Good Grief

Good Grief

Here’s an example of how other’s words are like seeds which find their way into your imagination and grow and bear fruit — in this case a poem.

Tish Harrison Warren, writes of her season of lament and grief HERE. In her post she says “grief is like sand”. That is a great metaphor and line. It found its place in my imagination and sprouted into this poem which I had not written as, but to no one’s surprise, was actually a sonnet.

The sonnet is entitled, Good Grief. If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Grief is like sand; it finds its way into
All around, underneath, through and through;
It gets in my shoes, the stuff of my day;
I vacuum, clean but to my dismay
It’s followed me on my vacation.
It stalks my way to each destination;
Uninvited, it sets an ambush of tears.
Botheration, this sand, it gets in my drawers–
Into my chest which holds and stores
The feelings I don’t often wear.
Grief opens doors when we, sadness share
The heart of our loss, worries, and cares
Grief, though not a good, is yet a sign
Of love that was and yet remains mine.

© Randall Edwards 2017
artwork: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), St. John Comforting the Virgin at the Foot of the Cross (After the Ninth Hour), 1862; pencil and watercolour with bodycolour and gum arabic on paper laid on linen

What Perseverance?

What Perseverance?

The Songs of Ascent are the songs of pilgrims. The collection of Psalms from 120-134 is believed to the collection of songs sung by pilgrims as they made their way from their home villages to Jerusalem during the great annual festivals of Judaism. Full of encouragement, wisdom, and guidance, these psalms are like a map of faith which show us the geography of a life traveling to meet God.

Psalm 129 is not a happy traveling song but a psalm of hardship. The psalmist doesn’t look to future victories but to past sufferings. The reflection on the past is not an embittered, vengeful tirade; it is a hardening endeavor in the face of present hardship. It is defiance. Hardness is not in every way bad. Granted, a hard heart can be without compassion, a hard head likely refuses instruction, and a hard will can be senselessly stubborn. However, hardness against quitting a difficult but good endeavor, giving over to faithlessness, or failing to persevere in love? This kind of hardness is a necessity for the pilgrim on pilgrimage. Psalm 129 is a rallying cry to remember the hardship and to resolve to endure and persevere and to not give way in either envying the wicked or calling the wicked blessed.

Psalm 129 reads,

“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth”—
let Israel now say—
2 “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth,
yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back;
they made long their furrows.”
4 The Lord is righteous;
he has cut the cords of the wicked.
5 May all who hate Zion
be put to shame and turned backward!
6 Let them be like the grass on the housetops,
which withers before it grows up,
7 with which the reaper does not fill his hand
nor the binder of sheaves his arms,
8 nor do those who pass by say,
“The blessing of the Lord be upon you!
We bless you in the name of the Lord

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

Since my youth, they have afflicted me–
Foremen who furrowed my flesh of life,
Who scourged, whipped, beat and knifed–
The plowers who plowed in red.
Let all those trodden upon and left for dead
Say it with me. Say it with me!
“Though greatly afflicted, yet they have not,
They have not prevailed over me!”

Let the deeds they sow, though they sprout and grow,
Wilt, wither, and waste in the sun’s heat;
Let their garnered glory fade in defeat,
Leave them nothing in their hand.
Bind them to emptiness as with a band.
May these wicked be cursed, never know
The peace of fullness, for they have not
Prevailed, not prevailed, let them know.

The Lord is good. He is just. He alone, right.
He perseveres his people, breaks their chains;
With the iron scepter of his rule and reign,
He dashes as clay their oppression.
But he delivers by his own dispossession,
Takes the mortal cords, enters the night,
Gives his back to plowers, who plow up his life
To bury in death, snuff out the Light of lights.

This was the plan, the eternal decree,
That the Sower furrow into the ground,
That in his plowing, bury death down,
Beyond the tomb’s door sealed.
Greatly afflicted, by your stripes I’m healed;
The limbs of your cross, my life-giving tree,
My glory and boast over my enemy,
My sin, which shall never, never prevail over me.

