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)

A Kiss

A Kiss

This sonnet is the Third Station in the Lent series, The Stations of the Cross, and is entitled, A Kiss. Artist, Keaton Sapp’s drawing of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot is striking. The contrast between dark and light together with the intimacy of a kiss and the gesture’s betrayal make Jesus’ passion all the more tragic.

The garden betrayal of Jesus is an unwinding of the first Adam’s betrayal. The intimate depiction of Adam’s creation bears the personal touch of God’s hand work and the intimacy of a kiss as life is breathed into the man. God forms him as a potter shapes clay, and God suscitates the man in a manner which mirrors a shepherd who breaths life into a newborn lamb. Genesis 2:7-9 reads,

…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Not long after man’s creation, a serpent enters the garden, deceives the woman and leads the man into sin. After the sin and betrayal of the first man and woman, innocence is lost, death enters creation, and they are cut off from life with God.

Matthew’s gospel account of the betrayal, mirrors the first sin, but it is Jesus who obeys, is seized, and cast out. The friendly greeting of love hides the hidden motive of Judas who has sold his rabbi and friend for thirty pieces of silver. Matthew 26:47-50 reads,

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

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

God took what He made, shaped by His own hand,
Held him close, kissed with life, and made him breathe;
Took his hand, placed him in, made him to stand
In the heart of the Garden with the Tree.

But Man took the fruit, would not trust or wait
To be given that which could not be bought;
They sold themselves, and were cast through the gate
To die in the wild, toil for what they lost.

The God-Man came to the Garden at night,
Seek His Father’s will, Keep faith, not forsake;
Touch his lips to the curse, make all things right;
Take the cup, drink its dregs, sin’s power break.

Hung on a tree, the fruit which buys love’s bliss:
Is sold for silver, betrayed with a kiss.

© 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 Kiss.” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.

Watch with Me

Watch with Me

This ekphrastic poem is based on the Second Station of the Cross piece drawn by Keaton Sapp entitled, “Watch with Me.” It is part of a larger collection which is being installed at Grace Kernersville through Lent. The entire exhibit will be the pieces which will form Stations of the Cross which may be walked during Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The picture and poem are based on Matthew 26:36-45 which reads,

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

The picture which Keaton has drawn, reminded me of the words from Psalm 121:3-6. It reads,

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

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

Come a little further and stay with me.
Let us watch and pray ‘neath the orchard tree.
Leave me not alone here in my crying;
My soul is breaking, of sorrow dying.

Kneeling in prayer in the grove, he bent down,
Set aside his will, set aside his crown,
Prayed, Father, please let this cup pass from me,
Yet not my will be done, but your will be.

Weak, we fell asleep, did not understand
That we slept in the shade of God’s right hand
Who watches, who neither slumbers nor sleeps,
Who is our shield, who ever-prays and keeps.

In this garden, he kept his word of love.
Arose and faced the serpent as a dove.

© 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 Anointing.” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.

Thou Saw First

Thou Saw First

This poem is the first in a series of poems for Lent entitled, The Stations of the Cross and is a part of a larger project entitled the same. The collection as a whole will form a composition in which people may use to walk the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and Holy Saturday at Grace Kernersville. You may read more about the exhibit HERE.

The poems I am writing are largely ekphrastic and draw from the artist whose work comprises the Stations of Cross exhibit. Artist, Keaton Sapp, has decided to depict the events of Jesus’ last hours through the motif of a fig tree. In so doing, I have found my own imagination more engaged, and I hope those who see the art and walk the Stations later will find it inspiring as well.

The First Station which Keaton has drawn is entitled, “The Anointing,” and is based on Matthew 26:6-13 which reads,

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 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. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

I have always been captivated by Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus prior to his entry into Jerusalem. The disciples rebuke of her extravagant gift shows that they neither have an awareness of the beauty of her gesture but also of what he was about to do. Though Jesus is the anointed, it is Mary, the anointer, who has captured my imagination. In addition to the passage in Matthew 26, the image of Aaron’s anointing and the ministry of his priesthood came to mind, and so I also draw from Psalm 133. You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

The crack of thy alabaster flask snapped
Us out of our drowsy, self-concerned daze —
Out of the day’s worries which had snared, trapped.

The odor of the heavy, earth perfume
Enfolded us, wrapped ‘round and filled the room.

The oil thou poured on his head dripped slowly,
Not like the water he would later pour
On our feet to wash, to make us holy.

This scent embedded in hearts the free grace
Of him who touched our soles with love’s fragrance.

But the scent did not o’erwhelm common sense;
This gesture must have been worth thousands.
Why this gift of kingly extravagance?

It was a waste, could have been used for more;
It should have been sold, used to help the poor.

But thou alone saw what we were blind to
That the High Priest’s blessing had come to us—
Blessing had fallen as Mount Hermon’s dew.

Through thy tears thou saw the fullness of love
While we complained, standing over as judge.

Thou saw it all, Mary. Thou poured it out.
And we complained, we questioned thy right—
We sounded like those who later would flout.

We hail thee now, for the love thou poured, gave
Thou saw first among those our Savior saved.

© 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 Anointing.” Pen and ink. All Rights Reserved.

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]