Poetry as Prayer … a little inspiration from Robert Lax …

Everything that exists
can turn to prayer;
even the water,
even the air.

– Robert Lax
A Song For Our Lady

If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to watch the two short videos included today.

“And in the beginning was love. Love made a sphere: all things grew within it; the sphere then encompassed beginnings and endings, beginning and end. Love had a compass whose whirling dance traced out a sphere of love in the void: in the center thereof rose a fountain.”

– Robert Lax
from his renown poem, Circus in the Sun (about the circus of creation), it was read at Lax’s funeral in New York


“I think it’s a metaphysical concept
starting with Aristotle and flowering in St. Thomas
that God is pure act and that there is no potentía in him
…. Almost everything else in the universe is potentía,
it’s on its way to being pure act”

An excellent – award wining – biography – of Lax

Robert Lax (1915 – 2000) was an American poet who converted from Judaism to Catholicism. He has been called “saint,” “mystic, “one of the great enigmas of American poetry, “a pilgrim” and “a prophet.” His poems where innocent, ecstatic and even whimsical. Over time they became more and more minimalist … one simple word or strings of sounds stretched into long narrow word-cascades that sometimes stopped here and there to puddle.

“Robert Lax’s poems [prove] yet again that the gift to be simple is the gift to be free, that less is more, and that least may sometimes be most.”—John Ashbery

Photo credit: Lax’s Amazon author’s page.

In addition to his poetry, Robert Lax is know for his friendship with the writer, poet and Trapist monk, Thomas Merton, also a convert to Catholicism.

Lax went to school with John Berryman and was mentor to Jack Kerouac. He was friends with and appreciated by the Beats and one of my fave writers, James Agee (A Death in the Family and – with photographer Walker Evens – Let Us Now Praise Men). Denise Levertove and e.e. commings numbered among Lax’s friends as well. He was also close to the artist Ad Reinhart.

In 1962 Lax began his travels in Greece, settling into life as a hermit on the island of Patmos, seen by many as a sacred space. Patmos is the alleged site of the vision of and writing of the Christian Bible’s Book of Revelation. Because of that connection, the island is a destination for Christian pilgrimage.

Although Robert Lax lived quietly in Patmos and did nothing to promote his poetry or himself, people – including the Beats and other poets – came to visit him. He always welcomed his visitors and purposeful or accidental students. He was mentor to more than a few.

If poetry as prayer is a topic of interest, you could do worse than to explore Lax’s life and work. A light read and good introduction to this poet is The Way of the Dreamcatcher: Spirit Lessons with Robert Lax.  It was written by San Francisco writer, S.T. Georgiou (Greek Orthodox), who went to Patmos in search of some spiritual answers. As good fortune would have it, he met Robert Lax, became friends with him and visited often with him on several trips back to Patmos.  Subsequently, after Lax’s death, Georgiou wrote The Way of the Dreamcatcher, a book about this adventure in friendship, mentoring, the sacred and poetry.

Robert Lax received the National Council of the Arts Award in 1969.

Books by Robert Lax include:


“because yes – he likes to ‘write’ – but to ‘do’ – to do a particular thing – perhaps on paper (perhaps on canvas – perhaps in stone – perhaps, perhaps in a musical score) – a thing that will stand, a thing that will bear (that will sustain) repeated contemplation: a thing that will sustain long contemplation, and that will (in a ‘deep’ enough way) reward the beholder.”  Robert Lax, Love Had a Compass: Journals and Poetry

JEWS, CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS, UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS: San Francisco Peninsula Clergy standing in solidarity for the sacredness of all humans

USGS Satellite photo of the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco peninsula protrudes northward. San Francisco is at its tip, public domain
Public domain USGS Satellite photo of the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco peninsula protrudes northward. San Francisco is at its tip.

As you might suspect, there was a reason for featuring Emma Lazarus and her poem, The New Colossus, as part of the American She-Poets series this a.m. … the reason being a reminder of our American ideals in the face an unreasonable ban, free-flowing hostilitities, and the fear vulnerable people have given the ramped-up deportation policies finding support and stride under the current Republican administration. Almost all immigrants to this country are refugees even if they are not formally declared so. Formally or informally they seek refuge from violence, poverty, joblessness, hunger and environmental degradation.

“Now ‘refugees’ are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by refugee committees …. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. . . . ” We Refugees, an essay by Hannah Arendt in the 1943 issue of Menorah

The lack of empathy and compassion for and the fear of and prejudice toward immigrants is not new in American history and, as better people than me have said, unless you are a Native American, you are an immigrant, no matter how far back your roots go in these United States. It is likely that your own progenitors felt the sting of prejudice, might have suffered greatly and even died at its hands.

Here I report on the programs and practices that are being implemented by our interfaith community with the help of a number of organizations including Faith In Action, which is integral to the design of a Rapid Response Program. My hope is that in reading this more people in our own community will become involved and that other communities that don’t have programs and collaborations will be inspired to create them.


The Peninsula Solidarity Network of clergy representing diverse faiths was originally initiated to discuss and address the shortage of housing and affordable rents throughout the San Francisco Peninsula and South Bay area and is now taking on another crisis: creating sanctuary and building a Rapid Response Network to witness, accompany and advocate for immigrants facing deportation. On Wednesday, February 8th, it hosted a training by Faith In Action Bay Area. The training was on the Sanctuary Movement and The Rapid Response Network, a project of Faith In Action Bay Area, PICO and the Archdiocese of San Francisco in collaboration with Pangea Legal Services and California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.

Please note: I do not speak for or represent the Peninsula Solidarity Network or its clergy and lay-leader members, Faith In Action or the Rapid Response Network, but  I was a butterfly on the wall with the good fortune to listen in and report back to you. This is what I learned. Any mistakes or mistaken assumptions are my own. If you are clergy or a professional journalist interested in the Peninsula Solidarity Network, the Sanctuary Movement, and/or Rapid Response email clergyhousingsummit2@gmail.com J.D.

While deportation is not a new problem, these efforts by the federal government are escalating and Faith In Action is working to bring our congregations together to foster the bigger scale of action and involvement that is necessary now . . . and we need everyone. Our job is to facilitate support among the races. Everyone has a role to play: diverse immigrant communities supporting one another and the greater community showing presence. Vulnerable ethnic and religious groups need special help and American citizens have responsibility to be present for victims and involved in this work.

Within the immigrant community congregations are the center for hope. Faith organizations can offer training to help families to defend themselves, to know their rights, and to get deportation defense through community campaigns, solidarity networks and for advocacy at local, state and federal levels.

Each city needs RAPID RESPONSE TEAMS of at least forty people. First responders verify raids, are moral and legal observers and connect families with legal services, social and economic services, advocacy and accompaniment services.

Victims of immigration raids can’t leave home or work to find sanctuary in a congregation. With rapid response, the congregation goes to the people.

In California, clergy and congregation members can also help by supporting the proposed California Values Act (SB 54) of California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León. Here is the short link to info about SB 54: http://tinyurl.com/j6e6ayv

Donate to Faith In Action Bay Area, 1336 Arroyo Ave, San Carlos, CA 94070-3913 (510) 234-8983

OUR PENINSULA RESIDENTS ARE INVITED TO attend the Faith In Practicing Solidarity During Immigration Raids Training (Rapid Response Network: Witness, Accompany and Advocate) to be offered on February 12, 4 p.m. –  6 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 225 Tilton Ave., San Mateo, CA (Parking on Catalpa). You will learn how to witness (be a legal observer), accompany (provide moral support) and advocate (prepare for opportunity to pass new protections). There will be a second training offered on February 28, 6:30 – 8:30pm, 2266 California St, San Francisco.

For more information on the training call  415 867 6279. REGISTER HERE or RSVP at fiaba@faithinactionba.org … Faith In Action Bay Area website is in the development stage.


What follows  is a short film (about 20 min.), which tells the history of immigration in the United States. If you are reading this feature from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to watch the video.


The following Q & A on the Sanctuary Movement was shared with me by Rev. Ben Meyers (Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo) and was developed by Rev. Dr. Penny Nixon (Congregational Church of San Mateo) with minor adaptions for use here.

  • Why a revival of the Sanctuary Movement?

Too many people are deported – or “returned” – many of them are long-term residents woven into the fabric of our communities and congregations, including our neighbors. Often this results in splitting up families with children who are U.S. citizens.

Time after time Congress has refused to address our broken immigration system. Donald Trump launched his campaign for president pledging to build a wall and deport immigrants. During his first two weeks in office he issued orders intended to begin implementing his vision for America. An order establishing a travel ban on Muslims from seven majority Muslim nations has had a chilling effect on nearly all foreign nationals living among us as friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers or family in communities nationwide. Consequently, a New Sanctuary Movement is rapidly gaining momentum among people of faith and moral conscience.

  • Why get involved as a Faith Community?

Our shared religious ideals call us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people; to seek justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and to create world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We commit our values to action as we work together to transform ourselves while creating congruence between our ideals and our actions. Deportation of our neighbors and the breaking up of immigrant families in our communities are among the most compelling social justice issues of our time. Our congregations can make a difference. We can get involved in the New Sanctuary Movement by taking the National Sanctuary Pledge and becoming a Sanctuary Congregation, joining hundreds of others from all faith traditions across the country

  • What does it mean to be a Sanctuary Congregation?

Principally, it means helping prevent deportation of persons facing an order of deportation, on a case-by-case basis, one at a time, in concert with their legal representation. Participation varies from joining Networks of Protection and Rapid Response teams; Advocating for due process and policies; Accompanying Immigrant families and youth for protection and providing a safe haven.  This latter role means hosting or otherwise supporting a person in your facility and possibly their family too, while the person is engaged in legal proceedings intended to prevent them from being deported. We expect the duration of a person’s stay in Sanctuary would be from three weeks to three months. As part of growing coalitions of congregations you would not be doing this alone.

  • Is a house of worship a safe place?

Historically, churches, schools and hospitals have been classified as “sensitive locations” under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Sensitive Locations Policy. ICE has not entered any of those venues to take custody of a person facing an order of deportation. However, we should be aware that this could change as the current administration implements its plans. [ICE officials can make entry with a warrant. / J.D.]

  • How are candidates for Sanctuary vetted?

As a Sanctuary Congregation, you will have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with one or more not-for-profit organizations providing legal services for immigrants in or around your area. That organization, in concert with a person’s lawyer, will decide that the person would be the right candidate for Sanctuary: (1) ICE would not likely consider them a priority for deportation; (2) they are a good candidate for prosecutorial discretion, winning a stay of removal or an order of supervision or some other form of legal relief from deportation; and (3) they would satisfy any other requirements specified in our MOU. Where a candidate meets the requirements, the organization presents the case to the Sanctuary Congregations’ rabbi, minister or Iman and a “Vetting Team.”

  • What are the risks?

During the last forty years, no congregation has been prosecuted for allowing undocumented people to find shelter in their Church; no person associated with a Church Sanctuary Program has been convicted for offering Sanctuary; and no Church’s tax-exempt status has been affected. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “There comes a time when a moral man [sic] can’t obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust. And the important thing is that when he does that he willingly accepts the penalty – because if he refuses to accept the penalty he becomes reckless, and he becomes an anarchist.”

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