Thursday, April 28, 2016

For Clara McLaughlin Atkinson

For Clara McLaughlin Atkinson
on her 4th birthday, April 28, 2016

Clothed in miracle, a little girl entered our world: she
Left for an instant, and came back again, and every day,
After that first trying day, has been a gift I treasure.
Rarely do such moments touch our hearts so deeply;
Actually, never have I at once felt such fear and faith
Mixed in a moment. Her life with us, we honor and
Celebrate, year after year, today, because today
Life was strong in her, then, and still it is. Our little girl,
Amazingly herself, has much to give the world in need.
Unknown it is to us just where her life will lead, but
God knows, and has been, and will direct each step.
He has formed her life, saved her, and sustains her
Life for what He wills. Humbled by the faith He must have
In me to make me her father, I’ll play my role, always,
Never to have her stray far from my heart, and
As she grows from day to day, as days become years,
Teach her what life means, by loving her every smile,
Kissing her every wound, and seeking to understand
In simple ways that though tears do sometimes fall,
Never do they fall forever, so each should be cherished
Still, for they fall, fleeting, as childhood is, as precious.
Only through faith can we find the peace to sustain us,
Now, today, yesterday, tomorrow, forever all at once.

Photo Credit:
DeAnna Poynter Atkinson

Sunday, April 24, 2016

It Is Done

It Is Done

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

April 24, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

Revelation 21: 1-6

Ezekiel 47: 6-12

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

I never give the Lectionary folks enough credit, but it is impressive what they’ve done. It is a herculean task to break up the entire Bible into segments, and then put those segments in an order that covers all parts of the Bible on a three year cycle, and to do it well you would want themes to correspond throughout, and if you could you would want certain motifs and sub narratives to constantly be working. And I think they do. You don’t necessarily see it, until you start to go through it, committing to the discipline of following where they lead, and I’m not sure that they put these things in on purpose, but I see it. Going through the entire season of Lent I was driven to adopt a desert, or a journey out and into the desert, through the desert, and to the other side theme, by what readings they put forward, but then I was stuck this week, and it is a repeated theme throughout Revelation, and that is “To the thirsty I will give the water of Life.” It almost always comes after, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and I will give water to the thirsty. But before that common refrain, we hear the words. “It is done.” The one on the throne tells John to write these things down because he is making things new, and that these words are trustworthy and true, and then he says “It is done!” not it will be done, but it is done.

I can’t help but think about how this seems to mirror some of the words of Christ in the gospels, especially when from the cross he says “It is accomplished.” And now here we have, it is done. And throughout the gospels every time he says that the kingdom of heaven is near. Could it be that these things have already come to be? That these promises have been fulfilled in Christ, that the cross is sufficient for these promises to be, that the Revelation symbology and metaphors about a battle and a beast, and a lamb, is not some future happening, but a description of what the Christ event is and means, what Easter is and means, what the Resurrection is and mean not for the future, but now.  I’m not sure, but I don’t see the harm in posing the question and investigating the idea, so  today I want to go through that idea, as if it is. If we put this book in its context, and that it works very much like an Old Testament Prophetic work, that it seems to echo the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel, Revelation would expose a problem, like those books did, have God promise to act through that problem, that there would be a period of devastation, and then God’s promises would be revealed and would come to pass. The Gospels go out of their way to connect Christ as the fulfillment of the promises of those Old Testament Prophets, that Christ’s torture on the cross, is just like suffering servant that Isaiah describes. That Isaiah says, all we like sheep have gone astray, but that Christ as the Good Shepherd comes, knows his sheep calls them by name, and even goes after the one, leaving the 99 behind. Now look at what is promised in this little passage. I love that the NRSV sets it off as poetry, because it reads like that, and the prophetic books are usually written in poetry too, so it makes sense. It says,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Think about this, and the context of Jesus himself as the fulfillment. God did come to dwell with us, and now he is risen, and the Risen Christ, and the Holy Spirit is very much dwelling in and amongst us. Christ himself has cried tears, and of course has wiped tears from the faces of many, he knows us, he knows our pain, he has felt our pain, he understands, he bore our pain already. Jeremiah says when these things come to be, there will be a new covenant, and this covenant will not be one of stone, but a new one, a covenant not of stone, but written on our hearts. That’s what this is all about, a covenant written on your heart, to love, to believe, to have faith, and so to have hope. . . but this hope gives new eyes, to see what is new in the world, because these things have come to pass already. Christ is the fulfilment.

