My imagination is held captive
By the old stories I grew up with.
Stories of Abraham, Moses, and Joshua;
Of Ruth, Naomi, and the judges;
Of Samuel, the kings and the prophets;
Of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles.
Those stories are more real to my mind
Than my own memories,
The people more absolute
Than my own family.
It was not always thus. They once appeared
Merely as friendly flannel shapes, smiling
Surreally as they floated against their
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with this,
That it is simply the way of things for a child,
Whose perceptive matrix is as unfilled and blank
As that powder-blue board,
To experience the stories as such abstraction,
Fairy tales unmoored from reality, floating like
Unmanned boats without anchors or ties
In a sea of innocence.
Yet, life has populated that empty flannel
Graph with all of its pains and joys,
With many accomplishments and failures.
It has filled it with experiences
Of love and hate, encounters with
Those who do evil and injustice
Mixed with momentary glimpses
Or people doing such good as would make
You cry to think of it. Tiny mustard
Seeds of generosity and God-like
Kindness planted in a weedy garden of gloom.
Little lanterns on a hill piercing
The dark despair with
The light of hope.
And as I have been so often forced
To imagine why the people I have known
Have done to me and my own
The evils they have done, and
As I have found those evils dwarfed
By the Holocausts, the Slaveries,
The great Oppressions that happen
When Greed and Fear and Lust
For Power are put in charge of people…
Well, it is then that the people
And places in those old stories
Have gradually turned from immaterial ideas
To concrete actualities.
There is real life in those stories;
Real moments and insights which speak their
Echoing witness through the ages like haunting
Shouts of warning and hope
In a chasm of time and eternity.
The same deeds and measures,
Moments of righteousness and of evil
That I see every day.
And through it all the promise
That something bigger is at work,
Creating something new,
Making what is wrong right again.
Those old stories
Of Israel and Egypt,
Of Moses and Pharaoh
The people and the places…
They are as real to my mind
As my own memories.
They give me hope.
They make this place