A confessional map of the sky


I’d like to say something about the sky this morning
but I’m in our condo and the looming Fifth Street apartment
complex, all 25 stories of it, keeps drawing my eyes away
and down its faux-brick frame with its brindle-orange dress— 
like I’d dance with that. It takes up exactly half of this window
and I don’t have a deck to stand on, even though I wouldn’t
in this minus weather. So maybe I’m on edge, but I’m warm
and I have some friends in the twitternet, and if I get bristly
I can read Bukowski who found it hard living in his own skin and
slagged self-appointed gods and hucksters and stupid intellectuals
and yet in the same poem some gate sprang open and he saw
beautiful silks riding against the sky. Or I can read the Psalms
which, like Bukowski’s poetry, is all over the confessional map.
Or I can read the sermon on the mount, that like Cohen, I don’t
pretend to understand, but I like it and that’s why I read it.
I understand little about the Psalms or the Gospels or about prayer
for that matter. And maybe my ambivalence about church these days
is because I see how it works (all except the bread and wine and those
that go because they find mystery there, like the convex mirror
in the Mughal ceiling, which Agha Shahid Ali mentioned in a poem;
and poet Kazim Ali observed how it reflected images in all directions,
and how you can see two things at once and both things can
be true). And that’s why I cringe every time I read Psalm 107
because one day many years ago I lead a study on that Psalm and I
was so cock-sure about myself and my exegesis that I fairly beamed
through the whole episode. And if there was a querying hand solemnly
raised I certainly didn’t take notice, for I, brothers and sisters, grasped
the scriptures and how God has HIS formulae and gets around to the
equation every time if you’re patient, and how the mystery of God
covers every eventuality, which I pray in some wonderful way it does,
but if it does, it’s not in the way some slick dogmatizer tells you,
least of all me. But it’s not good enough to blame the pulpiteers
in the polished churches ’cause that scapegoat is way too easy.
The church, like WalMart, has simply risen to our clamouring for
bargains, our bleating for a Spiritual Law…no more than four please,
and make them in a hundred different colours in a purse-size tract.
Better this: Dear flock, this Sunday, abandon your hope for a tight
theodicy and the accompanying application and overhead
schematic. The deacons will be moving along the aisle to remove
your colour-coded Thomson Chain Reference Bibles. We have
no glossy answers for you. Discard your verdicts at the door
and gaze together at the ceiling, see how merciful the story is,
and how a lie is not always a lie and a truth not always a truth and
hardly ever a TRUTH. Of course none of this had fallen on my
hail-hard head when I was beaming away for the Holy Spirit.
There is something to Feuerbach’s well known gripe against religion,
how God is a towering Father-figure we’ve thrown up against the sky;
although I remember, back when, smiling, knowing I was beyond that.
I suppose the thing I’m trying to say here is that I have to move,
shift my body, cock my head this way and that, if I want to see past
this 100-foot apartment block to the sky that’s just now turning pink
at the edges. And further up, see blue silks riding against the sky.


  1. Careful Steve, you’re treading on thin ice again. 🙂 Seriously, I couldn’t live without this kind of honesty. It’d be too lonely, and a scream would be forever stuck in my throat.

  2. “slick dogmatizer” “pulpiteer” – I’m guilty as charged:)
    but – deacons moving along the “ails” – not really a misprint, eh?

    “see how merciful the story is” – Amen!

    Thanks for this.

  3. Wow, all I need to do is move to see, “blue silks riding against the sky”, instead of a tower of menacing “literality”. Thanks Stephen.

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