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.

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 one of the few times 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.

Legion

Legion

This sonnet is based on the following passages which tell of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac from Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39, and Matthew 8:28-34. Jesus, having delivered the disciples from the terror of the night storm, arrives on the other side of the Sea of Galilee and is confronted by a demoniac who roams naked among the tombs of his people. The story of the demoniac’s ruin, isolation, and degradation is particularly desperate and sad. His neighbors have given up on either helping or managing the demoniac in his ravings, and he himself is as good as dead, living naked among the tombs. A question provoked by this event is, can there be hope when there is no hope…when one has been given over to demons and death?

Long since, I left my people and my home
Who had long since quit, given up on me
To dwell in undwelling, midst death and bone
Among these tombs by the Galilee.
When he came, I rushed, was all in a rage;
As he called them out, rebuked the unclean,
His call I thought, was back into the cage;
Leave me alone! Don’t look! Leave me unseen!

What if we would step out, wait, let him speak;
Let him see our hearts, untie the twisted;
Be bold yet humble, use strength to be weak?
What if in peace, we could just sit and listen?
What if Power came in Peace with Affection
To bring news of coming resurrection?

© Randy 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 Swine Driven into the Sea (Les porcs précipités dans la mer), 1886-1896. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 10 3/16 x 6 11/16 in. (25.9 x 17 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.107 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.107_PS1.jpg)

Treasure

Treasure

This sonnet is based on Matthew 13:45-46, and is an example of how a question I heard in another context, “Would you sell everything you had to buy just one thing?” set my imagination running.

I heard a story of a man traveling by boat, and the boat began to sink. The man gathered all his gold and jumped into the ocean, but because he wouldn’t let go of the gold, he drowned. The question asked by the parable is, “Did the man have the gold or did the gold have the man?”

The Jesus’ parable of the Pearl of Great Price illustrates that that there is one treasure that is worth everything, a treasure worth holding onto even if it costs you your life.

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

Would you sell everything you had to buy
Just one thing? Would you lose you life — dying
Before you died to gain the world and sky?
For one thing lose all and so all things buying?

What would that one thing be that’s worth all things?
Significance, perfect intimacy?
Or would you settle for what merely seems–
Other’s envy, your legitimacy?

Me? I want everything, I want it all, both
And; I don’t want to let go, lose one thing —
Guarding as a dragon what I am loath
To let go, ensnared in my hoard’s coiling.

But I, treasured as a pearl of great price,
The Son sold it all, bought me with his life.

© 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: By artists from New York hired by Pacific Press Publishing Company expressly to illustrate this book (page 8) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Voice Loudly Cries

A Voice Loudly Cries

This sonnet is based on Matthew 2:16-18 which recounts Herod’s murder of the young male children in the region of Bethlehem after he realized he had been outsmarted by the wisemen who had come to pay homage to the King of the Jews. This event is called the Slaughter of the Innocents. From time before remembering, it has been children who have born the cost of society’s sins.

Matthew 2 reads,

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18    “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

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

This is the world where every king chances
To control and do what they can to win,
Where choice vindicates all circumstances,
Where the cost of that choice pays with children.

Oppressors force marriage to dominate,
Defile with sex, make the victim a villain,
Use rape to terrorize, humiliate,
And the price that is paid? Paid by children.

A voice heard in Ramah, she loudly cries:
Rachel lamenting for her lost children
As a king’s arm kills till ev’ry child dies,
Ev’ry parent’s arm emptied, ev’ry grave filled in.

Rachel, unconsoled shall weep for her lost
Until they return, and the king’s arms crossed.

© 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: Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons