I Hold My Life

I Hold My Life

Translators do curious things. One of those is the translation of Psalm 119:109 which is usually rendered something like what the ESV renders, “I hold my life in my hand continually”. I am nowhere near familiar enough with Hebrew to understand the reasoning behind this translation, however, I have reason to think that the meaning of the verse is lost in this translation.

The Hebrew word, “hand” in the verse may also be translated “palm”. Rather than the psalmist “carrying” himself and his life, or “clutching” it, I believe he is rather, “handing” over his life. The image of one offering with their open palms all of their life is one of the great images of faith, and I believe it is the picture intended here. It is the albeit empty-handed-but-everything-offered picture which captured my imagination for this poem.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

Seeking, I sat with teachers under trees,
Mimicked opinions, held their high regard,
Took their approval as the sacred keys
To unlock the blessing from which I’d been barred.

Longing, I asked, “What does the wise world know?”
“What gifts can they offer, bring me glory?”
I took in my hand the world’s tool to show
Through filtered pics my envious story.

Greedy, I took wickedness without care,
Grasped at pleasures with debauched revelry;
My so called friends led me into despair:
Approval’s trap from which I’d not get free.

Holding, this pail of cast off table scraps,
Wondering, could they nourish, feed my soul?
Rememb’ring my father, “Would he perhaps
Take me on, let me eat from a servant’s bowl?”

Returning, I hold my life, palms up in offering;
Not taking but giving my life, surrendering.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
Artwork: James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: In Foreign Climes. Oil on Canvas (c. 1882) Musee de Nantes, France.

Could Your Word?

Could Your Word?

This sonnet is next in a series based on Psalm 119. The sections of Psalm 119 stand alone as individual meditations. Even though the sections are distinct, many themes repeat and are re-voiced throughout.

The Psalmist makes use of a metaphor which captured my imagination. Speaking of the personal impact his afflictions, he says, “I have become a wineskin in the smoke.” By this I believe he means that he is emotionally dehydrated — he has cried all his tears.

By coupling the two sections of Psalm 119:81-96 together, one sees the contrast between the Psalmist’s anguish in the first section and his marveling at the greatness of the Lord and his word in the second. The tension between nearness and greatness or between height and depth is one that continues to capture my imagination. God is both exalted and greater, above and beyond reaching, and he is near, intimate, and tenderly close. The gospel sings when we apprehend the span of his reach and the significance of his condescension.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

How long? How long must your servant endure?
How many prayers prayed before you assure,
Come with comfort, save from enemies,
Bring to an end those who seek to end me?

Hot and bitter, fire as affliction burns;
Confusion clouds the hope for which I yearn;
Its oily smoke obscures, burns, blinds and chokes,
Leaves me brittle as a wineskin in smoke.

In the waste around, I look to the sky,
I ask for the wisdom to see, know why
You let your servants suffer shame and die,
Make dust of their dreams, let them in ashes lie?

Could your Word so high, stretch for me, reach down,
Lift me up from ruin though buried ‘neath the ground?

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
Artist: James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I Walked for Him

I Walked for Him

This poem is based on Psalm 199:65-80, and is next in the series The Disciple’s Alphabet.

In the poem I imagine the psalmist reflecting on their previous suffering and how that affliction was employed to teach and sanctify. The psalmist speaks of the insolent and their scoffing of whom the psalmist himself was once a companion but are now those whom he has forsaken for another, the Lord and His word. This is the same story told through the lives of God’s people: suffering compels one to cry out, some cry out to the Lord, and some of those to receive His word.

As I’ve worked through this series it has been helpful to have a Bible character in mind to help expand on the passage’s themes. Rather than decided beforehand, these person usually emerge as I write, and in this poem, I found Simon of Cyrene. There is nothing in Simon’s story to indicate that any of my attributions are historical fact. I think it likely that he knew Psalm 119 and that he was a sinner who would’ve said of the Lord, “you are good and you do good” (Psalm 119:68). Though I am making use of his story, these are my imaginings, and I wouldn’t want any future meeting of Simon to lead to the misunderstanding that I presumed to know what his life or experience was like. However, I cannot help but wonder how his experience changed and shaped him.

A powerful image that further stoked my imagination is a sentence from Matthew Henry’s commentary on Genesis 2 and the creation of Eve. He writes,

The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.

Carrying the cross of Jesus, for and with Jesus, is a powerful image. Being there, on his wedding day, by his side “under his arm to be protected and near to his heart to be beloved” is both tender care and loving service — sacrifice and devotion.

To return to his side in repentance, take up his cross, resume my place “near his heart where I had always been” seems to capture for me my life-long experience of repentance in the gospel even as I set out again in self-will and self-determination from which the Lord will call me back again through suffering to his side.

If it is helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

I knew it all; I had my way;
Lived for what I could get that day;
The truth was whatever I’d say–
Whatever would pay the rent.

Then to suffering’s school I was sent
Whose tutors took my ignorance,
They bowed my stiff neck, broke, and bent
My back neath hardships load.

A man took for me what I owed,
Bore the crowd’s curse when he stumbled, slowed,
Slipped, and fell on th’blood spattered stones
Of Jerusalem’s roadside.

