Adding Sails

It could be said that

our journeys

are nothing less than

the accumulation

of barnacled hulls and salted prows,

of decks swabbed, well-waxed.

Our crew, composed of those

most impressive, help our slow, steady progress

on the coursing waves of coarser seas.

They sing the old songs.

It could be said that

our wayfaring breezes,

blushed in day-fat skies,

signal us to find their end,

pathways noble, chosen, fearless.

Our guide-stars, poised in Spring-fair heavens,

simplify our white-ribbon’d way

through cushioning waves.

It could be said that

this blue-borne sprawl before us

like weedless gardens,

paths without walls,

is a wordless song of melodies, uninterrupted

and well-key’d, meant for voices

of children and saints.

It could be said that

whatever shanties once joined

throats in the shared songs of adventure

were nothing more than the nursery

rhymes of spoil’d children,

sung by swaying lunar choirs

of the misshapen but hopeful.

Of all the things that could be said,

I will say but one:

of this or any journey,

in the outward way before us –

we are not the Captain of our ships,

we are only

adding sails.


We press the world between pointed palms,

where the weary stretch for heaven’s notice.

Our best vision, through closed eyes – steps


on scabbed knees, waiting.

Wine-soaked, bread-fed words squeeze

themselves through parched lips to

arrange with dancing in mind. But first,

they must learn the art of walking naked, blindfolded

through haunted alleys,

danger-gripped, clammy with doubt.

We stretch out long necks, seeking only glimpses, emancipation.

But, the lecherous bully of shame spends all his time

butchering the still,

small voices of light that sneak

in through backdoors where hope still keeps

windows open.

Tragic, is it not, how shades pull tight against wayward shards

of sun, the down-payment for our breath?

Like running in snow, our legs just get heavier –

too much weight tossed about over time.

A leering fatigue replaces what’s left of inadequate strength –

thickness filling muscles too weak to move past their own demise.

Still, hope is what came, long after our tight-

cinched belt of faith lost its grip

and hungry shame gave way to

garden surrender.

Only then does our Amen make sense.

I never said

I never said the treetops would be

enough to hide the lost points on your map.

They might just join together long enough

to sing something jaunty for the trip.


I never said that all conversations

would tell you enough to end your doubts.

But they might plant some

new ones that aim for the same end.


I never said you’d always have great birthday

parties with candles enough to roast popcorn.

But, with each new year, another candle brings

you that much closer to salting the world.


I never said the laws of nature would always

accommodate your need to experiment with pride.

But, neither did I say they were obvious enough

not to take you where you most want to go.


I never said the distances were short between

laughter and pain, burden and light.

But there will never be a better time to convince

you of your own staunch goodness.


I never said that you’d find the thing

you’d been looking for.

I prayed you have one more day to meet

your fears in the pursuit.


I never said I wouldn’t disagree.

Just that I’d always engage.

I never said I’d always remember.

Just that I’d regret the forgetting.

I never said you wouldn’t rage against the world.

But it just might hear your voice.

I never said I’d never leave you.

I said you wouldn’t always need me to stay.

I never said I’d never say such things.

For I am you.

Going Down? Till Horses Have Hands

Till horses have hands: Humpty Dumpty reflects on healing and community

As my family, the church I serve (Westminster Presbyterian Church) and a host of medical and physical therapists are already aware, I did a memorable Humpty Dumpty impression on April 29th of last year. Remaining true to my compulsive tendencies toward immediacy and perfectionism I sat atop a 20-foot scaffolding seeking to fix one of our damaged church speakers. Could it have waited until some of our duly qualified building and grounds volunteers showed up to do it? Sure. Might we even somehow have survived without it for another week? Sure. Could I not have found something less perilous with which to occupy my time? Yup. Did I? Well, suffice it to say that I am immensely gratified that, upon completion of a magnificent gymnastic feat that garnered a concussion, a broken pelvis and a shattered left arm, neither the king’s men nor horses put me back together again. That was left to those eminently more qualified and possessive of hands rather than hooves.

Now, I am fully cognizant that many have experienced trauma in their lives vastly more significant than this. Therefore, I briefly reflect on my experience with humble recognition of that reality. Moreover, I’m uncertain how best to reflect on something so life changing without resorting to clichés or pat answers.

Although I love to talk theology, I am no theologian. No, I’m an artist of the post-modern contemplative variety. Artists in general tend toward narcissism (insert look of shock here). We are self-referential and, to a greater or lesser degree, see the world as revolving around us (a fact all the more obvious given an entire article written in the first person). This means that we make great dinner guests but not custodians! If it’s clever banter or a pretty tune you want, I’m your man. If you want a church speaker fixed quickly and without drama, perhaps less so.

Thankfully, artists in professional ministry gradually learn to be aware of their ego-centrism by tempering it with the language of faith. Furthermore, the faith community itself can be a powerful shaping tool for us as well. Their complementary gifts, more objective understanding of who we are (and are not), and their interest in shared ministry offer us opportunities to grow in mutual trust. This has been especially true at Westminster.

In my younger days I might have squirmed at the idea that music and worship ministry could in fact continue and continue well – without me. God forbid! I am the hub of the wheel, the bright and morning star, the gravitational force of the universe around which all things musical must revolve. Please God, anything but this! These days, however, in the throes of middle age and desiring to leave a legacy, I am compelled to proclaim my joy from the rooftops for this very thing. Because the people I am blessed to lead and serve love me and love their church they rose up in my hour of need (closer to 2 months actually) and made the proverbial trains run on time. As a result, I was free to mend without the distracting pressures of weekly worship ministry. This kind of self-propelled passion for “taking care of business” fueled these dear souls. I, along with our entire congregation, were recipients of their herculean efforts. They know who they are. God most certainly does.

Still others came day after day to sit with me, bring meals, swap stories or share encouragement. Numerous times, well-meaning but non-suspecting folks stopped by on one of those unfortunate occasions when I was in so much pain that all I could do was groan pitifully and gaze up at them with my “look-at-what-mighty-things-I-suffer-please-feel-sorry-for-me” eyes. Again, they know who they are. We have agreed that if anyone asks they will remember the story we rehearsed.

I continue to learn from this sordid affair. G.K. Chesterton once said, “if we have not mirth, we will have madness.” Learning to take our life crises seriously yet in stride is a part of our maturation into Christ. Nothing is wasted in God’s efforts toward making us into “little Christs.” If spiritual formation is what we want, then, by God, that is what we’ll receive. Best of all, I got to see just how much the universe doesn’t in fact revolve around me. In the body of Christ we are graced with each other. Some are artists. Some are custodians. Some, perhaps most, know the difference. Therefore, until horses have hands I’ll leave the work of ministry ultimately to God, believing that many hands have helped put this Humpty Dumpty back together again.

H.D. aka Robert Rife