What Do You See?

What Do You See?

This poem is based on Jeremiah 1:1-19, but it takes its inspiration from Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message of that passage. Peterson’s translation of the the Hebrew pun (almond/watching) with the English homonym/pun “stick” is brilliant.

I loved you before I made you in love
In the hidden place of your begetting;
Your life’s mission descends 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 but 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 remain my strong tower.

“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 al-‘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 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: original linoleum block print: © Randall Edwards 2018

To His Garden

To His Garden

This sonnet is based on Jeremiah 39:1-10 which recounts the fall of Jerusalem. The account itself strikingly echoes the fall in Genesis. In both cases because of sin and rebellion, God’s people are cast from a garden. Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and Zedekiah and the people from the garden of the holy city, Jerusalem. A future king, however, would enter a garden, on behalf of his people, not to flee but to face judgment.

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

The walled carapace of self-sufficiency
Is breached by the imperial powers.
Time. Time is up for the garden city
Her midnight has come, her judgment hour.
Judges are seated where their word awaits
To condemn all, from elderly to child,
But the people’s king flees through his garden gate
In fear runs away, cast out to the wild.

One day again, judgment to a king comes
Who to a garden goes running to pray
Find help to face alone the gallows’ drums,
That the cup of wrath be taken away.
This king drinks death for us, is raised above,
That we in his garden, may drink his 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.
Artwork: “Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar as the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jeremiah, XXI, 4 7)” c.1956; France. 
© Marc Chagall Fair Use

What Hope?

What Hope?

This sonnet is based on Jeremiah 32:36-44. The passage is found in a section of Jeremiah called the Book of Consolation. The promises in contrast with the judgment pronounced in the rest of the book seem almost impossible to comprehend. When judgment comes, we make it the final word. We believe that whatever good could come is now lost. The promises in Jeremiah’s Book of Consolation show us that the hope of peace, though impossible for us, is not impossible for God. The blessings which God has promised and planned for his people will not be in spite of their exile, but blessing will be accomplished through their exile.

What hope do you have if you’ve no hope in
Yourself, if you cannot do what is hard,
And though promising, you won’t keep your word,
Nor avoid the near occasions of sin?

What peace can you know if you are driven
Into exile, by sword, disease, famine?
How much worse then, after chasing mammon,
Find what you sought, is to what you’ve been giv’n?

What promise for the future could you dare
To dream if you would not turn from your sin?
If in that lust sacrifice your children
So consumed with desire you did not care?

Is promised hope and peace forever lost
If He who could save, you’ve betrayed and 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: James Tissot [Public domain].

The Promise

The Promise

The book of Jeremiah is hard reading. In much the same way as Lamentations, Jeremiah has at its heart promises of great consolation in chapters 30-33. These chapters will serve to be the source of reflection in a series for Advent which begins today. This sonnet is based on Jeremiah 31:31-34.

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

The days are coming. Look, they are coming —
The days of The New Promise though the old
was broken, though run out with the drumming
And din of jeers, sneers, enslaved, shackled, sold.

This Promise is a promise of the heart,
A promise which He will write from within,
His Will and Word, New Creation, New Start
And forgives us, He will forget our sin.

Do not fear where you are, where you must walk
Whether going or the one left behind,
For He draws near in love, shepherds His flock —
Lovingkindness becomes, loving in kind.

Bearing our exile will hearts break to see
The Promise who comes to climb Calvary?

© 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: Gerard van Honthorst [Public domain]

A Friend

A Friend

The psalms introduce “the princes” of the Old Testament who are the middle-managers of ancient Israel. Traditionally the role of a leader but not the king, the prince is a person who had some authority, but is not the king.

Jeremiah speaks of them in chapters 37 and 38 as they are the ones who have conspired to imprison him. Their pressure and nationalistic furor have led Jerusalem down the path to ultimate destruction at the hands of Babylon. King Zedekiah is afraid of them, the people follow them, and the false prophets curry their favor.

The princes make Jeremiah enemy number one. Funny, it’s not their unbelief, their sin, their idolatry, their injustice, but it is Jeremiah who is the enemy, the only one to tell them the truth.

There is one who stands apart from them, and he alone takes up Jeremiah’s cause. He is given a name, but I believe that it isn’t his real name, for it is really the title of his job. The Scriptures call him Ebed-melech. His name means “king’s servant”. Jeremiah also notes that he is an “Ethiopian” (or more likely a Cushite), and Jeremiah notes that he is a eunuch. The no-name, family-less, ethnic outsider, an alien from Cush, who is the king’s servant — he is the one who has the stomach for truth, compassion, and justice. It is probably all those things which excluded him from “prince-hood,” that enabled him to see righteousness more clearly.