They saw my shock, pulled me aside,
Made me carry, yoked with him, tied
To the one I’d always denied–
The one I’d never let in.

Under the weight I walked for him
Who bore my shame, paid for my sin,
Close to his heart where I’d always been
Though I’d ever wander and stray
Thinking,
I know it all; I’ll have my way.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
Artwork: Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What I Hold

What I Hold

This poem is based on Psalm 119:49-64 in which I came to imagine its expression through the account of Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord at Peniel in Genesis 32.

The artwork is Rembrandt’s painting of the same event which I find intriguing. The angel is not struggling, but is merely laying Jacob down. The angel’s left hand rests on Jacob’s hip which he will dislocate and his right hand holds Jacob’s neck as if to lay him down gently. I wonder what you see?

In the account from Genesis 32, Jacob eventually surrenders to the blessing that the Lord would give and releases the blessing he imagined he needed to wrest from Him. Of course, he was always better off clinging to the Lord rather than merely grasping at his gifts.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

In the house of my sojourning, this wrinkled tent
Which I fold into bed after the day,
As I lie down to sleep, my mind replays
My regrets and all I resent.

I’d chased after blessing tried to wrest from the Blesser,
A frowning father who’d not freely give—
A miser to be tricked so to get from him
The gift, I’d possess the possessor.

I awake in the night angry at cheaters who lie,
Show contempt for the truth, shamelessly mock
Others who trust whom they’ve beat and knocked
With their fists to break and divide.

But affliction throws me, in a hold, pins me in strife;
Left with a limp, I lament all night long;
I recall a verse from a children’s song
You promise to save and give life

Light comes in dayspring, wisdom full and free from above,
I see: all I have You’ve given by grace,
My portion is You, what I hold, Your embrace–
The fullness of your steadfast love.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
artwork: Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Your Strong Love

Your Strong Love

This poem is based on Psalm 119:33-48.

Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem with the eight lines of each twenty-two verse section beginning with the same Hebrew letter and continuing through the Hebrew alphabet. For the writer, the form limits both the vocabulary and gives a shape to the poem which is not so much linear but reflective on the same sorts of themes.

As I’ve tried to process the sections, I’ve found that Jesus’ parables become imaginative tools through which to understand them. I have not done this intentionally, it has simply arisen through the process. Now that I’m aware, I wonder what may happen going forward. Just the same, it’s at least curious.

In these verses of Psalm 119, the loving Father instructs the wandering eyes of the psalmist and the steadfast love of the Lord brings the psalmist to a spacious place. Wouldn’t that good news make us bold before kings?

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

If you will teach me, make me learn and show
Me your word, I’ll understand, fully know;
I’ll delight in your laws, in your love grow
And not for selfish gain.

But my wand’ring heart wonders how to claim
Blessing without faith without trusting’s pain;
How alone I might seize, posses, obtain
My dreams from worthless things.

Set your strong love on my heart as a ring
Which heals as a balm, takes away death’s sting,
Removes the reproach my enemies bring
To beat down, lock me in.

At your word, “Light!” Life — a new day begins,
Resounds in music, a new song within
That your grace is greater than all my sin —
Leads me to a broad place.

This is the pasture of abundant grace:
The still waters of God’s loving embrace,
Knowing as we’re known, seeing face to face,
Received, unafraid, unashamed.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.

Artwork: James Tissot 1836 – 1902 The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: The Return, oil on canvas — c. 1882 National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Grace Gives

Grace Gives

This sonnet is based on Psalm 119:17-32. I draw the theme of grace from the first line, “deal bountifully with me.” Not an expression or word we use much in conversation, “bounty” is the gift received before the previous gift is expended; it is an overflow. How does one receive that kind of gracious gift? What must one do? The answering is graciously amazing.

If it is helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

My plea: life to live, words to treasure,
Eyes to see, feast, feed in full measure
The wonder of the breadth, width, and height
Of Love’s first spoken word, “Behold, light!”

I sojourn alone as in the night;
The howls of the insolent, on my right;
On my left are those who scorn, berate,
The wicked who plot, the pow’rs who hate.

I cling to the dust, patiently wait
For your grace to come, make true and straight,
To lift from shame, buy back what I sold
To melt with your love my sorrow’s cold.

Though I sit in dirt, your Grace I believe
Gives life to those who can only receive.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.

Artwork: Maximilien Luce [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That Guy

That Guy

On a recent vacation I road shotgun on the ride down and back. On that trip I came to realize that I had become “that guy.”

Sweet Corn 1 Mile, Warning: Crossing Deer,
Wooden bowls, Boiled Peanuts Ahead,
Shallotte, Boiling Springs, and Cape Fear,
Lake Time Vintiques, The Attic, Grandma’s Shed.

Peaches, Water Melons, and Blue Berries,
White Lake, Whiteville, and Lake Waccamaw
Cerro Gordo, Dirty Ankle, Mount Airy,
Laurinburg, Derby-Windblow, Burgaw.

Snead’s Grove, Piney Grove, Lumber River
Scotland County Recycling Center,
Pollo-Pasta-Pizza, We Deliver,
“Enterance”, Exit Only, Do Not Enter.

Reading aloud signs as we drive by,
I realize with age I’ve become that guy.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
Photograph: This work is from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work.