Grapes

Grapes

This is an ekphrastic poem drawing its inspiration from the art of artist, Adah Freeman, who is a member of the congregation in which I minister . She is such a gifted artist and has taken up the theme of grapes from Numbers 13 in which spies are sent into the land of Canaan to explore and report back on the people, cities, and fruitfulness of the land.

When we returned from the land of flowing
Milk and honey — full and green and growing,
We carried the abundance, the grapes bursting
With the fruit-full promise: no more thirsting.

But then doubt set in, underneath a mumbling
That welled up into a fount of grumbling:
The people, giants; their cities tow’ring
And the land full of enemies devouring.

Have we come this far only to die?
To be cursed? Skins left out under the sky?
How will the death of a generation
Bear the fruit: a promised, holy nation?

What pressing and crushing will remove the sin?
What life poured and trod, that we enter in?

© 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). Thank you.
Artwork: © Adah Freeman 2019, “Grapes” acrylic on canvas.

Slingshot

Slingshot

Through the Advent season, I am working with a local artist who is painting abstract pieces which correspond to the sermon series I am preaching on. The first of that series was on the young shepherd David’s defeat of Goliath as found in 1 Samuel 17. In the project, I am writing poems which refer not only to the passages but also to the artwork which is being created. This genre of poetry is called “ekphrastic poetry“.

The painting is the work of an exceptional young artist named Adah Freeman. Her piece is entitled, Slingshot.

IMG_3881

Here is my poem, entitled the same.

Once the world was shining-new, golden-bright,
Untouched by shade or stain but brilliant-white;
Then an enemy came
To steal by dark deeds, claim.

The menacing darkness blurred, broke, and scarred—
Tore with violence, crossed, mangled, marred
The field of shimmering gold
Whence all was lost or sold.

The darkness continued to blur and streak,
Sent giants: Despair, Dementor, Defeat
Who laughed at our fear, scoffed,
Defied our Lord, and mocked.

But God’s Shepherd descended in between,
Went outside the camp where he was last seen—
For our glory-sealing,
Bearing stripes for healing.

He flung himself at death, and slew the Night
And with his arms he slings us up in life.

© 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). Thank you.
Artwork: © Adah Freeman 2019, “Slingshot” acrylic on canvas.

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

Rumour

Rumour

In his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis speaks of the inconsolable longing which is the secret we all carry inside us — a longing for more than we have ever experienced and yet pervades every experience. He describes the longing as, “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” The presence of this real longing speaks of a real desire which seeks satisfaction and much of life is a search for what which will really satisfy or rather, Whom will really satisfy. Lewis goes on to say,

“Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”

“That old ache.” That captures it. Much like an old friend, no?

This sonnet draws a lot from Lewis and “The Weight of Glory. It particularly draws form the following quote, “But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

And one more thing, in another work, “Meditation on a Toolshed,” Lewis describes a moment of insight which came to him while watching and then standing in a beam of light when shone into his toolshed. He writes,

“I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.
Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.”

The leaves of Your Testament rustle with
Rumour that what’s seen is not all there is,
Nor merely a story passed into myth
But is news of future joy, the promise.

The light of Your word as komorebi
Filters through our tangled branches of care
To dance with all that leaves our hearts heavy
And dapple with hope, turn what seems dark, fair.

Your kindness draws me out from shadow and
Into the shimmer and splash of light
Where I am found, where with my old ache stand
To look along the beam upstream to life
Where Love opens, welcomes, whispers to me,
“What was rumour is now reality.”

© 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: linoleum print, Randall Edwards.

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 the first and only time 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.

With All His Heart

With All His Heart

A friend of mine died three years ago today. From the very beginning, she had a life of struggle. Ultimately, that battle took its toll, and as is the case for all, she succumbed to that struggle. The elf queen, Galadriel, in Lord of the Rings speaks of “the long defeat”. Talking this way may sound morose, but it is comforting for me because this is how I experience the world. My friend struggled with the long defeat.

Many moving through this world don’t seem to know an end is coming. Fewer of our fellows seem to slow for funeral processions. Nevertheless, you can’t get around it. In my town they still slow, stop, and honor the departed and their family. But in many places, the procession is passed by drivers who are in a hurry to get somewhere else. They could do with the lesson they’d be afforded if they could recognize it. The lesson being, Where do you think you are headed so fast?

My friend was a writer and poet. She fought her battle with words and phrases, and she inspired me and the congregation of which she was a member. One of those poems, “With All My Heart” was put to music by our our congregation’s worship leader, Michael Kuehn. You may listen to the song via the player below.

Tonya’s last days were physically uncomfortable. She didn’t want visitors. Though for those of us who ventured into expressing our love for her by visiting, she did what is often the case of those for whom we are grieving, she comforted us. In my grief for her, I wrote this sonnet for her several days before she died. In her poem, she has a line in which she expresses her love for Jesus, (“…with all my heart”). I turned that line into an expression of Jesus’ love for her. His love for us is no less eager, zealous, pleading, or desiring. I make use of the story of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8:40-56 to help imagine the love Jesus expressed for her.

See you soon, Tonya.

Arise now, stand strong and healed
Safely home, never to depart;
Welcome to the broad and spacious field
Of His expansive love filling all your heart.
Come now, made whole and see
With your own eyes the One —
The Poet who speaks thought into reality
Whose mercy shines as morning sun.

With all His heart, he welcomes you,
Whispers your name, speaks to your fear
Whose salvation searches, makes you new
As he gently wipes away every last tear.
And taking your hand, “Little one, awaken in my light
What was imagined in thy heart is now given in thy sight.”

© Randall Edwards 2016
Artwork: Gabriel Max. The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter , oil on canvas, 1878.

Sanballat and Tobiah?

Sanballat and Tobiah?

This (I can hardly call it a poem) is based on Nehemiah 4 in which Nehemiah and the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall is opposed by Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. It may be a spoken word hit piece. The question always comes back, who’s the one hit or who gets taken down?

Sanballat, you stinky polecat,
You heavy-handed, fat-headed rat
You poser, you loser, you boozer ding-bat.
Tally these up on your clay ledger mat
Suck on them eggs you viperous diplomat
And stash them in your skanky velvet hat
You blithering boob of a bureaucrat!
Whatcha think about that, Sanballat?

Tobiah the Ammonite, you parasite;
You feast on misfortune, you buggy blight
On humanity, doing good only for spite;
You imagine other’s success as a slight
As if it all were about you, amiright?
You are as alive as a barrow-wight
What you love are the deeds which you do at night
Which you always do when you get lit, get tight.
But one day you’ll be drug out into the light,
And you will fall, fall, so far from your great height.
I’ll say it again, Bruh, if you like,
Tobiah the Ammonite.

Thank you God, that I am not like them
Who use people, do with them all they can,
Evil-Doers, not just every now and then.
But Me? I have given a tenth of every yen
I’ve made, given time and time again;
Oh how I thank you that I am not like those men.

Lord, How many times must I forgive a debt?
He answered with parable, with a gospel net,
Caught me in a trap, and that trap upset
My truce between resentment and regret,
My long record of all I was owed, kept–
A list from A to Z, an alphabet
Of wounds which chained me so I’d never forget,
To which I’m still chained, and still not free yet.

Who will rescue me from where I am at?
From being a Tobiah, Sanballat?
Would He give what I deserve? Give tit for tat?
Pay me out, squash me like some pesky gnat?
Or would He in love, take the blow, be spat
Upon, scorned, become sin, be a doormat
Become for me, Tobiah and Sanballat?

© 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: James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Pharisee and the Publican (Le pharisien et le publicain), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper. Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.178 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.178_PS2.jpg)