By Jane Blanchard
upon returning to the Mayo Clinic in November 2016
“Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off?”
We walk in right before the service starts
since eight o’clock is early, even with
the change to Central Time. The font is just
ahead, white marble like the one back home
but smaller. Turning toward the altar, we
select a bride-side pew as usual.
Bell rung, those present stand as usual
when servers, clergy enter. Rite I starts;
the stained-glass windows brighten. Calmly we
progress through collects, song, and lessons with
the Order as our guide. We feel at home
at Calvary Episcopal, but just.
The fault is ours, not theirs; we both are just
too comfortable with what is usual
and proper at our own Good Shepherd home.
The Gospel read and praised, the Rector starts
a sermon on uncertain times, ends with
the question, “Just or unjust—who are we?”
For us, there is no easy answer. We
find comfort in the creed and prayers said just
before the Peace. Although we shake hands with
the few around and smile as usual,
you balk at introduction. The Rector starts
announcements for the ones who call here home.
Worldwide it seems the chickens have come home
to roost. The larger Church needs more than we
can ever hope to offer. Advent starts
two weeks from now. Is God not more than just
through Christ, no matter how unusual
the challenges which each of us deals with?
Collection taken, we continue with
the Great Thanksgiving, meet and right like home.
I sit; you choose to kneel as usual,
the last time for a while. Come Tuesday we
face surgery again. Some autumn! Just
as my recovery concludes, yours starts.
Communion goes as usual. Fed, we
exit, with jackets zipped or buttoned, just
as blessed as if at home. The future starts.
A native Virginian, Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia, USA.
This sestina (first published in Modern Age) is a part of Metes and Bounds (just released by Kelsay Books). It has been republished here with the author's permission.
By Desmond Kon
“It is a happy thing that there is no royal road to poetry.”
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins
No poet in this country cares for Hopkins,
a faraway poet said.
But for the sense of the utopian ideal
in his Heaven-Haven.
But for such an imagined good place--
was it also an epoch, some temporal state
of mind, the psychology of the moment? Then
emotion more like a fleeting feeling,
of more of the same.
Like holy love, heaven-sent.
On feast days, beyond holy days of obligation.
On Sundays, which are always feast days,
didn’t we know?
An accent on its significance, without ambiguity
like a renewal of vows, forcefulness.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 106
Therein a gift of the Second Vatican Council:
“Hence the Lord's day is the original feast day.”
That was, is—will always be—poetry.
That statement of truth, reclaimed like an eternal ictus.
A fit of awakened memory, seizure, hint,
and always, expressed intimation
Then, flight, as I said once,
Then, church bells, once
and for all.
DESMOND Francis Xavier KON Zhicheng-Mingdé is the author of an epistolary novel, a quasi-memoir, two lyric essay monographs, four hybrid works, nine poetry collections and a creative guided journal. The former journalist has edited over 25 books and co-produced three audio books, several pro bono for non-profit organisations. Desmond is Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing and Publishing at Nanyang Technological University. He can be found at desmondkon.com.
By Joseph Teti
At school, I’d study long into the nights
until the library would close. When asked
to leave, sometimes I’d be so stiff of neck
from squinting over some assignment-texts,
and so exhausted of brain-sweat, I would
straighten up, and play a game with myself--
watching the reflection in the window;
never looking down, but sorting the books;
still gazing forward, packing up the bag;
getting there blind and seeing, both at once;
then I would hasten: the custodian
was making his last rounds, and final call.
By Vern Fein
He woke up in the dark and knew.
He already knew but now New
touched His face, moved His head
slightly to the left, opened His eyes,
a crack of dawn, a tiny crack of dawn
spiked from the tomb door, soon
footsteps, and He knew his own
would walk eternally with the others.
A recent octogenarian, Vern Fein has published over 250 poems/prose pieces on over 100 different sites. Some of his publications have been with Christian magazines like Heart of Flesh and Calla Lillies, and he is a retired pastor who writes both poems of faith and secular poems.
By Caroline Liberatore
A stranger made himself a home
by the sea and sang a serenade
of harmonic breath, meekly rendered
through a child's instrument.
The gulls, mesmerized, enveloped
the friend and his melody.
Or perhaps, were themselves
folding and unfolding in ecstasy.
Such is the rare bliss of wordless
sermons. That humble refrain,
a mere sidewalk jingle, raptured
their wings and carried them home.
Caroline Liberatore is a poet from Cleveland, Ohio. She has also been published in Ekstasis Magazine and Ashbelt Journal.
Caroline's other work on Foreshadow:
Library Liturgy (Poetry, February 2022)
Ecology (Psalm 84) (Poetry, August 2022)
Unearthings (Poetry, September 2022)
April Snowfall, a Mercy (Poetry, April 2023)
Grievances (Poetry, June 2023)
By Royal Rhodes
after Rainer Maria Rilke
When was any human so awake
as in the morning today?
Not just bloom and brook
but even the roof-beam delights.
Its own age-hardened edge,
the heavens high-lighted,
finds its feeling: island,
his answer, the world.
All breathe and thank.
O you anxieties of night,
how traceless you sank.
From gatherings of light
was its darkening made,
that itself so purely contradicts.
Royal Rhodes taught religious studies for almost 40 years. His poems have appeared in various journals, including Ekstasis, Ekphrastic Review, The Seventh Quarry, and The Montreal Review, among others. His poetry and art collaborations have been published with The Catbird [on the Yadkin] Press in North Carolina.
Royal's other work on Foreshadow:
A Road Through Ohio Spring (Poetry, April 2023)
A Pilgrim's Song (Poetry, May 2023)
Journey to Silence (Poetry, July 2023)
Remember David (Poetry, July 2023)
Magnolia (Poetry, October 2023)
By Laurie Klein
like a small body of water,
reflective face, upturned:
an entity of acceptance.
Water embraces the sunken. The near-dying
as well as the thriving stir, like plants
practicing grace as they lean on the current.
Let me be a haven, where shared sediments
settle. Where buoyancy reasserts itself.
Where you will beckon the weathered vessel,
and I will coax the reluctant toe.
We’ll soften the chipped margins of shells.
Castoffs. The chronically stony.
Encompassed, the survivor rises
the way a trout breaks from silence, to surface,
old hooks and lines ingrown, jaw half-trussed--
wounds revealed, by one seeking a witness.
What was it the risen one said? Hark.
Flow and do likewise.
Laurie Klein is the author of Where the Sky Opens and Bodies of Water, Bodies of Flesh. A grateful recipient of the Thomas Merton Prize for Poetry of the Sacred, she lives in the Pacific Northwest and blogs, monthly, at lauriekleinscribe.com.
Laurie's other work on Foreshadow:
Private, as the Small of a Back (Poetry, October 2023)
Predawn (Poetry, October 2023)
Uphill (Poetry, October 2023)
By Erin Clark
There go the ships, at least
the ones not proving too elderly to sail
or getting stuck in the Panama Canal. There go
the ships, container-laden, or passenger’ed,
the stout car-ferries that zig-zag across
glacial slopes awash in tourists, waves.
There go the ships: crabbers, lobsterers,
harvesters of tuna by the billion.
There go the ships bedecked with naval
hubris, above the surface and below. There
go the ships, yachting-gleaming;
there too go the Canadian canoes.
I’ve missed a few. There’s always more,
a coracle with a rough oar, a catamaran.
There go the ships:
and there is that leviathan.
* Psalm 104:26
there go the ships
and there is that Leviathan
which Thou hast made to play
[in the great and wide sea]
Erin Clark (she/her) is an American writer & priest living in London. Her work has appeared in publications in the US, UK and Canada, including The Selkie, the Oxonian Review, the New Critique, Free Verse Revolution, The Primer, Over/Exposed, the Crank, Geez, About Place and elsewhere. Her debut chapbook Whom Sea Left Behind will be out in 2023 (Alien Buddha Press). You can find her online at emclark.co or on Twitter @e_m_clark.
