Poetry | March 3, 2022

Tones like prayers

A theopoet sows seeds of truth, beauty, and goodness

In the March 2022 issue of Messenger, Brian Nixon wrote about theopoetics in early Brethren circles. Theopoetics, he explained, means “God poetry” – the pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness via metaphor.

Read the March issue, online or in print, to learn more about how Brethren in the 1700s wove a tapestry of truth, beauty, and goodness through poems and hymns.

 Brian included one of his own poems in the print article, paired with one written by Alexander “Sander” Mack, Jr. In this episode of Messenger Radio, Brian reads that poem, as well as eight additional short pieces, one of which was written specifically for the podcast. Brian also composed the music that surrounds the poems.

The poems from the podcast and credits for the poetry and music appear below.

House finch at feeder


I wrote it for you,
though you may
not appreciate it
as much as I. But
that’s what love
does, it gives;
even when it is not
repaid in words or
understanding. It
gives, and doesn’t
expect something
in return but
maybe a gesture of
thanks, like a house
finch at a feeder,
eating that which it
will become.

In the Milky Way

The day they cut you open to
remove the tumor, I sat in the
hospital waiting room
dreaming of space. The universe
is so big, galaxies fill the expanse
with colossal beauty. Has
Andromeda found its center?

Or Canis Major revealed its
density? I know not. But here in
this space the vastness of you has
been slashed, revealing millions of
intricate constellations, cellular
fiber of blood and bone. Can I
tell the difference between the

two—you and the cosmos?
Only in degree. I know merely
this: you are capable of the
; and it is better to flicker
than fade, emitting untold light
that I can’t fully comprehend,
my view limited by the stars.

Species in Peril

As a child I learned to write the alphabet,
acquiring skills to form words and
sentences, to elucidate thoughts and ideas.

I wonder if a juvenile Willow Flycatcher
has a word for help, or a young Yellow-
Billed Cuckoo knows the definition for
loss? For some reason I don’t think so.

But I know. So, I incise. Writing
the alphabet again and again, letting the
beauty of letters linger on the page.
In doing so, I follow the earth as she
inscribes script in her own specific character,

endangered words on paper of fiber and bone.


          I play the notes of
                    The people I study—
                              Bellows of air—
                                        Living and dead:
                                                  Type-written letters
                                                            Of tones sent like
                                                                      Prayers, performance
                                                                                As symbol, music
                                                                                          Floating in air.

For Riley and the Angels

Mors autem in porta

When I held you, my infant child
Of death, did the angels weep as
Your mother and I? In their
Plurality was there unity of

Sorrow? In their essence did
They foretell your short material
Existence, an accident in
Metaphysical language like
Blue to the sea?

But this is charity, O child:
To hold you but for a moment,
Letting your last breath be the
Song my lungs breathe in to sing.

A Culture to Itself

Paul will drift away as he
stands with hair remnants
around. It’s amazing to see:
scissors, comb, and razor.
His eyes shut and he leans
forward just enough for the
head of a voice to act as a
pillar for REM. His quiet life
and tie somehow intertwine.

Jay can cut two to Paul’s one.
He will converse in a language
all his own. He speaks of private
investigators and the dead with
new hair. I’ve seen him almost
butcher a man; more blood on
the razor than a surgery table.
Escalon, where dairy was his
childhood, sleeps well with him.

Together they are a business of
being, a history all their own.
Many will come and provide
appendages to their pages of story.
For $3.50 a bargain of life
is dished in an historical array.
Pictures hang as sand on the
wall. No names, just faces with
hours of words. Together we sit.

I wonder if Mr. McHenry ever
pondered the life that would
happen on a street named after him;
in a barbershop where teacher
and hobo, minister and taxi-driver
converge to smell the same talc
powder and touch the moment
where something but silence
exists for the day.

Penwood Review, Volume 3, 22.


See how the lilies of the field grow. Matthew 6:28b

I suppose I could
spend my whole
day looking at you

[though the river is
drying, and wars rumor,
with disease knocking
and pestilence abounding]

my little flower: orange-
red with yellow pistils
perched among purple lavender.

[I breathe and think of
lifting my eyes
to see this Earth

But for a moment
there is nothing as
fair as God’s fingerprint

pressed upon this

field of silence

asking me not to blink.

To Be Is to Belong

As a child I longed to climb
Trees; to get above things,
To see far and overhead.

I yearned to perceive how the
Geography fits together: the
River and fields, the houses

And streets. I sought to grasp
The furthest point. And here
I learned nothing finite will

Satisfy. So, I continue to
Look beyond the horizon,
Asking questions and

Listening to the sparrows sing.

Kicking a Stone

She and I kick, one
swoop at a time, a stone
towards Peaceful Pines
Creek. I hold her, pink,
as we watch the stone
retreat from my boot. A
giggle and awe.

The sun trickles through
the pines, a presence with
beams of cordiality, knowing the
waters well. These mountains
hold memories of becoming,

they hum gently a song of
tribute. Our persistence
is triumphant as we give
the last kick; a goodbye. The
stone falls into the center of the
creek. We watch the water
ripple over its form, and silence is us.

“Gloria Exaltus” is performed by the New Life Symphony Orchestra and sung by pop singer, Chrissy Jeter, from the Christian band The Echoing Green. It was featured in Worship Leader Magazine.

“Study to Show Yourself Approved” features mandolin, guitar, cello, and violin, and stand-up bass.

“Bolero de Burque” is performed by Stefan Merkel, a German pianist and arranger. It was a finalist for best Jazz composition in 2020. It was written to accompany Brian Nixon’s book, Tilt.

All music (c) Brian Charles Nixon. Used with permission.

“For Riley and the Angels”, “A Culture to Itself”, “Blink”, “To Be Is To Belong”, and “Kicking a Stone” are taken from Tilt: Finding Christ in Culture, Cascade Books, 2020.  Used with Permission.

“Seeds”, “In the Milky Way”, and “Species in Peril” were originally published by The Penwood Review.  Used with permission.

“Accordion” is a Messenger Radio original.

Brian Nixon is a writer, artist, musician, educator, and minister in Albuquerque, N.M., and a former licensed minister in the Church of the Brethren. His recent book is Beauty (and the Banana): A Theopoetic Aesthetic.