E. Ethelbert Miller is editor of Poet Lore and board chair of the Institute of for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller is forthcoming from Willow Books (Spring 2016).
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Poetry: In Search of Thomas Merton
There are days when I think about going to live with the monks.
My brother Richard did this in the early sixties. He never discussed
the idea with me. A day simply came and my family took him to the
LaGuardia Airport. We said goodbye and then he was gone.
I wonder how many men leave a home each year because of a
spiritual need to either be alone or closer to someone other than a
human being. Richard went away to upstate New York. Growing up
in the South Bronx I never thought about upstate. How many slaves
went to sleep every night tired of picking cotton but never dreaming
Lately I listen to people in cafes or pundits on television talking about
the recent presidential election. I guess this is how our nation felt
after Lincoln’s death. What will become of our Union now? Alas, I look
into the mirror and see a wretched freeman.
There is a way a tree will talk to a black man, how it might guide him
out of the woods and toward freedom. Outside my window I look at the
trees, I notice their naked limbs, their leaves gone from too much
weeping. I feel like a lover who wakes before daybreak only to discover
love is gone.
I feel a longing, a need for prayer and fasting. Where is the choir for
my soul to join? We are a people in need of song—it’s time to compose
new spirituals. We either dream or die.
The Nakedness of the Open Soul
Blessed are the poor in heart, for they shall see God. —Matthew 5:8
OVER TIME MANY things heal. Yet I wonder how people who have lost loved ones to domestic violence or wars measure time. How long does it take to forget or forgive? I also think of the wounded who now have missing limbs or have lost their sight. Do they stay awake counting their heartbeats? How do they find the fortitude to love again?
The heart is a fragile thing, yet at times it appears to be as strong as bone. Too many of us are familiar with the broken heart. We surrender to days of quiet desperation, often unhappy with our conditions. We succumb to disappointment or accept failure. Meanwhile the world hides behind ugliness, as hatred and prejudice become a prerequisite for racism and sexism. Sickness becomes the norm when everyone suffers from the fever of despair. It’s easy to say yes to indifference and for a society to become comfortable with intolerance.
When Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, it was a chance to outline a blueprint for living. Surrounded by his disciples, the message of Jesus was one of “goodness” and the need to strengthen one’s faith. There are things in the world that are difficult to explain. It’s easy for one to embrace the darkness of shadows, to fail to see bright radiance of hope. Yet what defines our humanity is our capacity to love; this ability is what infuses history with moments of glitter. In many ways the 21st century will be shaped by religion and how we interpret the various sacred texts found in almost every culture. The movement of history is shaped by people.
Leadership performed by the common person requires preparation and courage. This type of leadership was on display after the tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. We all possess the divine quality to do right, even when we might be reluctant to act upon it. Fear is in a constant battle with faith. The unknown is usually a companion to social change. As we confront days of terror and terrorism, we must not lose our moral compass. We must not compromise our hearts.
Jesus placed faith and trust in his disciples, knowing they could spread his teachings. This would be possible if they opened themselves to becoming born anew. A new world is only possible if people are capable of discarding selfishness and accepting the nakedness of the open soul—hence the opportunity to be reborn with the acceptance of the Holy Spirit into one’s life. Compassion and the practice of forgiveness must eventually be taught to our young people. Our new generation of activists must prepare themselves to seek higher ground, a place where politics does not exclude the poor and those in need.
Keep Talking Community
I just read "Why We (Still) Can't Wait" (by Rose Marie Berger) in the February issue of Sojourners. Thank you! It's important to keep talking about the Beloved Community; it prevents us from being divided by so many social labels.
E. Ethelbert Miller
Beauty and Liberation
A tribute to artist Elizabeth Catlett
The Five Stages of Grief
"Denial / This has nothing to do with blackness. / This has everything to do with blackness."
Button Your Shirt Before You Go
A Few of My Favorite Things
Besides watching baseball (especially Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners), here are a few other favorites of poet and writer E. Ethelbert Miller:
A Heart for Humanity
For political writers who see our work as a necessary tool in the struggle for social change, faith is essential; it determines and shapes commitment as well as vision.
Aaron and A City Without Hands
where are the love poems for dictators ...