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Like all of us who carry hidden pain,
he soberly performed his task that day.
When his turn came to sacrifice and pray
he did not celebrate, did not complain.
The angelic interruption caused his brain
to seize.  Although he knew what not to say,
helpless, he asked the question anyway,
for fear his hope would once again prove vain.
I would have asked it too; in fact, I ask
it all the time.  It’s not so easy to
believe when promises appear untrue,
a cover-up for emptiness, a mask.
Excessive, don’t you think, to strike him dumb?
He merely wanted proof of things to come.

He merely wanted proof of things to come,
but Mary took the angel at his word  
and took as proof the message that she heard,
her “let it be” so very different from
“how can this be?”  Impossible to plumb
such depth of faith, a heart so quickly stirred
to yes, no thought of what could be endured 
to give her pause, no fear to make her numb.
I’d like a heart that’s willing to consent
to what God asks without a counter will,
a single-mindedness without the still
small voice of doubt that contradicts what’s meant.
Like Mary we are free to disobey,
to heed the angel or to go our way.

To heed the angel or to go our way—
poor Joseph faced that choice repeatedly.
He could have saved his honor, gotten free.
Instead he let the heavenly plans outweigh
his own, without complaint agreed to play
the role before he knew what it might be—
to bring up someone else’s kid, to flee
to foreign lands—a part with no cachet.
Don’t envy him his dreams.  They weren’t the type
where stars bow down but burdens like a cross
he took up every day, bearing the loss
of self, a death they say helps souls grow ripe.
I long for eyes that see and ears that hear,
a heart prepared for angels to appear.

A heart prepared for angels to appear—
each shepherd had one.  Of course they were surprised
and filled with fear, but they weren’t paralyzed.
Without a doubt they got themselves in gear,
sped off to Bethlehem, their pathway clear,
the word had come to them.  Although despised
they wouldn’t let their task be compromised
but were the kind who do as well as hear.
I’d like to have their readiness to see
the angels and their willingness to drop
the task I’m on without the need to stop
and question if the message was for me,
to be so quick to act, so confident,
so certain that the sign was heaven sent.

So certain that the sign was heaven sent,
they left their wealth, the privileges of place,
familiar rhythms, security to face
a world unknown.  Like hounds upon a scent
they trailed the star, convinced it surely meant
a king was born.  They wished to see his face,
to honor him, to bring him gifts, embrace
his rightful rule, his endless government.
I wish I were as skilled at reading signs
as quick to leave behind the lesser things
of life in hot pursuit of him who brings
the joy for which each heart so deeply pines.
My careful heart’s too choked for faith to bloom,
the challenge always is to find some room.

The challenge always is to find some room.
His parents knew it well, each door was closed
to them.  While Joseph knocked, poor Mary dozed
and felt the pains increasing in her womb.
At least the place was warm with sweet perfume
of hay, a beastly welcome that exposed
how human hearts refused to be imposed
upon, a foretaste of the child’s doom.
O to be like those beasts, so quick to make
a space, so welcoming, ready to share
their breath, so unassuming they could dare 
to give themselves without the need to take. 
O may my heart be large, my reservations few,
a heart whose door is open to the new.

With a heart whose door was open to the new,
he held the baby in his arms.  His eyes
were dim, his spirit, though, could recognize
the promised one, see all that he would do
to overturn the status quo. He knew
the dark end that awaits one who defies,
the bright hope brought by the holy one who dies,
the task for which he came, toward which he grew.
I’d like an open heart and spirit clear
to recognize the one who hears our cry
and rescues us from helplessness, to try
to heed his voice and serve him without fear
whose public suffering has proved a gain
for all of us who carry hidden pain.

Photo by Yunus Emre Öztürk on Unsplash

Eric Potter

Eric Potter is a professor of English at Grove City College (PA) where he teaches courses in poetry and American literature. His poems have appeared in such journals as 32 PoemsFirst Things, The Christian Century, and The Midwest Quarterly. He has published two chapbooks and a full-length collection, Things Not Seen (2015).