© Randall Edwards 2017
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: 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.

What Blessing?

What Blessing?

Psalm 128 is the ninth in the collection of pilgrim songs called the Songs of Ascent. Each of the songs offers encouragement and wisdom regarding one’s walking the pilgrim way to meet with God. The destination for the Israelite was the Temple in Jerusalem, but they, as we, understood the larger and more metaphorical image of the journey through life which finds its destination in meeting God.

In Psalm 128, the psalmist takes up the image of blessing — an image echoed already and especially in Psalm 127. Whereas Psalm 127 spoke of the manner in which blessing comes, Psalm 128 speaks of the way in which blessing is experienced: the fear of the Lord.

Psalm 128 (ESV) reads,

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.
5 The LORD bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
6 May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!

“Fear” has a negative connotation to modern ears. In speaking of this biblical “fear” one can spend a lot of time explaining and qualifying — so much so that it’s easy to make it more confusing or simply, meaningless. In the Bible, the “fear of the Lord” is a good thing. When we read about it, we should think in terms of “love” or “what is precious”. We fear that which is most important to us, we respect it, and we are not careless with it.

I’ve been helped in considering how to read this psalm by two things I’ve happened upon this week. Firstly, G.K. Chesterton said about our disenchanted world in Tremendous Triffles: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” He’s saying that we think we are languishing because of a lack of blessing. Rather he asserts, there are plenty of things which are wonderful, for which we may count blessings, our failure is to feed upon the marvels and blessings that are all around us. This thought is echoed in Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Messenger” in which she says, “Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.” In this sonnet, I try and do just that.

Rather than try to merely reword the psalm’s promises and images or to imagine myself as its speaker, I imagined myself as the object of its promises. I tried to view the blessings through the lens of Christ who is The Blessed. Who are his wife and children? Where and around which table does he seat me?

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

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord
Except for him who faced every fear—
Who walked faithfully, whose word was his word
Who wept with the poor, shed tears for every tear.
He ate not the fruit, but took with his hand
Our hearts hard as iron, our damned deeds of death;
Bore with pierced palms into the loathsome land
The curse with which we cursed till his last breath.

Who is your wife? Where is this fruitful vine?
Who are your children, the promised olive wood?
At whose table shall they drink the Blessed’s wine?
Or in what house gather, taste, and see what is good?
Are we (am I) the bride for whom you bore the shame
To sit beneath the banner of your love and name?

© 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: 12th Century Historiated initial letter from the beginning of Song of Songs. Library of Winchester Cathedral.
The Latin text reads: “Explicit lib(er) qui vocat Ecclesiastes. Incip(it) lib(er) qui appellatur hebraice Syr asyrim, latine Cantica Canticorum. Vox ecclesi(a)e desiderantis adventum Chri(sti).
“Here ends the book that he called Ecclesiastes. Here begins the book that is called in Hebrew “Shir hashirim,” in Latin “Songs of Songs. The voice of the church as she longs for the coming of Christ.”

What Work?

What Work?

Psalm 127 reads like two separate, self-contained words haphazardly spliced together. The psalm is one of two psalms attributed to Solomon, and the themes within the psalm, reflect the concerns of other Solomonic passages. Psalm 127 (ESV) reads,

1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

There are clues in the words which Solomon employs which help us tie the two together. The first clue is the word house, which not only has the meaning of an “abode” or a “place to stay,” but also of a “dynasty.” The second is a pun in the Hebrew between the words builders (bonim) and sons (banim). For Solomon, the making a name for one’s self through “building” will not come from the successful self-determined and directed plans of the individual nor will security be had through one’s self-acquired and overseen efforts; these blessings will only come “unless the Lord.” The blessing we seek through work comes not through our individual effort but more like the manner of child bearing. Blessing is not achieved and mastered, it is conceived and delivered. Blessing is the result of a loving consummation which births into a greater joy and blessing.