This sonnet is based on Jeremiah 37:12-38:28. If it is helpful you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

The Princes, a meddling flock of liars,
A murder of crows whose cackle chatters,
Whose cawing chides and sneers safe from their wires
Whose tangled tales leave the truth in tatters.

A King who seems to want to hear, receive
Some word, is earnest for news, some token
Of truth, but controlled by fear he will not believe,
Cannot, for his courage fails, is broken.

A Friend, who is only known, by what he
Does, by where he’s from, by the price he’s paid;
Boldly he speaks the truth, who courageously
Fights for the right, who in friendship displayed
Reaches down, who does the good, does not tire,
Pulls me from the pit, out of muck and mire.

© 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: Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Jeremiah in the Pit (from the Bible Series), 1958.

Words Alone

Words Alone

Eugene Peterson quotes Abraham Heschel in his chapter on Jehoiakim in the book Run with Horses. Heschel, speaking of the word and the scriptures, writes,

“Some people may wonder: why was the light of God given in the form of language? How is it conceivable that the divine should be contained in such brittle vessels as consonants and vowels? This question betrays the sin of our age: to treat lightly the ether which carries the light-waves of the spirit. What else in the world is as capable of bringing man and man together over the distances in space and in time? Of all things on earth, words alone never die. They have so little matter and so much meaning. . . . God took these Hebrew words and breathed into them of His power, and the words became a live wire charged with His spirit. To this very day they are hyphens between heaven and earth. What other medium could have been employed to convey the divine? Pictures enameled on the moon? Statues hewn out of the Rockies?”
— Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man

I am really taken with his description of the voiced breath which speaks: “the ether which carries the light-waves of the spirit” — that’s beautiful.

The word throughout Jeremiah’s book is active and alive. It is true. When we pretend that words don’t live (“Of all things on earth, words alone never die”), we delude ourselves by taking up the very means to silence accusations or deny their reality. We swim in words which were spoken long ago, which we regret, which we hope to hear.

Malcolm Guite in his poem, “What if?” gets at some of the same thoughts albeit as a warning against those idle words we speak.

This sonnet is based on Jeremiah 36:22-24 in which the word which has been written on a  scroll and read to Jehoiakim is cut up into pieces and thrown on a fire. What of the word then? Can that word die? Will it ever come again?

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

Words alone never die. Of all things on
Earth, they linger, rumble, ring, and grumble
In our hearts throughout life, give voice, run on—
A prattling ‘gainst which we murmur, mumble.

You may cut off, stop the conversation
Silence the words in a rage yelling, run
Away, dismiss with gesticulation,
With nonchalance turn away, shun.

But with words, the Word comes to speak with you
Wrapped in flesh, counting everything a loss,
The wisdom of God whom you count a fool,
Cut him dawn, cut him off, hang on a cross
Where that Word speaks one word, “Father forgive…”
Dies alone that by His word, we may live.

© 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 the Providence Lithograph Company (http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart/1905/jer36.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Grow Where You Are Planted

Grow Where You Are Planted

This poem is based on Jeremiah 29 in which are recorded a word from the Lord for those in exile in Babylon which Jeremiah sent to them as a letter. I have more often heard this passage preached as a strategy for church planting. Granted,it can be helpful. But to reduce it merely as a strategy misses a good bit of what it has to offer. Jeremiah’s letter, is a letter to exiles — a letter to the displaced, the lonely, the dislocated, the powerless. How can you live where you don’t want to live and doing what you don’t want to do, among people you’d rather not be around?

The Lord has many reasons for his people’s exiles, not the least of them is so that they will know that wherever they go, He will always come to them, make his place among them, and never leave them. What is needful then, is not money, influence and power, facilities, or material resources. What is needed is faith. Faith to trust, to not give up, to persist.

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

I didn’t want to live here
Midst these people on this plain
Whose harsh accent grates my ears,
Where no one knows my name.

Shackled, brought to this place
Head hung low, harps hung in trees;
A song unknown, a stranger’s face,
I hear a voice call me.

Grow where you are planted
Live where you are living
Sing till you’re enchanted
Grateful, till you’re giving.

I miss the hills, the mountain side,
The songs I sang ‘neath the trees
At this river I lie beside
A new song sings to me.

Grow where you are planted
Live where you are living
Sing till you’re enchanted
Grateful, till you’re giving.

By full term you shall be ready
Delivered unto new life;
As a strong tower, made steady;
Married, husband and wife.

Until that day, bear patiently;
Through exile, keep love alive;
Walk by faith not aimlessly,
Grow old, have children, thrive.

Grow where you are planted
Live where you are living
Sing till you’re enchanted
Grateful, till you’re giving.

© 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: Gebhard Fugel [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons