O Wisdom II

I am reposting this because today, December 17, is Sapientia.

This is a sonnet based upon the Great O Antiphon, O Sapientia which is sung on December 17. The antiphon reads,

“O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.”

Along with the references to Genesis 1, John 1, Proverbs 8, and Exodus 20, I draw from Isaiah 11:2-4a for inspiration.

Of those gifts for which we long, wisdom is one which we are in constant need: Should I do this or that? Should I go here or there? How do I do this? What will enable me to endure that? What answer will satisfy the deeply troubling question of, Why? All these questions wisdom, knowledge, and insight answer.

I have written a sonnet about Proverbs 8’s embodiment of wisdom as the most desirable woman here. In Advent and through John 1, we understand that wisdom is the logos, the “word which has become flesh and dwelt among us.”  This is the word who was present at creation, who is the righteousness of the Law, and who is the the embodiment of Isaiah 11’s king who is also the root and tender shoot of Jesse.

One of the defining marks of the gospel’s wisdom is its irony. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:27 that, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong”. The sophistry and might of worldliness is shouted down by the cries of a baby delivered to a teenage mother, on the fringes of society, far from the lighted centers of power, influence, and authority.

As we face and admit our longing this Advent, let’s remember our longing for and need of wisdom. Come, O Wisdom!

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

In the silence, before song and speech
The Spirit breathes o’er the water’s night;
Wisdom inhales all creation to teach
Awaiting the command, “Let there be light!”

O’er Sinai the I AM’s glory thunders
Wisdom speaks again, makes His glory known
Writes with his own hand in worded wonders
Promise revealed onto tablets of stone.

Isaiah’s King shall rule with right wisdom.
Jesse’s leaf and root, a counselor with sight
With justice leads the poor in his kingdom
Lifts up the meek, sets brokenness aright.

Tonight, Wisdom waits, poised in the world’s wild–
Exhales in the darkness through the cries of a child.

© 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 in worship services, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks!

O Emmanuel (God with Us)

The Great O Antiphon for December 23 is “O Emmanuel”. The antiphon reads, “O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

The antiphon is the culmination of the Old Testament prophecies and names for the coming Savior. The name, “Emmanuel”, means, “God with Us”. We are now ready to receive the news of the coming One who is the fulfillment of all the desires expressed in each of the previous antiphons.

This sonnet was written during a particularly difficult time in which I was feeling alone in my circumstances and thin with respect to the resources I had available. Am I alone? Is there hope and help to be had? What sort of king would be of help to me, would care for me? And what of the tension between what I know are the right answers and my actual experience of believing? Lastly, how do I imagine that hope coming and that hope being fulfilled? The answer always surprises.

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

Far, so far away is any king from me;
Beyond so many bolstered gates and doors;
His ear is taken with so many other pleas—
Matters greater than my petty economy and wars.
One’s hope I’m told, is not one if it’s seen;
So say the preachers whom I’ve often heard;
I try to listen, understand what they all must mean,
But worry and care hide the hope, choke the Sower’s word.
If only help could come to us, bearing our salvation,
One who holds, can keep, one safe to lean upon—
Strong and broad enough to fill the hope of every nation
And enfold us all in arms of love till all our fear is gone.
Swaddled by his mother, Hope is delivered in a stable,
God is with us. God is loving. God is willing. God is able.

© Randy 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.

O Dayspring (O Oriens)

The Great O Antiphon for December 21 is O Oriens, which is often translated, “O Dayspring”. The Latin has within its meaning both the “dawn”, the “morning”, “morning star”, and “east”; it is the word from which we both get “orient” as in the “Orient” but also “orient” as in “orientation”.

The antiphon reads,

O Dayspring splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

I believe the author had the following verses in mind when they wrote the antiphon:

Isaiah 9:2 The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Malachi 4:2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Luke 1:76-79 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

As a culture, we have more often been oriented to the West. It is wild; it is the direction of our manifest destiny. We are told by our mother, “Go west, young man”. The West is the future. Having spent a couple of summers in the outdoor drama, Horn in the West, I heard each night the narrator affirm this sentiment with the following words which I recall this way, but am not entirely sure the wording is exact,

“In the evening West, beyond the last mountain peak, slowly dies the sun in a sea of bronze and crimson. In its setting is the majestic assurance that tomorrow will come, that a new day will rise. Always the hopes and dreams of mankind seem to lie not in the East, but in the fiery land of the sunset. The gaze of man is westward, as if he could hear somewhere beyond the great, golden reaches of eternity, blowing in the West, a Horn of Freedom.”

The church however, has not oriented herself to the West but rather to the East. The church looks to the Morning Star and to the dawn. In fact many churches and cathedrals are oriented to the sunrise so that the congregation enters from the West and is facing East when they worship. The West and subsequently the sunset is the direction of the end of day and of life and light. Our secular or mortal mindset is to “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”. We grab all we can get because we think there is nothing after, or we do all we can because we believe we can achieve immortality through what we leave behind. Neither of these answers. We long for a new start, a new day, but how will we survive the night which falls before that dawn?