As one walks the pilgrim way, one must understand what is being wrought in them and what awaits them even as one does the labor of walking, step by step, day by day to God (and this not alone but in community). The blessing at the journey’s end is exponential (1+1=3), conceiving is miraculous, laboring is travail, but delivery is glorious. And as one works and walks and waits, one rests each night in the name bestowed upon them, the special name which the Lord gives his children and the name which his children receive and own. We are called, “Jedediah” even as Solomon (2Sam 12:25). We are and rest soundly in our identity as “the Lord’s beloved.”

Psalm 127 (ESV) reads,
1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

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

“Unless the Lord,” the qualification
That matters, the watchman’s only security,
The only footing, the firm foundation
Upon which to build, the builder’s surety.
But when you lie down, your heart’s empty of rest;
Your mind works all night at a rolling boil;
You arise in the morning stiff and stressed
To feed upon the bread of anxious toil.
Fruitfulness isn’t ledgered productivity
As if blessing could be quantified,
Rather it’s the labor of love’s creativity
As children begotten by husband and bride.
Beloved of God, be at peace tonight;
Sleep safe as his child, his beloved, delight.

© 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.

What Joy?

What Joy?

Psalm 126 is the seventh of a collection of psalms called, Songs of Ascent. This collection of psalms were sung by the people of God as they traveled from their homes to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship during the great festivals of the Jewish calendar.

In this psalm we see how joy or gladness manifests itself in the life of the pilgrim who is journeying to be with God. Pilgrimages can be comfortable or uncomfortable, difficult, dangerous, happy, thrilling, and awe inspiring. For the pilgrim though, they are always, joyful. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad.” (Psalm 126:3).

Even as I say that, I experience a push back. “What, are we always to be happy?” “But what about…?” “Are you saying I’m not…?” “Surely you don’t mean…?” Yes, there are qualifications, but a pilgrim’s joy is not the consequence of any earthly circumstance. “The Lord has done great things for us” — this is the basis of our joy. Circumstantially, the psalmist is in a season of want (vs 4), tears (vs 5), and weeping (vs 6). Nevertheless, the pilgrim is able to rejoice because, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion”, and even though that was a past circumstance, the pilgrim employs the Lord’s past faithfulness as reason to continue to ask and trust in their present need.

In faith we trust the Lord to restore in his timing. Sometimes he restores suddenly like the spring rains in the Judean Negev desert. One day you’re standing in the barren, brown desert and the next day there are flowers everywhere (as the image shows). What a surprise! Sometimes however, the Lord’s restoration takes a season, a season of sowing and tending after which a harvest is gathered in. The pilgrim who sows with tears, who goes out in weeping (pictures of repentance) will not only reap the harvest of the crop they’ve planted, but they shall reap shouts of joy.

Psalm 125 (ESV) reads,

1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

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

Wasn’t it just like walking in a dream —
Wonderstruck, eyes shining with delight,
The joyful surprise in the face of what seemed
Impossible, a victory, the wrong made right?
And then there was the long, weary waiting,
The months of work with no compensation,
Suddenly a payday, no more speculating
About the coming joy and salvation.
But again we’re in need, again overcome;
Our weakness the world counts as shame;
Though famine, fire, and flood overrun,
We still lift our hands and call on Your name.
Giver of life, Fulfiller of dreams,
Restore our fortunes like Negev’s desert streams.

© Randy 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.
Photo by Gideon Pisanty, Spring bloom at the Negev Mountains, with Tulipa systola, Helianthemum vesicarium, and Erucaria microcarpa. March 5, 2010.

What Peace?

What Peace?

The collection of Psalms 120-134 are titled, “songs of ascent”; that is, they are psalms sung by the people of God as they made the ascent from their hometowns to the great city of Jerusalem where they were to gather three times a year to worship at the Temple.

