Monday, May 26, 2014

Song of India

I offer my 2006 poem as a reflection and prayer for India at the inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi

I wrote this poem during my first visit to India, a three-week journey that included time spent exploring Kolkata, Hyderabad, Nagpur, and Mumbai. I tried to take in the heart and soul of the nation as I learned some of its layered history, travails, and breakthroughs, as well as through many conversations with people. I put the words together in the third week of the journey. 

I returned the next year and pedaled a bicycle 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) from Kanyakumari--the most southern tip of India--to Delhi, taking six weeks to absorb the fascinating range of the people, terrain, and challenges of India. I reflected again on what I had written a year earlier. I decided not to change a thing.

Today, with the inauguration of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India after a landslide victory for his BJP party, in what appears to me to be a culture-wide heart-cry for an end to corrupt practices in many aspects of India's life, I offer my poem, "Song of India," as a reflection and prayer for all of India's people.

Song of India

Ancient Mother

River wide
Flowing onward
Rising tide

Ever seeking
Gods untold
Bows in worship
Yearning soul

Gracious welcome
So betrayed
Meanly plundered

Deeply longing
To be free
Confronts power

Modern nation
On the go
Ardent striver
Watch her grow

Many peoples
Tongues and tribes
Past and present
Side by side

Changing faces
Caste aside?
Or revert to
Social pride?

Crucial moment
Now to see
Grace and justice


My daily reflections on my bike ride through India are at

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's [Peace] Day

The original Mother's Day Declaration wasn't your typical Hallmark card greeting for mom

A MOVEMENT FOR PEACE. Contrary to popular presumption, Mother’s Day wasn’t created in a conspiracy of greeting card companies and florists. Originally called Mother’s Peace Day and organized by abolitionist Julia Ward Howe (author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) in Boston in 1870, it was to be a day dedicated to the eradication of all war. Though Mother’s Day is now far afield of its origins, the following declaration written by Howe was its early watchword:

BE FIRM. “Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.’”

TEACHING & TRAINING. “‘Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’”

DISARM! DISARM! “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.”

NOT CAESAR, BUT GOD. “As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.”

CALL FOR ASSEMBLY. “In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.” (Source: Bruderhof, Wikipedia)

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, May 1, 2014

When to Hide, and How

A reflection on a Charles Wesley song I saw for the first time this morning

I am not one to hide. Hiding seems backward, cowardly, retreating. I want to advance, engage, and break through. Yet, I daily pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” I read Psalms in which courageous David calls for cover and lauds Yahweh for hiding him from his foes “who are too powerful for me.”

What’s this hiding thing all about? What place does it have in my spiritual formation and practice of Jesus’ presence in an active life? If hiding is valid and helpful—even essential to being fully human—how shall I understand and practice it?

I am thinking about hiding because, just this morning, I read through a Charles Wesley song I had not before seen or sung. Without being melodramatic, Wesley’s lyrics seem both straightforwardly descriptive and instructive.

Here are the four stanzas of “Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose”:

Thou hidden source of calm repose,
thou all-sufficient love divine,
my help and refuge from my foes,
secure I am if thou art mine;
and lo! from sin and grief and shame
I hide me, Jesus, in thy name.

Thy mighty name salvation is,
and keeps my happy soul above,
comfort it brings, and power and peace,
and joy and everlasting love;
to me with thy dear name are given
pardon and holiness and heaven. 

Jesus, my all in all thou art,
my rest in toil, my ease in pain,
the healing of my broken heart,
in war my peace, in loss my gain,
my smile beneath the tyrant's frown,
in shame my glory and my crown. 

In want my plentiful supply,
in weakness my almighty power,
in bonds my perfect liberty,
my light in Satan's darkest hour, 
in grief my joy unspeakable,
my life in death, my heaven in hell.

As I read these lines a few times, I recognize a few things about life, about grace, and about myself.

I recognize that life is difficult, sometimes unbearably so. This isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is how naturally and readily Wesley names circumstances we occasionally face and situations others endure over lifetimes.

I recognize that in the difficulties of life—as specific and overwhelming and sabotaging as they can be—there is grace sufficient. Wesley juxtaposes his confidence in the life, passion and resurrection of Jesus with each difficulty. Because of his assurance that Jesus is an abiding presence—God-with-us, if you will—Wesley is able to envision Jesus as a “hidden source” of help in every difficulty.

I recognize that I frequently fail to rely on this “hidden source” and, instead, first seek relief in others, or in work or play or expert counsel. I flail about and unnecessarily inflict my discomfort with my pain on people around me. In doing so, I both bypass the primary source of help and seed my difficulties in others’ lives. 

I recognize that life with its difficulties calls for both retreat and advance, hiding and engaging, gathering strength and utilizing it. Hiding does not mean always hiding. It means making a conscious, inward-upward turn to grace as a first step in difficulties. It means tuning in and cultivating an awareness of the sacred presence of God-with-us and being still and open to how grace may guide.

I recognize that as much as this is an invitation to hide amid difficulties, it is more an invitation to live continuously in and with and from the grace of God-with-us. Through Wesley’s pen flows the expression of a heart and life that has come to know and rely on the presence and full resources of Jesus in good times and bad. This, it seems to me, makes hiding less of an exception in difficulties and more the underpinning constant in the journey of life.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA