The River Cam

The River Cam
by Julie Sumner

Perfection reigned:
Parallel lines of trimmed lawns
Restrained the old river,
Constrained its ebb and flow,
While a white stone bridge
Marched across the water
In three measured arcs–
But the boats huddled by the bank
Sat vibrantly vacant,
Golden-timbered and red-lacquered,
Contained only longing–
As if a pair of windswept loves
Might spirit one away,
Elope some August night
And bring it back
To paint-chipped life.

The Thing that Remains

Sometimes, the things you pass by every day suddenly become larger than life when you stop and consider them.

The Thing That Remains
by Julie Sumner

Two streets over, on the
Corner of Belmont and Ferguson–
An elderly blue spruce
Stands three stories high.

So dutifully was it butchered
Into compliance
With its neighbor, the light pole–
It now appears as some
Arboreal amputee,
Waving its remaining limbs
At the passing traffic.

Still its noble, coniferous
Is luminous:
Frosty sage-blue needles
Pierce the fiery mirage of July
As easily as a soap bubble.

When No Words Will Do…

John 11:33-35 NKJV Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.

One of the most difficult things I had to adjust to when I first became a nurse was how to enter into a patient’s room where nothing else could be done by modern medicine. Nursing school was all about learning to heal people, save their lives, and nurture them back to health. Very little was mentioned about how to nurture someone in the midst of their suffering. It is something we do not do well in America–to be present with someone who is suffering is a stark reminder of our own mortality, our own precarious situation. It’s an uncomfortable feeling I sometimes try to alleviate with the a string of well-intentioned words in order to fill up the air with something, anything besides this stark reality. I think it would be safe to say that I do not readily choose to enter into another’s suffering. I don’t think I’m alone in this regard either.

This is why these particular verses so captivated me about Jesus and how he actively chooses to enter into his friends’ suffering. These verses are set in the larger story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. Jesus ultimately knows that the people who are now weeping will be shortly rejoicing, but that does not prevent him from entering into their present suffering. He does not tell them to settle down, nor does he ignore them. He focuses on the concrete reality of Lazarus’ death by asking, “Where have you laid him?” His spirit is so moved at the pain of their loss that he “groaned in the spirit” after he saw Martha and her friends weeping. This groaning continues until he reaches the tomb of Lazarus. Those are really the only two utterances that he makes in this situation. The last two-word sentence describes the rest of his response: Jesus wept. Even though he knew the end of the story, he still takes on the pain of his friends’ loss, at the brokenness that characterizes death. He actively chooses to be present with the suffering.

There is a great deal of brokenness in this world that cannot be explained. Why did Jesus resurrect Lazarus, while John the Baptist was beheaded? We could spend an eternity asking “why?” But I wonder if it would be more helpful for our lovely and shattered world, if instead of asking why, we chose to enter into the suffering of its people the way that Jesus did? Even if we are shocked beyond weeping, and all we can do is sit and listen and pray silently, being fully present, we are being divine image bearers to the brokenhearted. He is very much present in our suffering and the psalmist reminds us that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).


The Jazzman

This poem was partially inspired by the musicians and composers of the Nashville Composer Collective. To learn more about this amazing group of folks, check out their website at

The Jazzman
by Julie Sumner

A broken note
to me
Is a dove
with a broken wing:
I see it, I feel it,
I sense it, I heal it–
Then I cast it high
Into a rising flock of
feathery and glittering,
treble and bass,
Give that note rhythm,
Raw power and
Limitless grace!

A Woman Standing on Her Head

Sometimes, just seeing someone be fully alive in the present moment is all it takes to wake me into life again.

A Woman Standing on Her Head
by Julie Sumner

I met a woman
Standing on her head–
A keen, sleek joy
Innervated her limbs.

She thought not
Of herself–so exposed,
So precipitously posed,
Nor of the upside-down
Outside world,
She felt the roar of blood
Ringing in circles
Around her brain,
Remembered fighting her fear
Of falling,
As if it were long-melted snow
From winter last year.

I met a woman
Standing on her head–
A keen, sleek joy
Innervated my limbs.

Dance Lessons

Clumsiness before grace seems to be the only way to learn to dance well with another person….

Dance Lessons
by Julie Sumner

There are always unintended consequences: a blackened toenail from one wrong step, mild blood loss from the collision of elbow and chin, groans of frustration from acute dance-routine amnesia–these make it all the more spectacular when we finally somehow end up in-frame together, some new twirling creation that’s two parts rhythm, one part rest–in a moment, movement glides into miracle.