battle for holy ground

Know your battleground, but do not ignore your holy grounds.”
— Cleo Wade 

holy ground—where
pain and laughter,
grief and longing,

despair and dreams,
weariness and vigor
rest together—
uneasy rivals dwelling
in caverns within the

landscapes of the soul,
nursing wounds inflicted
by the war for

sacred space—where
vision crumbles dimmed,
and air as thin

as silhouettes of
gauze floats to

where horizon’s
ribbon flaunts silent
reminders of memories
faded without
hope of return. 

divine desert—where
fire sears flesh,
scorches all
that lives and breathes
and holds out hope
for relief, praying
torrential floods

will nourish
and not annihilate

with indiscriminate

holy. sacred. divine.
inexplicable beauty
wrapped in invisible

otherness that both
comforts and disquiets.

be still. rest.
the holy will

carry you on
wings of healing wind,
breath of fire
to enliven what
once lay dormant. 

©Julia Penner-Zook, 2020
Twitter: @J_Pennz
IG: julia_penner_zook
Photo Credit: Stacey L. Rhoades

hope is a verb


your writer’s
pen fills page after
endless page
of traceless

the music of your
symphony is
from yesterday’s

the dances that
ignite your soul
show up as statues
pressed up
against next winter’s

the poems that
rock your
lullabies are
locked forever
in literary birth

the oils you
lavish upon
of gleaming
white remain


be still—
this is your winter.
dormancy of the soul.
seeming death,
yet newness is
in solitude,
enduring isolation,
awaiting resurrection.

your music for
write with
haunting melodies,
bend, sway,
leap upon
barren canvas.

fear no new sound.
acclimate to
fragrances that frolic.
embrace what seems foreign.
taste the brave journey.

turn to your left
then to your right.
there are other
sojourners beside

i am one of them.
we are all here.

may hope be our action—
love our fuel.

“I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”— Jesus the Christ (Matthew 28:20; Common English Bible)

©Julia Penner-Zook, 2020
Twitter: @J_Pennz
IG: julia_penner_zook
photo credit: Julia Penner-Zook

psalms of the pandemic

what will become of us?
what can we do about the losses? 
the systematic break-down of decency
and reverence for the sacred? 
what will result from the  
deprivation of healing touch? 
when will we look once more into another’s eyes,
noting the shimmers of hazel and gray? 
will we forget the pleasure of in-person connection,
and will the strain of the incessant glimmer
of a computer screen rather than a 
sky at sunset leave us hollow? 

how can we tame the dreams
—horrors of the night—
that lunge at us in the darkness,
leaving breath constricted and heart raging?
what if our attempts to survive 
leave us imprisoned? 

we have lost graduations, 
could not share anniversaries in community, 
our celebrations have been postponed 
or canceled. 
is it joy if it cannot be shared? 
can we honor, covenant, anticipate
new beginnings in the  
company of one?

deaths and funerals happen without us
as we sit alone—numbed—in closets of lament,
participating as virtual onlookers at best. 
the tears shed without community’s embrace 
demand we rely on the unseen cloud of witnesses— 
those ancients who have passed 
into another realm—
to be our fellow mourners. 

neighbors turn against each other 
in our public places;
the sanction of murder in the streets
seems unthinkable unless one ponders
the color of skin.

refusing to accept
well-documented threat, 
disregarding the vulnerability of entire communities,
wild frenzy breaks out as armed
civilians—your neighbors and mine—
demand liberty or death,
shamelessly declaring their own 
perceived superiority.

despite valiant heroism, each day ushers more 
into the realm of the dead than we can bear;
one moment careens into the next with
little inkling of who will be struck next;
we groan under collective exhaustion,
subjected to endless amounts of
denial soaked in bravado and indoctrination,
hell-bent on deregulation and destruction, 
dismantling any semblance of order.

dereliction of duty 
of cataclysmic proportion
leaves us gasping for air. 

oh God who have we become
and what must we endure? 

then i remembered
the power of one—
if that one rises despite drought,
despair, and discomfort.
grounded in the Divine.
finding solace in this moment
she blooms
alone yet together
with all of humanity
who vows:

we will never give up! 

