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Poetry

For Craig, On Your Anniversary (Leighton Ford)

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For Craig on your anniversary

You are a husband of many years,

a father your children trust,

a son-in-law we treasure,

a doctor saluted for your excellence.

 

Last night I saw you as a small boy,

suddenly spotting the space station

hurtling through the clear sky,

and following  it with such rapt delight

until it was out of sight.

Almost I thought you might leap

into the sky and catch it,

and perhaps you almost did.

 

Leighton Young Fella

May 24, 2017

Billy’s Cross (Leighton Ford)

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A Meditation for his 95th birthday.

The cross!
The cross!
the young preacher cried
to the vast crowds
in the football stadiums of the world.

The cross!
the old man says in his husky voice
sitting next to his dog
on the porch of his log house,
gazing with faded eyes at the blue ridged hills.

The cross!

Above his chair in the kitchen
a small cloth banner … a reminder:
“God forbid that I should glory,
save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But why?
Why glory in the cross?
Didn’t Jesus on the cross ask “Why?”

I think I know my brother-in-law
well enough to know
why the cross matters to him so
that after these ninety-five years
he makes it his last word.

He knows how much he himself needs grace.
When he meets the Lord
he’s not going to puff his chest, stick out his hand
and say, “ I’m Billy Graham, your chief envoy.”
Knowing him he’ll be prostrate, on his face,
Saying “Thank You for your mercy,
for choosing me, a sinner.

But it’s not as if he thinks of the cross only as a ticket to heaven.

He knows that coming to the Cross costs nothing, and everything.
How many times I’ve heard him quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“When Christ calls a man, he calls him to die.”
And Jesus: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
He knows that the Cross offers both free grace
And a call to die daily to self-glory.

Billy is a preacher, not a poet,
but I think he’d agree with a poet who writes,
“I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross
when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness,
cries out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”
(Christian Wiman)

I have seen him gaze with longing at the picture of
his departed and beloved Ruth, wince at the pain
that runs through his jaw and down his leg.
At the Washington Cathedral after 9/11 he said,
“I don’t know why God allowed this. It’s a mystery.”
But he knows that on the cross God was saying
“I am with you, not beyond you, in suffering.”

There’s more. A Chinese scholar once told me,
“When Billy Graham came to China
he came not with a closed fist, but an open hand.”
That’s because he knows there’s a paradox in the cross
(though he might not call it that).
The cross is both the narrowest gate
and the widest welcome to new life.
The narrowest, for Jesus said, “I am the door, the way.”
The widest because he also said,
“Whoever comes to me I will not turn away.”

That gate is open to all who seek God’s grace
and are willing to receive it,
people of every kind and condition –
liberal, conservative
Tea Party, Occupier
Straight or otherwise
Republican, Democrat, Libertarian
Sarah P and Nancy P
Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic, or “none”
All kinds of sinners and seekers.

In the cross of Christ God throws open the gate of new life and says,
“Welcome. There’s room in my house for you. Come in.
And you’ll be changed into what I created you to be
– a human fully redeemed.”

We can hang a cross round our neck,
gaze at it on a steeple,
but it is far more than an icon.
The cross tells us that life itself, creation itself
is cross-shaped, cruciformed,
the hope of  healing for a broken world.

The cross!

Billy has preached the cross,
successfully.
He also has lived it, or, better
lived by it,
faithfully.

Leighton Ford
November 2013

You Are God’s Poem (Leighton Ford)

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This morning my Scripture reading included Ephesians 2:10 – that in Christ we are God’s “workmanship” – literally, God’s poem (Gk. poiema).
I was also reading in O’Donohue’s Beauty that a poet
wants to “write the poem that has not yet been written.”
And that a true poem “could not be other than it is.
 Its self and form are one.”
So I write this:
The Poem Not Yet Written
My painting coach Sally is also a poet.
She says she always begins with just one word.
So I will begin with just two words.
   “Not yet.”
But wait.
It is still being written.
Leighton Ford

Thirst (A Poem)

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Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell: grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers by which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.

Mary Oliver

Stone (A Poem)

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The first book of a poet should be called Stone
Or Evening, expressing in a single word
The modesty of being part of the earth,
The goodness of evening and stone, beyond the poet.

The second book should have a name blushing
With a great generality, such as My Sister Life,
Shocking in its pride, even more in its modesty:
Exasperated, warm, teasing, observant, tender.

Later books should withdraw into a mysterious
Privacy such as we all make for ourselves:
The White Stag or Plantain. Or include the name
Of the place at which his book falls open.

There is also the seventh book, perhaps, the seventh,
And called The Seventh Book because it is not published,
The one that a child thinks he could have written,
Made of the firmest stone and clearest leaves,

That a people keep alive by, keep alive.

D.M. Thomas

A Tree For Me (Leighton Ford)

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When I was in college, and got down and discouraged

I would sometimes climb a tree near where I lived

and sit there a while.

Somehow it helped.

Perhaps it made me feel like a boy again, shinnying up a tree.

It may have been the trunk gave me a sense of being held

by something strong and sturdy.

Perhaps the spreading branches gave me a wider view

or maybe they were a hiding place

if I didn’t want to be seen.

I’m not sure why it helped.

All I know is that I hate it

when one of the great ones

gets cut down.

 

Leighton Ford

Primary Wonder (A Poem)

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In the busyness of these days, this poem of Denise Levertov may call us to pay attention to what matters most (Leighton).

Primary Wonder

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention; they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; caps and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything.
rather than void; and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Denise Levertov, The Stream and the Sapphire

Ask Me (A Poem)

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icy river

Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt: ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.

 

I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and there

are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.

What the river says, that is what I say.

 

William Stafford

A Prayer At The End And Beginning Of The Year (Leighton Ford)

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Lord, give me I pray:

A remembering heart for the things that have happened

An attentive heart to what I have learned

A forgiving heart for what has hurt

A grateful heart for what has blessed

A brave heart for what may be required

An open heart to all that may come

A trusting heart to go forth with You

A loving heart for You and all your creation

A longing heart for the reconciliation of all things.

A willing heart to say “Yes” to what You will.

 

Leighton Ford