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National Poetry Month, 2014 Sacred Poetry

Catherine Al-Meten

National Poetry Month 2014 Sacred Poetry

This week is Holy Week for Christianity, Pesache for Judaism, and the center of a number of other spiritual and religious traditions. Througout the year, people celebrate the sacred, and set aside some part of their time to enter into sacred time and sacred space. Poetry is often a great part of religious and spiritual celebrations, and there is a large body of literature devoted to the poets who desire to put into words, their passion, questions, adoration, desires, and hunger for the Divine. Regardless of what spiritual path a person walks, the beauty of poetry has something to stir us, to make us stop to reflect, and to help us in moments when we need comforting or simply a reminder of our place within the greater scheme of things. For all of you who are celebrating the holy days and for those who love poetry and find something uplifting in it, these poems are dedicated to you. And in the spirit of Joy Harjo's poem, Remember, remember who you are, why you are here, and how you are a part of the beauty of Creation.

Joy Harjo


Remember the sky that you were born under, 
know each of the star's stories. 

Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her 
in a bar once in Iowa City. 

Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the 
strongest point of time.

Remember sundown 
and the giving away to night. 

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled 
to give you form and breath.

You are evidence of 
her life, and her mother's, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also. 

Remember the earth whose skin you are: 
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth 
brown earth,

we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their 
tribes, their families, their histories, too.

Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice.

She knows the 
origin of this universe.

I heard her singing Kiowa war 
dance songs at the corner of Fourth and Central once. 

Remember that you are all people and that all people 
are you. 

Remember that you are this universe and that this 
universe is you. 

Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you. 

Remember that language comes from this .

Remember the dance that language is, th at life is.


By St. Catherine of Siena

We know nothing until we know everything.

I have no object to defend
for all is of equal value
to me.

I cannot lose anything in this
place of abundance
I found.

If something my heart cherishes
is taken away,
I just say, "Lord, what

And a hundred more

The Clay Jug


Inside this clay jug there are canyons and pine mountains,

and the maker of canyons and pine mountains! 

All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds of millions of stars. 

The acid that tests gold is there, and the one who judges jewels.

And the music from the strings no one touches, and the 
source of all water. 

If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:

Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.

A Prayer

God of grace, 
grant us the further gift of noticing your grace 
every day.

In renewing sleep, 
in food and drink, 
in the dark sky and

the fragile grass, 
in the life of the senses, 

in the passions of the mind, 
in the love of a friend,

in the embrace of the family, 

in the blessings of work and play, 
in the breath of life, 

may we feel the favor of your bounty. 

God of grace, 
grant us the further gift of responding to your 
grace every day.

In gratitude for your gifts to us, 
in valuing the gifts you have given to others, 

in valuing the gifts that others are, 
may we live lives that are graceful in return.

Bless us with graceful lives today and always — 
lives that honor the source of grace,

lives that accept gifts humbly, 
lives that pass the grace along,

lives alert for signs of grace and glory 
throughout your great creation.

Make all our goings graces. 


— James Vanden Bosch

A Prayer

God of creation, God of the seasons, 
bless your creatures with seasons of delight.

Lord of the Sabbath, 
you who have established the rhythms of life,

establish in us also the rhythms for human prospering; 
grant us the good sense to enjoy

Sabbath rest in this season. 

Grant us, moreover, wisdom to know that there 
is a time to play,

a time to cease from our labors, 
a time to sense majesty in a blue sky,

richness in green grass, 
love in faithful friends, 
and joy in our being. 

Grant us, then, blue skies this summer, and 
green grass; 

grant us faithful friends and the time, strength, 
and spirit for play.

Grant us the wit to know the goodness of this creation, 
which, blind, defiant, or ungrateful, we despoil. 

Send our roots rain; send our hearts ease, 
so we may show in our lives 
that we can live rightly in this season of our lives 
and see it as if for the first time, 
in wonder, in awe, and in a spirit of thanksgiving. 


— James Vanden Bosch

Excerpt from Mary Oliver’s What is the Greatest Gift?

What is the greatest gift?

What is the greatest gift? 

Could it be the world itself — the oceans, the meadowlark, 
the patience of the trees in the wind?

Could it be love, with its sweet clamor of passion?
Something else — something else entirely 
holds me in thrall.

That you have a life that I wonder about 
more than I wonder about my own.

That you have a life — courteous, intelligent — 
that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own. 

That you have a soul — your own, no one else's — 
that I wonder about more than

I wonder about my own. 

So that I find my soul clapping its hands for yours 
more than my own.

What is the greatest gift?
What is the greatest gift? 

Could it be the world itself — the oceans, the meadowlark, 
the patience of the trees in the wind? 

Could it be love, with its sweet clamor of passion?
Something else — something else entirely 
holds me in thrall. 

That you have a life that I wonder about 
more than I wonder about my own.

That you have a life — courteous, intelligent — 
that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own. 

That you have a soul — your own, no one else's —

that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own. 

