Poem: Courage Without Carnage


Courage Without Carnage

You breathe in. Deeply. Slowly.
The air here is still pure.
You can smell the forests.
You can smell the mock orange in the garden,
successor to the lilacs, now faded and brown.

You breathe out. Slowly, with purpose.
Spittles of poison leave you.
The anger. The fear. The uncertainty.
A part of you relaxes. Not enough,
but a start.

You breathe in. Deeply. Slowly.
There is peace in the Vermont air.
This is why you came, though you did not know it at the time.
For the peace. Unable to find your own,
you came to a place where peace is the natural state,
a place where you could breathe it in
with each swelling of your lungs.

You breathe out, slowly, with purpose.
This is what you have learned,
violence in anything, even breath,
is a form of murder. Of spirit, Of your spirit at least.
You have seen enough of it in your lifetime,
and your tolerance is low. The pain and the anger
always lies near the surface. It is an act of will
to keep it at bay.

You breathe in. Slowly. Deeply.
The mountain air fills you.
“I look to the mountains from whence cometh my help”
declares the Psalmist and you breathe his words,
knowing your only real power comes in love,
in peace, no matter the world’s penchant for anger.
You refuse to make that anger your own, and so
you breathe in the morning peace
as you clutch the cross around your neck.

You breathe out. slowly, with purpose.
This time, this breathing, is a girding of arms,
for the anger still lives beneath the surface,
and you will never kill it. It has a life beyond your own.
Your own pain and experiences will never leave you.
No amount of breathing will expel it,
so the trick is to breathe it out, just enough
that it can become a thing controlled,
put to work, harnessed by love, power
to wrestle the darkness around you.

You breathe in. Slowly. Deeply.
Unsure of the battle, but sure of the cause,
sure of the value of every soul you encounter,
even those who weld their swords seeking
submission and blood, blended by their own anger,
unfamiliar with history and gospel. You breathe in strength,
the power of sunshine over the quarry.
You breath in the words of your youth
and they become sinew and muscle.
God in you. finally. Again.

You breathe out, slowly, with purpose.
You need this renewal. Every day you need it.
and that is in ordinary times. Today
you need it more. Your weakness,
your easy anger is not a thing to be purged,
only a thing to be controlled. There is work to be done
and work needs its fuel, it’s passion,
a flame fed, but not too much. You breathe more of it out,
feeling your soul calm, knowing when to stop,
in that place between peace and war inside yourself
where change without carnage becomes possible.

About this poem

The times, the poor handling of the coronavirus and the flames fueled by Geroge Floyd’s murder, the politics of diminishment and anger, have pushed my peaceful, non-political nature past its comfort zone. A latent anger has risen in me, as it has in many of us.

But this is what I know. I do not do well when I live in anger. I lash out. I don’t think clearly. I forget who I am in the red mist and people get hurt. It can become something I do not control well and nothing good comes of that.

Good only comes in love. Historically. Relationally. In every way imaginable, love is the answer.

But a little anger? Enough that we are spurred to action, to take our gifts and put them to work for good? That may just be a good thing.


PS: The picture is of the backside of the cross I wear around my neck. It was given to me at time, a decade and a half ago, when I was hurting and angry both. And I was afraid, lost, unsure. The scripture comes from the book of Joshua, chapter 1, verse 9:  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  That has been one of my mantras since then. But a little meditation, breathing out the harmful and breathing in the good, has been part of the process.

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