What would it be like if that were the case, that Christ is not only the fulfillment of the Old Testament Prophets, but that Revelation too was a prophecy fulfilled by Christ, and description of the past, in terms of the future, to effect the people of John’s present, that they are to believe, that they are to trust, that they are to witness, right now, to what God has done, the great amazing wonders that God has done, if that were what was meant by this passage from Revelation. That John’s vision is a vision of saying what has already come to pass. That the victory has already been won by God, that what is to come, has come what would that mean?

It seems like we are taking this passage backwards, that we looked at the man on the throne saying, I am the Alpha and Omega, and that all who are thirsty can drink from the tree of life, we looked at that first, and we have to admit that this was also always promised by Christ, and also it was promised in Isaiah. . . so you see again full circle. Then there was the voice saying, it is done. . . and that this was a voice that was trustworthy and that these words were true. Then we went through the death, and mourning, and tears being no more, that death would be no more, that God will dwell among the peoples. And now let us go back all the way to the beginning. Look at the first thing that goes on in this passage, John sees a new heaven and a new earth, the first earth and the sea had passed away, and now the holy city was descending, and the new Jerusalem coming down to be the bride. Now all of this echoes the Old Testament prophets again. Jerusalem destroyed, and then rebuilt. Promise of destruction, then promise of rebuilding, and then it coming to pass. Can we even imagine it?

I want to read the poem that I put in the bulletin for the Prayer of Preparation today because I think it describes one of our biggest barriers to seeing the “It is Done” world, and that is that we have not beaten our swords into plowshares. War still rages. . . . So here is Steve Earle’s song: “Jerusalem”.

Well maybe I'm only dreamin' and maybe I'm just a fool
But I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school
But somewhere along the way I strayed and I never looked back again
But I still find some comfort now and then

Then the storm comes rumblin' in
And I can't lay me down
And the drums are drummin' again
And I can't stand the sound

But I believe there'll come a day when the lion and the lamb
Will lie down in peace together in Jerusalem

And there'll be no barricades then
There'll be no wire or walls
And we can wash all this blood from our hands
And all this hatred from our souls

And I believe that on that day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Embedded in his song is the idea that there is more to the promise that we just do not see yet coming to fruition, that the world is very much still a war filled and therefore sin filled world, which leaves us wondering, ‘When?”

But how are we to read the “It is done” of Revelation. Which part of the story is it telling, the Old Testament prophetic story about God and his work. Is it a Jeremiad, evoking the prophet Jeremiah, the prophet before the exile, whose message is, turn back, or else. Most Christian churches see Revelation in such a light, or at least use it in such a light. You see the church signs, like Jesus is coming, are you ready? Or How would you like to spend your eternity, smoking or non. . . in those readings of Revelation you have a heavy handed sense that it is time to turn back to God or the horrible readings of Revelation will come true. Is that how we should read Revelation?

Or is it, like I said last week, is it Ezekiel’s vision, that the Exile has already happened, that we are living in the deepest despair possible, and the questions and doubts and fears about God and God’s existence surround us at every level, and Ezekiel’s prophetic voice explains the hardship in terms of God’s will and God’s sovereignty, that there is a plan, though bleak there is a plan and it will get better, there indeed, like our Old Testament reading for today, and that Revelation echoes, be rivers flowing with the waters of life.

Or “Is it Done” already, and the living into that life is necessary, that our feeling should be one of gratitude, not for what is coming, but for what already is around us, that we are already in the promised land, that Christ himself has already defeated death, that the time of the coming Kingdom is already upon us, that the kingdom is now, that we have crossed the river Jordan. It is hard to believe it in our world where the swords are more mighty than the plowshares, and all we see seems to scream, no it hasn’t arrived yet.

Let me read you two poems now, these from Anne Bradstreet, on two very different occasions, two very different circumstances. This first one after the death of her 16 month old grandchild.

No sooner come, but gone, and fal'n asleep,
Acquaintance short, yet parting caus'd us weep,
Three flours, two searcely blown, the last i'th' bud,
Cropt by th'Almighties hand; yet is he good,
With dreadful awe before him let's be mute,
Such was his will, but why, let's not dispute,
With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust,
Let's say he's merciful as well as just.
He will return, and make up all our losses,
And smile again, after our bitter crosses.
Go pretty babe, go rest with Sisters twain
Among the blest in endless joyes remain.

The loss of a child or grandchild like this would be the depth of personal pain and anguish, akin to the worst of all collective fears like Jerusalem’s destruction and exile. But in her words such, “It is Done!” faith. . . she might not understand it now, but it is very much already done based on her words. And now this next poem she writes when her daughter’s fever abates:

Bles't bee thy Name, who did'st restore
To health my Daughter dear
When death did seem ev'n to approach,
And life was ended near.
Gravnt shee remember what thov'st done,
And celebrate thy Praise;
And let her Conversation say,
Shee loues thee all thy Dayes.

Do you see, there is no change. . . the best of times and the worst of times, the faith and its not just faith,but gratitude is there. This is the “It is done” faith. . . The God of this universe is sovereign, it is now, Easter as done it, The Resurrection has done it. I may not understand it, and at some point I will, but the act itself has already been done.

So you may be asking yourself, and if it has already been done, and this world is still broken, does it mean that the New Jerusalem is not for here, that the power of the redemption does win for us eternal life and a new world, but that does nothing for this world. Maybe. . maybe the perspective the New makes this world bearable, but nothing here will change. I have a hard time believing that, though, and one thing that makes me think otherwise is this. John’s message to the 7 churches is to witness to Jesus’ Lordship here, and I think that witness has transformative powers. Look at what Non violent protest does. It functions on this principle. That a witness showing evil in the flesh, to the eye has tremendous potential for being redemptive. It shows evil for what it is, empty, hollow and meaningless, petty, and small, when compared to the good. Such is the case because, “It is Done,” already. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2016



How do you describe something, someone, who still,
Despite after two thousand years of description, at once
Brings to mind the chains and glories of Heaven and Hell
To those who need to be freed the most? How do you
Remove the heavy burden of baggage we’ve added each
Time we’ve sought its use? How do you explain the truth
That there is both more and less there present, that there
Always is? How do you free a heart, whose walls of stone
Are mortared with disappointment, laid by the fear mason,
And frozen in place by broken misplaced promises, sealed
Inside the walls of other walled in frozen hearts? How do
You melt and demolish those walls without stoking fires
Of resentment and crushing the heart you wished to save?
How do you instill hope, when all is obviously so hopeless
To anyone who is paying attention with discerning eyes?
How do you tread delicately when you are weighed down
By the weight of your own cross? How can I hope to begin?
Is there any hope in asking? If so, lead my next step as well.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

An Ode Upon the Cross

An Ode upon the Cross

O end of ends, so nailed to free, through holes
Made holy, for on thee was hung for me
My savior Christ. O limitations, once
Of violence shown, eliminated now,
Forever so. O symbol standing tall,
Still hung on every church's wall, on thee
We see the face we face in hopes and dreams,
Yet though it seems we own the face we share
To each assembled there, but those not here
Outside, beyond our race or binding creeds,
Who grow from other seeds and strands, can stand:
They have no need to fear, for what they face 
In their own space of dreams beyond the seaming
Does brightly beam as well. O intersect
In timber laid, do for our brokenness
Make whole, inside ourselves; beyond the bounds
Connect harmonic dissonant sounds, so we
Despite division see, his broken body 
Mended be, beyond the empty words we speak
To actuality. O tree give life,
Outpour thy fruit, to nourish us. O Love,
Ironic, pain and pleasure, joined, combined,
We try to separate; we fight; we push,
But may we fail in doing our desire,
And let the fire keep burning in our soul.
O altar of His sacrifice at once 
Suffice to kill our hiding fears, which seek
To pass, to blame, to sneak away and place
Another in our place, and let us both
Lift up our face and see the rising Son.
O Cross that never was the end, may we,
Ourselves, just like our friend, lift you up high, 
And shoulder through to do what we are called 
To do and be what we are made to be.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Amen to Life

Amen to Life
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 17, 2016
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Revelation 7: 9-17
Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.

9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We’ve been trying to have this day for many weeks now. We first started thinking about having it right after Christmas for Janet’s birthday, then in February, then during Lent, then the Sunday before Palm Sunday, then the Sunday after Easter. We’ve changed the date again again. We’ve tried to make it right and make it perfect because we want to remember and honor a woman who touched our hearts. She touched our hearts with her music, with her kindness, with her example, with her caring, with her wit, with her knowledge, with her. . . self. .  there just isn’t any way to put it other than that without leaving anything out. It was Janet that touched our hearts, all of her, every piece, every element, everything.  As I started to try to think of adjectives, they just kept coming, and with each one a memory of moments and stories, examples of how Janet gave of herself to this church and this greater community. So we’ve wanted to make a moment to stop, to pause, to commemorate a life, and the love that formed and surrounded her life, because since she moved away we weren’t able to  So we landed on today, where we could get a choir together and be prepared to sing some, and in singing and listening dedicate Janet’s legacy of love symbolized by music here. With every song we remember, and hereby dedicate this music stand to memorialize her. Every time it is used going forward, the music it supports and gives direction to will stem from Janet’s love and memory.
I’m excited for where the lectionary leads today, and believe that it is providentially appropriate for a memorial or dedication to a life like Janet’s. It is a great testament to the resurrection, and witness thereof, a great heavenly scene of a representative metaphorical vision of redemption. Much like last week we see a vision of the heavenly throne room, but last week you had unearthly details. . . like beasts with multiple wings, horns, and eyes, and mysterious elders surrounding the throne, and then what was strangest of all is that it is a lamb, the lamb who is shown as worthy, worthy to open scrolls that previously could not be opened. Here  you have a similar theme, but now it isn’t just the 24 elders and the 4 beasts, but instead a multitude, a multitude of people, so many that no one could count them, and they are each adorned in a white robe, and they are each waving palm branches, all to the lamb. It echoes the Palm Sunday celebration, doesn’t it. . .and they are singing, (apparently that is what heaven is about, Janet should fit right in, singers always need a piano player right?). But they are singing words that echo Palm Sunday too, and though there is a multitude assembled, more than anyone could count, the pronoun they describes them, plural, but when it talks about their singing voice, there is only one, so this multitude is singing together in one voice, my what a choir, and they sing “Salvation (Hosanna) belongs to the God seated on the throne and to the lamb.” And there with the heavenly host of 24 angels and the 4 beasts, they all fall to their faces, in seeming humble supplication, but they do not ask for anything new, instead, they sing out Amen! “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  What a powerful image. . . what a powerful statement that Amen is.
I want to get back to that in a second, but before I do let’s look at the second paragraph, because the second paragraph brings it all full circle, and connects the Old and New Testament readings for today. I must be a real glutton for punishment, because the lectionary doesn’t give an Old Testament passage for these weeks of Easter for some reason, so I had to supply it. And just as symbolic and intimidating as Revelation is for the New Testament, Ezekiel is the Revelation of the Old Testament. It is a strange book, and wild book, and a symbolic book. And the words that Erick read this morning is by far the most famous of the Ezekielian images. . . Ezekiel and those dry bones. O hear the word of the Lord. . .them bones, them bones,them dry bones, them bones them bones, them dry bones, them bones them bones, them dry bones, all hear the word of the lord, o the foot bone’s connected to the shin bone, the shin bone’s connected to the knee bone. . . and it goes on and on, but if you read it, these dry bones, that represent all the people of Jerusalem, all the faithful followers of God, who have passed away, it is these bones, that are going to have life breathed into them. . . and them bones them bones, gonna walk around. . . Life, new life, resurrection, redemption. . . Amen! How are they connected? Allusions are my favorite literary devices, because if you know the texts you can see the relationship, if you know the reference the meaning just expands. Look at the wording of both of these passages, if you can remember what Erick read.
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

O Lord God, you know. . . is that anything like this:
13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.”

In both the knowing asks the visitor, and in both the visitor, says, you know you tell me. It is absolutely the same, and purposefully so. . . but why, why would John allude to Ezekiel, why would it be the same, except to say that these bones walking around, are the people set free by and through the blood of the lamb. It is a fulfillment of the prophesy. Now why is it so important for John to allude to Jesus fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel. The gospel writers and Paul are usually much more caught up in Isaiah, and or even the new covenant of Jeremiah, but here we have Ezekiel, strange, visionary Ezekiel. I loved the times in seminary when we got to connect the old and new testaments, because we were rarely pushed to do so. It seemed that so many people were always trying to connect so many different things. . . and such connections were often too easy, and like the boy that cries wolf, when you see connections in everything, it cheapens the weight of the real ones, and this I believe is a real one. So why Ezekiel? One of things that is really interesting about the Prophets of the Old Testament, is studying them, and thinking about them in their unique historical context because they are reacting and lending their prophetic voices to real time historical events. Isaiah covers alot of time, and it is believed by some scholars that there is actually more than one Isaiah, more than one voice, but Jeremiah and Ezekiel, fulfill different historical roles. The main event in the Biblical story after David and Solomon’s reign is the exile. The kingdom of Solomon gets split into two, Israel to the North and Judah to the South. Both kingdoms are threatened on all sides by much larger and more powerful Earthly Empires: you’ve got Egypt to the southwest, Assyria North and west, and the Babylonians from the East, and there sets this divided kingdom. Jeremiah is the prophet right before the fall of Judah. Israel has long fallen to the Assyrians, but Jeremiah is telling people, pleading the people of Judah to change their ways, to return to God, to remember the covenant, to remember who they are, to think about what God has done, and meant in their lives, to turn back, before all is lost, but then all is lost. . . and this same Jeremiah writes the book of Lamentations. . .
How lonely sits the city
   that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
   she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
   has become a vassal.
2 She weeps bitterly in the night,
   with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
   she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
   they have become her enemies.
3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering
   and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations,
   and finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
   in the midst of her distress.

