The Seed

The Seed

Here is a sonnet about what happens when one reads poetry.

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

Like seed broadcast by a sower’s throw
Are the words which poets scatter around,
And those words, now dormant, will only grow
When received by ears which hear and resound
Their meaning, the wonder, through turn of phrase,
By rhyme and cadence, the incantation
Which breaks through as one freed from a maze
Into seeing through imagination.

I see your brow furrow. Till you look again
At these words which are flung across your way;
As you work your plot, try to comprehend
The worries which germinate through your day.
Stopped in this moment, amazed, you’re the ground
Who sprouts into smile by words which you’ve found.

© Randall Edwards 2017
artwork: James Tissot, The Sower, 1886 and 1894, Medium: opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum,

Our Strength

Our Strength

This is another poem based upon Psalm 126 which is a Song of Ascent.

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

Our strength is not in “being upbeat”.
Is not our performance record
It’s not our popularity, being greeted on the street
We are not our own, we aren’t our own lord.

Our strength is not our authenticity
Nor our capable application
Not in being efficient, exemplars of productivity.
We stand on a firmer foundation.

We are not strong because we know
Whats to know, posses sophistry’s acumen
We are the tearful who in weeping sow
Who know what it means to be fully human.

Our strength is not in the people like us,
Who like us or who like to fight
We don’t fight to win, to be self-righteous
We fight, to be sincere, walk humbly, upright.

Our strength is not that our families are better
That our marriages and children are enviable
Meeting expectations right down to the letter
Never experiencing any trouble.

Our confidence is not because our pantries are well-stocked
Because our 401Ks are properly diversified
Our hope is not that our comfort in retirement
Will allow shell-seeking at some sunny seaside.

The joy of the Lord, His joy is our strength!
Even so Lord, restore our fortunes!
Make us fruitful! Give us faith to go to any length
Be our sole solace. Be our living portion.

© 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 End?

What End?

Over the past several months I have been working through a collection of psalms in the Old Testament’s book of Psalms called the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). This collection of songs is believed to have been sung by pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem for the great Jewish festivals.

The Songs of Ascent are more than a collection of songs, they are a geography of the pilgrim’s walk of faith to God. In these psalms we hear about the pitfalls and dangers as well as the necessary encouragement and motivation to make and finish such a journey.

Psalm 132 is the longest of the Songs of Ascent and speaks to us of what is needed to make the last push to the finish. A journey of 100 miles can just as easily be forsaken in the last mile and is all the more pitiable when that journey is given up within sight of the finish. I know that pitifulness.

Psalm 132 reminds the pilgrim that the journey which they are making, this last climb through Judea up to Jerusalem, was one which the Lord has made too if only symbolically through the presence of the ark of the covenant. David vowed to bring the ark to a resting place among the people of God in Jerusalem; this is the destination of the Old Testament pilgrim: the Temple which housed the ark.

As the psalm reminds us of the vow which David made, the search for the ark which had fallen into obscurity, David’s desire to see the Lord’s worship honored even as he danced among the procession, and the promise which the Lord made to David and his descendants, we are reminded of the reward of faithful obedience.

For the pilgrim on pilgrimage, the joy at the end is not that the journey is over. The pilgrim’s joy breaks into view when they see that the God whom they have sought and pursued has, in fact, come to them.

This sonnet imagines the pilgrimage of one who, like the psalmist of Psalm 120, has come to his senses and gone to God. However, the dangers of pilgrimage waylay him near the finish. Remembering the kindnesses shown and the hope of fulfillment, he is persuaded to “arise”. The prodigal pilgrim makes the final push to the finish to find that “while he was still a long way off his father…”.

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

Here at the finish, the way is steep;
Having come so far, the end now in sight;
The vows made at dawn, when refreshed by sleep,
Seem cynically foolish in the fading light.
Lost in worries weeds, the tangle of cares
Trip me with cries to forget the vow,
Tempt me with lies by which comfort ensnares,
Falling, I slip into despondency’s slough.

A call to arise calls me from the end
And recalls to mind the kind offers made;
I stand, and stumbling, the last hill ascend
To behold the blessing for which I’d prayed.
The fullness sought in leaving now I see:
The father whom I left, running to me.

© 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.

Dear Heart

Dear Heart

This sonnet is a second based upon Psalm 131 and is a word of comfort or a moment of self-talk over and against all the words, phrases, and speaking which often rolls through one’s thought-life. In the South, “dear heart” can be spoken in a condescending fashion much like it’s sister expression, “Bless your heart…”. Though I may reserve that tone for reading this to my own self, it is not intended that others read it that way.

Also, I do not generally make use of the archaic, “thou”, “thine”, and “thy”. However, in this case it seems to me there something lost of the intimacy of a distinguished 2nd person personal pronoun in our common usage today. If possible, don’t hear a “formal” address, but rather words of intimacy.

Psalm 131 reads,

1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.

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

for PBP on October 6

Dear heart, do not lift thine eyes to the hills
Where control and pleasure are wound as one,
But feed on grace, the daily bread which fills,
Lest thou be left empty, thy life undone.
Dear soul, be calm, do not churn in thy breast
Fret not the drought, nor the flood of keening
Trust as a child who on his mother rests,
Patiently endure thy rooting soul’s weaning.
Dear child, rest thy head on shoulders which bore
The rough beam upon which hung all thy fears,
Be held by arms which opened wide the door,
And the hands which took thy sin, wipes thy tears.
O Israel, put thy hope in the Lord
Rest in Him this day and forever more.

© 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: Dora Hitz (1856–1924), Motherhood. The image is from the 1905 print after page of “Women Painters of the World, from the Time of Caterina Vigri, 1413-1463, to Rosa Bonheur and the Present Day”, by Walter Shaw Sparrow, from The Art and Life Library, Hodder & Stoughton, 27 Paternoster Row, London.

What Rest?

What Rest?

The Songs of Ascent are a collection of pilgrim songs — songs sung by those on the road who are journeying to God. These psalms contain encouragement and counsel for the pilgrim, and like a geographer, these songs describe the lay of the land of a pilgrim’s world.

The lesson which the psalmist is seeking to teach his fellow travelers is that faith in God and our hope in Him is more than what He can do for us in the moment. God can be trusted, and the pilgrim must learn to wait on Him. This trust and peace is likened to that of the weaned child who has learned to trust its mother though she no longer offers the same comforts she once did. Spurgeon writes, “It is a blessed mark of growth out of spiritual infancy when we can forego the joys which once appeared to be essential, and can find our solace in him who denies them to us.”

Psalm 131 reads,

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.

In seeking to flesh out these sonnets it has been helpful to imagine the psalms working out in the lives of others. Over and over again, the lives of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus capture my imagination. The sonnet below is an imagining of Martha’s experience and concern about many thing, Mary’s chasing what is better, and the Lord’s invitation to Martha to calm and quiet her soul.

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

Concerned and worried about many things:
The work which needs doing, (I carry and bear)
The burden of healing, my sibling’s welfare,
Rests on my shoulders, on what my hand brings.
When He came I was filled with greater care:
For our guest’s comfort and our saving face
Among those who thought our table our place
Was sparse in joy and our graciousness spare.
And my worry broke in desperation,
“Master!” with heat and hurt, as a prayer
“Tell her to help, relieve my frustration
Can’t she see? Do something? In the work share?”
“Martha, she’s working by resting in me
Sit here also, and you too shall be 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.

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.”