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Sojourner Songs

I do enjoy poetry. My few attempts to write it have not gone particularly well, but I have often benefited from reading and memorizing the work of real poets. Poetry has the ability to convey feelings and emotions in a way prose does not. Both genres communicate truth, but poetry has its way of being quicker to reach the emotions. I enjoy that at times. I need that at times.

Most of the poetry I enjoy is the kind you find in anthologies and there have been only a few occasions where I have found and enjoyed contemporary work. I recently received a copy of Ben Palpant’s new collection Sojourner Songs and found it thoroughly enjoyable and, at times, deeply moving. Palpant “discovered late in life that poetry is a necessity, like our need to be touched” and learned this only through a period of deep physical suffering. His poetry flowed out of his experiences and helped bring sense to it. He has collected the best of his work into this volume which he structures around the traditional liturgical hours: Evening is for recalling the works of God and assessing the present, nightfall for considering the darkness to come, the night watches for the despair of suffering, and sunrise for the hope that comes with each new day. Each section is markedly different from the others and each contains some powerful poems.

I do not really know how to review a collection of poetry except to tell you that I enjoyed it thoroughly, that I will read these poems often, and then to share a couple of them (something I do with the permission of the author). Here are “Shall I Bare My Arms?” and “Fear Not,” and I would encourage you to read them aloud.

Shall I Bare My Arms?

What can I offer
for the expiation
of a lifetime’s sin?

Shall I bare my arms
and count the scars?
Or offer up my son
on an altar built,
stone by stone
with my own hands?
Or wear a shirt of camel hair?
Or pull out this heart
with my bare hands?

You said, “It is finished.”

And I believe you.

So I’ve brought my mason jar
full of sea glass and a handful of coins
to pour out on your table
as thanks.

Fear Not

“Fear not,” he said.
“Be glad, for the Lord favors you.”

But “fear not” is a hard task.
Give me a hundred lashes.
Give me a bed of coals.
Give me martyrdom,
But “fear not,”
I cannot.

And how can I believe
the Lord favors me
on those days when
shame holds my towel,
and offers the car keys,
even opens the door?

I remembered
the years swallowed whole
by Lust and her sisters,
Avarice and Ambition.
I remembered
the hand of God
pressed down on my back
until I suffocated in my sheets,
so when God pours out promises,
it is a strange epiphany.

The rain falls.
The fig tree
and the vine flourish.
The wheat does not run out,
nor does the wine,
nor the oil.

All these blessings are proof,
God’s proof
to me
that he stands here,
taking my shame,
holding my heart,
even opening the day,
lavishing goodness.

Just because.

What am I to do,
standing neck deep
in blessing?

Fear not. Be glad.

Lord, I believe.
Help, Thou, my unbelief!

(Inspired by Joel 2:21-27)


And here, read well and combined with both music and video, is “Lodestar.”

“Lodestar,” from Sojourner Songs. Featuring the music of Joel Ansett. from Ben Palpant.

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