This is a sonnet based upon the antiphon, O Dayspring. If it is helpful, you may listen to me read it via the audio player below.


Facing west, this sunset of humanity
Denies the falling night of death’s looming shadow.
Reality is reviled as a form of profanity
That pilfers the profits, efficiency, workflow.
O Sun of Righteousness, make right and shine
On the dark cruelties of our society’s sins
Whose roots choke our hearts, our affections entwine
And can only be freed when confession begins.

O Dayspring, shine, flood our grey town in light
Drive back the darkness in which lurks our fears.
Dawn! Arise! Illuminate our night!
Speak tenderly in mercy, wipe away all our tears.
When with healing in his wings this Sun rise upon us all,
We shall bound in joy released as a calf from winter’s stall.

© Randy 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.

photo: Randy Edwards, sunrise Cherry Grove

O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

December 17 is Sapientia on the church calendar and marks the beginning in certain liturgical traditions of the singing of the Great O Antiphons. These antiphons (sung before an after Mary’s Magnificat) during the week leading up to Christmas Eve are at the heart of the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

O Sapientia in English reads,

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

In Proverbs 1:20-21, we read that, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech….” In this sonnet I make use of this image of Wisdom calling aloud in the street to those who seek her and desire her company. In addition, I imagine the sorts of circumstances and needs which lead us to cry aloud for wisdom. Wisdom helps us not only understand what we need to do, but wisdom’s insight helps us understand and face why we are going through the circumstances we’re currently facing.

Thankfully, our Heavenly Father is more ready to give wisdom than we may be desirous to have it. James 1:5 we read this promise, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Of course we are not to doubt Him when asking. The wisdom that He gives is founded first on our entrusting ourself to him, and therein is the rub. How may we have the wisdom we long for without doubting? How can we entrust ourselves if we are unsure He is fully trustworthy? I am not scolding, but I’m trying to articulate the predicament that we find ourselves in. Thankfully, God has answered that predicament.

Christmas is about when the One whom we are commanded to trust, entrusted himself for us…to us in the most vulnerable way.

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

O Wisdom, who cries out for what we lack
The insight to know what we should do;
Afraid of betrayal, regret’s stab in the back
Blindly we grope reaching out to find you.
More than answers but of character we
Seek to be Spiritually transformed and stayed;
Not double-minded, tossed in confusion’s sea,
But with courage to stand, in glory remade.

O Wisdom, go; they are lost in that world,
Every crossroad, a decision to make
Knowing with each step their destiny unfurls
To blessing or cursing, show which way to take.
Wisdom hears and obeys, calls out to them
Through a baby’s cry in dark Bethlehem

© Randall Edwards 2015
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.

An Antiphon for Election Day

Though it is too early to be talking about Advent, the hopes and desires acknowledged in Advent remain present. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the Advent antiphon, “O King of Nations”, and I’ve been thinking about the antiphon even more so in light of this election season. I sense that we have always longed for a gathering together under one leader who will unify all people, upon whom we all may depend, and whose rule will bring justice and satisfaction. Personally, I have felt deeply this longing and desire for One who will set, build, bring together, and span all that is needed and broken in us and in our world.

The translation of the antiphon reads: “O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.”

The biblical basis for the antiphon comes in part from these two passages from the Old Testament prophets:

Haggai 2:7 “I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD Almighty.
Isaiah 28:16 So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed…”

Malcolm Guite, who first brought my attention to the Antiphons in his Advent devotional, Waiting on the Word, writes about the antiphon, Rex Gentium here. In his sonnet, he brings to light the irony of the rejection of the King of kings and the gospel-paradox that this rejection, in the end, becomes the means by which the King brings about “making both one”.

As we post our ballots, let’s not be dismayed by any result nor hang our hope on any candidate. Election Day is not the day upon which our desiring is fulfilled, rather our desiring is answered on The Day in which King entered the clay in order to hang for us.

O King of Nations for whom we long and desire,
Come to your creation, square it and right,
Mend the marred, rebuild, and never tire
Till darkness is shaken; pull down the night.
As carpenter and joiner, he dovetails and makes one,
Bridges as keystone the pillared-arched ceiling,
Tears down hostility, makes righteousness run,
And cross-armed gathers in mercy and healing.
In concretion and cohesion, held fast by this King,
Sustained by His pervasive presence and power,
Made a people of his own — sealed in promise as a ring,
Wedded beneath his love’s banner and bower.
The King of our desiring has climbed into the clay
Creation’s cornerstone is laid Christmas Day.

© Randy Edwards 2015
Artwork: Egerton MS 3277, 2nd half of 14th century; Psalter and Hours (the ‘Bohun Psalter’)