth After the Water Brooks,
So Panteth My Soul
Psalm 42

A boy escapes
a hot Ohio field,
the gate, high arched white oaks;
cool ferns, the floor.
He feels shade change him,
heat and glare-hurts healed,
as if he had passed
through a magic door.
He hears the soothing sound
of falling stream.
It draws him in,
it draws forth his own songs.
Wonder and play unfold,
a waking dream,
yet true, and safe,
a place where he belongs.

A man escapes to woods
from fields of stress
and though he makes no dam
of stream-dug stone
nor warpaints face with bloodroot,
still no less
does he feel healed, safe, true,
this place his own.
Deer pant for cooling streams,
so sings the Psalm.
His heart is always
longing for this calm.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

The Flesh Made Word

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

At the end of the excellent TED Talk below Ibram X. Kendi says what Lin Manuel Miranda says at the end of his emotional sonnet responding to the Orlando mass shooting (also below): love is what is going to change and save this world, love is what must rule the ethics and practical policies and politics of our world if we are to survive.

The “revolution of values” that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus said we need is a revolution of love, and the Dalai Lama’s “revolution of compassion” is the kind of love they meant.

This poem is about the way the revolution begins.  It starts in the heart with a particular love of neighbor as our own self, an intimate oneness, whether with a person or pet or place or community or form of God, and then it overflows into the world.

EB White wrote at the start of World War II, “Who is there big enough to love the whole planet?  We must find such people for the next society.”

We must make that next society now, but a compassionate oneness with every person, creature and corner of the planet can happen only if our love is grounded in the part of the world that is within and around us.  It begins in the flesh.

In the Gospel of John it says that the Word was made flesh. Through the alchemy of love our flesh is made a life-changing, world transforming word.

The Flesh Made Word

Come hold me close and let us both be still
while all the world around us falls apart.
Come kneel beside the spring we share and fill
with evening breeze the cup that is our heart.
Come let us form one small and holy thing,
a summer garden, winter fire, walled tight,
a home where, while it storms outside, we sing
and cook and touch, we meditate and write.
Come, let our falls and false walls heal and then
go—two made one—to take all we have found
within this blesséd Edenistic den
and let earth hear again, through us, the sound,
the voice of love’s creative, cosmic word
reversing death wherever it is heard.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

The Choice

[The text of this sonnet is printed below.]

We are so close!  We are closer than we have ever been to creating the ideal realm that the wisest humans have foreseen and been working toward for the past 2,500 years—a short time compared to all of human evolution, and yet long enough for us to develop the ethics and tools we need, long enough to get good and ready.

The arc of the moral universe is long and it has been bending toward this moment, this terrible polarized, destructive yet miraculously transformative year when millions of children rose up to demand we create a sustainable, harmonious, healthy relationship to the earth, and millions of people of all races rose up to demand that we create a society that is socially, economically and environmentally just and equitable for all.

These two uprisings are branches of the same tree of life, they are one forward movement of growth into the ideal society that treats all life and all the earth as sacred, meaning worthy of compassion, care and respect.  Both uprisings have demanded the ethic of the Golden Rule and the love of neighbor, grounded in a vision of oneness that sees that everyone and everything is our neighbor.  These are the foundational laws of the society that humanity’s spiritual, philosophical and wisdom traditions have called us to create.

We are so close!  Humanity is awakening to this expanded consciousness, eyes are opening to new perspectives, public opinion is rapidly shifting.

We can do this!  And the way we do it starts with making our own choice to be the change we wish to see in the world, and going out from there to help others awake and change, thinking of ourselves as part of a movement, as being one, every step of the way.  The choice is to be a positive force, to be on the side of love and life and light and give our time, talents and resources to that cause.

This poem is connected to “Light Muscle Building” and the introduction to it also applies here, offering practical steps to be part of a movement that can reach the ideal world that is so close. Continue reading

Light Muscle Building

[The text of this sonnet is printed below.]

“The black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws—racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”  Martin Luther King Jr. from his 1968 essayA Testament of Hope” as quoted in “How Do We Change America?” by in The New Yorker.

Today we could add environmental destruction and its health effects and injustice to King’s list of flaws, as well as the undermining of democracy by rightwing super-wealthy individuals and mega-corporations and the politicians they support who share their autocratic ideology.

Mahatma Gandhi’s work remains the greatest model for “radical reconstruction of society.” Many people know of his marches, fasts and acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, but far fewer know that this Obstructive Program was just a small part of his overall movement, and it would not have succeeded without two other far greater programs. Continue reading

Lilacs

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

How I Lost an Argument and Won This Sonnet (and a few others)

Writing and the spiritual life both were important parts of my childhood, and when I awoke to adolescent consciousness I found them at the core of my being, where they have remained.

