Advent 2017: the Maji, Journeys and Hope

Somehow this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “Wise Men” or “Magi” and their own short story. I’m not sure why – because it’s about a journey and movement and I’m not going anywhere right now.

Much of my life has been about movement, change, forward motion.  Now I’ve lived in Baltimore almost 9 years (!) and sometimes I don’t feel like I’m moving very much. But I guess even staying can be a type of journey.

So maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about this and the Wise Men’s journeys. I like that there’s this ‘something’ that compels them – together – who knows how many there were – following a star to something that perhaps they weren’t even fully sure of. But they knew it was something special – something good.

So – keeping it simple this year – because honestly – for me it’s too easy to fall into last year’s hopelessness. Outwardly, I’m a happy person. I love life and people and going out. But in my writing and self-reflection, I tend to tip into despair and pessimism and questions. At heart, I’m a cynic – though I strive to be an idealist.

On reflecting on this over this last month, two things (as I see it) coincide with this Maji-Christmas story that keep me going – that (I think) kept them going.

In all journeys, we face deserts and darkness and setbacks. But it’s our companions that help us overcome them. Sure, I’m grateful for the journey and that which makes me stronger (blah blah blah :), but without those that travel with me, I’m not sure I’d keep moving at times. You know who you are.

And I’d love to stop here with that sweet and touching line, but let’s be honest once again. Who among us hasn’t felt completely alone on that road? There have been times that I’ve said “there’s no one there”. (And I know that I’ve also been one to miss a lonely person sitting there beside me.) But an important lesson I’ve had to learn as an adult (and re-learn again and again) that at this age – in our busy lives – it’s okay to say “I need a day”, “I need help”, “I’m struggling” – Because I think we believe no one else is and we have to look and strive the exact same way.

Then there’s that something – that drew the Maji on the journey, what kept them going – that great Hope, following that star – even if at times, it was only the belief that there was still a star hidden behind the clouds.

I love the part of the ‘wise men’ studying the stars (astrology anyone?) and suddenly realizing that God was born as child. And they follow this star to a place –  All this without a voice, without a visitation, without a dream. All because of a star and a belief.

So much trust. And so much certainty to travel that far.

It makes me ask: Are there times like that in my life that needed so much trust and certainty to propel me forward? Big decisions. Or moves really. My move to Baltimore. My continual stay here. Certainly my faith.

This story of the Maji reflects my own story and reminds me to look Beside me and look Up. It’s a story of a journey together with fellow travelers – propelled with a greater purpose and a belief in something beyond ourselves. Maybe even (maybe often) following something that sometimes we’re not always sure what it is, but certain the end will prove the journey.

For me, that’s hope. Not super deep but sometimes, that’s what keeps me from falling off the ledge :).

And just to end here are a few of my pieces of hope this year: a place I now call ‘home’, seeing my little nephew after a long summer, old friends that re-surface in my life, new friends that I didn’t think I had anything in common with, sisters who I know will drop anything if I called them, a church that cares about the plight of refugees, immigrants and its own community, colleagues and a job that are more than that, a Thanksgiving that refreshed my soul, fellow travelers that always do, a family that draws me home each Christmas and the reason I celebrate every December.

And you. Taking the time to read this.

to live

Forgiveness for us
who did the very thing.
Love for us
who hate.
Refuge for us
who wander, who flee, who are lost.
Mercy Compassion Joy Rest Healing Strength
Presence Welcome Trust Friendship
Healing Peace Reach
all the things
breaking through
the stone
“Now go and tell and do
Here in the darkness,
We to live
this HOPE

The other

across cracked stone
the river runs
rubble red and
cold the sky
a broken reflection across
words in flames and placards

the people stand against the banks
in ranks
a rising stench
the sticks and stones that conquered bones
have built with rhetoric
a fear
begun years and thousands ago
summers of sweat
and placing bets

my hand – I win –
just because I was born
here and now and with this
not yours, not you

I am not
at ease with my own evolution
through no fault of your own
but some one rolled the dice
and I came up
able to breathe out of the river


maybe not

birth order and color and status and passport
all seem to make a difference
perception and expectation puts a powdered wig
on truth
a spiraling simplification

by them. by us.
by ‘we the people’
and I have the choice to care
or not care


The Euphony of Baltimore

Inspired by Pastor Chris Dreisbach’s sermon at Old St. Paul Episcopal and a good man on Eutaw Street:

