Last Wish

Last Wish

I was recently reminded of a story which Steve Brown tells in his book, Approaching God. It is a story of a funeral and one of the kindest invitations to know Jesus I may have ever heard. Dr. Brown writes,

Not too long ago I conducted a funeral for the spouse of a very dear friend of mine. The spouse died of AIDS. My friend moved in a very fast crowd, and the funeral service in the home was quite informal. There was a keyboard artist playing jazz and plenty of booze and balloons. The people who came to the service were not the kind of people who are generally found sitting on the front row at the the First Church by the Gas Station. In fact most of the folks who were at the service had long since given up on religion. I could understand that. I’ve almost given up myself on several occasions. I went to the keyboard artist and said to him, Son, when you finish this piece bring it to an end because I’m going to say something religious. When he stopped playing and there was silence, I decided to follow Jesus’ example. He would probably (judging the report of the gospel writers who chronicled his life) be more comfortable with people like this than with the normal folks who attend normal funeral services. So, after saying a quick silent prayer, I said to the folks there:

“I don’t do many funerals with balloons and booze. But it’s okay because that’s the way [my friend] would have wanted it. The balloons are appropriate because this is not a funeral service, it’s a graduation service. Our friend isn’t here. She’s in another place where there isn’t any more pain. She’s in heaven, and I’m going to tell you why.”

I told them about the people Jesus loved. I told them that their friend wasn’t in heaven because she was a “good” person (they knew better than that) but because she knew she wasn’t and had turned to One who loved her enough to die on ta cross in her place.

I’m here. I went on, for only one reason. You needed someone to tell you the truth. I’m just one bad person telling other bad people the most important thing you will ever hear: God is God, and you should remember that. But if you go to him, he won’t be angry with you. In fact, he’ll love you. Our friend found that out, and we wanted to make sure you knew.

Sometimes phrases like “booze and balloons” just beg to be made the most of. This poem is a reimagining of the event which Dr Brown tells. Thought the imagination is mine, the story and certainly some of the words are his. Let’s just say, Steve gets the credit, and I get the blame.

You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

It did not seem like a funeral
With all the booze and balloons,
More like a denial of the noumenal —
Life and death caricatured like cartoons.

In the cocktail hour’s jazzy mix of
Celebration and intoxication,
Smartly dressed people laugh and chuckle
Hide their unease behind conversation.

But we cannot escape when Death comes
For spouses — takes our friends into finality,
But the booze and balloons makes light and numbs
Us to the end of our common reality.

Beneath our unease, we grasp with white knuckles
Our scotch like the roller coaster’s seat bar —
Hoping these cups won’t let us fall out
Into eternity like some shooting star.

A man stands up, clears his throat to say
Why we’re here — why he’s come today.
Says “You need someone to tell you what’s true.
And though you’re bad people, I am one too.
I’ve been invited to come in this sad season
For one purpose, for this very reason:
That if you will take a moment, lend an ear,
I’ll tell you what I hope you’ll never unhear —
Something you should not ignore or laugh at
And that is, God is God; you should remember that.
And though He is, and that He is, you should see,
But what I want you to know more importantly
Is, if you go to Him, he won’t be angry with you.
In fact He’ll warmly welcome — He will love you.

Our friend, the one whose death brings me to you,
Found that out at the last, and it meant all in the end.
She came to know Love which would not withhold but send,
Love willing to die, and by dying make things new.
Our friend’s last wish and mine too
Was to make sure that you knew it too.”

© Randall Edwards 2020.
Artwork: James Tissot [Public domain]

The Presentation

The Presentation

February 2 is not only Super Bowl. Nor is it only Groundhog Day. It is Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation of Christ. You may read more about the events in Luke 2:22-38 which tells of the day in which Jesus was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem and Mary and Joseph paid the redemption tax of the first born. While in the Temple, Mary and Joseph are greeted by Simeon and Anna who both recognize Jesus and praise God for the gift of seeing the consolation and hope of Israel.

This sonnet is entitled, “Suddenly He Comes”.

Borne in arms to his house as a pilgrim
The Anointed who’ll bear our salvation;
Redeemer redeemed with two young pigeons
For the desire and wealth of the nations.
Suddenly, he comes to those who waited,
The refiner’s fire, promised fuller’s soap;
Simeon and Anna, made young again
Seeing Israel’s consolation and hope.
Lord, in the light of Candlemas I see
In the heart of my own mid-winter way
You gave your wealth, to become poor for me
That I might be young and long for the Day
When the sudden shaking of your revealing
Dashes the proud, but the poor and pierced, healing.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
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: James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (La présentation de Jésus au Temple), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.27 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.27_PS1.jpg)

The Grey and Green

The Grey and Green

The shorter period of Ordinary Time in winter between Epiphany and Lent is a season which I cannot quite get my head and heart around. It seems both more melancholy and more yearning. Will spring really come or will winter go on? February 2, whether it’s marked as Candlemas or Groundhog Day, speaks to the longing for more light and the end of winter. The reductionism of the religionists who say, that Christian feasts are only the reappropriation of pagan holidays forget that these people didn’t think themselves into living in the world. Rather they lived in the world (the same one in which we live I might add), which called forth the realities of living in that world. Whoever you are, living through late winter in the Northern Hemisphere is hard.

Late winter is when the cold
Colors with the hue of blue,
Slate and grey,
Throughout the day.

And the stark scratch of limb and
Tree’s branch which stretch out like hands,
Stretch from earth
In frozen reach.

Here in our Ordinary
Time, we dress the altar in
The green of
Cedar and pine.

What lies beneath the ice, snow,
What we do not see but know:
Life goes on
When others leave.

And that is hard. Hard and cold
As the frozen earth is old,
Compacted
By Time’s wait.

Joy lies dormant underneath
Awaits, till the cry, Wake! Rise!
Calls forth bloom
And the frozen, flower.

© Randall Edwards 2020.
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.

Robbie Burns Night

Robbie Burns Night

We’re not having dinner tonight that “jaups in luggies” but neither are we having haggis. Nevertheless, we salute the rugged haggis fed who have and are gathering tonight in memory of Robbie Burnes

For you lovers of fricassees, olio, or ragout, a part of every Robert Burns Diner is the recitation of Burn’s poem, “Address to the Haggis,” which I have been reciting constantly for a week, much to my family’s dismay — though I think it’s growing on them.

It probably won’t be too helpful, but you may listen to me attempt to recite the poem via the player below with my humble apologies for butchering the Scots dialect.

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang ‘s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Epiphany Snow

Epiphany Snow

This sonnet is for Epiphany. It draws its inspiration from T.S. Eliot’s, “Journey of the Magi” and recalls an Epiphany a couple of years ago when here in the South, we got a special gift: snow.

It was worse for them, a cold, hard coming
Through the world’s wild winter waste wandering;
With camels and servants grumbling, running
Off, it must’ve seemed their mission was found’ring,
And in the dark no less, this hard going
Chasing some sacred, celestial shining
Leaning into the west where the blowing
Snow and king resisted their divining.

Eon’s later I watch this Epiphany’s snowing;
Christmas has past, so too carol singing,
Waiting on spring? It’ll be hard going
To body forth through this winter’s keening.

But we come home as they when we kneeling,
Give all to the homeless One, who came healing.

© Randy Edwards 2020.
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.

A Voice Loudly Cries

A Voice Loudly Cries

This sonnet is based on Matthew 2:16-18. There have been many Herods who have stood in opposition to the King of kings, and these tyrants use many weapons. However, the vulnerable are the ones who always pay, and the most vulnerable are the children.

This is the world where every king chances

To control and do what they can to win,

Where choice vindicates all circumstances,

Where the cost of that choice pays with children.

Oppressors force marriage to dominate,

Defile with sex, make the victim a villain,

Use rape to terrorize, humiliate,

And the price that is paid? Paid by children.

A voice heard in Ramah, she loudly cries:

Rachel lamenting for all her children
As a king’s arm kills till ev’ry child dies,

Ev’ry parent’s arm emptied, ev’ry grave filled in.

Rachel, unconsoled shall weep for her lost

Until they return, and the king’s arms crossed.

© 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: Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Nativity

The Nativity

This is the final poem in a series for Grace Kernersville’s Jesse Tree project. The poems in the series are attempts at ekphrasis. A gifted artist in the congregation in which I pastor have provided abstract paintings from which the poems have derived their inspiration. This painting is entitled, The Nativity.  Have a look at the painting, How do you read it?The Nativity Here’s my reading of the painting in poetic form.

Gathered ‘round the manger, the shepherds there
Had each struggled through their own unbelief—
Groping through this world’s dank and dingy air,
Jaded by dejection, wearied by grief,

But now they are bathed in color and light
Where, with this mother, they behold, ponder
The tidings foretold by angels that night.
Un-wintered by joy and warmed with wonder:

What Grace gathers us to this treasured place?
Is salvation created, swaddled here?
Are we beholding the look of Love’s face?
Is desire answered in the cry we hear?

Behold Emmanuel, David’s Lord and Key;
New life is come from the stump of Jesse’s tree!

© Randall Edwards 2019.
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). Thank you.
artwork: © Adah Freeman 2019, “The Gentle Shepherd” acrylic on canvas. All Rights Reserved.