What Do You See?

What Do You See?

This week, I begin a new series on the book of Jeremiah. This first poem takes its inspiration from Jeremiah 1:1-19.

I must acknowledge my debt to Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message of this passage wherein he seeks to make the pun found in the Hebrew between the words “watching” and “almond” more clear. Peterson translates Jeremiah 1:11,12 this way,

God’s Message came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
I said, “A walking stick—that’s all.”
And God said, “Good eyes! I’m sticking with you.
I’ll make every word I give you come true.”

Eugene Peterson, The Message

Here rather than trying to make “almond” and “watching” fit, he employs the double entendre of the meaning of “stick” as in a “stick of almond” and “sticking with you” (watching). I think he’s done a pretty good job. In fact, so good that I have borrowed his word play and employed it below. To him, I gladly give any credit, though he deserves none of the blame.

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

I loved you before I made you in love
In the hidden place of your begetting;
Your life’s mission, appointed from above,
Is to speak my words, my word spreading.

“Ah, but Lord God, don’t you know, can’t you see?
I am only a youth; I cannot speak.
No one will heed or listen to me;
I don’t know how, I’m not strong, only weak.”

Ah? Indeed, ‘Ah,’ do not say, do you hear?
Into your mouth I place my words of pow’r;
You shall say what I say. Go. Do not fear;
Though they buffet, you’ll remain my strong tower.

“How will I know that you are with me?”
I thought to myself as I walked along.
Jeremiah, tell me, what do you see?
I replied, “I see a stick of almond.”

You see well, son! I’ll be sticking all ‘round —
Watch you work, watch my word, for years to come.
You watch each spring when this stick of almond
Reminds with its blooms the sticking I’ve done.

Remember this stick; with you, I’m sticking ‘round
Whether you work to plant, pull up, or tear down.

© 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: Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985). Calling of Jeremiah, 1957. Hand-colored etching. Gift of Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty. Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University.

What Prince?

What Prince?

This poem finds its inspiration in Psalm 119:161-176 and is the last in a series on Psalm 119.

One of psalmist’s antagonists throughout Psalm 119 are the “princes”. Rather than take “prince” as merely one who is a member of the king’s household, I have imagined them as those who, because of material resources and proximity to power, seek to exert controlling influence wherever they find themselves and use what power they have not to influence for justice but for their own benefit. The “princes” of Psalm 119 have their mirrors in today’s middle managers and corporate vice-presidents.

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

The princes who hide behind smiles, a glower—
Who greedy and gorging, the weak devour—
The schemers with nothing better to do
Than plot to get more, the vulnerable screw;
These are the princes of power.

I hate and abhor their falsehood and lies
Who fawn and cower in noble disguise;
Their hearts are foul; their love and delight
Are the deeds done under cover of night;
Their lord is lord of the flies.

But in their buzzing I hear my own voice—
Full of fear, proud, a damnable noise;
Cursing in anger, their fall fuels my hate
Crushes my life ‘neath the burdensome weight;
What prince deliver, bring peace?

One Prince suits up, girds himself for the fight
Sets out before dawn, on the road at first light
Leaves ninety-nine to seek one who is lost
With a princely sum, he pays the full cost
To buy me back, one who in sin took flight
Makes me a child, makes a prince, makes me right.

© 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 [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With My Whole Heart

With My Whole Heart

This poem finds its inspiration in Psalm 119:145-160

With my whole heart, I cry. With all of me
I call out when in my own company
Before the morn, when I in mourning be.
Alone I wait and wait to see
You rescue from the grave
As promised in your testimony.
With my whole heart I cry, “Save!
Oh Lord, please save me!”

With your heart, will you, do you love me?
May I trust, believe you love beyond degree?
Are just, judge with impartiality?
Love to the end though the end bitter be?
No matter the cost?
Though denied, yet love faithfully?
With your whole heart, seek the lost?
Oh Lord, do you love me?

“Nearer my God,” I sing, “Nearer to Thee”
When my enemies draw close, threaten me
Who are far from your law, who act wickedly
Who are blind, yet deny, claim they can see
Claim they alone are right?
Will you my deliverer be?
Will you rescue, enter my night
To draw me near’r to Thee?

Why? My God, why has thou forsaken me?
My enemies heap contempt scoffingly
My friends deny they know, abandon me
Leave me to hang on this tree
This I do for love.
That blessing may rain more fully
Descend in fire, alight as a dove,
Give them you, Hide them in me.

© 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: Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Project Gutenberg.

Your Word Unlocks

Your Word Unlocks

This sonnet is loosely based on Psalm 119:129-144. Much of my meditating has come from the line in verse 129 which reads, “Your testimonies are wonderful”. The “wonderful” is akin to the meaning of supernatural. When received, good news is wonderful. It is this amazement that I attempt to contrast with the troubles the psalmist expresses and my own.

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

Your word unlocks, runs straight, is just and right;
It cuts to the heart and pierces the night.
Strong and stable, firmness to rest upon
Is your word, the promise I depend on.

I am small and despised; my enemy knows
I am but a breath, can be felled with blows:
A roll of the eye, a sigh, fuels the shame
Of my thirst for the draughts of praise and fame.

But you redeem the fear-of-failure’s slave,
Steal sin’s sting and the victory of the grave;
Your light beckons, draws me into the day
Sets me to walk in the steps of your way.

I wonder is that word too good? Can it be?
The Word cries, “It is finished!” Bids, “Follow me.”

© 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 (French, 1836-1902). The Woman with an Issue of Blood (L’hémoroïsse), 1886-1896. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 11 x 7 1/16 in. (27.9 x 17.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.111 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.111_PS2.jpg). No copyright restrictions.

With a Whisper

With a Whisper

This sonnet founds its start with Psalm 119:113-128 epecially verse 114 which reads, “You are my hiding place and my shield.” The image of the Lord as a hiding place immediately drew me to the accounts of Moses and Elijah at Horeb. I was drawn further into 1 Kings 19 as I considered the double-minded and evil doers that the psalmist in Psalm 119 encounters.

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

On the run, hiding from the queen’s raging,
The wicked denier, not swayed by the rain,
Her two-faced husband, blind with war waging,
Till they subject all to her god’s domain.

In flight I run, not to You but away
To hide in the wild ‘neath a broom tree lie
Confounded by what should have been the day
Is now the moment I’m ready to die.

You seek, find me hopeless, desp’rate, hiding;
Draw me out, lift me up, to your Mount bring
Show me your promise your presence abiding
In the shepherd neath whose cloak hides a king.

Behold, I see the shepherd who fulfills
God’s word with a whisper death’s raging stills.

© 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: By Foster, William A. [from old catalog] [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

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