Erin's other work on Foreshadow:
Found poem: upon arrival at the Abbey (Poetry, July 2023)
Orchard labyrinth, overgrown (Poetry, August 2023)
By Christine Dykstra
His thin back was always hunched over his desk, his face leaning into his textbook, his hands moving slowly over notebook paper to form letters so small, I’d strain to read them. When this student I’ll call Luke entered my summer-school classroom that first day, he seemed studious, a high-achiever. By the end of the first class, though, an intensive high-school etymology elective, I knew something was off. By day two, I knew Luke probably wouldn’t pass the class.
He stayed with it, however. In a hard conversation with his mother later that first week, she told me that he cried over the difficulty of the assignments, assignments that were challenging for most students. Most students, however, by first week’s end, kept pace with them. Not Luke. His mother revealed what I hadn’t expected: he was taking the class not because he needed the credit but because he wanted to, because he loved words and wanted to spend his summer days studying them, though the extra academic services he’d received for years could not bridge this gap, though he knew it meant tears (both his mother’s and his own), and though he knew mastery would elude him.
I’m sorry I was only twenty-something, with compassion, yes, but with compassion more limited than it could have been. I didn’t fully see then what I do now. Luke could have dropped the class and taken the textbook home, told himself he’d spend a little time studying it on his own, and switched to video games each time the words became taxing. Instead, he stayed in the class and changed to audit status, and though he was always behind, he participated as best he could, doing the assignments, playing the class word games, and turning in his daily, always-less-than-half-finished tests long after everyone else was done.
I wonder why we, as humans, chase after the knowledge of things that are so difficult to comprehend. Why differential equations, orchestral compositions, quantum mechanics, or Kantian metaphysics? Even more, why do we seek knowledge of a God whose mind transcends our own, the author of a curriculum so massive in content, a test creator whose questions our small lettering and careful scratchings will never begin to answer?
Why do we chase after knowledge of a God so other, so without beginning or end?
Almost three years ago, I started a degree in theology. “What do you do for a living?” someone will ask me, and I’ll mumble something about leaving my career in education to pursue this degree and wait to see if the person will need clarification. Sometimes, I get polite nods. Sometimes, I get looks of smothered disapproval. Once, a sweet and well-meaning medical technician, who weaved the phrases “Praise God,” and “Praise Jesus” into more sentences than not, asked me the question. “I’m working on a master’s in theology,” I said, thinking I’d at least secure approval from her. She smiled and nodded, grew quiet for a moment, and then confessed she had no idea what theology was.
That etymology textbook I had once taught from introduced both Greek roots used in the word theology: Theo means God, and log means, among other things, study of. I explained this, and her smile returned, along with another “Praise God.”
Perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned in my theological studies is akin to what I imagine a young child beginning to study astronomy would feel after starting with the earth’s sun and moon only to discover our planet’s location within a galaxy that may well be one of billions.
Where does the study of a galactical infinity take you? In a similar way, theology teaches you much, but at some point, you have to look up from your thousand-page systematics text and realize you are pursuing knowledge of the boundless Creator of that galactical infinity.
You can’t get through seminary without somehow running into Augustine; at least, I hope you can’t. Though I must confess about Confessions: I read it in my first semester of seminary and wondered, as I read those first few pages, if I’d been misled. Those initial pages seemed a blathering of thoughts with verses interwoven for good measure. But then I kept reading until I wasn’t underwhelmed anymore, and I got it, it seemed, got why a man’s quest for God could traverse the centuries, could seep into all the deep, soft places of a person’s being who ached for knowledge, who ached to find meaning. It spoke to my own three a.m. questions with words I could understand.
