Words Alone

Words Alone

Eugene Peterson quotes Abraham Heschel in his chapter on Jehoiakim in the book Run with Horses. Heschel, speaking of the word and the scriptures, writes,

“Some people may wonder: why was the light of God given in the form of language? How is it conceivable that the divine should be contained in such brittle vessels as consonants and vowels? This question betrays the sin of our age: to treat lightly the ether which carries the light-waves of the spirit. What else in the world is as capable of bringing man and man together over the distances in space and in time? Of all things on earth, words alone never die. They have so little matter and so much meaning. . . . God took these Hebrew words and breathed into them of His power, and the words became a live wire charged with His spirit. To this very day they are hyphens between heaven and earth. What other medium could have been employed to convey the divine? Pictures enameled on the moon? Statues hewn out of the Rockies?”
— Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man

I am really taken with his description of the voiced breath which speaks: “the ether which carries the light-waves of the spirit” — that’s beautiful.

The word throughout Jeremiah’s book is active and alive. It is true. When we pretend that words don’t live (“Of all things on earth, words alone never die”), we delude ourselves by taking up the very means to silence accusations or deny their reality. We swim in words which were spoken long ago, which we regret, which we hope to hear.

Malcolm Guite in his poem, “What if?” gets at some of the same thoughts albeit as a warning against those idle words we speak.

This sonnet is based on Jeremiah 36:22-24 in which the word which has been written on a  scroll and read to Jehoiakim is cut up into pieces and thrown on a fire. What of the word then? Can that word die? Will it ever come again?

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

Words alone never die. Of all things on
Earth, they linger, rumble, ring, and grumble
In our hearts throughout life, give voice, run on—
A prattling ‘gainst which we murmur, mumble.

You may cut off, stop the conversation
Silence the words in a rage yelling, run
Away, dismiss with gesticulation,
With nonchalance turn away, shun.

But with words, the Word comes to speak with you
Wrapped in flesh, counting everything a loss,
The wisdom of God whom you count a fool,
Cut him dawn, cut him off, hang on a cross
Where that Word speaks one word, “Father forgive…”
Dies alone that by His word, we may live.

© 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 the Providence Lithograph Company (http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart/1905/jer36.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Persistently

Persistently

This is a meditation on Jeremiah 25:1-7 and 35:14b-16.

Each morning I wake from night’s sleeping death
Through a resurrection from where I lay
Last eve mourning, sad, life a labored breath,
Enshrouded in the stuff of yesterday.

And yesterday, having died already to the King,
I face the world for what it is, begin
To die again to self, to live, His praises sing,
And fight again for life putting to death my sin.

Again and again, I persistently
Seek the the joyful, exuberant encore
Of living each moment by faith obediently
Content, at peace, and always wanting more.

I forsake my shroud; gain your love for me
Which rises new each morn full of mercy.

© 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: Edwin Lord Weeks [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My Author

My Author

This sonnet is for All Saints Day and is a tribute to those poets who have become guides for me. Within the poem, I’ve linked to the sources of the references to which I quote or allude to the poet. Thank you, Lord for these guides.

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

Midway through the journey of my life
Lost, having wandered from the straight way,
In a wood weary with sin and strife,
You found me, mio maestro e autore.
I follow you, midst your verse I stray
To browse in meter, rhythm, and rhyme
Imagination bodies forth as day,
Leading me up the encircling climb.
Dissevered, the backward mutters unwind,
Dispelled, with each volta’s paradox,
Timelessness resounding into time
As heaven in ordinary unlocks.
In your spell of song, I find habitation,
A concord midst your lines, reconciliation.

Treasure

Treasure

This sonnet is based on Matthew 13:45-46, and is an example of how a question I heard in another context, “Would you sell everything you had to buy just one thing?” set my imagination running.

I heard a story of a man traveling by boat, and the boat began to sink. The man gathered all his gold and jumped into the ocean, but because he wouldn’t let go of the gold, he drowned. The question asked by the parable is, “Did the man have the gold or did the gold have the man?”

The Jesus’ parable of the Pearl of Great Price illustrates that that there is one treasure that is worth everything, a treasure worth holding onto even if it costs you your life.

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

Would you sell everything you had to buy
Just one thing? Would you lose you life — dying
Before you died to gain the world and sky?
For one thing lose all and so all things buying?

What would that one thing be that’s worth all things?
Significance, perfect intimacy?
Or would you settle for what merely seems–
Other’s envy, your legitimacy?

Me? I want everything, I want it all, both
And; I don’t want to let go, lose one thing —
Guarding as a dragon what I am loath
To let go, ensnared in my hoard’s coiling.

But I, treasured as a pearl of great price,
The Son sold it all, bought me with his life.

© 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 artists from New York hired by Pacific Press Publishing Company expressly to illustrate this book (page 8) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Grow Where You Are Planted

Grow Where You Are Planted

This poem is based on Jeremiah 29 in which are recorded a word from the Lord for those in exile in Babylon which Jeremiah sent to them as a letter. I have more often heard this passage preached as a strategy for church planting. Granted,it can be helpful. But to reduce it merely as a strategy misses a good bit of what it has to offer. Jeremiah’s letter, is a letter to exiles — a letter to the displaced, the lonely, the dislocated, the powerless. How can you live where you don’t want to live and doing what you don’t want to do, among people you’d rather not be around?

