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a white lightning bolt against a dark blue sky

“the storm of grace was brewing”

Three poems for Reformation Day

Marjorie Maddox

3 Comments
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  • Huntley Cooney

    "He maybe smiled, then, just slightly," but you made me cry. Thank you or three such powerful poems. They are rich and dense. Favorite line of #3: "waiting with stern belief in the sacrament of timing.." Very thought provoking.

  • Kathleen Hart

    moving and thought provoking.

  • Catherine Hershey

    Like very, all.

Thunderstorm

Martin Luther, July 1505

Torrents as thick and predestined as Noah’s non-view
of the drowning world—that’s what caught Martin,

what soaked his copper-town skin clear through
to his shaky soul. And he shivered before the wet

face of death, and he cried out to the patron saint of soot-
covered men with a mouth brimming with rain, “Save me,

St. Anna, mother of Mary, protector of miners,
and I shall become a monk.” And the brash lightning

swallowed its thunder on a slick road headed away
from home and his father’s wishes for law. Still,

fear pelted that rocky path all the way to Erfurt,
where, even with the Augustinians, Martin dreamed

brimstone rain—and the nightmare of his own sin
kept pouring in until he rode the flood of his Afflictions

to Wittenberg, where, inside and out of his dark-
night-of-the-soul, the storm of grace was brewing.

 

A Mighty Fortress

And maybe it was a bar tune,
Maybe not, but there we were, hunched
over too-small desks in History 101,
all ninety-five freshmen humming—
by need not desire—every note, every verse
of Luther’s best-loved hymn, Our helper He
the right man on our side as we scribbled,
hands almost numb, the body they may kill –
his theology of lyrics, our theology –
from age to age the same for the final question
the spirit and the gifts are ours of the final exam,
and we would win the battle, our hearts pumping
with belief, our throats thumping with crescendo:
one little word would never fell us.

 

Birth/Death Days

In memory of renowned Reformation scholar,
Harold J. Grimm, 1901-1983, who died on
the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.

Uncle not of the belly-laugh
or the knee-ride, but of the dry
wit and straight tie, who,
within your reserved eyes, hid
decades of questions flattened
in dusty tomes of German libraries;
who read and reread two hundred
neatly shelved Reformation volumes
from, in my former Billy Graham
understanding of “Bible and now,”
the nonexistent centuries –

what did I know, before my own
cadenced liturgy of university days,
of your dark nights of bright defense,
of the total unabashed abandonment
to research, of the unapologetic glee
of tracking the rebellious turns
and twists of someone
else’s soul, someone

who was Luther, who was no one
you ever mentioned in that non-
academic other world of our perfectly-
clean company-only evangelical
living room, where we prayed
at family parties “in Jesus’ name”
for our once-saved-always-saved
before-birthday-cake souls?

Before I was born, the story goes,
for one birthday my mother asked
for car accessories. She got
panties. “Received your seat covers
after all,” you quipped, surprising
everyone with your subtle grin.

Still, in seventh-grade – when I tore open
silver wrappings to find the desired
“You’re So Vain” on Carly Simon’s
No Secrets album while, on the cover,
Carly’s nipples poked at her blue hippy shirt
in full view of your serious face –
I was ashamed,

knowing little of how much you
(who knew Luther) really knew:
the struggle of the soul;
the humility of the forgiven,
grace even more amazing without works –
history’s homilies toppling into
how we choose to “Here I stand”
before, in twilight’s solitude,
we each commit our “own
believing…own dying,”

which is how I see you now, straight
in your favorite chair on Stanwood,
waiting with stern belief in the sacrament
of timing, but mostly waiting,
with wit and wisdom, for your Martin
and the 500th anniversary of his birth
when you’d agree finally to breathe out,
with your cancer-corrupted lungs,
and breathe in the Spirit
that was his spirit, too.

“If I am not allowed to laugh in heaven,”
he’d said, “I don’t want to go there,” and so,
maybe you smiled then, just slightly,
arriving at the celebration just in time.

a white lightning bolt against a dark blue sky
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