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Experiencing God

When I was younger, I held God in my head
the way Michelangelo presented him --
a bearded old man in the clouds, afloat,
pointing a finger down
to create an “image and likeness” of himself.
And I used to think, he looks grumpy and haughty
and I don’t want to be like him; not his likeness, please …
And then I would scruple myself about the sinfulness of blasphemy,
and resort to the safety of formal prayer:
God nicely boxed in a mysterious trinity.
Unassailable, remote.

But God wouldn’t stay there.
As life drop-kicked me about, highs and lows,
grief and pain chewing away at my toes,
God just wouldn’t stay put in the box.
I felt the spirit surround me,
warm and comforting, absorbing the worst of the blows,
Always there, soft, touching, protective
like that gel that surrounds a canned ham.
Filling in the gouges eaten away by time,
soothing the scalding wounds of change.
Making the goings-on somehow tolerable, somehow mine.
A more reflective me now, a more seasoned view --
getting used to the shape I’m in.
More able to accept myself as I am.

And now I think about the day the canned ham will be opened.
(Hearing the gasp as the key turns on the vacuum- packed tin.)
Then I hope to see the bright light of God,
not as a remote being, not some stranger afloat in the clouds,
but rather that same surrounding Spirit now in full beam,
the same Old Friend who got me there,
saw me through it all, held me together,
contoured me into a likeness made for heaven.
Then, I dream (oh, yes, I dream);
I become a soaring “image and likeness” of that
Spirited Friend.
Freed from the restraints of time and space,
able to rejoin old friends and old loves,
radiant, uninhibited, savoring “foreverness”
within the loving cosmos,
of this our Spirit-God.

-- Amelia Herlihy
Columbia, Md.

Jesus on 12 Wheels

Posing as Salvation Army truck
Arrives before collection box
That claimed a fraction of my
Daughter’s clothes not long ago
A bare two years beyond
Her sudden death. Before
Unlocking box the driver
Raised up in his cab
Does pause I feel to bless.

-- Saul Bennett
Woodstock, N.Y.


Take nothing
for your journey.
Only your longing,
your unknowing,
your insufficiency.

Where you are going
there will be no roads,
no shoes, no feet.

You will fall
into that space
where Seraphim fire
marries darkest matter
(justice and peace shall kiss)
and yes and no are the same.

Take only your willing heart,
which will burn so white
its ashes will rain like blossoms
down, down upon
all you have ever loved.

-- Mary Vineyard
Lubec, Maine

Life Sentences

The judge gave him life, we say
with no sense of the irony

or the arrogance
or the enormity

of sentences given out every day
in courtrooms across the nation.

God gave him life.
His mother gave him life.

The judge takes life, condemning
people to cells or coffins
which are pretty much the same
thing, when you think about it.

-- Robert Johnson
Herndon, Va.

2001 in Poetry

2000 in Poetry

1999 in Poetry

Poems should be previously unpublished and limited to about 50 lines and preferably typed. Please send poems to NCR POETRY, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City MO 64111-1203. Or via e-mail to poetry@natcath.org or fax (816) 968-2280. Please include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number. NCR offers a small payment for poems we publish, so please include your Social Security number.

National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2001