This weeks poetry page features two poems by Fr. Kilian
McDonnell, founder and president of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural
Research on the campus of St. Johns School of Theology and Seminary in
Collegeville, Minn. McDonnell, who is celebrating his 80th birthday, the 50th
anniversary of ordination and 55 years as a Benedictine monk this year, began
writing poetry five years ago.
Many of his poems, he told NCR, are inspired by German
scholar Gerhard Von Rads Old Testament Theology.It was an
eye opener for me, he said. Especially the theme of struggling with
God. Abraham, Jacob, the prophets. They were of course struggling with
Struggling with the visions and the encounter. The
was kind of thorny. It was glorious and magnificent and spiky.
And thats what drew me to it. And also the presence of God in history.
That God was immediately involved in history, and its unfolding.
I wanted to show the struggle but I wanted to show the
ultimate triumph. What we do in the struggle, and how God eventually overcomes
us. God makes us whole.
You have accomplished for us all we have
-- Isaiah 26
No sudden Tabors,
Betrayals had not reached
a critical mass.
had not fallen off
My sins had not been published
I had not felt hounded.
The sun had not
The mountain of fire
had not fallen into the sea,
to hang my tan jacket
on the paneled wall
that light -- one moment
that November day
I saw my smudged
Sure, I was captain
of my unconquerable soul,
at the helm,
hand upon the wheel.
with all the clarity
of Greek necessity.
But there is a
like wildest love,
that leaves me free,
Abraham Binds Isaac
Go to the Land of Moriah
Take me at my word,
trust my face, my
Gather up the flock and herd,
leave your fathers
Though you be seventy-five,
Sarah ten years
the son of your decay
will be great in the far land.
Good to your word you brought
me to the soil of
Eighty-eight and counting: no son, but
recycled in blood.
Every promise is a test.
no past, no future, only Now. But
my life keeps
waiting for your
Ninety-nine is past and Sarah weeps.
the covenants reissued,
signed in a snip off my manhood
rites at two hundred?)
Suddenly toothless Sarah blossoms.
No one in
Ur of Chaldees,
no one in Haran has ever seen antiquity
upon the birth stool. Courage man!
We giggle in our lumpy bed as
discovered the cosmology of love. I lay my
ear upon her belly
to hear his heart. Its
Sarah spreads varicose
whelp a roaring
beast whose howl is heard
beyond Beer-sheba and the
When the boy is ten I hear:
Go to the
land of Moriah
to burn in offering on the mountain
your Isaac, the son
As I said, every promise is a test,
covenant a threat.
Yahweh lurks behind
each blessing like a fang.
Is there no end to tempting,
no honor among the
After long delays -- and I mean long --
you sent a child of my
Let me ask about fidelity,
promises, pacts thrice
Like a rug merchant postponing
delivery you might
And now again you haggle,
blood for barter.
After stops and stays, you ask this?
After years of
Woe to the chosen, to the elect.
will die upon an abandoned hill
as a sign of contradiction
to that fierce
and thorny love.
I bind my only son upon the altar
Moriah, but you stay my hand.
I return to Beer-sheba, heavy
knowledge of God and wary.
-- Fr. Kilian McDonnell
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
firstname.lastname@example.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
National Catholic Reporter, April 12,