Augustine writes about his desire for God in the opening of Confessions, explaining that his desire for God came from God himself. “You made us for yourself,” he acknowledges, and later observes that God “called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.” While Augustine couldn’t fully embrace that call for years, neither could he let it go. His search for God became long and circuitous: he writes openly, for instance, about struggling with sex, about sinning simply for the pleasure of sin itself, about pursuing academic success solely for prideful reasons, and about the many years of wrestling with philosophy and theology that left him adrift, adding questions and subtracting answers. For years God allowed Augustine to “go on turning over and over in that darkness,” distracted by the “lovely created things” of this world even as he searched for the one who created them. Augustine’s cry in describing his lost years echoes the experiences of many: “Where was I when I was seeking for you? You were there before me, but I had departed from myself. I could not even find myself, much less you.”
However, the God he was reaching for was, as he’d acknowledged, there before him, and slowly, Augustine later saw, he was “drawing closer.” His eventual conversion, after a chanting voice told him to start reading the Bible before him, eliminated his doubts. From this point on, his life was spent in service to God. That service included writing a magnitude of works about the study of God that lives on, over 1,600 years later, works that have led so many of us to a deeper understanding of the God Augustine once thought was eluding him.
Last week, I graduated from seminary, and this week, I find myself looking for two things: career options and, interestingly, other seminary degrees.
The simple truth is, I’m not ready for seminary to be over. I can continue to study God in other ways besides seminary, of course, and I will. But this God, who is at the core of who I am, who has spoken to me so beautifully amid even the driest words of theology ever to be written, continues to call to me through this kind of study. And so, the more I know, the more I hunger to know more, more of the God I’ve loved my whole life, since the moment I first knew of him.
He created me not just with a sense of him, but also with a love for him that grows the more I know him. I started seminary in part because I felt a vocational call, but as I sat in my classes, something began to be fed deep within me, something that somehow satisfies even as it creates a desire for more. I see everywhere how all things begin and end with the God who spoke the world into existence, who took on flesh to save that world, and who is, even now, making that world new. I see his beauty everywhere, in his hovering over pre-creation waters and Israel’s firstborn sons, in his exilic promise to make stone hearts flesh, in his post-resurrection bread breaking that opened blind eyes. How could I not hunger, seeing all this that I see? And so I hunger for more glimpses of him, for the panoramic view of what I now see only in part. Even as I lean in deeper, I know that it will never be deep enough, but I dive anyway, because I hunger for more.
I pray that God will continue to reveal himself, in all kinds of ways, for all the days that remain for me, even if it is only in the half-shadows my finite mind can comprehend.
Sometimes, I imagine Luke, long into adulthood now. I hope he continues to study words, with each bit of knowledge gained leading to the desire for another, and another, and another bit of the same. I hope the same will be true for myself years from now. I pray that whatever comes after the diploma, it will bring knowledge that feeds my adoration. I pray that God will spread glimpses of his presence across the galaxies of words and stories and his own creation, and that when I look up, I will see more of what I long to see: God there luminous before me.
Christine Dykstra works as a freelance writer and editor. She recently completed an M.A. in theological studies. Previously, she was a literacy specialist and an English teacher.
By Bonita Jewel
The rocks and hills and trees, the rivers, lakes,
and we caught now in abeyance, in this long
and lonely dance awaiting
some revealing, some long and lasting healing,
spreading and standing as home to all things
nesting in its branches,
our expectancy unspoken, hope unbroken in spite
clay all around, in spite of the sound of weeping
in the streets, we meet this all with tears
with hope as we grope and wait for the appearance
of the Master, the alpha
and omega, who writes our story, who walked these
roads and wept
our tears and yet now reigns in lasting glory.
Bonita Jewel visited India when she was 16 and stayed for nearly 12 years. Now residing in California with her husband and three children, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing. A freelance writer and editor for 13 years, Bonita’s writing has recently been published with upstreet magazine, Ekstasis and Dos Gatos Press. You can connect with her at bonitajewel.com.
Bonita's other work on Foreshadow:
Heart to Heart (Poetry, September 2023)
Key to Faith (Poetry, October 2023)