That is Jeremiah, and that is his message, and his promise is that though the Lord will make them pay for their transgressions, he will not turn his head forever, and that a new covenant will be established, this time written on hearts.. . . but yes that is Jeremiah.
I told you that story to tell you this one. Ezekiel is the prophet of the exile. . . and think about what he needs to say to the people. What the message would have to be. Because think about what the typical mindset of the people probably would be. . . Where was God when the Babylonians came through. . . are their gods stronger? Are their gods real? Can God, can Yahweh not protect us anymore. . . sure he parted the sea, led us through the desert, delivered from slavery to the promised land, but it appears that his promises are done with? His power is no more, because how could a Good God, a creator God, an All Powerful God, who has chosen us, allow such things to happen. . . the Babylonians say they conquered us because their gods are God. . . are they right? What leg could we possibly have to stand on. . . but Ezekiel has the message that it is all a part of a larger plan, that God is very much in control, that all is not lost, and that God will get his vengeance in the end, those bones will walk around, and the ever present refrain throughout Ezekiel is. . . they will know my name is THE LORD. . . translated they will know my name is Yahweh, they will know my name is Jehoveh, they will know who I am and what my power is, when all of these things come to be. . . and then they will all bow down and be forced to acknowledge, and they will all say Amen.
Sound familiar? Christ crucified, Jerusalem destroyed again, this time by the Romans in response to a Jewish revolt, the newly formed Christian churches persecuted. . . the list goes on and on, but what John wants his readers, the people of the seven churches to know is that Jesus is Lord. . . despite all of this you see, the last word belongs to Christ, to the lamb, and that last word is a resounding Amen. . . glory, and power, and thanksgiving, and honor, forever and ever Amen. . . not the Romans, not the Emperor but the lamb, just like Ezekiel, not the Babylonians, but The Lord. The response of both is to believe, and witness, testify to that truth, so that all will come to know the name of the Lord, and be washed in the blood of the lamb. Do you see the all important connection?
So obviously today we witness to the resurrection, we believe death does not equal the end, but a beginning, and that our dear friend, beloved Janet is among those dressed in white, singing praises and bowing to the floor. We cannot see her, but our faith tells us that what we see all around us is not the last word, but that, that last word belongs to God and the Lamb, and to it we say Amen. I talked last week about Amen, what it means, about assent, about its acknowledging the past, in the present and looking to the future. It is also a powerful capstone. And I have found it so rewarding in my young ministry to speak at funerals, that it is so rewarding, we spend so much time talking about how we fall short, how because we do that we are in constant need of grace, but it throughout it all it is nice to see what grace does, in lives, how love and grace manifest itself in the people we have loved and have lost. To witness to the divine spark that is in people. It has been so great for me to have gotten the chance to witness to the spark in people here, to George Allman, to Joan, to Lydia, and to Virginia, and to Janet. We miss them, but their lives teach us much about life and discipleship. I want to close this morning with the poem that I wrote shortly after Janet passed. I wanted to capture that moment, and witness to the life she lived serving Christ and showing his love to all who knew her.
In Memoriam:  Janet DeRoche
There will always be a special place in my heart,
Where Janet is sitting at the piano, and playing.
She filled so many Sunday mornings with song,
And hearts with joy, simply by sharing her gifts.
Her love of music, her love of song, her endless
Kindness, cared enough to be there, without fail.
There is a real symbiotic relationship between
A pastor and the Music Director, for like other
Collaborations, the sum of the parts working
Together is so much more than one could be
Without the other. There were times where she
Knew what I was thinking before I did, and times
When she made me discover and realize ideas
I never knew I had, and she was never afraid
To tell me what she thought. . . never. . . ever,
Even when I did not want to hear it, but she
Was always kind, and we agreed more often
Than not. She was tough, but how could she
Not be, with a special combination of New Yorker
And Scot. Ever proud of both, history, heritage,
And patriotism flowed from deep within her,
And this above all, possibly even more than
Music, found in us kindred souls. We talked
Politics and poetry and history and showtunes.
There is that music coming in again. It is always
Right there. She touched so many in our little
Church, and in our little town. We will miss her,
But know she is somewhere in heaven, filling
A room with music, and heaven is just a little
Bit brighter, with her there. Thank you ever Janet.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Should I Listen?

