Praying With Poetry: Special Advent Season Town Hall

Praying with Poetry (1)
Jonathan Hayden

Jonathan Hayden

Director of Operations, Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center

Thank you to all who joined us for the Leadership Foundations Advent Season Town Hall “Praying With Poetry”. We were thrilled to be joined by Father Steve Lantry S.J. to explore how the reading and listening of poetry can be a resource to our spiritual lives in this Advent season.

If you missed it, make sure to check out the video below. We have also included the selected poems shared this morning so you can read along.

Selected Poems 


The images found in human language

do not correspond to me,

 but those who love words

 must use them to draw near.



My poems resemble the bread of Egypt,

         one night passes over them

         and you can’t eat them anymore.

So gobble them down now,

         while they’re still fresh

         before the dust of the world settles on them.

Where a poem belongs is here,

         in the warmth of the chest.

Out in the world, it dies of cold.

You’ve seen a fish; put him on dry land.

         He quivers for a few moments, and then he’s still.

And even if you eat my poems

         while they’re still fresh,

         you still have to bring forward

         many images yourself.

Actually, my friend, what you’re eating

         is your own imagination.

These poems are not

         just a bunch of old proverbs.



Invoking Your name

does not help me to see You.

I’m blinded by the light of Your face.

Longing for Your lips

does not bring them any closer.

What veils You from me

is my vision of You.



Today, like every other day,

We wake up empty and scared.

Don’t open the door to the study

            and begin reading.

Take down a musical instrument:

            let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are a thousand ways

            to kneel and kiss the ground.




It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

 by Mary Oliver


When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locusts,

equally the beeches, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, daily.


I am so distant from the hope of myself,

in which I have goodness, and discernment,

and never hurry through the world

      but walk slowly, and how often.


Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.


And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,

“and you too have come

into the world for this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”

by Mary Oliver


Have you heard the music that no fingers

          enter into?

Far inside the house

entangled music—-

What is the sense of leaving your house?


Suppose you scrub your ethical skin until it shines,

but inside there is no music,

then what?


Mohammed’s son pores over words, and points out

          this and that,

but if his chest is not soaked dark with love,

then what?


The Yogi comes along in his famous orange.

But if inside he is colorless, then what?


Kabir says: every instant that the sun is risen,

          if I stand in the temple, or on a balcony,

          in the hot fields, or in a walled garden,

          my own Lord is making love with me.


 from The Kabir Book,

versions by Robert Bly



 It’s a habit of yours to walk slowly.

You hold a grudge for years.

With such heaviness, how can you be modest?

With such attachments, do you expect

to arrive anywhere?


Be wide as the air to learn a secret.

Right now you’re equal portions clay

and water, thick mud.

Abraham learned how the sun and moon

and the stars all set.

He said, “No longer will I try to assign partners for God.”


You are so weak.    Give up to grace.

The ocean takes care of each wave

till it gets to shore.

You need more help than you know.

You’re trying to live your life in open scaffolding.

Say Bismillah, “In the name of God”,

like a priest does with a knife

when he offers an animal.


Bismillah your old self,

to find your real name.



Theology and Banking

He tried to confess

his sins to a bank.

He told the teller

about his specific

enactments of sloth,

lust, deception, cruelty.

Did he have an account?

she asked.  Everyone,

he replied, has an account

in Heaven.  Would he step

aside to let the next

person in line advance?

she asked.  Yes, he said,

but first I need to withdraw

forgiveness, quite

a lot of it.  She summoned

Security, who said they

would have to ask him

to leave.  He said he

would have to ask them

to forgive him.  They

said they excused him.  No,

not excuses, he said—-

forgiveness.  They took him

to the door and beyond.  He

wandered to a church

and deposited some money.

May I have a receipt? he asked.

Yes, a liturgical minister said,

and gave him a wafer, a sip

of wine.  He ate and drank

the receipt.  Will you tell me

my current balance? he asked.

Yes, the minister said, you are

like everyone else, overdrawn,

so I wouldn’t push it.  Go now

and sin much more frugally

if sin you must, and

apparently you must.

by Hans Ostrom, PhD,

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