I emerged as a fledgling poet and spiritual and social activist on October 15th, 1969, at age 14.  It was War Moratorium Day and I was visiting my brother, George, who lived on the edge of the Harvard campus.  The night before he had introduced me to the poetry of William Carlos Williams and the Imagists.  That day we watched the coverage on the news of our generation rising up with the power of a mass movement.  That evening I wrote my first free verse poem, an imagistic social and spiritual manifesto.  I was swept up and rode that wave a long time.  I still am riding it, although in different forms.

We were strident those days, and part of my stridency was a harsh judgment of formal poetry.  I was a free verse fundamentalist as a Creative Writing Program major at Princeton, arguing with my thesis adviser, Carlos Baker, in a precept, insisting that the Imagists were far superior to Emily Dickinson.

I argued even more vehemently with my mother, who was my first literary and spiritual teacher.  She would throw Frost at me: “Writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.”  She told me more than once that if I wanted to become a good poet I should write five thousand sonnets.

I would scoff and throw up my hands and walk out of the room—that beautiful room that she created by finding second hand furniture and fixing it up and filling the surfaces with vases of flowers cut from her yard.  How I would love to be able to walk back into that room today, how I long for that beautiful, ordered calm, that cool serenity now with our world falling apart.

How I would love to report to her that she won the argument, and I have indeed written my five thousand sonnets, but she died before I had written my first. Continue reading

And Here

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

We need to change our society’s way of seeing and thinking about the entire creation, we need to evolve a new collective way of seeing and thinking about ourselves and our place in the order of things, in order to change our society’s destructive way of life.

Ancient spiritual traditions envisioned the cosmos being born out of divine love.  They teach us that we are to love the creation as its creator does.  Love of neighbor, love of the creator and the creation—these have been handed down to us by our wisest elders as the highest natural laws.  The collective, eternal flow of life is a stream of self-giving love, and for those who live in that Tao, individual life is a stream of many such acts over a lifespan, serving our time and place.

The goal is to create the conditions conducive to abundant life for all, for the common good—a sustainable harmony and an equitable and just society.

This is within our reach.  We have made stunning advances in understanding and technology, and humanity seems on the brink of making the needed developmental shift to the mature perspective of the wisest spiritual teachers.  We could evolve finally to have the heart and mind of Christ and the Buddha and Gandhi and King, and the wisdom and passion of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai and Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day.  We see millions of people now moving toward that vision of compassion and oneness.  We have the tools we need.  We can do this.  And we must do this, for life on earth to survive.

The beautiful, joyous truth is that we each can help make this transformation happen by opening our own heart and mind to be transformed, and by living our own lives in our own place more lovingly.  We can do this right now, right here…

And Here

And here is where I heard the hermit sing.
And here is where the ermine popped through snow.
And here is where the golden eagle’s wing
sent benediction to the land below.
And here is where I stood to sing of songs
and presences and blessings we pass through.
I do not know to whom this land belongs
except by this one law I know is true:
The spirit of creation makes a claim,
love’s birth, love’s joy, love’s struggle to survive.
We live to serve and celebrate love’s aim.
There is no other cause to be alive.
And here we sing our thanks as loves appear.
And here we make our place by loving here.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

Love of Light Song

Love of Light Song

O Light, how much you love the mighty trees,
those massive trunks of maple, ash and oak
that cast up vast translucent canopies
beneath which long past generations woke
and we wake still, we lower, lesser things,
we dwellers in their filtered sun and shade.
We hear the wind or thrush high up that sings
the praise of greatness that your light has made.
But we sing, too, our humble, quiet songs
of ray pierced pools that make the rock moss shimmer,
of stained glass ferns that soar above the throngs
of praising beetle, worm and water skimmer.
You love us all, you give each all your gifts,
you bless the slightest song the humblest lifts.

Poetry Salon on Resurrection

Poets Garret Keizer, Sydney Lea, Mark Hart and Tom Kinder

I participated in a Poetry Salon at the Congregational Church in Newbury, Vermont, on May 4, 2019 along with Sydney Lea, Garret Keizer and Mark Hart.  It was hosted by the Rev. Dr. Michael Caldwell at the Newbury, Vermont Congregational Church and was on the theme of resurrection, more as a law of nature than religious doctrine. I read from upcoming books in my Sonnets for the Struggle series and from my upcoming collection, Sonnets of Celebration and Love.  I share expanded reflections and poems from that day in the half-hour video below.

You can find poems by the other three inspired, excellent poets on their websites, https://sydneylea.net/, https://garretkeizer.com/, and http://www.markhartpoetry.com/. Thank you to Janis Moore for the photo of us at the Salon.

You can follow this website in the sidebar (click on the little three horizontal lines symbol to see it) if you would like to hear and see more of my writings and find out when my books become available. Thank you!