©Julia Penner-Zook, 2020
Twitter: @J_Pennz
IG: julia_penner_zook
photo credit: Julia Penner-Zook


struts in
garish lights

heeding no one
but those in
its thrall—
one is

touted as
in the name
of their g_d

while the world burns
species die out
waters rise
sacred land is

children perish
in cages

in the name
of their g_d.

those wielding
power demand

a display of superiority,
fearing dismissal, removal,

utter humiliation.
grotesque lashing out is
foisted upon the world
with ever increasing
irrational cruelty
in the name
of their g_d.

brutality has replaced

life in all its forms
shapes, colors,
that are not “us”
is deemed disposable—
to be used, abused,
plundered, pulverized
for self-serving purposes.

a clamor for war
and the end of time

reaches a frenzy
dancing around the altar
to their g_d.

our grief knows no bounds.
mourning weighs upon us
like a heavy garment
threatening to suffocate,
subsume humanity in this
diabolical disregard for life,

this stampede
toward annihilation. 

there is a time for horror,
for grief, and mourning
just as there is a
time to exchange

the paralysis of

for robust

to abandon
exerting every effort
for all children of the world,

to save our global home
from fiery destruction,

to support every
fellow planet dweller
in our expansive quest for

this is not the time

to be distracted by
fervor for
bloody battles

waged to bolster
that overweening pride
which will surely
destroy all
in the name
of all gods.

a clarion call sounds
for every hope-bringer
to sing
compose music
display art
create images
fling color
write words of
prophetic clarity

march in streets
live with abandon
demand our voices
be heard above
the din of those
who despise
all that is holy. 

we will conspire

©Julia Penner-Zook, 2020
Twitter: @J_Pennz
photo credit: Raj Eiamworkakul


the lure,
the gravity,
the insidious pull
into the light—
to be next
to the glitter and glamor,
to those who
are powerful,
to set foot
in places of prestige


the seduction:
“it is finished.”

but we’ve
sung the songs,
repeated the lyrics,
raised our hands
in cacophony and
iconic leaders who
captivate with charisma,
croon a liturgy
that lulls
into lethargy.

surely this foundation
is solid—we
too many follow
this path for it
to be anything but
holding together
both theology and

until power
is indistinguishable
from praise;
high places are
regarded as
the holy hill;
pomp replaces
the poverty of
the Christ-child.

have we forgotten that
the mother of this
child predicted
that the mighty
would be deposed,
the proud scattered?
we cannot remember

this as we sway
to intoxicating
rhythm, gaze
into the light
that blinds us as we
allow the flow of
familiar sounds to
mesmerize our souls:
pawns of another

photo credit:
©Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Twitter: @J_Pennz

I’ve been quiet for some time—various reasons. But it’s turbulent—my thoughts going back and forth. Do I engage in prophetic call, or choose to enjoy life quietly? Unnoticed. Can I just be still, chill, avoid being shrill, or will that leave me with a warped soul? 

In the wake of a worship experience in the White House a few days ago, I wrote my response to what musical heavyweights from the evangelical community described. Photos, videos, reports left me feeling ill. How can the faithful sing the songs of “empire”?


on being seen

look at you,
blatant imposter,
unceremoniously labeled,
officially relegated to
yet posing as a real

against a real
pastel, fluid
magical in every
way, except you’ll
always only be a


you may have
the coloring of
more prestigious

your visage
carried like a
weightless crown
atop your robust

stem, but you
will always be

kept in your place,
framed within prickly,
unyielding enclosure,

immobilized—never veering

there are those
who find refuge

in your inviting
presence, each one
drawing from your

life source,
once more
freed to

blessed be that
serendipitous moment
when one with argus-eyed

artistry comes upon
your vibrancy,
captures your

very essence with one
click of the shutter
—one moment of recognition—
moving you from


this will ever
warrant a chorus of
a grateful hymn
of praise offered
for those who

honor humble position,
see the divine in
what others dismiss,
offer patient prompts
toward previously
unthinkable, unreachable

a thistle, too, can
find her way to wide open

spaces, sacred


©Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: @staceylrhoades used with permission
Twitter: @J_Pennz

lament for the little ones

lament for the little ones
(before the fourth)

i’m a little chilly.
oh where did
i put that extra blanket

for nights like these?
should have thought

to adjust the open window to
fit the temperature.

then I think of you,
small baby-child,

lying alone without
blanket or cover

of any kind, clothing
soaked with urine,
smeared with feces,
trembling from cold and

compounded by fear.

