Why All This Waste?

Why All This Waste?

I spent some time these past few days at DITA10 (Duke Initiatives in Theology & the Arts) which was an excellent conference. One of the sessions attempted to tackle the question of whether, in this age of scarcity and need, there was just cause to spend so much time, energy, and of course money on art (as the value of anything in this age of the world is reduced to dollars). The question at the conference itself arose from Matthew’s gospel and the account of Jesus’ anointing in Matthew 26:6-10 which reads,

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’
But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.'”

The question to which art is always having to give an account is, “Why this waste?”

In another session later in the day however, conference speaker, Malcolm Guite, answered the question quite succinctly when he noted that Matthew 26 is the first and only time the gospels that Jesus says something is “beautiful”.

Well, that settled it for me.

In between the time that the question was posed and Guite’s answer came, a friend and I were stopped short by seeing a hummingbird flit and hover around a lobelia near us. This moment set us up for the answer to come later. As we observed, having already been asked the question, Why this waste? I was asking, of what possible utility or value is a hummingbird? Well, it was a beautiful thing. It turns out it answered quite clearly.

Why should we make room for more beauty?
Why this waste when we have the duty
To be responsible, care for the poor?
Why all this waste when we could do more?

Why all this room in the cosmos above
If space is empty, if it only consists of
Us? Are we the only ones? Nothing more?
Why all this waste? What on earth is space for?

A hummingbird on a tree’s branch sways
In the wind, takes flight, flies up and away
And down, stops to kiss the lobelia blooms;
And Beauty stops me, in my heart makes room.

God wastes not a moment, but to me calls:
For love of you, I have gladly spent all.

© 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: original linoleum block print by © Randall Edwards 2019.

With All His Heart

With All His Heart

A friend of mine died three years ago today. From the very beginning, she had a life of struggle. Ultimately, that battle took its toll, and as is the case for all, she succumbed to that struggle. The elf queen, Galadriel, in Lord of the Rings speaks of “the long defeat”. Talking this way may sound morose, but it is comforting for me because this is how I experience the world. My friend struggled with the long defeat.

Many moving through this world don’t seem to know an end is coming. Fewer of our fellows seem to slow for funeral processions. Nevertheless, you can’t get around it. In my town they still slow, stop, and honor the departed and their family. But in many places, the procession is passed by drivers who are in a hurry to get somewhere else. They could do with the lesson they’d be afforded if they could recognize it. The lesson being, Where do you think you are headed so fast?

My friend was a writer and poet. She fought her battle with words and phrases, and she inspired me and the congregation of which she was a member. One of those poems, “With All My Heart” was put to music by our our congregation’s worship leader, Michael Kuehn. You may listen to the song via the player below.

Tonya’s last days were physically uncomfortable. She didn’t want visitors. Though for those of us who ventured into expressing our love for her by visiting, she did what is often the case of those for whom we are grieving, she comforted us. In my grief for her, I wrote this sonnet for her several days before she died. In her poem, she has a line in which she expresses her love for Jesus, (“…with all my heart”). I turned that line into an expression of Jesus’ love for her. His love for us is no less eager, zealous, pleading, or desiring. I make use of the story of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8:40-56 to help imagine the love Jesus expressed for her.

See you soon, Tonya.

Arise now, stand strong and healed
Safely home, never to depart;
Welcome to the broad and spacious field
Of His expansive love filling all your heart.
Come now, made whole and see
With your own eyes the One —
The Poet who speaks thought into reality
Whose mercy shines as morning sun.

With all His heart, he welcomes you,
Whispers your name, speaks to your fear
Whose salvation searches, makes you new
As he gently wipes away every last tear.
And taking your hand, “Little one, awaken in my light
What was imagined in thy heart is now given in thy sight.”

© Randall Edwards 2016
Artwork: Gabriel Max. The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter , oil on canvas, 1878.

Sanballat and Tobiah?

Sanballat and Tobiah?

This (I can hardly call it a poem) is based on Nehemiah 4 in which Nehemiah and the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall is opposed by Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. It may be a spoken word hit piece. The question always comes back, who’s the one hit or who gets taken down?

Sanballat, you stinky polecat,
You heavy-handed, fat-headed rat
You poser, you loser, you boozer ding-bat.
Tally these up on your clay ledger mat
Suck on them eggs you viperous diplomat
And stash them in your skanky velvet hat
You blithering boob of a bureaucrat!
Whatcha think about that, Sanballat?

Tobiah the Ammonite, you parasite;
You feast on misfortune, you buggy blight
On humanity, doing good only for spite;
You imagine other’s success as a slight
As if it all were about you, amiright?
You are as alive as a barrow-wight
What you love are the deeds which you do at night
Which you always do when you get lit, get tight.
But one day you’ll be drug out into the light,
And you will fall, fall, so far from your great height.
I’ll say it again, Bruh, if you like,
Tobiah the Ammonite.

