lenten journal: failure



It’s one of my favorite words. I did a search on this blog and it brought up sixty-four posts in no time at all. Several years ago, when I was doing a mass mailing of my resume in search of employment, Ginger said, “You fail better than anyone I know.” That sentence remains one of my favorite compliments.

The accounts of Monday in that first Holy Week are rather sparse. Jesus appeared to have laid low. Perhaps he had some sense of the trajectory of the week ahead. I’m not one that thinks he knew exactly what was coming down and was just playing it out. I also think he was smart and aware and mindful of what was swirling around him. As I thought about him on this day, I could hear the Mamas and Papas singing in my head:

monday monday
can’t trust that day
monday monday
sometimes it just turns out that way

On this Monday, I spent my lunch hour reading The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth by Bill Holm, which is one of those books I learned about because someone else (bell hooks) quoted him. The book is about his life, or his choice to live, in the small town of Minneota Minnesota and the first chapter is titled “The Music of Failure,” the title coming from a poem he wrote. He explains how it came about.

Years ago, I traveled to Waterton, Alberta, the north end of Glacier Park, and spent a whole sunny, windy August afternoon sitting on a slope high in the mountain listening to an Aspen tree. I wrote a small poem about that experience:

Above me, wind does its best
to blow leaves off the Aspen
tree a month too soon. No use,
wind, all you succeed in doing
is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful.

Holm weaves a melody of music and failure throughout the chapter in his description of Pauline Bardal, an Icelandic immigrant to Minneota, and his piano teacher. He speaks of her playing the piano at her siblings’ funerals and says, “Hymn singing seemed one kind of preparation for the last great mysterious failure—the funeral, when the saddest and noblest of church tunes could be done with their proper gravity.” I had hardly finished the sentence when these words came to mind:

come ye disconsolate
where’er ye languish
come to the mercy seat
fervently kneel
here bring your wounded hearts
here tell your anguish
earth has no sorrow
that heaven cannot heal

We are following the footsteps of failure this week, which is the path to resurrection. As we walk together, listen for the wind in the trees, sing along with the hymns all creation is singing, and let us make the noise of failure growing beautiful.



  1. I am reminded as I read your posting for today, Milton, that this week we remember that our guy loses big. From the eyes of the world, couldn’t be a bigger defeat, humiliation, loss, and death. It is a week of blessed failures, Thanks for reminding me to embrace failure, and thankfully to let my feet trod upon its path.

  2. Thanks for mentioning Bill Holm. I first met him when I was playing organ at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, and he came up to talk hymns with me. He was a great soul, a living Viking, and I love his writing. And yes, I have known, and learned from, failure.

Leave a Reply