Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

A couple of years ago I participated in my first Ash Wednesday service as a pastor. I was surprised at how imposing the ashes effected me. There is something deeply intimate with touching a person’s face. And to smear ashes on their face and look them in the eye and speak the words in Genesis 3:19,”…you are dust, and to dust you shall return” was especially sobering. The event inspired the following sonnet which is entitled, “You Are Dust.”

May God bless you as you embark on your pilgrimage to Easter.

“Remember, you are dust,” I say. You bow
Your head toward me standing face to face;
With my trembling thumb I reach, touch your brow
To impose in ash this symbol of grace.

“You are dust,” words every father has told
Every child whom death and dearth drove down,
Deep into earth, where neither young or old,
Wear gems or gold but wear an ashen crown.

“And to dust you shall return,” I say
Crossing your forehead in imposition;
He sends you forth on this Wednesday
Into the wilderness of His transposition.
Where the hopeless hope, through dust and ash rise
When death’s door is broken, opened to sky.

© 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.
Photo: by Hazel Kuehn Photography of original abstract weaving by Jennifer Edwards which is a part of her series, Ashes to Eternity.

What Do You See?

What Do You See?

Last fall I preached from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah begins with the Lord calling him into ministry, but Jeremiah is skeptical of his own abilities and unsure that the Lord will continue with him. Just in that moment, the Lord asks Jeremiah what he sees. Jeremiah is looking at an almond tree (a shoqed in Hebrew). The Lord tells Jeremiah that he sees well, and that in just the same way Jeremiah sees the almond tree, the Lord himself is watching (shaqed in Hebrew) over Jeremiah. It’s a sweet, kind, and personal moment. From that day on, Jeremiah would never look at a shaqed (almond tree) without thinking that the Lord was shoqed (watching) him.

Last year, a family in the congregation I pastor, planted an almond tree just outside the sanctuary window. This spring its buds are set to flower, and I can’t help but be encouraged that the Lord is watching and keeping his promises just as he said. I hope you’re encouraged too.

I wrote a poem about the interaction between Jeremiah and the Lord and was inspired by Eugene Peterson’s translation of the encounter in The Message which you may read HERE. Peterson makes use of the pun “stick” as in a branch of an almond tree and “stick” as in, I’m sticking with you. I really like that.

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 mission in life comes from above,
As a watchman you’ll speak, my word spreading.

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

Ah, indeed.
Do not say, “Ah!” Do you hear?

Into your mouth I put my word of power;
You shall say what I say. Speak! Do not fear;
Though they beat, you’ll stand, be my strong tower.

“But 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 2020

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.