A step over cracks and chicken bones on
Eutaw street
I pass the flock of Raven-decked men in
“You don’t know what…”
but I never find out as I keep walking
and “Loose ones!” drowns out
all else
in my ear

A wide U-turn by an MTA bus spurs an angry honk
by a yellow taxi cab
The doors breathe open
letting out umbrellas, tired faces, a hope that today,
Tuesday, may be a little sunnier, a little
better, bring a little more money, maybe that
check will come in today, maybe one day…
…there will be less maybes

I can’t ignore the silent man sifting
through the layered cardboard
packed tightly in Tito’s Vodka and
and an aroma of sour loss
And I can’t ignore that just last week
Lexington street taped in yellow warnings and
flashing lights frightened mid-western visitors
from crab cakes in Mrs. Faidley’s.

But one,
one grizzly bearded small man
steps back up the curb toward me,
looks up from under his purple hat
nods and casually says
“Good morning, Dear Heart, good morning.”

makes me smile, simple as that
and I can’t help but think
Baltimore is beautiful
Baltimore is beautiful

lexington market


Just kind of had some fun with this commentary. Still needs work and I got lazy and didn’t do a fourth verse, but here it is from March/Nov 2014

What if mermaids poured down
from the sky into Baltimore Street?
Fins flapping
Flopping as they land.
And they crawl away in search of water
anything wet…mist, puddles, the ocean…
How long would they survive?
From the middle of the city to wherever
they could drag themselves
breathing heavily, short breaths
the gills in their neck, panicking the scales
leaving shimmering slime behind
as they crawl down Charles St
towards the harbor
ignoring the shouts all around,
“Don’t go there! The water will kill you!”
It’s a risk to try.
Or not to.
What would you do, if you were a mermaid
landing desperate in Baltimore?

A pulp of orange
pumpkins turned jagged-teeth men
or witches, cats, aliens,
an unusual likeness of Elvis
sit wondering on St Paul, waiting for what they’ve heard
will be the night of nights
what they’ve been grown for
will glow for.
What would you do as you sat with a candle in your head
knowing – because you’ve heard –
that tomorrow you’ll still sit here. Your hat burned.
Your hate brimming? because you’ve heard
that soon your mouth withers, wrinkles, wraps around
your teeth and eyes, sinking in to cement steps.
And you’ll still sit here.
And sit here.
And sit here. Still on St Paul.
But on that night, would you refuse to glow as high candied legs
yell “Trick or Treat!”?
Would you straighten up proud of the carves and scars
that will rot tomorrow anyway?
Would you think why not shine?
Do you feel a choice inside?
Until a good child gone costumed stomps down. Hard.

Standing strong against the sun
snowmen, bravely hold out their skinny stick arms,
giving the world a high-five. Or the finger.
Some just want to be left alone –
to freeze (for what they may imagine) forever
What would you do if you knew?
Maybe you would want freedom – to melt
in your own way. Maybe head first
or you’d let the left belly-roll slide off.
It all flows back in to the ground. Or the gutter.
How would you withstand the heat,
knowing – against hope – that spring was inevitable?
Would you slip into oblivion? Silent?
Or protest on the corner of North Avenue, as you stood there
until your mouth melted.

Then there’s Spring.



I heard the beginning line* below at a conference, and it caught my attention – it’s from Archibald MacLeish’s modern rendition of Job called J.B. And it started this line of thought…

“Blow on the coals of my heart”*
O God.
Let not my love grow thin
when weariness wastes the withered will.
Give me the foolish courage to answer (and even ask?) the question:

“Am I still breathing?”
Fogging a mirror that reflects
Mildewed eyes. Let not ‘faith’ become a tired word
A common degradation (that offends
or obscures or absorbs).
Let me grow angrypassionatejoyfuldevastatedoverwhelmed
Hammer the fear that lulls me to sleep
Wake me with a whisper
And let me gulp the wind.

The Middle

I can’t imagine what it’s like to flee my home as a refugee. Just a few sketched words:

Sand sifts,
brushes against the canvas tent
A small quavering
that barely replaces the once
solid house
now crushed in bones under rubble
Joy. It breaks and cracks,
Five hundred miles in the past.
The wandering is one thing
But the wondering is hell.
There’s a Nowhere in the heart.
And the soul is a worn stone, ground
as sand shifts
brushing the quavering
canvas of
refugees that barely can place
their home
now crushed
buried under waiting.
Peace. It looks away.
And hope grows in withered form here…