This sonnet is based on Psalm 130 which is both a song of ascent and is one of what St. Augustine termed the penitential psalms — a collection of confessions of sin of which Psalm 51 is the more often well-known.
In the pilgrim’s sojourn to his destination with God, Psalm 130 is for me happily situated. Psalm 120 starts us on our journey as we own our dissatisfaction, but Psalm 130 reminds us that our journey is not one glorious rising and bounding from mountain top to mountain top. Rather, our pilgrimage is interrupted (and frequently) with times spent in places that are less than valleys, we are sometimes taken to the depths. The pilgrim, must neither be afraid of those depths nor avoid the indignity of “crying out for mercy” and for “waiting, waiting as a watchman”. These are not diversions or side excursions, but the journey to the depths is the path. If you find yourself “in the depths”, though disoriented and lost, you are yet not lost, but are walking the pilgrim way.
In this sonnet I imagine the person who is down, but not out. The depths from which the psalmist cries is the utter bottom, it is the grave, it is hell. The only one who sings Psalm 130 is the one who is left with no other help or hope but God. There is no personal reliance or confidence; there is no resolve to do better; there is no hope in a little suffering to atone for sin and guilt. There is only the cry for forgiveness and reconciliation — unqualified, unconditioned, and beyond hoped for.
At the moment of arriving to “the depths”, we are shocked by how far we’ve descended. However, the steps (oftentimes many) we’ve taken to that place are minuscule compared to the descent our Redeemer traveled to “get low”, to get beneath us, and to raise us up. Herein is the abundance and the plenteous, plentiful redemption he has secured: He has gone to every length to redeem us. And full of awareness of the great price paid, we gladly share with him both his crowns.
If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.
If you have not been all the way down
To the bottom where earth, sun, and sky
Seem only vague memories of some ghost town,
There’s more below the ledge on which you lie.
If you have never been down so low
Where there’s nothing but ruination,
Where all is barren, death’s all that grows,
Bad news, you’ve not reached your destination.
But He went there for us to the utter depth
Spared no ignominy, stripped, emptied of
All dignity, any glory in death
To buy back the sinner, hopeless, unloved.
For full redemption comes through Him who went down
Secures our forgiveness and shares with us his crown.
© Randall Edwards 2017
This sonnet 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: detail from an illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey form the City of Destruction in this evil World to the Celestial City; Published July 1, 1813 by J. Pitts No 14 Great St Andrews Street Seven Dials.