Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself by Wallace Stevens

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird’s cry, at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow . . .
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep’s faded papier-mâché . . .
The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry—it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

“Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself”, from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, copyright 1954 by Wallace Stevens and renewed 1982 by Holly Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

part of an immense whole

A flash of sanity: the momentary realization that there is no need to come to certain conclusions about persons, events, conflicts. trends, even trends toward evil and disaster, as if from day to day, and even from moment to moment, I had to know and declare (at least to myself) that this is so and so, this is good, this is bad. We are heading for a “new era” or we are heading for destruction. What do such judgments mean? Little or nothing. Things are as they are in an immense whole of which I am a part and which I cannot pretend to grasp. To say I grasp it is immediately to put myself in a false position, as if I were “outside” it. Whereas to be “in” it is to seek truth in my own life and action, moving where movement is possible and keeping still when movement is unnecessary, realizing that things will continue to define themselves and that the judgments and mercies of God will clarify themselves and will be more clear to me if I am silent and attentive, obedient to His will rather than constantly formulating statements in this age which is smothered in language, in meaningless and inconclusive debate in which, in the last analysis, nobody listens to anything except what agrees with his own prejudices.

– Thomas Merton, journal entry, March 2, 1966

ministers not messiahs

It helps, now and then,
to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace
to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

March 24, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. This prayer, often attributed to Romero, was written by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw,