Religious Instruction – a prose poem by Rupert Loydell

Religious Instruction

‘The instruction manual called God’

– Dan Beachy-Quick, ‘Confessions’


The instruction manual called God lies discarded in our room. It feels out of touch and inappropriate, although it has intriguing and different answers that sometimes make sense, although it would be hard to put in to practice without a lot of changes and unrest. We couldn’t cope with that.

Some people say it is a book of stories, some a set of rules. Others use it as motivation for hatred or censure, some to make themselves feel better than everyone else. Others beat themselves up after reading it and are never themselves again. I am wary of those who say the instructions need interpreting or revising for the present day, but just as suspicious of those who use it to make demands on everyone else and argue for their own way.

The instruction manual called God was given to me by my parents, who both used it as the answer to everything. I didn’t question it as a child, although it seemed to exist in several different versions and with many different covers. Some looked more appealing than others, but they all said the same thing inside, although the instructions in it weren’t always straightforward or clear cut.

The instruction manual called God is gathering dust on the shelf of non-fiction by my bed, next to a monk’s zen reminiscences and an ex-bishop’s book about doubt. Sometimes I put it with my favourite poetry, other times I hide it under the bed. It feels out of touch and inappropriate, although it has intriguing and different answers that sometimes make a kind of sense.

© Rupert M Loydell


Rupert Loydell is a writer, editor and abstract artist. His many books of poetry include Dear Mary (Shearsman, 2017) and The Return of the Man Who Has Everything (Shearsman 2015); and he has edited anthologies such as Yesterday’s Music Today (co-edited with Mike Ferguson, Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2014), and Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: manifestos and unmanifestos (Salt, 2010).

Outside/Inside – nonfiction by John Backman


Sue puts down the notebook with my poetry in it and gazes out the window in her dorm room. “This is very good and all,” she begins, “but what it says about you—that worries me.” She looks around, grasping for words, finally settling her round brown eyes on me. “It’s like—it’s like you live on the outside, looking in.”

She’s partly right. One definition of outside is “the place where they send you when you don’t fit in,” and I never did. I was practically an only child on a street of large families. I was the awkward child where sports were everything. I cried a lot, and boys don’t cry.

During those years I learned about the beauty of inside. Inside my house, safe from the taunts of the neighborhood kids. Inside my room, with my LPs and my thoughts and (later) my weed, where I could keep my mother at bay. Somewhere in there I discovered inside-myself as well.

* * *

I’m looking out the bedroom window to the driveway below. It’s several years after college now, my cousin’s wedding day, and the bride and a bridesmaid are standing in the drive, under the clouds, doing what women have done for ages: happy talking, listening, their words tumbling over one another, the touch on an arm or the squeeze of a hand.

I belong down there, I know I do, but I look like a man and no men are allowed. No one’s dreamed of letters like Q, as in LGBTQ, as in what I am. It’s 1982, after all. So I am outside. And instead of an embrace that brings me inside, a poem starts forming, and I jot it down. It even has a title: Misbegotten Males. Aristotle’s term for women, now applied to me.

* * *

A friend gets a new job in corporate management. It’s what she wanted, but it has its costs. “When I wake up in the morning, I take my personality and put it inside a tiny drawer for the day,” she tells me. “Then I go to work and act professional until I go home.”

I’ve done something like that to grow my business, attending countless dinners and luncheons and networking events, putting on a version of myself I didn’t know I had: glad-handing, chatting with strangers, making connections. It’s a flowering of sorts. Suddenly my outside is the vital part, the part of me that grows the rest of me.

Sometimes I can’t even tell what’s inside and what’s outside. That’s all right. I’m still young, with years to sort it all.

But I must take care. The end of my friend’s story warns me of that. “All day long my personality waits for me in that little drawer. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I forget to take it out.”

* * *

Inside isn’t always warm and pretty. Like when I sit in the car in an abandoned lot and the gloom grips my heart like talons. Forty years this gloom has visited me like an unwelcome houseguest, but almost never this intense. I can barely breathe, let alone drive.

Somehow I find my way home. Home and upstairs. Upstairs beneath a puffy down comforter, head and all.

How strange that I crawled inside something when the horror came from inside. Like fleeing into a safe place to find your attacker.

* * *

Still, inside is where things happen, for me at least. Abba Moses knew it. That’s why the desert sage gave his immortal advice: go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.

So I live mostly in one room of my house. A neighbor’s maple fills the view from a high window. I watch the rains come, the buds unfurl, the red and gold leaves turn to brown and fall, branches thrash about in the winter wind.

Somewhere in there I meet God, whatever that means. It’s like a kaleidoscope, or those Russian nesting dolls. I am in my room, God is inside me, God is outside me, remarkably like sex.

Over time, the insideness changes me. I begin to reach outside and draw others in, if not to my house then to my friendship. Maybe this is what everyone else does. I don’t know. I do know that the people I draw in, they have the haunted look of being outside too much for too long.

I wonder if Julian the mystic saw her calling the same way. Julian was sealed into one room on the side of a Norwich church. There she lived in her cell, and her cell taught her everything. She met God, whatever that means, through the window with a view of the church’s altar. At another window, which looked outside, people came to her for counsel and comfort. She took what she drew in from the altar, from her one and only room, and gave it to them.

Richard Rohr wrote this about hermits: they “go apart to find a way to experience their truth in a healing, transformative way for others. They look like they are alone, but exactly the opposite is the case.”

Or: they look like they’re outside, when actually they’re inside reaching outside.

Maybe this is what I’ve always been, and I did not know it.

* * *

That would make a great ending, wouldn’t it? I could wrap up this essay on a happy note and be perfectly content. But my meetings with God, whatever they are, keep pushing.

They introduce me to Manjusri. Manjusri is a bodhisattva, those wonderful beings in Buddhism who can enter nirvana but choose to remain “behind” to help the rest of us. He shows up in a Zen koan and messes with my inside/outside:

One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?”

Manjusri replied, “I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?”

I have left the outside after decades trekking its wastes and drinking from its springs. I have settled on inside-reaching-outside as a home for my heart. Now comes this koan that questions whether there is inside or outside at all.

I do not know what to do with this. I do know it is important and, strangely, comforting. It removes the need for distinction. By doing so it puts me at rest.

At last.

But of course there is no last. Just next. Always, always next. I take a deep breath and hold it, like a diver on the edge of an impossibly high springboard, poised for the next time when, prompted by that obscure divine push, I plunge deeper in—if in is the word—than I have ever been.


John Backman: As a spiritual director and monastic associate, John Backman writes mostly  about contemplative spirituality and its relevance for today’s deepest issues. This includes a book (Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart) and articles in such places as Spirituality & Health.

This Breath of Love – a poem by Marga Fripp

This Breath of Love—

God’s whisper in darkness
the chatter of sparrows
on the frozen cheek of morning

hope stubborn like spring
burst open from the bones of winter

the tears of laughter,
the grit of winged dreams,
the pearl of time.

Marga Fripp is a Romanian-American women’s empowerment social entrepreneur and former journalist living in Geneva, Switzerland. Her poems like music long to be heard, danced with and set free. Her work has appeared in Ink and Voices and Offshoots 14: Writing from Geneva, Fall 2017.

The Man – a poem by Christine A. Brooks

The Man

Who does he pray for?
This older man who, unafraid
Walks to the front of the church
Praying, as it appeared he had
Every day, for many days.
Perhaps, many years.

Had his wife gone ahead without him?
Had a dear friend been lost?
Perhaps his own soul had
Been broken, battered, in need of absolution?

I could not ask, to do so would violate the quiet holy place.
As he teetered and tottered,
Slowly rising from the hard tile alter
He glanced at me.

For one moment, we were connected, two sinners
Recognizing each other, for one cosmic instant not measured on any clock,
We were


Christine A. Brooks is a graduate of Western New England University with her B.A. in Literature, and is currently attending Bay Path University for her M.F.A. in Creative Non Fiction. Most recently a series of poems, The Ugly Five, are in the summer issue of Door Is A Jar Magazine and her poem, The Writer, is in the June, 2018 issue of The Cabinet of Heed Literary Magazine. Three poems, Puff, Sister and Grapes are in the 5th issue of The Mystic Blue Review. Her vignette, Finding God, will be in the December issue of Riggwelter Press, and her series of vignettes, Small Packages, was named a semifinalist at Gazing Grain Press in August 2018.

Night Vision – a poem by Serena Mayer

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Serena Mayer studied anthropology and social geography, and is interested in hidden texts and forgotten or discarded language. Her writing has previously appeared in Nutshell, Electric Zone, Here to Stay, I Am Not A Silent Poet, X-Peri, Amethyst Review, Odd Moments, Reflections, A Restricted View From Under the Hedge, Poetry WTF, Storm Warning, and International Times. Her first book, Theoretical Complexities, was published by Broken Sleep Books.

The Bitter Celebrates – a poem by Robert Okaji

The Bitter Celebrates

Mention gateways and mythologies
and I see openings to paths
better left unseen. No choice is

but preparation leads us astray as well.
Take this bitter leaf.
Call it arugula.
Call it rocket.
Call it colewort or weed.
Dress it with oil and vinegar,
with garlic and lemon.
Add tomato, salt.

Though you try to conceal it,
the bitterness remains.

But back to gates and myths. Do they truly
lead us out, or do we
circle back, returning
to the same endings
and again.

Remove the snake, rodents return.

Seal the hole.
Take this leaf.
Voice those words.
Close that door.

Robert Okaji lives in Texas and occasionally works on a ranch. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxidant | Engine, Vox Populi and Ristau: A Journal of Being, and may also be found at his blog at

Mary Magdalene – a poem by Rebecca Guess Cantor

Mary Magdalene

You know me.
I am long hair
and bare breast.
I am a flower—

a rose, a bough
with thorns.
I am creasing fabrics,
jewels, and parted

lips, a book open
upon my lap
or yours, a skull—
cold in my hands.

I am at the base
of that cross
in the hills
near the sea.

Fragrance, savory
and pure—I am
marble and silk,
pearl and myrrh.

I am your saint,
your whore,
a veil, a shroud,
your red, green,

blue. I am your
flame and fire—
penitent, defiant,
here. I am here

where you’ve
brought me
and molded me,
made me.

I am your creation,
your work of art,
and now you think
you know me.

Rebecca Guess Cantor’s first book, Running Away, was published last year by Finishing Line Press and her second book, The Other Half: Poems on Women in the Bible, is forthcoming from White Violet Press. Her poetry has appeared in The Cresset, Mezzo Cammin, Anomaly, Two Words For, Whale Road Review, Anomaly Literary Journal, and The Lyric among other publications. Rebecca is the Assistant Provost at Azusa Pacific University and lives in Fullerton, California.

Gifts – a poem by Sara Letourneau


Why is it that, so often, we receive gifts
that we are not meant to keep?
Do we still thank the giver
for our wild and fleeting joy?
Do we steal the blessing home
and make space for it on a dusty shelf?
Yesterday I almost stepped on a turkey feather –
brown and white, slender and slightly curved,
longer than my forearm from shaft to tip.
I spun it between my fingers,
felt a slight give in the quill where it once
was joined with skin, and wondered
why it must hurt a bird so much
to molt this precious, deep-rooted part of itself
yet when we lose a strand of hair, we feel no pain.
So I gave the feather
back to the ground, where it belonged,
because no shelf, no picture frame,
no end table could replace
the warm and receptive cradle that is the earth,
because we have taken so much from the world
without permission
and now it is time to give something back.
Tell me, what would you have done
if you had stumbled upon such gold?
What will you do with that gift
if you know it can grace your hands
once and only once?

Sara Letourneau is a poet, freelance editor / writing coach, and columnist at the writing resource website DIY MFA. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in Muddy River Poetry Review, Canary, The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and elsewhere. She lives in Massachusetts.


Sliver of Power – a poem by Ellen Austin-Li

Sliver of Power

We sheltered from August steam under fluttering oak leaves,
crescent moon shadows multiplying at our feet.
As moon began to overtake sun, we
stepped beyond shade to stand
where we were scorched
just moments before—
it was as if we stood
the same ground
on a different day,
twenty degrees cooler,
the sun’s light filtered
to a temperature more akin
to an autumn afternoon. Light
slipped from summer’s buttery yellow
to silvery sheen, the supernatural glow before
violent thunderstorms; birdsong silenced and crickets
soon filled the void with nighttime chirping. We hushed
as moon slid across sun, yet marveled at the power of sun,
who gave so much light with the smallest fraction of herself.


Ellen Austin-Li is a nurse reborn as an award-winning poet. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she participates in every writing workshop in her path. She has been published in Artemis, The Maine Review, Writers Tribe Review, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, and others.

Back – a poem by Wayne-Daniel Berard


I found the back entrance
to the Garden of Eden
It’s made by slamming doors
not opening them
Slam! (step back) Slam!
(step) Slam! (step, turn)
And there you are
the unbelievability
of bougainvillea
the Baal Shem Tov
picks up scattered
alephbaits, JunoHera and
the Magdalene kiss as
fish and bicycles ignore
each other, Francis bathes
in Siloam, destigamatizing
stigmata, and I find
everything I lost. “Took
you long enough,” the angel’s
turned face smiles, one side
lit by flame, the other shaded
by the Tree.

Wayne-Daniel Berard teaches English and Humanities at Nichols College in Dudley, MA. Wayne-Daniel is a Peace Chaplain, an interfaith clergy person, and a member of B’nai Or of Boston. He has published widely in both poetry and prose, and is the co-founding editor of Soul-Lit, an online journal of spiritual poetry. His latest chapbook is Christine Day, Love Poems. He lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, The Lovely Christine.