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Seeing the Light

by Susan Jarvis Bryant

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I. Peace Be with You…

a pantoum  

“Peace is possible, truth at all costs.” —Martin Luther 

The churchyard cat is terrified
The belfry bats are numb with fear
The oaken door creaks open wide
The luckless flock is drawing near

The belfry bats are numb with fear
The altar drips with crimson wine
The luckless flock is drawing near
A shiver waits for skin and spine

The altar drips with crimson wine
Grackles cackle from the steeple
A shiver waits for skin and spine
Something eerie greets the people

Grackles cackle from the steeple
The organ’s voice is sharp and shrill
Something eerie greets the people
Something spooky sends a chill

The organ’s voice is sharp and shrill
A cassock cloaks a beastly bent
Something spooky sends a chill
The sermon isn’t heaven-sent

A cassock cloaks a beastly bent
The oaken door creaks open wide
The sermon isn’t heaven-sent
The churchyard cat is terrified

First published in Expansive Poetry Online

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II. Fleeced

a triolet 

“Every day people are straying away from the church
and going back to God.” —Lenny Bruce

Palms press to pray. Legs bend to kneel.
Do sheep know when their shepherd lies?
The sermon has a cheesy feel.
Palms press to pray. Legs bend to kneel.
Do flocks hear when the words aren’t real
And catch that snarl in saccharine sighs?
Palms press to pray. Legs bend to kneel.
Do sheep know when their shepherd lies?

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III. A Sincere Sonnet from an Ex-Secretary 

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.
Aim at earth and you get neither.” —C. S. Lewis

Today my soul was forced to shred and burn
My daily dreams of hope in faith’s domain.
Today my conscience screamed it was my turn
To take a stand; expose a shameful game—
To peel the layers back from deeds so sly
The devil would have doffed his hat in glee.
Refuting every tricky-vicar lie
Secured my sleepless soul’s serenity.

So here I am without a job or pay
(A mind replete with peace cannot be bought)
For me there wasn’t any other way
Than doing what my heart told me I ought.

The truth will shine for those who wish to search…
It’s in the heavens… high above the church.

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Susan Jarvis Bryant has poetry published on Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Light, Sparks of Calliope, and Expansive Poetry Online. She also has poetry published in TRINACRIA, Beth Houston’s Extreme Formal Poems anthology, and in Openings (anthologies of poems by Open University Poets in the UK). Susan is the winner of the 2020 International SCP Poetry Competition, and has been nominated for the 2022 Pushcart Prize.


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43 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Millions of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, have become disgusted with what their institutional churches have degenerated into. Our only loyalty now should be to our inherited traditions, and not to the corrupt pseudo-shepherds who are befouling them.

    You are a very brave woman, Susan. Not many people would have made that principled and costly decision.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you, Joe. I stayed in the office chair longer than I should because I wanted the church I worked for to survive and thrive. All of this was in vain. When a pastor is paid big bucks to preach… when a congregation looks up to authority without caring for the truth, then things have gone horribly wrong. I’m heartened to hear the word ‘brave’ – but, I really couldn’t have done anything else.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Yes, Susan. As Martin Luther wrote: Ich kann nicht anders.

        All three were, in their own or in their shared ways, fairly brilliant.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        C.B., thank you very much! I thoroughly appreciate your fine eye.

    • Joe Spring

      Thank you Susan for these poems. Certainly many others must have noticed the same thing, but expressed it less excellently. I like the second one especially. Unthinking congregations are very much at risk.

      JS, indeed loyalty is a costly thing to give and often given without condition or maintenance. Even traditions “shift like sand” as the reformation hymn goes, and a surer foundation is interrogated and defended by the work of “Noble Bereans” in the pews, which we all must be. Catholics and Protestants are alike in the dangers and the defence.

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Joe, thank you very much for your considered comment. I especially relate to the observation: “Unthinking congregations are very much at risk”. To my mind, this applies to many troublesome questions our world poses today. Too many are happy to let others tell them what to think, when we are blessed with a mind, heart, and soul of our own. My advice to anyone out there who doesn’t understand what is going on behind the curtains in any establishment… go check for yourself… and, if you don’t have the time, don’t believe everything you hear.

  2. Martin Rizley

    Susan,
    This is a fascinating and thought-provoking trilogy of poems with genuinely creepy images that seem lifted from some German expressionistic film of the 1920 or Carl Dreyer´s Vampyr! What makes these poems so effective is the way you have presented us with a series of images in which seemingly holy things are “distorted” slightly in appearance or sound so as to convey a sense of something dark and infernal lurking just beneath an apparently immaculate surface. We see a church door opening wide, but it is “creaking” open like a vampire´s coffin. We see a lovely steeple rising into the sky, but roosting there are black grackles cackling like a flock of Poe´s ravens. We hear the organ playing a prelude, but it is “sharp and shrill” like some wild, discordant fugue played with maniacal fury by a madman. We see a religious figure cloaked in a cassock, but under the cassock is a “beastly shape” of something not of this world– and not of heaven either! Even the sermon (mentioned in the second poem) is “off” and strange enough to send a chill down one´s spine, for the discerning listener can hear a sinister snarl through the saccharine sighs of the religious deceiver. All of these images convey wonderfully a sense of ominous dread. The quote from Luther sheds light on the overall theme of the trilogy, by highlighting the importance of truth over a false and disingenous peace when it comes to matters of supreme importance. That made me think of James 3:17: “But the wisdom from above is FIRST PURE, THEN PEACEABLE, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
    Together, the poems are a good reminder of the fact that things are not always what they appear, especially in matters of religion; for the religious landscape where people hope to find a place of refuge can turn out to be a deadly minefield. Of course, Jesus forewarned us of that when He spoke of all the “wolves in sheep´s clothing” who would come speaking and preaching falsehood in His name (Matthew 7:15-20). A good knowledge of Jesus’ own words is needed to make sure his apparent “spokesmen” are speaking like He spoke, affirming His words, which will never pass away or become obsolete (Matthew 24:35). Discernment is needed, therefore, to avoid stepping on the deadly mines in one´s search for an outpost of heaven. But such outposts are out there, so don´t give up on finding a good church. Only, be careful to avoid falling into one of the open graves that have been dug to trap the earnest in their search for a safe haven. That can be a terrifying experience, as the bats and cats can well testify!

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Martin, if I lived near your church, I would most certainly attend. I thank you for giving me a bright and beautiful ray of hope in an increasingly dark world.

      Reply
  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Martin, it’s lovely to hear from you. You have given a spot-on, superb analysis of my poetry and interpreted exactly what I wanted to say in a creative, beautiful, and understandable way that I can only read in awe. I write the poetry, but the gift of interpreting the poetry I write eludes me. You have given me hope. I believe there are safe havens… places we can gather where the scriptures are pure and true, beyond the facade of today’s false Christianity that has harmed many. I am still searching. I made many friends at the church I worked for, and many have heard my words. I am attending a meeting on Saturday that may change the way some worship… and for that, I am grateful. The nearer we can get the Truth, the better off we will be. Martin, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

    Reply
  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    I won’t attempt to add to Martin’s great wisdom; but I believe these are profound thoughts which are (it goes without saying with your poetry) well-expressed.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Cynthia, thank you very much for your kind words and your support. It means a lot at this trying time for me.

      Reply
  5. Sandi Christie

    Susan, your poetry is always- without a doubt- amazing. You are truly gifted. I love your pantoum and the “Poe-esque” tone it yields as well as the opening/closing line. I certainly dig on the Lenny Bruce quote, as well as the C.S. Lewis quote, two thumbs up. The closing line of your sonnet sums up your third poem nicely and sounds great to the ear, but I disagree with the content. The Kingdom of God is within you, and that is where the Truth is shining now. It isn’t out there anywhere – not out there in the heavens, and not in a church somewhere. It is always within you, waiting for you to find. They aren’t just pretty words in a holy book. We aren’t separate from God, and his Voice- His holy Spirit- is available within us all for all the guidance we need for anyone willing to quiet the mind long enough to let His Voice come through. People will doubt this, and call me crazy, but I don’t care. The Voice is real, and if you cultivate the Voice and put Him in charge of things, you will be amazed at how everything in your life will fall into place in the most amazing way, and you will find you are never without Him, you are never alone. You can lead a life of total fearlessness because you are One with Him. His Voice is always the Voice of love in you, and nothing in the world compares to the comfort you can receive from It. How can you not be One with Him if His Kingdom lies within? Peace and love to you! I know things will work out for you for the better!

    Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Sandi, thank you for your beautiful, sincere, and thought-provoking comment. For me, “the heavens… high above the church” are spiritual realms – a place that shines with love and truth and justice. The closing couplet is a simple, relatable image. But, I agree with you in that, “The Kingdom of God is within you”. For me, it’s the garden of my mind… an awesome, untouchable place that I escape to when the sins of the world overwhelm me. I think everyone has their gift of heaven within, and that is by the grace of God. His voice speaks within our very soul, and if we listen to our conscience, we can’t go far wrong. I believe there is much beyond our fleshly and earthly comprehension, and I am learning day by day. Thank you for your insight… if honesty and compassion mean you’re crazy… then I’ll tread that crazy path with you any day. Thanks again.

