Palm ashes burnt in bowl with dried palm frond cross on top

A Poem on the Eve of Lent

Palm ashes burnt in bowl with dried palm frond cross on top

Palm ashes for God’s beloved dust

God’s beloved dust,
fabric of the universe—
of planets newly discovered
and ruins ancient, broken
and us.

God’s beloved dust,
we’ll walk into wilderness
on a Wednesday—
a wilderness of words
and want
and wonder,
a wilderness for the wise
and the weary.

God’s beloved dust,
ushered from pew to pastor,
they will pause.
Eyes averted
or closed
or resolute in meeting mine,
an awkward encounter
breaking the boundary of space—
to touch another’s face
and to mark it

God’s beloved dust,
thumb to forehead,
breaking with tradition,
I will say

to God’s beloved dust—
to the squirming infant
barely a month from the womb,
to the mother, headscarfed,
halfway through chemotherapy,
to the wrinkled widow
well acquainted with ashes:

Remember you are God’s beloved dust
and to God’s beloved dust you shall return.

And we will watch and wait
to witness
what God can do
with God’s beloved dust.

Lazarus Speaks


You’d think I would be grateful
for a second chance at life—
if you can call it that.

The first death, you see,
was relatively swift, and unexpected,
and anyway, I was delirious
from the fever.

The second
is biding its time,

The chief priests needn’t have hired
this one’s desperate cousin
or that one’s shifty uncle.

Death is not so easily shaken.

When the tomb was again sealed,
and the stench had cleared,
and my eyes could bear the day,
it was back, lurking
in the shadows, weighing
down the air, learning
again our routine, marking
each hour, waiting
for a second chance.

I thought I would be grateful.
He called my name—I heard it—
as if from under water—but I heard it—Lazarus!
But the creature who stumbled out of that tomb
blind and wretched and doomed
was not Lazarus.  He was—I am—
“the one whom Jesus raised”—a freak,
a stranger in my home.

Mary and Martha have been kind enough
and attentive, the way one is
with an amputee, the beloved brother
home from the war at last, drunk
and thrashing about, hurling insults
at every well-intentioned soul
who averts her eyes and walks
on tiptoe and implies he should
make the best of it, be grateful
for what he still has.

No one dares ask about that day yet,
but they steal hungry glances
and their movements are awkward
with the pretense of respect.
Tell us again, they want to say,
how you staggered
from that stinking cave, tearing
at your bindings, gasping
for air and groping
toward the light.


Deep purple, nearly black splotches
Mottle her arms and hands:
She laughs and tells me it took the nurses
Nine tries before getting the needle
Right in her small, wobbly veins.
She remembers when her doctor
took two samples from her husband
instead of trying to get one from her.

She’s amused by her veins.
The stories make me weak.

She’s proud that she’s eaten half
her bowl of now-cold creamed cereal,
though I can barely see a dent.
She tells me suddenly
she wants me to take something
from her china cabinet
the next time I visit her at her place,
anything except the plate
her son has claimed.

My ministry, a collection
of tea cups filled
with stories of dying women.

Then we pray, her hand resting in mine.
She doesn’t echo my, “Amen.”
Is she praying? Has she fallen asleep…?
I hold my breath, then she begins
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”
and my own voice, suddenly caught,
joins hers to another, final “Amen.”

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The Feast of Pentecost


Wind’s swift burst,
fire flames lapping heat
lifted us from dejection.
Powerful spirit penetration
brought resurrection, renewal.
God’s breath poured, filled,
gifting second life
from our birthing cries.

Hope-crazed, we spoke
to street strangers
clacking sounds from other lands,
meeting stares and glares
from doubters of our celebration.

Together in place as one
transformed body of believers.
Had we not gathered there,
we would grow old
without our dreams,
be young with no grand visions,
living as before –
captives of dread and fear
each one


Reflections on the Sacred Center

God brings many things to birth in and through us, no matter what our circumstance of life, family or vocation might be.


motherhood. ministry. life. creativity. partnering. loving. being a neighbor.

each part of life merges together through the many hats i wear. as i reflect on life’s successes and near misses, i come to view my life focusing on the sacred center, the space in which God resides and flows into me, from me, and into all other parts of my life. each of the concentric circles i create are becoming more a focus of the sacred circles, or the sacred center. in my work of art + spirituality and in living the creative life, i so often return to these simple structures: circle on circle. i think of my life more as a mandala: a movement from the outside in, or from the inside out, with God as the sacred center. my many roles are the circles moving from God to the outside, and some days from me to the God-side. each breath is a sacred moment. each stitch is a prayer. each color speaks to me and comes from the Creative Spirit within. Read more

Wearing the Robe

Next month we will start a new feature in Christ and Creativity, an intermittent series of interviews with YCW’s who also practice art, writing or other creative pursuits. We want to hear what drives them to create, who and what their creative inspirations are, and any advice they have for others who want to undertake a creative practice.

And now, “Wearing the Robe” by Jessica Rivera.

Wearing the Robe

Who am I…?
I wonder this sometimes
Mostly on Sunday mornings
As I sit uncomfortably in the high backed chair; looking at red-painted toes in my favorite high heels
Poking out from underneath the white-robe of my position

I wonder at this when eyes travel to wonder at my earrings
As I speak earnestly of faith
When I am introduced as the “girl Pastor” to visitors who shake my hand and say “wow, I’ve never had a girl Pastor before– you’re pretty good”
As if this was surprising because I was born with different parts than they expected
To be wearing this white-robe

In my secret chats with God I ask the question
And wonder about dating and children
“I am a woman” I say to God “can I be a lover and a pastor too?”
Or does love require a quiet and demure woman instead of a preacher?
And does the white robe fit over 9 month’s pregnant belly?

God answers the question
Not always on Sunday morning
But always quietly, almost mischievously
When whispered conversations with teenagers in camping-tents lead to thoughts of Jesus
When babies cry at warm water embrace of faith
When harmony breaks loose in wooden pews, lifting faith song
And call comes clear in bright colors
You are my chosen one, God says
And white robe becomes swaddling cloth of becoming; instead of the bondage
Of my position.

“Waters of Love” and “Birth Water”: New Poetry

Waters of Love

Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11

Life begins in the waters of creation.
The void. The deep. And the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters –
first creating one-celled,
then multiple-celled,
and eventually the endless numbers of intricately-evolved organisms
that populate the earth today.
And God called it good, beloved.

Life begins in the waters of creation.
The womb. We’ve all been there. Floating in the watery sac of amniotic fluid,
we each grew from 2 cells,
to multiple organs,
to the wondrously complicated being that sits in the pew
next to your neighbor: you.
And God called you good, beloved.

Life begins in the waters of creation.
The Jordan River. The place where Jesus stepped out of the waves and into his mission and ministry.
Growing from one Word of love,
to multiple acts of justice,
into an infinite call for each person to follow… into new life.
And God called the baptism good, and God’s child beloved.

The Deep.
The Womb.
The Jordan.
New life begins in the waters of creation.
And the new life is good.


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Preaching Poetry

Preaching Poetry

There isn’t much
that makes me think that writing
in free form
deep indents
will actually make my sermons any better.
Because when it comes right
I’m not slamming
(not that I was ever good at that when I tried)
in the pulpit
any more than I was when
I fancied
myself a poet far
from any

Last week
I sketched
my sermon
in some sort
of weirdfreeform
that I hoped would
break it (you know, the Word)
if only for me.

And I smiled when I thought about standing
before these nice, church folks,
spitting out words
in a rhythm
of stops
and starts
starts and
stops, then walking away to sing
the hymn of the day.

Then I swiveled
my chair to face the computer
and I typed long sentences
flowed together and broke only when the margin butted in and made them
jump to the next line as if scared that God’s grace really couldn’t
flow like the Gospel promised.

Poem: Bumper Stickers

Some time ago I saw a bumper sticker taped to a car, and I got to thinking about our ideals and the permanence (or impermanence) with which we hold to them. What messages would you be willing to affix to your life forever? What messages come and go with the times?

Bumper Stickers

ah, dear driver of the hulking black metal,
you “Imagine Peace” in earnest black letters
on a wide strip of white—
and you trumpet your sentiment with
four careful pieces of tape,
tape that will dissolve into gunk,
but easily disappear with goo-gone
purchased at the hobby lobby.
where’s the commitment?
do you think Peace is justsoclose,
so easily imagined, like the song
on the tip of your tongue, then YES!
that nothing of yours need be peeled away
in the process?

Perspectives on Baptism

This month we feature two pieces on baptism from two of our young clergy women. They convey very different, yet equally striking, aspects of the sacrament, as you will see.


Photo contributed by Sunny B. Ridings, who writes:

“The blessings of doing ministry in rural Tennessee are abundant. One of the richest blessings for me is getting to baptize the young people I work with as Associate Minister. The lake is a meaningful spot for those in our congregation, so these three church friends decided to be baptized in the lake. I love the look on the girl’s face who has just come up out of the water, with her two wet friends behind her. I can just imagine God saying, “These are my children, with whom I am well pleased.”


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