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A. Charity Higgins Johnson

Honorable Mention : 2014 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest $100

About this Poet:
I’m from Sundown, NY. As the child of a “mixed” marriage (Catholic & Quaker), I call myself a “Jesus Freak Anglican.” I’ve traveled the world, living almost half my adult life in underdeveloped countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America with my husband in his career as a US diplomat and international development expert. I'm now in the southeast corner of the world in Jakarta, Indonesia and have added Indonesian to the other two foreign languages I speak. I’ve been writing poetry since I was seven, and still consider it the most difficult labor I do.

About this Poem:
"Unbending" originated from my weekly trip to language class climbing and crossing the footbridge across the large and famous street in Jakarta (Jalan Sudirman). From my decades of living and traveling outside of North America, a beggar or an impoverished person vending something trivial small serves me- jolting me from my own petty world into questioning my priorities.

I was reminded of the phrase: incurvatus in se - Latin, “curved in upon oneself” which describes a life "inward" for self rather than "outward" for God and others.

Martin Luther said, "Our nature is so deeply curved in on itself…that it fails to realize that it curvedly and viciously seeks all things for its own sake.”

That is certainly a truth for me--and a slippery slope indeed. Luther's sentiment was clearly Augustinian in origin. But Augustine also said: “[man] is not capable of living well and piously, unless the will of man has itself been liberated by the grace of God."

Unbending is a poem of simple story of confrontation and realization, my spiritual tutors.

Unbending (incurvatus in se - curved inward on oneself)

My salvation meets me every week.
A beggar from back lots
  where tropical rains beat him
  ’cause he was born,
  or brotherless, or broken.
From narrow, charred, fetid back lanes
where garbage-pickers are kings,
with same rail I grasp,
the beggar hauls to his perch
at the top of the stairs.
My eyes fasten on him
each step bringing me further
from the natural law
which seals my pockets up—
    grasping God’s money as if I made it.
I climb this altar of need
  to be shaken out of my mixed-up middle class money
    and all the options that go with it.

From the rail to my hand,
from his hand to the rail
came the dirt from the lots.
The rail is my trail to freedom,
I return home with dirtied hands, softened soul.

Plunging filthy hands in the sink,
I watch hot water erase
stains from the lanes
and entertain the ease of ancient castes:
simple responsibility without strain.
Yet I sense the Adamic stain which daily spreads
and the guttural cry from my soul
when it turns in on itself:
Unclean! Unclean!

God won’t turn me inside out
but He’s got me a date with the beggar
to unbend me from myself.

Copyright ©2014 A. Charity Higgins Johnson