    Reply
    • C.B Anderson

      Well gosh, Susan. We all know that within and above are the same. And even if the final couplet of the sonnet might not be doctrinally accurate, an expertly executed concluding couplet is worth a thousand pieties.

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        C.B., there’s a lot I agree with in your comment. By taking one another too literally, we miss the common ground we tread. I’m certain Sandi and I are on the same page.

  7. jd

    You are truly talented (and that is not to say you don’t work hard on your craft) and prolific, Susan.
    All three of your poems are excellent and the wonderful exposition by Martin only adds to them.
    Thank you both.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      jd, I really appreciate your words… I never think of myself as talented… I just know I have a burning desire to write about the things that grab me most. At the moment, it’s the sad state of the world… a subject I think is on many people’s minds. I simply cannot move past the events at the local church I worked for without writing about them. Hopefully, you will see more joyful subjects on the horizon. I feel a great weight has been lifted. Thank you for your encouragement!

      Reply
      • Russel Winick

        Susan – you not thinking of yourself as talented is like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar not thinking of himself as tall.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Russel, you’ve made my night!! 🙂

  8. Brian Yapko

    Dear Susan, the depth, vulnerability and purposeful resolve displayed in these poems is so very impressive. I don’t know whether to be more dazzled by the beauty of the poetry, the pain that has been translated into haunting language or the strength of your determination to tell it like it really is. Of course, nothing says I have to choose. 🙂

    Martin has said so much about the prosody and imagery of your poems that there’s little left to add from that standpoint. I will say this: your pantoum may be the best I’ve ever encountered and it’s largely because of your sharp use of gothic and/or diabolic imagery being contrasted with the purity of what the church should be. No haven, this is a church haunted by a demonic presence. And the pantoum form unfortunately ensures that this is not a one-time deal but a darkness that keeps repeating and repeating. In this church, every day is Halloween. Shudder. It’s quite brilliant.

    Your triolet is a clever little morsel that one swallows despite the bitterness. (Heaven help us if the state of the world is such that we’re reduced to taking spiritual advice from Lenny Bruce!) The form effectively reinforces the message concerning lying shepherds. But I think I may disagree with one aspect of the poem: the snarl in the saccharine sighs. Wolves in sheep’s clothing? Or useful idiots to a bankrupt ideology? I suspect the latter. I have the terrible feeling that a lot of the clergy who are destroying the church (synagogues too, for that matter) are sincere and actually believe the rubbish that comes out of their mouths. In fact, I have seen this first-hand. It is their very sincerity that terrifies me. They actually believe this stuff. Too many are eager to revel in popular ideologies and arrogantly dismiss their own loathsome heresies. They’ll never recognize this in themselves because they believe everything they think. It really is up to the congregation to call them out and if you have a gullible, weak-minded group of people (I call that “Tuesday”) you’re going to end up with a large group of people leaping off a spiritual cliff. Which is exactly what’s happening.

    Your sonnet broke my heart a little. I know how much you have struggled with the role you had at your church and how much you tried to initiate course-corrections. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t be done. So you did exactly what Jesus told his disciples to do in this context: wipe the dust from off your feet and move on. Good. You demonstrated great integrity, despite the pain and financial anxiety associated with it. I have no doubt you will find a better position. Plus you got a fantastic sonnet out of it. (It doesn’t get better than quoting C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” and “tricky vicar-lie” is a funny if unnerving turn of phrase.) Your bravery and integrity shine. You have my utmost respect and you certainly inspire me. And if no one else says it, let me just say “well done, good and faithful servant.”

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Brian, I always appreciate a comment from you – your observations always come with so much thought, feeling, and understanding of what I am trying to convey. I thought very carefully about the order of this series… I wanted a little humor infused with spookiness for the first… a backdrop to the message… the wizard-behind-the-curtain-feel… gothic/diabolic (great term) is what I was going for. I encourage the SCP to entertain the gothic-diabolic view… it’s huge fun! When you mention the pantoum’s “diabolic imagery being contrasted with the purity of what the church should be”, you are so right. Although the poem is fun, my heart is brimming with your message… what has happened to our local church (and many around the globe) saddens me.
      I’m glad you like the triolet. Many a true thing is said in jest, and Lenny Bruce hit the nail on the head for me. I admire comedians with mouths with no filter. Comedy touches upon all those things that make us squeamish… that’s what makes it so uncomfortably funny. I am a fan of Victoria Wood… if you’re against the PC brigade, take a look at this: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=victoria+wood+PC+wankers+youtube&docid=608019485028647208&mid=FAA090E3FF2FD48C3E11FAA090E3FF2FD48C3E11&view=detail&FORM=VIRE
      You are right when you say, a lot of the clergy “are sincere and actually believe the rubbish that comes out of their mouths.” I believe this… but not of the pastor I worked for – a woman in her 60s who drove a member of staff from the church with bullying and lies. I think there are many who use Machiavellian tactics for the “good of the church”… the identity-politics vision.

      Brian, I’m glad you appreciated the sonnet. It needed to go last… just to let people know why I left. I know I did the right thing. As I said above, I couldn’t have done anything else. I appreciate this site and the beautiful people like you who frequent it. I bless you for my sanity. Thank you very much!

      Reply
  9. Sally Cook

    Susan, I am one who has searched but not yet found. Yet I
    can tell you that when I pray I know that God listens, and has never failed to get an answer.
    It is not always what I anticipate, or want to hear. but it never fails to arrive.
    In praying, my belief is strengthened, and as it becomes stronger I pray more. It is a circle. I am sure you experience this as well.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Dearest Sally, I am with you on that… I now have a direct line to God… I’ve cut out the middle-man until I can trust again.

      Reply
  10. Jack DesBois

    Susan,

    From what I read here, you’ve certainly struck a chord with this online community – and with me, too. I was baptized into the Episcopal Church in Vermont in 2014 and left it in 2020, having learned a great deal about organized religion and comparatively little about Christianity. I left just in time to narrowly escape seeing the church I called my spiritual home stick a “Black Lives Matter” sign in its front flower bed.

    In the case of the Episcopal Church, I’d have to agree with Brian’s assessment that “they actually believe this stuff.” The church leaders, that is. I do get the feeling there are bad-faith plants in congregations whose purpose it is to prey on clergy desperate to fill pews–infiltrators who take advantage of churches’ pledges to be “open and affirming.” They are parasites, sucking the blood from our tenderly cultivated cultural institutions (I’ve seen the same happening in higher education, and in our public libraries). Their goal is to destroy the Christian foundations of society, and gorge themselves on the resources of those Christian institutions while they last.

    In the meantime, I’m on the lookout, like you, for one of those outposts Martin mentioned. (I think I may have found one, but it’s in Scotland…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVAiWOHQ4ac )

    Ah, well. “Thy will be done.”

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Jack, I cannot thank you enough for the link (which is now travelling far and wide). I thoroughly admire this brave minister from my homeland speaking the truth in the face of Nicola Sturgeon’s draconian measures on the Covid front. The reason I have left my position is because of the support of the word of BLM, Antifa, the UN, and the CDC before the word of the Lord. The question I’d like to ask is why? Why do the churches buckle under… why don’t they rise above the government… the Bible and history will tell them their way is wrong. If one cannot rely on their church in times of trouble… hope wains. I thoroughly appreciate your contribution to this discussion.

      Reply
  11. Russel Winick

    Susan:

    Your poetry is stunning as always. I wish you the best in your new journey.

    Reply
  12. David Watt

    Susan, you are obviously a woman of principle and moral strength. Your third poem struck me in particular due to it reflecting personal choice made at great expense. All three poems are fine work.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      David, your comments are always spirit-lifting, and I thank you for support… it means a lot. I’m glad you enjoyed the poems.

      Reply
  13. Norma Pain

    These three poems, beautifully and sadly explain the dilemma you have been faced with. One’s church is like one’s family, so the break must be devastating.
    Thank you for these poems and your courage.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Norma, I know just how much you’ve had to endure of late, and your courage in standing up for what you know is right has spurred me on even further. I wasn’t going to put my sonnet out there, but having read your latest, I simply had to. We must speak out… the truth always brings brighter things… especially if the truth is blessed with rhyme, rhythm, and rapture 😉 Go Girl!!

      Reply
  14. Jeff Eardley

    Susan, thanks for a new word, “Grackles” which seem to be the other end of the bird scale to those humming birds that you have often mentioned. I was sad to read that you have unfortunately resigned your post and hope that this is the kickstart to a career in poetry and education, to bring your glorious talent to a much wider audience. There is a US comedy series, the “Righteous Gemstones” that portrays a bible-belt family having the wealth and morality of the worst crooked mafia organisation. I was laughing but guessing that there is some truth buried in there. Good luck and best wishes on your onward journey, you deserve much better.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Jeff, thank you so very much. I must look out “Righteous Gemstones” – I have a feeling viewing it may be therapeutic. My shoulders feel lighter, my days are brighter, and I am writing up a storm… I may be poorer in some ways, but I’m a whole lot richer in others. Jeff, thank you for your continued support – it means a lot!

