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  • Jack H. Bender

Three Simple Words

For every dark bit of news there is always rays of light.

We are being gifts every day by people being at their best.

Humor. Music. Creativity, Generosity. Courage. Compassion.

No matter how stark reality is, it always contains hope as well.

If there is death and grief, there is also love, resurrection, solidarity.

What might religion and spirituality offer us right now?

This poem is from my second poetry book Three Simple Words.

Three Simple Words

When he said them,

my watch stopped.

People froze like statues,

others like those in yellow photos.

Some reacted as if the president had died.

How could anyone take all the world’s religions

and squeeze them into just three simple words,

like the Bible written on a period,

the oceans placed in a thimble,

or ten thousand clowns in a tiny car?

Surely, under scrutiny, his summary would collapse.

But he had gone and done it.

Those three words were flying about the room,

and in my head, like bats,

making my truth meter seesaw

like a runaway metronome.

Yes. No. No. Maybe. Yes. No.

“The message of the world’s religions is the same—

Be not afraid.”

I had this urge to call for a straw vote

and kick the phrase out the door

as an imposter, intruder.

If this was a great truth,

has the truth ever done us any good?

Be not afraid…

Of course, angels have said as much.

But the evidence at hand was thin.

The room could only hold

those three words, not a syllable more,

not a library of books,

not a monastery of monks,

not a warehouse of unsolved cases.

Just three simple words.

Be not afraid…

The phrase became my mantra over months

until it had withstood

every assault I could muster.

Like a lighthouse, those slender words

stood against the most ferocious

storms I could conjure.

Beneath the surface,

at work, at play,

we tremble.

Then, exhausted,

we sleep

until the nightmares come.

Stand in mountain pose.

Legions of witnesses press your back,

urging you to be salt and light,

counseling and proclaiming—

Be not afraid!


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