Thank you God, that I am not like them
Who use people, do with them all they can,
Evil-Doers, not just every now and then.
But Me? I have given a tenth of every yen
I’ve made, given time and time again;
Oh how I thank you that I am not like those men.

Lord, How many times must I forgive a debt?
He answered with parable, with a gospel net,
Caught me in a trap, and that trap upset
My truce between resentment and regret,
My long record of all I was owed, kept–
A list from A to Z, an alphabet
Of wounds which chained me so I’d never forget,
To which I’m still chained, and still not free yet.

Who will rescue me from where I am at?
From being a Tobiah, Sanballat?
Would He give what I deserve? Give tit for tat?
Pay me out, squash me like some pesky gnat?
Or would He in love, take the blow, be spat
Upon, scorned, become sin, be a doormat
Become for me, Tobiah and Sanballat?

© Randall Edwards 2019.
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 Pharisee and the Publican (Le pharisien et le publicain), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper. Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.178 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.178_PS2.jpg)

Start Again

Start Again

This sonnet is based on Nehemiah 3 where Nehemiah recounts the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem. Repair work is difficult because of the “re-” part. Having to tend again to something that was previously finished exposes the grief of the impermanence of this world. When however, we are sober, we identify the reality and hidden hopefulness in T. S. Elliot’s words from “The Four Quartets”,

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from….”

The ending necessary so that something new may start, is the most difficult step. Thankfully it is not the whole journey. Rather the new begins with a step, with picking up one thing, and putting it in its place.

How does one begin when the worst befalls?
And how does one know even where to start
When violence tears down destroys your walls
Leaves vulnerable the tender heart?
And the mind is laid bare with questions, Why?
Regret comes each night, resentment with day,
Keeps you awake, leaves you looking at sky
For an answer, some direction, or way.

Forward rather, seems going round again
Repairing the old, fitting in the new,
Filling the breaches, and facing the pain,
Not delivered from the trial, but through.
So I start again, admit I need grace,
Hand o’er my life, set the first piece in place.

© Randall Edwards 2019.
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]

Time’s Fullness

Time’s Fullness

This sonnet is first in a new series from the book of Nehemiah. It finds its inspiration in both Nehemiah 1 and Galatians 4:4,5. I was particularly struck by the moment word of the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls and gates reached Nehemiah. He writes that he “sat down and wept” which echos the song of the exiles in Psalm 137. Time both seems to stand still and move. Nehemiah receives the news in the month of Chislev, but doesn’t approach the king until four months later in Nisan. How might time seemed to have passed as he waited and prayed? And once he determined to make his request, how quickly did it pass to conclude with an answer?

Time sometimes turns with a question which you
Toss to a friend as he passes through;
Your world comes apart with, “Didn’t you hear?”

To crash on your head, up to your ears.

To you, time had borne your hopes as a stream;
Now blocked it pools in troubling dreams,
O’erflows its banks, puddles, makes a dammed slough,
Leaves you stuck in the moment, mired in right now.

But faith takes time and patiently bears
The mind’s burdens, the heart’s worrisome cares
To the God of heaven whose will holds the key
That turns the door’s lock and brings delivery.

When time’s fullness at last fin’lly comes,
Delivery gives birth and makes us sons.

© Randall Edwards 2019.
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: Mobilos [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Dwell in Me

Dwell in Me

This sonnet is based on: Ephesians 1:3-14.

God: Father, Christ, and Spirit blessed be,
Whose embrace enfolds with the Trinity,
Who with every blessing blesses me.

Father, before I was, you loved me
Not because I was a saint or lovely,
But to make me holy, you chose me.

Jesus, beloved, you have redeemed me
By your blood, abundant grace — lavishly,
Paid my debt, brought me back, uniting me.

Holy Spirit, you make strong, live in me;
You satisfy, seal, are a guarantee,
And fill to the measure all of me.

God: Father, Christ, and Spirit, blessed be
The Three in One, One in Three, dwell in me.

© Randall Edwards 2019.
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.
Graphic: AnonMoos (initial SVG conversion of PostScript source by AnonMoos was done by Indolences) [Public domain]

The City’s Wood

The City’s Wood

I have always been taken with the image depicted in Revelation 22:1-2 of the Heavenly City. This past Sunday while as a part of a visit to Vancouver, BC, I gained an albeit small sense of what that city might be like. It was such a beautiful day, and I was already full of gratitude after visiting a lovely church here. The photo is University of British Columbia’s main mall and is similar to what I imagine except for the river.

I sit ‘neath the shade of the city’s wood
Which stands in rows along the river road
And breathe in the life and all the good
That has come to me, that He has bestowed.
And all is life! As a river, life flows
From the God throne down the eastern slope
To make the Dead Sea live where nothing grows
And flood my wild heart with love and hope.
In this place the Spirit blows full and free
The river roars Life! Life! Be satisfied!
The leaves of the wood fall in healing on me
And her fruit fills what was long denied.
And now I rest, I live in Him above;
I am his, He is mine, and all is love.

© Randall Edwards 2019.
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.