i stretch out on my mattress
grumbling to myself
about that nagging ache
in my back— did i twist it?
overextend it?
is it the aging mattress?
or what? 

i see you, little one,
curled up alone
on a concrete floor—
if lying at all.
you may have to spend
the night sitting up
without chair, couch,
pillow—pressed up against
strangers in a crowded

room with glaring lights.

i moan inwardly, groaning
with a tension headache
i cannot shake. i didn’t
reach for the magical
cure-in-a-bottle in time,

and now i have to deal with
this nagging pain.

yet evil has decided
to leave you alone, little one,

to shiver with a fever,
delirious from exposure,

denied even the most
rudimentary treatment,
having no one to hold you

close in your agony.
no one!

if there is
liberty and justice for all,
why does my liberty include
elements so different
from yours?
if all are created

equal, why am i granted
gifts of humanity

not extended to you? 

you are not
expected to have

the answer for
these troubling
questions, little one,
but i’m driven,

mandated to
invite their weight

to sweep over me
with tsunami-like force.

indeed these
inequities MUST

be drummed into
every heartbeat,
emblazoned over
every mental image,

disrupting the tranquility
of my privilege,
sucking the breath
out of my otherwise
vibrant lungs, leaving
me speechless. 

little one, you are too valuable
to look the other way;

i must find my voice. 


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: Dev Asangbam via
Twitter: @J_Pennz

white time

mental overload
moral fatigue
emotional depletion—
designations justifying
rest, regrouping,
there is no escape
from the precipitating
unless person,
is continually
targeted and granted
no recourse. 

but that is not
most of us
in the middle-class,
white demographic.
what is required of us?
or is nothing ‘required’?
is it our destiny
to bask in our
privilege, finding
no reason to question
our own biases
and blindness? 

no one is exempt!
not one.
not old or young;
rich or poor;
educated or simple.
it’s time to stand up
and revitalize our
tepid conscience,
walk the extra mile,
listen instead of speak,
drop our heads
in humble recognition
of generational

where do we find
the fortitude,
reservoir of conscience
to begin positioning
our own warm
terrified bodies in the
way of bullets
aimed at various
shades of brown in
our communities? 

who will lead the
way to monitor
those who monitor,
stop and question
those who interrogate,
become obstructionists
to those who willingly
carry out the
demands of an

which of us
will raise a chorus
of protest, refuse
to participate in
our own chilling
version of kristallnacht,
standing in the way
of neighbors being
rounded up,
and whisked into
horrors of

or will we hide
within our white
façade, that white-
washed community
protected by a weak
outer layer of
used to rationalize
our superiority,
separating us from
them—those targeted by
nothing other than
delusional indoctrination? 

will we prove we
have risen above
those from
previous eras
whom we’ve
regarded with disdain
for their lack of will,
absence of courage,
irresponsible allegiance
to exceptionalism? 

this is our time.


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: NeONBRAND via
Twitter: @J_Pennz 


in stately glory,
golden ridges reflect
resilience, resplendence,
having fought off
mid-day’s heat
and shivered in
the chill of
star-studded blackness
millennia upon ever-recurring

each one holds within
its bosom
tales of past
heaving, convulsing,
shuddering, until
persevering peaks,
sculpted curves,
cavernous canyons,
were formed, now
inviting reverence.

each one bids us
marvel, catch our
breath, offers this grandeur
as wordless prayer,
filling every fiber
of our being
until our unity
with this enormity
folds us into its sacred


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: Julia Penner-Zook
Twitter: @J_Pennz
Instagram: @j_penner_zook

double exposure

Dazzling color drains
from expansive 
horizon, no longer
dancing with brilliance,
burdened, as a sky during
prolonged gray rain —

heaven weeping
through grief
and loss,
existence, being,

Sound fades;
tonal qualities
slide into deeper
registers, finally
slipping into

so profound
its transcendence seeps
into innermost hollow —
its salve soothes,

Motion slows,
adjusts to suit
current mood
which commands
no further activity.

where frenzy
once reigned,
candle’s burst of
flame is relinquished,
replaced by awakened

Who am i when weary,
porous vessel gives way
to one that follows?
when music morphs
into wind’s whisper? 

when grasping turns
to discover serenity’s
is this still me, or is this


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: hieu vo via
Twitter: @J_Pennz
Instagram: @j_penner_zook