Please Remain Seated

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“For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.”

The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 2:6, New Living Translation

I got out of my seat. Even after spending months meditating on these words of the Apostle Paul and finally getting the chance on Friday to put my poetic thoughts to paper, I left my seat, and all that it means in terms of my peace, rest, and authority, over a simple miscommunication with my wife and a tick bite. Saturday morning began with an argument over my youngest son’s boots before heading out to the apple orchard and ended with the discovery of a tick on my left side (likely a hitchhiker from Friday afternoon’s disc golf round at Memorial Park) after a Fall evening gig just outside of town. I lost it. There was no peace, no joy, no rest; I did not address either situation with any authority or power. I opened the door to anger, shock, and trauma.

Since then, it’s been confession, repentance, and seeking forgiveness. It’s been the blessing of a family of believers, both genetic and spiritual, who love and encourage me in my walk as a father, son, and brother. This miscommunication and tick bite are but microcosms of our world at large, and most people respond no differently than I did in the moment to the greater miscommunications and offenses of our time.

But Jesus didn’t call me (or any disciple) to be like most people.

I’m not perfect, and odds are, I’ll hop off that seat many times over the course of my life, but I’ll never lose that seat. As I say in my poem, it’s “ensured and reserved.” I structured the poem around the six Biblical words that speak to what it means to “be seated with Christ in heavenly places.” Each stanza is a haiku, a form chosen because of the tight focus it puts on what one is trying to say by limiting the writer to seventeen syllables. May this poem be an invitation to join me and the millions of other believers who have found a place at the right hand of our Heavenly Father in Christ Jesus, a true place of deepening.

Seated

Vincent H. Anastasi 2020

δεξιός – HONOR
Unseen, I’m seated,
Robed at right hand resplendent,
Garlan’d with your grace.

ἐξουσία – AUTHORITY
My words carry weight –
“Thus say I,” by Him endowed;
Even mountains move.

שַׁבָּת – REST
Reclined at Your side
In finished work perfection,
I too sleep through storms –

δύναμις – POWER
Potency of rest
Moored to eternal bedrock:
Faith’s great dynamo.

συγκαθίζω – UNITY
Spirit and flesh yoked,
We plow the heavens in prayer,
one voice in one blood:

נָעִים – JOY
Ensured and reserved,
Fullness of joy compacted,
Forever anchored.

A Father’s Love (or in this case, My Daughter’s Love)

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? I apologize for my lack of activity on The Deepening Ground recently. Over the last two weeks, I’ve spent little time nurturing my poetic soul. Rather I’ve finished the flooring in our addition, ripped sixteen foot boards with a friend for the trim, and finished work on my mother-in-law’s mother’s book (that I hope to have available in December as the first offering from The Deepening Ground Press; more on that in a future post!)

Instead of pulling something out of my archives, with my daughter’s permission, I want to share with you her gift to me for my birthday last month. She speaks my love language: poetry! While my sons have favored math, science, and economics, my daughter, Ethney, like me, loves literature and words! This sonnet pairs well with a song I wrote years ago on hearing my children’s exuberant voices at play beneath me as I worked on music in my bedroom (I’ve included it below after her sonnet). More importantly, this sonnet reminds us of the love of our Heavenly Father, whose perfect love knows no comparison.

May you enjoy these reminders of THE constant in the midst of so much change, a steady anchor amidst the shaking, and the One who spoke (and still speaks) “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” into the chaos and darkness!

A Father’s Love – Ethney R. I. Anastasi

How far is the reach of a Father’s love?
For how long will His ardent love endure?
He’s forgiven my sins because of love.
Through an unmarred lens, I see what is pure!
Inclined to my Father’s love, I proclaim
that with Him alone all things I can withstand.
I am chosen; He has called me by name.
I am safe, sheltered by His mighty right hand.
His love is enduring, unbreakable,
steadfast and true. He stands never shaken.
When He commands a thing done, it’s final.
He’s the rock which I stand on and depend.
His love never diminishes for me;
His love extends to all eternity!

“A Father’s Love” Track 7 from At the In Between by Vincent H. Anastasi 2011

Choosing Forgiveness

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“Got a whole lotta reasons to be mad, let’s not pick one.”

from “Ain’t No Man” by The Avett Brothers

Today in my Creative Writing & Contemporary Literature class our discussion of Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom turned to the life lesson of forgiveness. Timely, to say the least. As I shared with my students, unlike Morrie, I don’t believe that human beings are inherently good. One needs only watch any media outlet or scroll through a social media page for confirmation. Our natural bent is selfishness and hate. Case in point: rather than pray for our President in the past week, many wished he would have died from his recent bout with COVID-19. I don’t care if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, male or female, or whatever you are: no human should wish for another human’s death, especially if you profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

So rather than allow hate to breed more hate, I’ve had to make the choice. And I’m still having to make that choice daily. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). The greatest good many of us can do daily is to offer forgiveness. As I told my students today, it’s not that we’re condoning the action or saying what was done to us (or others) was okay. Rather, it’s looking the wrong in the face, calling it what it is – wrong – and still choosing to set not only the other person free, but yourself by choosing forgiveness. One of the best movie scenes to capture this truth in the past decade came from a Judi Dench and Steve Coogan film, Philomena. SPOILER: Here’s the key scene (forgive the poor quality).

Choose to forgive. Beware the poison tree (see William Blake’s immortal poem). May these words be more than just a villanelle on a webpage; may they be a life anthem.


For Those Who Curse and Cannot with Love Bless

Vincent H. Anastasi 2020

For those who curse and cannot with love bless
the ones with spite they’d sooner damn to hell,
we offer up the gift of forgiveness.

When eyes grow dim through willful prejudice,
then may our kindness obstinance dispel
for those who curse and cannot with love bless.

Though severed ears expect we acquiesce
in silence, our acceptance to compel,
we offer up the gift of forgiveness.

When death’s rank stench bursts forth from hate’s abscess,
then let love drain the wound ’til all is well
for those who curse and cannot with love bless.

With blistered tongues unbridled they profess,
a bilious philippic they foretell;
we offer up the gift of forgiveness.

‘Til calloused hearts rubbed hard by bitterness
emerge transformed from rancor’s prison cell,
for those who curse and cannot with love bless
we offer up the gift of forgiveness.

What Can You Do with Five Words?

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When it rains it pours. Those aren’t the five words I intend for you to ponder in this post, but a reflection of my current state of the union. The appliances arrive tomorrow, the HVAC company will be here as well to install the heat pumps and AC, the wood for the trim arrives on Wednesday, and the couches will be delivered next Tuesday. My evenings are filled with announcing high school soccer, chasing the cross country team on my bike, completing our bi-weekly food shopping trip to Costco and Whole Foods, and entertaining guests. Saturday morning, it’s the SATs, and there’s a meal after church on Sunday. Somewhere in the midst of this fullness I need to put down the floors in the addition, while still watering the grass seed outside and being a husband, a father, a son, a teacher, and a worship leader.

When it rains it pours.

But perspective changes everything. As much as I’m mourning my lack of creativity, scratching out ideas for poems rather than finished pieces, I am delighted by those moments of life that greet me every day, if I’m still enough to receive them. Like my father’s text on Sunday to just take the day to spend some time in Sabbath rest. I needed that. Or perhaps it’s reading Tuesdays with Morrie and encountering this sage advice from Morrie: “The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t the family…As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.'”

So I don’t have something “new” to offer you, but I do propose this challenge. As I have done over the years with my AP English Literature students, here is a five-word poetry challenge (my example follows). Use the following five words in a poem. It need not rhyme nor fulfill any particular stanza format (I opted for the sonnet in honor of John Keats – follow the link below). Just follow the words. They might just take you somewhere wonderful. And if not, you at least put a hard stop on the day and took some time to deepen.

FREEDOM, MILKY WAY (counts as one word as a proper noun), UNEQUIVOCALLY, UBIQUITOUS, and SKIP


Liberation Sonnet

A Five Word Poem – Vincent H. Anastasi 2019

With regards to John Keats

You might argue that it is strange
to unequivocally defend
a formal meter most constrained
when freedom should flow from the pen.
This Milky Way of boundless hope
should not bow to poetic chains;
rather with ubiquitous scope,
reach beyond the confining frames.
How limited such an outlook
when life itself abounds in cells,
and though the words be bound in book,
unlocked by brain, the spirit swells!
So I will skip beneath the yoke
and sing of freedom’s cryptic joke.

The Sanctity of Shared Ritual

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As the fullness of life in such uncommon times (exacerbated by the extra work required of me on our addition) continues to absorb much of my bandwidth, my mind stumbled back to a poem my wife wrote over a year ago reflecting on one of the most common occurrences of a common day: making the bed. Most mornings, my wife and I wake at the same time, and in the twilight of a new day when we’re barely awake, our words still locked in deep slumber, we rise, fluff the pillows, and together pull up each sheet and blanket, tucking them in behind the pillows, setting the teddy bear our younger son gave us in the middle of the now made bed.

Admittedly, I never felt the need to make the bed for most of my life. It wasn’t established as a habit in my home. It seemed a waste of time when I could snooze out another nine minutes (or more), especially when one would just mess up the sheets again anyway the following night. I’ve heard many anecdotal stories of just how important making one’s bed is and what that says about one’s character. But it was my wife’s careful pulling together of words and tucked-in images that left me with a deeper appreciation for such an overlooked habit of life.

As you read the following lines, may you gain a fresh appreciation of this fabulous reality of our daily lives.

Shared Ritual – Sarah Ingalls Anastasi

The predawn, rote motion of pulling
up the bedclothes
No shared looks, eyes still half closed
No smiles or laughs exchanged
But for the pause . . . the one courtesy
Waiting for the other to grab their
corner, straighten their side.
The reminder of shared ritual.
In a world stripped of communion
This moment, though not a bended
Knee or bowed head
Is full of a gentle, quiet together
Forty years from now still at this side
of the bed, rote motion, gathering
a corner . . .
What kind of change will it bring?
Slower, perhaps more awake, less
driven by time
Hopefully more reverence for . . .
This gentle, quiet of shared ritual.

Choosing to Live: Enlightened Contentment

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“It is the time’s discipline to think of the death of all living, and yet live.”

Wendell Berry, “A Discipline”

Into a third late night of balancing the demands of being an educator, a cooperating teacher, a husband, a father, a son, a home remodeler, and a writer, I offer this gentle reminder to live. Even when it’s hard and the storms just seem to be unrelenting, live. (You should look up Denise Levertov’s “Of Being”). Just lying down in utter exhaustion beside the bed of my sleeping sons tonight, having allowed my eight-year-old to read to me instead of reading to him because I kept falling asleep, provided yet another reminder of life’s simple yet priceless gifts in the midst of hard times and the inevitable diminuendo of life. I invite you to savor those simple moments of your own lives, taking nothing for granted, and offering the prayer of thanksgiving over them all.

Memento Mori

Vincent H. Anastasi 2018

Behold how good and pleasant it is
to weep our sad bosoms dry,
to crack the vaults of seeing tears
and loose the salty rivulets
to run their wending courses
down stolid checks;
to soak our pillows,
not from fear or regret or heavy-laden hearts,
but with the wisdom
that all we see and touch,
taste and hear and smell,

will be lost.

Rather than bemoan this fallen state
instead to don wonder’s kaleidoscopic spectacles,
to feel each finger furled in fellow hand,
to savor the single bite slowly chewed
and linger over thunder’s diminuendo
or kneel in the aromatic breath of a vernal wood.

All these things heave into my throat, my eyes
and while evening draws the darkening shades,
I lie beside my sleeping son
and drift off into the sobering quiet
of enlightened contentment.

All Aboard! From Rails to Sunrise

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“We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad?  Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over; so that, if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon.”

Henry David Thoreau, from “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” Walden

Walking to work last Wednesday morning, I looked down the railroad tracks that cross Broad Street to see the sun, rising in a late-August sky. In that instant, I imagined the sun riding the rails into the heavens, running its usual course across the firmament. It was one of those passing moments of transcendence, an invitation to meditate on some truth or still, small voice echoing into our present, just as Thoreau’s words echo forth from August 9th, 1854.

For me, Thoreau’s metaphor of the sleeper speaks significantly to our world today. To think that a few sleepers that refuse to stay pinned down can dislodge a 500 ton steam locomotive should give one reason to pause. However, my meditation of a Wednesday night siting on James’s front porch, sipping hazelnut coffee and eating a slice of zucchini bread provided by his daughter, led me to the following seven stanza poem.

I’ve made a point to unplug from mainstream media as much as possible. I’ve seen its effect on the masses, and I can scrounge up enough darkness and reasons for dismay without their help. Sex trafficking alone and the scourge of pedophilia is enough to make one lose any hope in the human race and true justice. This poem invites the reader to be a passenger pulled by the engine of the sun. It does not ride upon fixed rails of steel, but steals away to the third heaven where it shines light upon the darkened earth below. The tickets have been paid for. The course is set. Leave those metal monsters of morbidity and malevolence and become a passenger of light.

Traveling Light

Vincent H. Anastasi 2020

Down the tracks that to the east
run parallel until they meet,
or seemingly, at heaven’s feet,
I looked this Wednesday morn,

and motoring on iron beams
with power more profound than steam,
I beheld as in a dream
the sun now come reborn,

and for a spell, it looked as if
it rode upon those rails so stiff
’til I despaired, it would not lift
to light the darkened world.

But e’en before I walked away
the sun slipped slow from ballasts gray
to fill the sky, diffusing rays
with flaming flags unfurled,

and still it soared as I moved on
enlivened by its silent song
and my heart burned with visions drawn
upward on surging sun,

no more to sleep beneath the plates
held firm with spikes to bear the weight
of engines fueled by coals of hate —
O! let these love lines run! —

without a flange to hold these wheels
to rigid tracks of rusty steel,
but ever with unflagging zeal,
diffuse your holy light!

Monsters or Men?

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Tonight as I read to my two youngest sons from C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian, one of Lucy’s lines cut to the quick. I had to stop and take a picture of it with my phone, lest I forget it. I’ve read the novel multiple times, but tonight these words rang more true than ever.

I really only intended to post a short poem I wrote about silence in the Japanese form of a tanka while I took another day to finish revising my most recent poem, but both of those pieces can wait. Until then, follow the link to familiarize yourself with the form. For now, consider the weight of Lucy’s words after being saved by Trumpkin the dwarf from being mauled by a wild bear, not a true Narnian, talking bear. I wonder what Lucy, and Lewis himself, would think of these days?

“Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you’d never know which were which?”

from Chapter 9 of Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

Art’s Deepening Place: A Reflection on Sarah Oppenheimer’s “610-3356”

Image from The Mattress Factory Art Museum Website on mattress.org

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

Leonardo da Vinci

My thanks to Jack Warner, former colleague and cooperating teacher, for introducing me to one of Pittsburgh’s hidden gems, The Mattress Factory Art Museum. Since that initial visit almost twenty years ago, I’ve returned to the museum many times both with students and on my own. On one of my more recent visits with a colleague, I engaged in the suggested creative writing exercises with the students, producing a series of reflections on the installation art pieces that are part of the museum’s permanent collection.

In flipping through my older works this afternoon, I came upon my poetic response to Sarah Oppenheimer’s 610-3356. I know that many people write off modern art as garbage when compared to the masters of the Renaissance or the Impressionists. I, too, have been far more of a skeptic of modern art than a champion of the art form. However, some pieces, like this one, do take me beyond myself and enable me to deepen. Others leave me scratching my head or seriously questioning the sanity of those who have the authority to label something as art (watch the Blue Man Group’s shot at what qualifies as art – also a HUGE thanks to Jack Warner for that introduction!)

Though this work isn’t a painting, as da Vinci references above, it is an invitation to see with new eyes. In exploring this work of art from all three levels of visibility at the museum, I’m reminded again of the importance of perspective. Rather than write off this “hole in the floor” as just another example of the banality of modern art, embrace the journey we’re being offered to deepen and be sure to explore The Mattress Factory link above to see all the different views I reference in the poem.

610-3356: “Window on the Floor”

A poetic response to the work of Sarah Oppenheimer at The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA
Vincent H. Anastasi 2013

View from the Third Floor

This opening obliges me
to navigate the room –
walls blurring in peripheral vision,
transfixed,
the eyepiece reversed –
transforming kaleidoscopic,
I, the rotating lens,
circling like a falcon
the hole that splits:
this aircraft wing, this slide, this portal, this
“window on the floor”
that draws me from within to without
compelled, almost
to dive
to plummet
to soar
coaxing me more
and more
away
from this room:
the frosted windows, white walls, varnished floors –
myself –
to trip the ledge
following diverging lines
to open spaces

View from the Second Floor

Below
I want to get in,
pierce the wooden shaft that
disturbs this room
this plywood white elephant
to rise
to fall
to crawl around a bit within
to see with strange green eyes,
mold wings…

View from the Street

And outside
gazing in the aperture
so small
budding from this expanse of wall
I am reminded of
narrow cells
I’ve haunted
before.