Should I Listen?

When I shut off all sounds
      And there is nothing
Left to drown
      Out the nothing,
I can hear something.

I can’t help but wonder
      If the something
Is just more thunder
      I have to get past
To hear something else. . .
                        Something more?

Did my heart just shake,
      Or was what I felt
Only an earthquake,
      And not silent nor still
Enough to be true?

I breathe, taking it in,
      Letting it out,
We’re suppose to relax
      And let go.
Something says, “Get Up.”

Should I listen
      Or stay here and wait
Until I hear more?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Here's to Life!

Here’s to Life!
For Eileen

She had an insight, a view, few could have: to both
Be patient and nurse at once. We call it empathy:
The embodying of another’s pain, taking it on yourself,
The double experience of life and its pain incarnate,
So they[i] asked to hear what she could teach. Of course,
She told us all, if we could have the ears to listen.[ii]
“What is the difference? What makes you feel better?
I’m free, I’m free! Let’s go to the beach.”[iii] Her words
Resonate in our ears. The questions and the answers:
What is the difference, what is life? Either, both, all:
The pain, the disease, the struggle, and the service
To others’ pain, disease, and struggle, all mixed ever
Inextricably together in the scrapbook of our minds
With the respite of laughter and love spent in harmony
With friends, and family, and true partners in service
Beyond ourselves, lovingly captured in photographs,
Each a testament to what it is that truly matters—life.[iv]
Yes, such is the stuff of life: loss and gain, pleasure
And pain, all combined in images in our brain,
Never meant to die—and yet, if this alone is life,
How can we be free as you say we are to be?
I have to think and wonder, but when I look again,
And listen again, I hear and see beyond her words,
Her comforting smile, an ever strong, and fortified
Lady[v] saying, “Accept whatever life throws your way,
The rain need never dictate your day,
For whether the sun is shining or no,
You have a choice on what it makes so.[vi]

The outlook you have, and what you believe,
Can shape the joy you feel, or the loss you grieve,
For nothing’s ever lost if the story never ends,
Though hearts and bodies break, love always mends.”
So freedom then is found whenever we can love—to rise
Above events to see and act with our hearts, and not our eyes?
On days like this, when your loss we feel, can such things ever be?
Our minds say no, but through faith, let go, and simply wait and see,[vii]
And in the meantime, take our neighbor to the beach. Cheers![viii]

~ Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

[i] “They” – specifically the ABC News story (see note 3)

[ii] Allusions to Christ – “Incarnate, embodying another’s pain, ears to hear listen” – I wanted to evoke how her life exemplified carrying the cross of Christ, and so stands as a witness.

[iii] From her video, “A Day in the Life of a Cancer Patient” - . She poses the question about what makes the difference between two different people with the same numbers, the same fluids, why one is “actively dying” and “she is working.” She describes the feeling of being set free, like a kid on the last day of school.

[iv] This long sentence seeks to define life, capturing the pain and joy mixed together, and alluding to what she said filled her life, service, family, friends, all captured through photography and scrapbooking.

[v] In the video we see the woman we knew, strong, beautiful, fully aware, calmly alluding to moments where she wasn’t so strong, revealing how real her strength is, not in the make-up, or the wig, but behind her eyes, inside.

[vi] From Shakespeare’s Hamlet  – “there is nothing either good / or bad but thinking makes it so” (2.2.1350).

[vii] Her teaching symbolically has inspired my own because now my poem perfectly “end-rhymes”, whereas before rhyme was present but without consistent structure.

[viii] In the end, a simple message: “Love thy neighbor” by giving them the experience of joy at the beach, and toast always “to life” come full circle, I say “our” not “your” because her message has now come through me as the poet in my voice instead of hers.