The Lengths to Which Love Goes

The Lengths to Which Love Goes

A sonnet for Holy Thursday.

This sonnet is based on John 13:1 which reads, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

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

The lengths to which Love goes, none will prevent;
It spans and stretches out to such a reach
That it tears itself, pulls apart, is rent
By passion and yearning to bridge the breach.

To mountain tops rising, Love’s light as air
It mounts with eagle’s wings, climbs to the heights;
Brazenly bold, it blushes not when men stare,
A hopeful morning-star shining in night.
Love declares, kneels down, asks for thy hand;
Humbles himself, takes the lowest place;
Pleads for his friends, makes no demand,
Pays out their debt, shares their disgrace.

Love paid the rent, climbed the mount, bore the shame,
Took his love as a bride, gives her his name.

© 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: “Love” abstract weaving by © Jennifer Edwards 2017, (jenniferedwards.com) Photo by Hazel Kuehn. Used with permission.

She Gave More than They

She Gave More than They

During his passion week, Jesus traveled daily to the Temple in order to teach and preach. During a private moment with his disciples, Jesus takes note of a widow who placed her offering in the offering box. Here, two, small lepta (worth about the 1/4 of penny together) become the example of giving which surpasses the giving of all the others.

We read about her gift in Luke 21:1-4.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

James Tissot’s rendering of the same moment is one of my favorite depictions. There is so much going on in the painting. The rich who give while on their way into the dark, the hand of one hidden by the widow’s retreat as if he were picking her pocket, the stark, sharp clarity of the widow carrying her child as she moves towards the light…magnificent.

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

From her poverty she gave more than they
Who gave of their wealth, who gave from their best.
All she had to live on, she gave away.

Their offering was a giving display
Giving to show they had more than the rest.
From her poverty, she gave more than they.

For they fill their hearts with what other’s say
The real treasure buried ‘neath their vest.
All she had to live on, she gave away.

The crashing of shekels like a surf’s spray
Washes in praise as they empty their chest.
From her poverty, she gave more than they.

Round the Temple’s court, the Rabbi’s eyes stray
To one who gives from how much she’s been blessed;
All she had to live on she gave away.

He wonders at one who gives, freely lays
Down her living, no trouble or unrest;
From her poverty, she gave more than they
All she had to live on, she gave away.

© 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: James Tissot, The Widow’s Mite (Le denier de la veuve), Created: between 1886- and 1894, Brooklyn Museum

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

It is said that in the Temple on the Sunday in which Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, the Levite singers lead the worshipers by singing Psalm 24. The first part of the psalm asks who may ascend the hill of the Lord? The second half responds with the affirmation and call of the King of glory, to enter in and ascend his throne. It reads,

7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
9 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory! Selah

As passion week begins, here is a sonnet for Palm Sunday which is based on Mark 11:1-11 and draws some of its inspiration from Psalm 24.

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

Behold! your king comes, O Jerusalem
Midst the festal throng, waving palms and praise;
“Son of David!” you cry in unison
Behold your king, with voice Hosannas raise!

This is the sudden coming. Now, the hour;
He rides a donkey’s colt; he brings salvation;
No longer secret but coming in pow’r
To tread his winepress, rescue the nation.

Lift up your heads, O gates! Swing wide, let in
The king who ascends to the Holy Place
The Lamb of God without blemish or sin,
The mighty, strong king of glory and grace.

What heart of stone would not shout his renown?
Who seeing disown? Deny him his crown?

© Randall Edwards 2019.
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 Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem (Le cortège dans les rues de Jérusalem), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 8 7/8 x 6 15/16 in. (22.5 x 17.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.194 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.194_PS2.jpg)

A Psalm for Evening and Morning

A Psalm for Evening and Morning

The Daily Office Psalter readings are currently in the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). I preached a series from that section in the Psalter a few years ago, and it remains one of my favorites. And by favorites, I think I mean that I grew to be surprised at how dear they became especially as I engaged them imaginatively in trying to communicate them poetically myself.

One of today’s psalms is Psalm 127 which 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 is a lot going on in this psalm, and one can get distracted by the seeming non sequitur of a builder, a watchman and child bearing. Yet, when we consider what blessing is, what ‘new morning mercy’ is like, when we consider the fullness of lovingkindness and amazing grace, there is in a similar way, a non sequitur of sorts. That is, when we receive the great gift of blessing or answered prayer, it seems wildly incongruous with what came before and is nothing short of being blessed with a child and in all its ways: courtship, consummation, conception, expectation, travail, delivery, and full arms.

As we seek the hope of miraculous blessing in the midst of great trial, Psalm 127 is both a psalm with which to start the morning and with which to head to bed. Today, what will bring blessing? Where may I turn to receive it? Or, Tonight what will bring sleep, and how can I rest peacefully waiting and wondering if blessing ever will come?

This sonnet is titled, “Unless the Lord.” I also offer it in honor of two friends who have just welcomed a child into the world. May their arms be full of the Lord’s lovingkindness even as they rest in His arms.

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.

The Rooster’s Crow

The Rooster’s Crow

This ekphrastic poem is based on Matthew 26:30-35 and Matthew 26:69-75 and the artwork of Keaton Sapp who has installed his fourth piece of the Stations of the Cross Lenten art exhibit. His drawing is titled, “The Denial.”  My poem came out as a rhyming triplet in iambic pentameter. (You receive what is given.)

In Keaton’s imagery, he uses the image of a fig leaf to symbolize Christ. You’ll see that imagery also reflected in the image of a fig tree and a fig. In his depiction of the fourth station, Christ is a leaf that is plucked and tossed aside by Peter’s denial. As I reflected on the piece what came out was Peter’s own judgment and the death of his own pride. I share this because that’s what the imagination sometimes does. It speculates and presents options as to meaning. Those options, sometimes go nowhere or can sadly lead us into error. Other times though, the imagination enriches our understanding.

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

By the time the rooster crowed, he told me,
A seasoned fisherman from Galilee,
That I would deny him not once, twice, but three.

Me! Always so cocksure confident; I
Said, “Never Lord, I will never deny;
These others might flee, but I’ll never fly!”

I admit I’m often wrong — never in doubt;
When just saying would do, I would shout;
I’d earn, deserve it, not take a handout.

Doubt settles in; I followed him here
Whose entrance on Sunday was praised and cheered;
He’s sheepishly silent before these shearers.

Here, a servant girl looks, notices me,
“You follow that teacher from Galilee!
Tell me true; you are one, you must be.”

“Really, I can’t imagine what you mean.”
When another girl says, “I know I’ve seen
You with the one they call the Nazarene.”

Green, my face pales. How could both
Servant girls know? Question my troth?
“I swear I don’t know him!” I give my oath.

I hear myself speak quick, reflexively,
“I do not know the man,” I say cooly.
“I don’t know him!” and add, “Truely!”

“Surely,” from the crowd another says,
“You’re from Galilee your accent betrays
You must be one those who follows the way.”

“Nay!” (overplayed) I shout, I vow:
“I swear, I told you, let judgment fall now
If I am one of his I don’t know how!”

Now, the third time, I’ll not forget the pain
As I called down a curse, the crowing began
And I stopped. I did not speak again.

And I denied him three times, made a show.
What he knew, I myself would come to know,
When judgment sounded with the rooster’s crow.

So, in th’ end pride plucked me off, pitched me down,
As shame swelled in waves with tears to drown
Broken to pieces, left lying on the ground.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 6.50.16 AM

© 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). Thank you.
Artwork: © Keaton Sapp 2020, “The Rooster Crows” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.

Waking in a Dream

Waking in a Dream

The Psalms are prayers which help give voice to our prayers. To read the words of those who lived thousands of years ago and to read that they experienced life in much the same way (though the circumstances seem vastly different) is in its own way a great comfort. The psalms train our imagination to articulate the experience of the life of faith in God. Psalm 126 is one such psalm.

The author of Psalm 126 makes use of the surprise of a dessert bloom after a spring rain. Practically overnight, the desert, which had been brown and barren, becomes green and blooms. It must be a magnificent surprise and delight. This is the experience of those to whom blessing comes. It is miraculous: “like those who dream.” But that isn’t the psalmist’s current circumstance. Rather, they have had their good fortune taken from them and they are now ‘sowing in tears.’

This sonnet is based upon Psalm 126 which reads,

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
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.”

The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

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.”

© 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.
Photograph: Daviddarom / CC0. Judean Desert in bloom

Waking to Our Fear

Waking to Our Fear

A friend reminded me that today is World Poetry Day, and so I am posting one which I continue to re-work but is based on a scene from Mark’s gospel which continues to both mystify and encourage me.

One night while crossing the Sea of Galilee, the disciples find their boat foundering in one of the severe storms which frequents the Sea of Galilee when the cool air from Mount Hermon rushes down its slopes in the sea’s valley and the warm air rises. Mark 4:35-41 reads,

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

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

It was because you wanted to that we
Started for the other side that evening–
Crossing at night Galilee’s fitful sea
When the cool of Mount Hermon comes beating.

And as we’d seen a hundred times before:
You lose when caught in the night-storm’s billow;
Reeling in fear, we pulled and pushed to shore
While you slept sound on the tiller’s pillow.

And shouting, Lord! Don’t you care if we die?
We did as you asked! Ignored our warnings!
Waking to our fear, he spoke to the sky
Which fell still as a spring Sunday morning.

Who are you that into the storm you lead
Permitting despair, that your friends be freed?

© Randall Edwards 2016
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). Jesus Sleeping During the Tempest (Jésus dormant pendant la tempête), 1886-1896. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 5 1/2 x 7 11/16 in. (14 x 19.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.101 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.101_PS2.jpg)