Rainer Maria Rilke, “It’s Possible” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “It’s Possible” taken from his Das Stundenbuch or A Book for the Hours of Prayer. This rendering of the poem was translated by Robert Bly. Rilke was a 19th and 20th century German poet whose lyrical style often explored themes of the inner life.


It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief—
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.


Previous poems in this series:

The Weekend Wanderer: 28 August 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


“What ‘Jesus Wept’ Means for Manhood” – Richard Mouw at Christianity Today: “Conversations in the public square of late have ranged from biblical masculinity to gender roles in the church. We need these debates, and I am a willing participant in those arguments. But for me, the topics have a personal connection to memories about tears—both my own and the tears of Jesus. I was 12 years old when my paternal grandfather died, and when I stood in front of his coffin, I received a memorable—but as I now see it, toxic—lesson in what it means to be a ‘masculine’ Christian. Our extended family was gathered at the funeral home the evening before the day of the memorial service, and my parents encouraged me to approach the coffin to ‘say your goodbyes to Grandpa.’ When I did so, I started to sob. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, the strong grip of a favorite uncle who was a construction worker. He leaned over and said softly in my ear, ‘Chin up, soldier. Men don’t cry!’ That image of the Christian man as a warrior facing the challenges of life bravely and without tears stayed with me.”


“The Livelihood of Cairo’s Poorest” – “It has been 35 years since Maggie Gobran abandoned a successful marketing career and an esteemed professorship to care for the poorest of the poor in Egypt. Though she has been named one of the BBC’s 100 most influential women of 2020 and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize more than a half dozen times, the only accolade she cherishes is a nickname the children gave her many years ago: Mama Maggie. ‘In 1985 when I first visited these places, I was sick from the smell. And I think my soul was sick, asking how come we live so comfortable life and they don’t find even a cup of cold, clean water?’ she says. ‘Then we started to ask God, “If you are merciful, God, how come you allow all this misery in this life?”‘ God seems to have answered: How do you?”


“The Whole World Smells Like That to Me: Learning to love like Jesus on the Bowery, Manhattan’s boulevard of broken dreams” – Jim Cymbala at Plough: “I  have always felt that the ultimate spiritual deception we can experience as believers in Jesus is to emphasize our relationship with God, with little concern for the less fortunate around us. That was exactly the problem in ancient Israel when the prophet Isaiah lifted his voice on behalf of the living God:

They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. … They ask me to take action on their behalf pretending they want to be near me. “We have fasted before!” they say. “Why aren’t you impressed?” … No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Share your food with the hungry and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those that need them. … Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness. … You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” (Isaiah 58, NLT)

Those words have challenged me throughout the years I have pastored in the inner city of downtown Brooklyn. But it hasn’t always been easy to put them into practice.”


Rise & Fall of Mars Hill“Unintended consequences of failure porn” – Liam Thatcher at his blog: “I’m seven episodes into The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill and my feelings are more mixed than before. Not particularly towards the podcast itself. I have some questions about particular editorial choices in the more recent episodes, but I still feel it’s an important project, generally well-executed, and a valuable though painful listen. But I am increasingly perturbed by the cult following that is developing around it. The drooling anticipation that fills my Twitter timeline ahead of each episode. The cries of ‘I can’t wait’, or ‘I need the next episode NOW!’ The eager anticipation of what new controversies the next installment may unveil. The plethora of mocking memes that get shared after each installment.”


“Unmarried Sex Is Worse Than You Think” – Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra and Collin Hansen at The Gospel Coalition: “Americans talk a lot about sex. Anyone would think they’re having a lot of it. After all, some behaviors our society used to affirm without question—getting married, staying faithful, even going to church—all seem like they’d put a damper on an exciting romantic life. And the behaviors now espoused—free sex, with anyone, at any time (as long as there’s consent)—seem like they’d lead to nonstop, uninhibited hookups. Instead, the opposite has happened. Young people are having less sex—and are less happy—than the married, churchgoing generation before them.”


“Architectural Shots Frame the Stately Modern Designs of Churches Across Europe” – Grace Ebert at Colossal: “French photographer Thibaud Poirier continues his Sacred Spaces series by capturing the modern architecture of dozens of temples across Europe. Similar to earlier images, Poirier uses the same focal point of the front pulpit and pews in all of the photographs, allowing easy comparisons between the colors, motifs, and structural details of each location. ‘I selected these spaces for the use of original materials, modern for their time in sacred architecture, like steel, concrete, as well as large aluminum and glass panels,’ he tells Colossal. Because travel has been limited due to COVID-19, Poirier has mostly visited 20th- and 21st-century churches in France, Germany, and the Netherlands for Sacred Spaces II, although he plans to expand his range in the coming months.”


Music: Big Red Machine, “New Auburn,” live on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Nicholas Wolterstorff on the Neverness of Loss

While reading through Nicholas Wolterstorff’s powerful book Lament for a Son, I came across this moving description of how tragic loss leaves a hole that cannot be replaced. In this book Wolterstorff, who taught philosophy at Calvin College, the Free University in Amsterdam, Notre Dame, and Yale, chronicles his own journey through grief after the loss of his 25-year-old son, Eric, to a mountaineering accident.

These words helped put words to a loss our family is dealing with as my 21-year-old nephew died tragically just over three weeks ago. While we hold firmly to the faith-filled hope of eternity in Christ, we also wrestle with the painful reality of living without one we love so much. Wolterstorff gives a word for that which I find so real and fitting: the “neverness” of loss.

Gone from the face of the earth. I wait for a group of students to cross the street, and suddenly I think: He is not there. I go to a ballgame and find myself singling out the twenty-five-year olds; none of them is he. In all the crowds and streets and rooms and churches and schools and libraries and gatherings of friends in our world, on all the mountains, I will not find him. Only his absence.

Silence. ‘Was there a letter from Eric today?’ ‘When did Eric say he would call?’ Now only silence. Absence and silence.

When we gather now there’s always someone missing, his absence as present as our presence, his silence as loud as our speech. Still five children, but one always gone.

When we’re all together, we’re not all together.

It’s the neverness that is so painful. Never again to be here with us—never to sit with us at table, never to travel with us, never to laugh with us, never to cry with us, never to embrace us as he leaves for school, never to see his brothers and sister marry. All the rest of our lives we must live without him. Only our death can stop the pain of his death.

A month, a year, five years—with that I could live. But not this forever.

I step outdoors into the moist moldly fragrance of an early summer morning and arm in arm with my enjoyment comes the realization that never again will he smell this.

As a could vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return, he will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more. (Job 7:9-10)

One small misstep and now this endless neverness.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 14-15.

Grief: a poetic reflection

falling fast in a dark shaft
with no handholds or bottom below

cast out on rough seas alone
struggling to stay above the waves

walking ghostly among the corporeal world
or like the only fleshly body in a landscape of phantoms

nauseous stomach like something within needs to be expelled
yet empty inside with a sucking black hole fixed at the center

a multi-story building crashing down upon all around
scattering debris and forms unmade and unidentifiable

cold—ice cold—stripped bare in Arctic air
and burning in a waterless desert under a scalding sun

the numbness of all this existing inside
concurrently with everyday, ordinary life

The Weekend Wanderer: 24 October 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


policies-persons-and-paths-to-ruin-kw3ndwdf-7d312cf67d6382959ed12b355aab78f7“Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin: Pondering the Implications of the 2020 Election” – John Piper, Pastor Emeritus at Bethlehem Baptist Church, set of a mild Twitter-storm when this article released because of sections like this: “this is a long-overdue article attempting to explain why I remain baffled that so many Christians consider the sins of unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai), and the like, to be only toxic for our nation, while policies that endorse baby-killing, sex-switching, freedom-limiting, and socialistic overreach are viewed as deadly.” Or this: “When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world. He points his nation to destruction. Destruction of more kinds than we can imagine. It is naive to think that a man can be effectively pro-life and manifest consistently the character traits that lead to death — temporal and eternal.” While I may disagree with certain aspects of Piper’s theology, I was encouraged by his words here that show his consistency over the years (as opposed to other evangelical leaders who have changed their approach from one President to the next) and keep us rooted in the Word of God and kingdom citizenship.


Nigeria conflict“Deaths From Nigeria Protests Now 56 With Crackdown, Amnesty Says” – We are not the only nation dealing with conflict related to political and social tensions. Nigeria, one of the most stable and robust nations in sub-Saharan Africa has trembled with protests related to police brutality in the country’s largest city, Lagos. Please pray for this situation in Nigeria, which Amnesty International now says has resulted in 56 deaths. “‘Victims include protesters and thugs who were allegedly hired by the authorities to confront the protesters,’ Isa Sanusi, a spokesman for the group in Nigeria, said in an emailed statement. ‘In many cases the security forces had used excessive force in an attempt to control or stop the protests.'”


Diane Langberg“Today’s Crises Have Multiplied and Exposed Trauma: How Will the Church Respond?” – One of my biggest concerns as we head into the winter of this pandemic is how we deal with mental health challenges in this time. Diane Langberg speaks directly to that pressing challenge: “We are living in times of trauma, surrounded by confusion, threats and unrest. The COVID-19 pandemic and outcries against racial injustice profoundly impact our world, our nation, our churches, our neighborhoods and our homes. It is disruptive and unsettling. And if we’re honest, we feel vulnerable. In fact, we are vulnerable. But the threats are not merely external. We face internal threats as well. Many are anxious or depressed or grieving. Others are full of anger. There is no end in sight.”


man-2125123_1280-690x450“Bioethics must recognize ‘we are made for love and friendship,’ scholar argues” – At last part of the reason we are struggling with trauma these days is the radical changes to our relationships. This is not just an accident of human experience but a vital part of how we are made. Because God is a relational Being, He has made humans as relational beings as well. O. Carter Snead, Professor of Law and Director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, argues for something similar in his his new book, What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics. In contrast to the prevailing hyper-individualized approach to ethics which downplays the body in relation to personal decisions, Snead calls for a recovery of the significance of embodiment in anthropology and in the realm of bioethics. This interview with Charles C. Camosy for Crux gives some insight into the direction of his argument.


Azerbaijan Armenia reconciliation“Turks and Armenians Reconcile in Christ. Can Azeris Join Them?” – The recent tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijin over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has captured our attention recently, but has a long history. When there is a long history of pain and tension, is it possible for reconciliation of relationship to happen? Jayson Casper reports on this helpful parallel of the relational healing that occurred between Turks and Armenians as an example of what could happen for Azeris and Armenians. May God help us.


Thomas Howard“Died: Thomas Howard, Author Who Said ‘Evangelical Is Not Enough'” – Thomas Howard passed away this past week. He was one of the evangelicals who walked the Canterbury Trail to Anglicanism and eventually swam the Tiber to become Roman Catholic. He told the tale in several books, most notable Evangelical Is Not Enough and Lead, Kindly Light. Along the way, Howard left us a treasure of historic recovery of liturgy and a beautiful engagement with literature that is a wonderful legacy.


Music: The Fearless Flyers, “Assassin.”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]