      Reply
  15. Roy E. Peterson

    Susan, your three masterpieces illuminate the dark corners of Christendom where the shepherds are more interested in themselves than the flock. Degeneracy into what I call “socially pleasing message” presentations rather than ministering or preaching is pandering to humanistic pleasures and earthly affirmations rather than spiritual truths. The haunting repetition of “Peace Be with You…” brilliantly portrays the chilling dilution of what once was gospel “heaven-sent,” but now is socially bent. “Fleeced” indeed is the flock, since filthy lucre is requested from the sheep by the passing of a collection plate in support of who knows what. Your “Sincere Sonnet…” was an act of great courage. I commend you for taking such a brave stand, while I pray you find guidance for your future path.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Roy, thank you very much for your lovely comment and your encouragement. It means a lot.

      Reply
  16. Yael

    Susan, congratulations on standing up for truth and freedom. I sense that these poems are expressive of your recent experiences. The water color painting is also worth a thousand words (I wish it would say who the artist is).
    According to the Bible, truth is a person (John 14:6). I believe He will be coming back to take us home, much sooner than even many believers may suspect. Stay as close to Him as you can!

    Reply
  17. Tamara Beryl Latham

    Martin says: “We see a lovely steeple rising into the sky, but roosting there are black grackles cackling like a flock of Poe´s ravens.”

    My reply: Martin, don’t be surprised, although I was, but a flock of ravens is called an “unkindness or a conspiracy,” because ravens were associated with bad luck in mythology. A group of grackles is called “a plague”and a group of crows is referred to as “a murder of crows.”

    My sister has a parrot and a group of parrots is called “a pandemonium.” 🙂

    Too weird, but fact.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks for this enlightening primer on “dark” aviary collective nouns! Clearly, whoever came up with such terms as “unkindness,” “conspiracy,” “murder” “pandemonium” was no bird lover! Either that, or they had watched Hitchcock’s “The Birds” one too many times.

      Reply
      • Tamara Beryl Latham

        LOL! Too funny, Martin.

        No, I’ve since learned a flock, as you referred to them, is correct.

        Flock is the genetic term and those that I mentioned are now considered common terms.

        Truthfully, I call any bird species a flock; yet, when I was reading your post, something just kept saying “look up flock on google.” I was surely amazed to find there were alternate terms for groups of birds.

        My sister’s parrot is so noisy, so I completely understand why a group of these birds is called a pandemonium. I taught him to sing “I left my heart in San Francisco,” and every time I visit her or call her on the phone, he starts singing that song. 🙂

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you for this, Tamara. I adore collective nouns… In the interest of poetic fun, I’ve made up a few of my own. What fun the quirkiness of the English language provides… it’s a playground for us poets!

      Reply
  18. Tamara Beryl Latham

    Susan, your poetic trilogy certainly places an emphasis on why so many people have left the church. Sadder still is the corruption that permeates all faiths, especially with regard to the church leaders.

    My favorite poem of those you’ve presented is the pantoum, especially the last quatrain. In actuality that verse sends chills up my spine.

    “A cassock cloaks a beastly bent
    The oaken door creaks open wide
    The sermon isn’t heaven-sent
    The churchyard cat is terrified.”

    Years ago, the doors of the church were always open and we could walk in at any time of day or night, kneel and say a prayer. I often did this. Now, I’d be afraid to enter any church by myself for fear I wouldn’t make it out alive.

    Congratulations on your 2022 Pushcart nomination. 🙂

    I often wonder why the telescope owned and set up by the Vatican in Safford, AZ was named “Lucifer.” There might be a story there too.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you very much for your comment, Tamara. I’m thrilled you like the pantoum. It was written with a wry wink and much truth rippling beneath the dark humor. I have not lost my faith… I will just say religious leaders and the organizations they work for have an awful lot to answer for. Your observation on the church fear factor is spot on… we need to be on our guard for many reasons. I have never heard of the Vatican telescope, “Lucifer”… how telling.

      Reply
  19. Tamara Beryl Latham

    Susan says: “I have never heard of the Vatican telescope, “Lucifer”… how telling.”

    My reply: “Too funny.” I wonder why they (the Vatican) placed Lucifer in the U.S.?

    A while back, one of the Popes (either John Paul II or Benedict XVI) said “Every place we move, the devil moves in right across the street.”

    Could that be why the Lucifer telescope was placed across the Atlantic (here in the U.S.?). LOL!

    Reply

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