lenten journal: making sense


The end of March carries much significance. These are the days of March Madness when we watch basketball more than any other time of year. These are the days that mark at least the promise of Spring. These days are the gentle base path to Opening Day of the baseball season. And these last days of March give way to April: National Poetry Month.

In our Tuesday night gatherings at Fullsteam, we have talked a bit about the difference between faith and religion, the latter being more of the institutional variety often used more like a club than an invitation to grace and love. Faith, as I wrote about yesterday, works itself out in the relationships of life and in our trust of God and one another. Religion makes the news. Lawyers are arguing before the Supreme Court about whether or not a corporation being required to offer contraceptives as a part of health care coverage for their employees violates their religious freedom. Over the past few days, World Vision International has made the news by first saying they would hire gay and lesbian married couples and then, under enormous religious and financial pressure, reversing their decision. Reading the articles about both reminded me of one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye:

I Feel Sorry for Jesus

People won’t leave Him alone.
I know He said, wherever two or more
are gathered in my name…
But I bet some days He regrets it.

Cozily they tell you what he wants
and doesn’t want
as if they just got an e-mail.
Remember “Telephone,” that pass-it-on game

where the message changed dramatically
by the time it rounded the circle?
People blame terrible pieties on Jesus.

They want to be his special pet.
Jesus deserves better.
I think He’s been exhausted
for a very long time.

He went into the desert, friends.
He didn’t go into the pomp.
He didn’t go into
the golden chandeliers

and say, the truth tastes better here.
See? I’m talking like I know.
It’s dangerous talking for Jesus.
You get carried away almost immediately.

I stood in the spot where He was born.
I closed my eyes where He died and didn’t die.
Every twist of the Via Dolorosa
was written on my skin.

And that makes me feel like being silent
for Him, you know? A secret pouch
of listening. You won’t hear me
mention this again.

“A secret pouch of listening. “ Wow.

That poem kept me reading on and led me to another of hers, which I have quoted before, but which seems a good partner for the first one tonight:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

It is only kindness that makes sense anymore.



  1. Oh thank you Milton, I woke up too early this morning wrangling with politicians in my dream/nightmare state, feeling the weight of the destructive ways of my culture, my people. I am renewed and ready for the day when I am reminded that silence. and kindness matters.

    Thank you.

  2. Thank you Milton for introducing me to the prose of Naomi. I love “Kindness”. It’s immediately going into my journal so it can be kept forever. Blessings.

  3. I get so weary (and sometimes sickened) listening to people talk about God/Jesus/scripture lately, that it’s become a challenge not to become weary of God, Himself. I’ve been on a fast, of sorts, this year for lent – skipping the usual daily devotional readings (other than yours) and bible studies in favor of just sitting quietly each day. So it was the first poem that spoke to me (although I love “Kindness,” too).

    Thank you for voicing God’s love amidst all the vitriol. You’re a regular supplier of “lollipops” in my life. But this one was a lifeline!

  4. Nye’s poetry has been a favorite at our house for years; ‘I Feel Sorry for Jesus’ high on my list. I only recently was introduced to ‘Kindness’ by a friend at church and was also struck by the first line of the last verse. Another one I like a lot is ‘Yellow Glove’.

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