So that I find my soul clapping its hands for yours 
more than my own.

Nan Merrill’s rendition of Psalm 41.

Psalm 41 

"Who among us hears the cry of the poor?

How many open their hearts 
and heed the Call? 

The plight of the world is a wound 
to the very Heart of Love, 
a scar on our own souls.

Blessed are those who lovingly respond!

The Friend, who knows all hearts, 
will remember their kindness.

They will know joy, peace, and deep 
fulfillment working in harmony 

with all who serve toward healing 
the needs of this troubled world.

"As for me, I prayed, 'O Soul Mender, 
be gracious unto me. 
For I have been deaf to those in need;

my fears paralyzed me. 
I am bound like a prisoner held 
in my own house,

alone and abandoned.

Each fear I push away or deny 
rises up with power;

feeling anxious, lies and deceit 
take the place of truth.

I can hide no longer; my confusion,

the way I blame others, 
have turned even my friends away.'

" 'O Divine Healer, help me face the fears 
that threaten to overwhelm me;

without your guidance, they will 
bring about what I most fear!

I am on my knees asking forgiveness;

give me strength to turn all 
that separates me from You 
into love and kindness.

You, who are Unconditional Love, You 
do not judge our weaknesses;

raise me up, that I may be renewed 
in body, mind, and soul!' 

"By this I know that You have 
graciously forgiven me;

fear did not triumph over me, 
though my heart was broken open 
so the light could enter in. 

You upheld me, filled me with integrity, 
and opened my heart to the poor.

"Blessed be the Beloved, loving Presence 
to all hearts open to Love,

from everlasting to everlasting! 

And finally, two poems from one of my favorite poets, Henry Vaughan. Vaughan was a Welsh physician and a metaphysical poet. He lived from 1621-April, 1695

Weighing the steadfastness and state

Of some mean things which here below reside,

Where birds like watchful clocks the noiseless date

And intercourse of times divide;

Where bees at night get home and hive, and flowers

Early, as well as late,

Rise with the sun, and set in the same bowers;

I would, said I, my God would give

The staidness of these things to man! for these

To His divine appointments ever cleave,

And no new business breaks their peace;

The birds nor sow nor reap, yet sup and dine;

The flowers without clothes live,
Yet Solomon was never dressed so fine.

Man hath still either toys or care;

He hath no root, nor to one place is tied,

But ever restless and irregular

About this earth doth run and ride;

He knows he hath a home, but scarce knows where;

He says it is so far

That he hath quite forgot how to go there.

He knocks at all doors, strays and roams,

Nay, hath not so much wit as some stones have,

Which in the darkest nights point to their homes

By some hid sense their Maker gave;

Man is the shuttle, to whose winding quest

And passage through these looms

God ordered motion, but ordained no rest.

Mount of Olives (in honor of Maunday Thrusday this Holy Week)
SWEET, sacred hill !

on whose fair brow 
My Saviour sate,

shall I allow 
Language to love,

And idolize some shade, or grove,

Neglecting thee ? such ill-plac'd wit,

Conceit, or call it what you please,

Is the brain's fit, 
And mere disease. 

Cotswold and Cooper's both have met

With learn swains, and echo yet

Their pipes and wit ; 

But thou sleep'st in a deep neglect, 

Untouch'd by any ;

and what need 
The sheep bleat thee a silly lay, 

That heard'st both reed 

And sheepward play ?

Yet if poets mind thee well,

They shall find thou art their hill, 

And fountain too.

Their Lord with thee had most to do ; 

He wept once, walk'd whole nights on thee : 

And from thence?

His suff'rings ended?

Unto glory 

Was attended.

Being there, this spacious ball

Is but His narrow footstool all ;

And what we think 

now with one wink 

He doth comprise ;

but in this air

When He did stay to bear our ill

And sin, this hill 

Was then His Chair.

The World

I saw Eternity the other night,

Like a great ring of pure and endless light,

All calm, as it was bright;

And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,

Driv’n by the spheres

Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world

And all her train were hurl’d.

The doting lover in his quaintest strain

Did there complain;

Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
Wit’s sour delights,
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
Yet his dear treasure
All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour
Upon a flow’r.

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow,
He did not stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg’d the mole, and lest his ways be found,
Work’d under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see
That policy;
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
Were gnats and flies;
It rain’d about him blood and tears, but he
Drank them as free.

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
In fear of thieves;
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugg’d each one his pelf;
The downright epicure plac’d heav’n in sense,
And scorn’d pretence,
While others, slipp’d into a wide excess,
Said little less;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
Who think them brave;
And poor despised Truth sate counting by
Their victory.

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the ring;
But most would use no wing.
O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night
Before true light,
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shews the way,
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
Leads up to God,
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
More bright than he.
But as I did their madness so discuss
One whisper’d thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
But for his bride.”

For more sacred poetry, visit the Spirituality and Practice website or the Poetry Foundation site.

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