All sorts of reasons and excuses, no doubt, were offered and acted upon as to why one could not make the journey. Even once on the journey, there is no assurance that one would continue. The author of Psalm 125 reminds the pilgrim of the end of the pilgrimage, its fruit or consequence in the life of the one, who by faith, undertakes such a journey.

If the struggle to arrive were not struggle enough, we must remember that pilgrims live in a world of wicked rulers, duplicitous companions, and crooked dealings. How can all of this add up to the peace and rest promised in Psalm 125? How does our continuing in obedience along the pilgrim way make for one’s being fixed, strong, and immoveable like Mount Zion? The author’s simple answer is faith.

You may have heard Jesus’ words on faith and mountains. Mark 11:23 says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” I wonder if the point is not the movableness of the mountain (how far one’s faith may throw the mountain?), but rather that even for the weakest, faith in God makes one immoveable even though buffeted by mountains? When life falls apart we are told (when “the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea”, Psalm 46:2) that the one who trusts in the Lord is not moved, but abides.

In the images of pilgrimage, faith, and mountains, I am drawn to Abraham for whom all three came together in a perfect storm of fear. In the sonnet below, I make use Abraham and his offering of Isaac to fill out the words of Psalm 125 which reads,

1 Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.
3 For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong.
4 Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts!
5 But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers!
Peace be upon Israel!

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet here,

Footsore, ready to be done with this walk—
Three days of wrestling, weary with waiting;
Afraid, fear like a lion lurks and stalks,
To pounce on my chest, its pressure suffocating.
Was it that much worse doing it myself?
Take the wife’s maiden? Do it our way?
Not cast off, forgotten, left on some shelf?
Get what I want, have our day, when I say?
You promised the stars if I trusted your word,
Yet this road’s end, leads to losing laughter;
Even though the Nations be blessed, how Lord,
That offering one’s son, secures rest after?
The Lord on Mount Zion provides us a place
Abiding and laughter, peace, rest, and grace.

© 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.

What Hope?

What Hope?

The Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-135) are the songs of pilgrims on the road to meet with God. They vocalize the reasons for pilgrimage, its benefits, and struggles.

Psalm 124 is a song from the vantage point of the finish and of hope realized — the hope which pilgrim’s carry in their hearts along the way. The pilgrim way is a way of faith, and it, rather than an optimistic feeling, is the manner in which we walk. Hope is at the end, it is the reason we keep on walking. Midst the journey though, hope is still unrealized, unseen, and the unseen is very difficult to trust, to remain steadfast unto.

Psalm 124 is a song for the fearful — for those who’s hearts are beginning to give way to the terrors and catastrophes which can suddenly befall us. Within its verses is a collective memory, that ‘the Lord has not left us alone’ nor given us over to death and defeat. The Scriptures are full of the accounts of people who, rather than stoically rising above life’s disappointments (as we might think the godly, dignified saints out to have done), succumb to despair, honestly complain against, and about which sing lament. In Psalm 124 we hear the rallying cry of those who have been delivered, who were beyond hoping things would turn out better, but thankfully were not without the hope of their faithful savior.

Psalm 124 reads,

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
4 then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
5 then over us would have gone
the raging waters.
6 Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

If helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet below.

Here beyond, there is rejoicing and peace;
Death’s dull dank as a cloud gave way
To the balmy breeze of victory and grace
Which billows my shroud, fills my new day.
For defeat as a dragon had swallowed me whole;
As a flood, fear flashed, swept courage away;
The jaw of death’s teeth, held, ground my soul;
Hopeless as a dove snared, my doomsday.
Had it not been for the Lord, the Name high above;
The Name above all names, WHO IS AND WAS,
The Name who spoke mine, called me in love
Out of the mouth, from the jaw, snare, and flood.
“Lazarus, come forth!” my Savior called me,
Fly from the earth! Arise! You are free!

© 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.