Through Faith

William Bradford (1590 – 1657)

Hebrews 11

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  For by it our elders obtained a good report.

Bible – King James Version.

Through Faith

by T. A. Fry

Through faith, we understand the worlds were framed
By God’s words; that things are not made solely
Of which they appear.  Without faith, it is
Impossible to please or be wholly pleased.
Faith is a reward unto itself.  And those
That state plainly; “we’re earthly strangers, pilgrims, 
Seeking a country from whence we came,”
May have the opportunity to return.

But what if we desire something better?
A heavenly country; where God is not
Ashamed to be called our God.  Is there more?
Our elders, having obtained a good report,
Through faith, received not the promise; 
God provided something better; 

They, without us,  should not be made perfect. 


The end of the American experiment, may well come in part, out of the fictional character from which it was partially fashioned; the idea of American independence and rugged individualism.  We have fashioned a cloak for ourselves and our politicians out of this idea of American exceptionalism.  The idea that as American’s we are innately superior by our very founders declaring independence and then fighting for our freedom.   These noble words and ideas may yet fashion the heroic myth that will be our undoing;  the idea that you can make it in this country by yourself, if you just apply yourself and work hard and don’t let the government or anyone else get in your way.  What that myth ignores, is that the reason that all of us have things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving is because of others’ contributions, small and large, to our successes and our failures.  The Plymouth plantation survived, the reason the revolution succeeded, when so many others prior to it did not, was because groups worked together, communally, with the belief that they could build something better together, build it through self sacrifice for the betterment of others, where alone, they would fail. 

It is ironic then,  the heroic myth of American exceptionalism and independence is partially responsible for bringing us to the brink of fracturing, has created a divide that is growing through a proclamation of self service, when the need to work cooperatively could not be more beneficial for all.   This failing should not be a surprise.  It is because we suffer as human’s from the same challenges of being human that William Bradford and his fellow colonists on the Mayflower did nearly 400 years ago, our egos get in the way of our better selves. 

Bradford penned a journal of his voyage and establishment of the Plymouth colony, that was published by his sons after his death.   A devout Christian, a man of faith and also realism, he believed that his faith in God, could help guide the providence of his community and his family if they worked together with the idea of a common good.   He observed: 

“The settlers, too, began to grow in prosperity, through the influx of many people to the country, especially to the Bay of Massachusetts. Thereby corn and cattle rose to a high price, and many were enriched, and commodities grew plentiful. But in other regards this benefit turned to their harm, and this accession of strength to weakness. For as their stocks increased and became more saleable, there was no longer any holding them together; they must of necessity obtain bigger holdings, otherwise they could not keep their cattle; and having oxen they must have land for ploughing. So in time no one thought he could live unless he had cattle and a great deal of land to keep them, all striving to increase their stocks.”

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

Bradford was a poet as well.  Most of his poetry is religious in nature or what we would now call patriotic.  Bradford wanted for his sons and their families to have something better than what his opportunities had been in England.  I found humorous that Bradford wrote poetry complaining about various things he considered sinful, including – Ranters, proving not much has changed in 400 years, only the technology with which the Ranters rant. 


On The Various Heresies In Old And New England, With An Appeal To The Presbyterians (Excerpt)

By William Bradford


Nor need you fear sin to commit,
For Christ hath satisfied for it.
But these doctrines make men profane,
And bring dishonor to Christ’s name.
Now faith is made, hereby, to be
A dead body, as you may see;
And these are but a wretched race,
That they abuse God’s holy grace.

Ranters
Next unto these we may bring in
The filthy Ranters, near of kin.
Where had they first their rise or name?
I know not from the devil they came.
The Adamites they are most like,
But more against public shame do strike.
Cynic-like, as vile as dogs,
Carry themselves as filthy hogs,
Yea worse than brutes, they know no end;
But all their strength in lusts they spend.
They shame the nature of mankind,
And blot out reason in their mind.
Professed atheists some of them are,
Who openly revile God dare,
And horridly blaspheme His name,
And publicly avow the same,
Which makes my heart quake and tremble.
Nor may I herein dissemble;
Methinks such wretches should not live
In any land offense to give,
Of this high nature, against the most high,
And men it hear, and pass it by.
I might say more of their vileness,
How in contempt they will profess
Their fellow creatures to adore,
That God’s dishonor may be more.
But let them pass; they are too vile
My fingers for to defile.
I hope the Lord’s help will come in
To cleanse the land of such vermin.


I feel compelled to leave a footnote about the poem Through Faith. I thought carefully whether to attach my name to this poem, as it feels a bit like hubris to do so. I recognize that many people take scripture as literal, the literal word of God. I do not. I see it as a creation of many minds over time, written in languages other than my own and passed down. I see the connection between poetry and scripture and the poetry in scripture.

I found this text the first time I read it incredibly confusing. I could not wrap my head around it. If you read Hebrews 11 in it’s entirety it is a lengthy list of prophets in the Old Testament and their trials of faith. It feels impersonal and antiquated. But there was an element in it, that the more time that I spent with it felt relevant. And its relevance is in being a father and a son. The process of deconstructing and then reconstructing the text into a poem made it viable as something meaningful to me. And I hope might open the door for others to look at it through their own spiritual or poetic lens.

And The Chef is God

Max Ritvo (1990 – 2016)

If the only prayer you ever say in your life is Thank You, it will be enough.

Master Eckhart

We Eat Out Together

by Bernadette Mayer

My heart is a fancy place
Where giant reddish-purple cauliflowers
& white ones in French & English are outside
Waiting to welcome you to a boat
Over the low black river for a big dinner
There’s alot of choice among the foods
Even a tortured lamb served in pieces
En croute on a plate so hot as a rack
Of clouds blown over the cold filthy river
We are entitled to see anytime while we
Use the tablecovers to love each other
Publicly dishing out imitative luxuries
To show off poetry’s extreme generosity
Then home in the heart of a big limousine



Where ever you are in this world, whatever your traditions, or beliefs, we share our humanness through gratitude. So much of poetry is tied to this quality, the ability to express thankfulness, that I don’t think poetry would exist without this innate ability.

I don’t think however it is only a human trait. If you live around animals they often express their gratitude for your touch, for your presence, for feeding them or grooming them, or petting them. Gratitude is a trait that goes beyond our species.

As I celebrate Thanksgiving today, separated because of COVID from the loved ones I would normally get together, I will say the same prayer of Gratefulness that I have said many times over the years. I am maybe more grateful than previous years as strange as it sounds. I am grateful they are healthy and capable of marshalling through these challenging times. I am grateful for their self reliance, their perseverance, their ability to make their own fun, and keep a positive attitude. I am thankful for all my blessings, – the greatest of which is their love.

I feel compelled to be original writing this blog, to have every poem on every post be new, for the first time on Fourteen Lines. But that’s not the way I read poetry. I go back to the same poems over and over. If you are needing a Thanksgiving Prayer, either to read aloud at your table or to say silently, here’s my go to favorite for Thanksgiving. I shared it on the first Thanksgiving of Fourteen Lines in 2017, and it warrants sharing again, as I plan on reading it again, and again.

Gratefulness

Thou that has given so much to me
Give me one thing more, – a grateful heart,
See how Thy beggar works on Thee by art.

Not Thankful when it pleaseth me, –
As if they blessings had spare days.
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

George Herbert


Amuse-Bouche

by Max Ritvo

It is rare that I
have to stop eating anything
because I have run out of it.

We, in the West, eat until we want
to eat something else,
or want to stop eating altogether.

The chef of a great kitchen
uses only small plates.

He puts a small plate in front of me,
knowing I will hunger on for it
even as the next plate is being
placed in front of me.

But each plate obliterates the last
until I no longer mourn the destroyed plate,

but only mewl for the next,
my voice flat with comfort and faith.

And the chef is God,
whose faithful want only the destruction
of His prior miracles to make way
for new ones.

Thy Blessings

fry004-R2-E038
Thanksgiving Day in St. Paul, Minnesota 1966

Missed Time

by Ha Jin

My notebook has remained blank for months
thanks to the light you shower
around me. I have no use
for my pen, which lies
languorously without grief.

Nothing is better than to live
a storyless life that needs
no writing for meaning—
when I am gone, let others say
they lost a happy man,
though no one can tell how happy I was.


I wrote Thy Blessings as my prayer of Thanksgiving about 5 years ago.  It had been many years since a prayer had been said at my families Thanksgiving table, and I had yet to create a new tradition rooted in poetry and so it was shared in the living room, prior to the meal with everyone standing.

It took people a little by surprise.  I am not sure they knew what to make of it. It was short enough that people’s attention didn’t waver. Poetry was still something relatively new in my life and it was many years before Fourteen lines became a reality.  It’s never too early, it’s never too late to start a new tradition of thankfulness in your family. Do you have a favorite prayer of thanks?  Do you have a poem that you read at Thanksgiving?  Please share it in the comments section, I would love to read it.

Happy Thanksgiving


Thy Blessings

by T. A. Fry

If its by my fruit that you shall know me,
than look to the least of what I’ve done
For my best comes from many,
My worst from only one.

My blessings are overflowing,
More than I deserve.
My bounty is ever growing
My fruits are thy preserves.