The Lord has many reasons for his people’s exiles, not the least of them is so that they will know that wherever they go, He will always come to them, make his place among them, and never leave them. What is needful then, is not money, influence and power, facilities, or material resources. What is needed is faith. Faith to trust, to not give up, to persist.

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

I didn’t want to live here
Midst these people on this plain
Whose harsh accent grates my ears,
Where no one knows my name.

Shackled, brought to this place
Head hung low, harps hung in trees;
A song unknown, a stranger’s face,
I hear a voice call me.

Grow where you are planted
Live where you are living
Sing till you’re enchanted
Grateful, till you’re giving.

I miss the hills, the mountain side,
The songs I sang ‘neath the trees
At this river I lie beside
A new song sings to me.

Grow where you are planted
Live where you are living
Sing till you’re enchanted
Grateful, till you’re giving.

By full term you shall be ready
Delivered unto new life;
As a strong tower, made steady;
Married, husband and wife.

Until that day, bear patiently;
Through exile, keep love alive;
Walk by faith not aimlessly,
Grow old, have children, thrive.

Grow where you are planted
Live where you are living
Sing till you’re enchanted
Grateful, till you’re giving.

© 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: Gebhard Fugel [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Arriving after a Long Obedience

Arriving after a Long Obedience

Eugene Peterson arrived at his destination yesterday morning. His book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, as well as The Contemplative Pastor, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Answering God, Run with Horses, and Practice Resurrection have all played their part in my life and ministry.

There are portions of Peterson’s work that read more like poetry than simple narrative or exposition. I am very grateful for that. In his book on the Songs of Ascent, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Peterson riffs on the meaning of Psalm 134. By “meaning” I don’t mean what the words are in Hebrew or their etymology or their systematic implications. Rather, by “meaning” I think I mean its “umph!” –its significance or potency.

In Psalm 134, the pilgrim having walked to Jerusalem since Psalm 120 at last reaches the Temple gates. But in what shape, at what cost, and for what?

Psalm 134 reads,

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!

The celebratory destination of faith is worship and that is also the purpose for coming. However, what if in coming so far, at such cost, enduring such difficulties, one does not arrive in strength but arrives in weakness — as one who barely makes it? Eugene Peterson writes about the first words of Psalm 134 with the condition of the arrivals in mind. If the Songs of Ascent are a map, Peterson seems to place a hypothetical red arrow on the map and ask, what if YOU ARE HERE?

Peterson writes,

Read one way, the sentence is an invitation: “Come, bless GOD.” The great promise of being in Jerusalem is that all may join in the rich temple worship. You are welcome now to do it. Come and join in. Don’t be shy. Don’t hold back. Did you have a fight with your spouse on the way? That’s all right. You are here now. Bless God. Did you quarrel with your neighbor while making the trip? Forget it. You are here now. Bless God. Did you lose touch with your children while coming and aren’t sure just where they are now? Put that aside for the moment. They have their own pilgrimage to make. You are here. Bless God. Are you ashamed of the feelings you had while traveling? the grumbling you indulged in? the resentment you harbored? Well, it wasn’t bad enough to keep you from arriving, and now that you are here, bless God. Are you embarrassed at the number of times you quit and had to have someone pick you up and carry you along? No matter. You are here. Bless God.

Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Peterson has the psalmist speaking to the many circumstances one may arrive to worship and has the psalmist call them to worship (no matter where they’ve come from) with the refrain, “Bless God”.

In honor of the Pastor Eugene Peterson, I am reposting this poem based on his words. He gets all the credit for anything good, but if bad, the blame lies with me.

Lord, we bless you and thank you for the pastor.

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

Did you fight with your spouse along the way?
That’s all right. You’re here now.
Bless God.

Did you quarrel with your neighbor while on the road?
Forget it. You are here now.
Bless God.

Lost touch with your children, haven’t seen them all day?
Take a moment; for these worries, pray,
But while you wait, arise, say,
“They are yours; you are mine;
I bless you, God.”

All those wasted miles pouting, are you ashamed–
The grumbling indulged? the resentment inflamed?
It wasn’t so bad that it kept you abroad,
And now that you are here,
Bless God.

Embarrassed by quitting, that you’re not counted tough?
How your burdens were carried by those who bore you up?
No matter. At long last, you are here;
That’s enough.
Bless God.

Join with the assembly, the joyful throng
Whether sinner, saint,
Afraid, faint, weak, or strong
We have arrived together,
You’re where you belong.
Welcome, take your place, and
Let us, bless God.

The thoughts and some of the words are most certainly, Eugene Peterson’s.
See: Eugene H.. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Kindle Locations 2394-2401). IVP Books. Kindle Edition.
artwork: Illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey from 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.

I Am Not What I Was

I Am Not What I Was

This is a roundel based on Jeremiah 18:1-12.
In the poem I make use of two Bible illustrations: Jeremiah at the potter’s house and Jesus raising Lazarus. In the same manner that God formed man from the dust, Jesus announces the coming of new creation by raising one given over to the dust.

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

Said the clay to the hand who cut him out,
To the Potter who pulled him from decay
Smelling of earth from death wrapped about,
“I am not what I was,” said the clay.

Healing never came, for the Potter’s delay
Let me lie, untouched, harden, dry out;
Shaping without hands was his preferred way.

Time’s wheel spun four days when the mouth
Of the Potter spoke into where I lay
In my cold kiln cried, “Come forth!” with a shout.
And “I am, not what I was” said the clay.

© 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 Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons