Arriving after a Long Obedience

Arriving after a Long Obedience

Eugene Peterson arrived at his destination yesterday morning. His book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, as well as The Contemplative Pastor, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Answering God, Run with Horses, and Practice Resurrection have all played their part in my life and ministry.

There are portions of Peterson’s work that read more like poetry than simple narrative or exposition. I am very grateful for that. In his book on the Songs of Ascent, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Peterson riffs on the meaning of Psalm 134. By “meaning” I don’t mean what the words are in Hebrew or their etymology or their systematic implications. Rather, by “meaning” I think I mean its “umph!” –its significance or potency.

In Psalm 134, the pilgrim having walked to Jerusalem since Psalm 120 at last reaches the Temple gates. But in what shape, at what cost, and for what?

Psalm 134 reads,

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!

The celebratory destination of faith is worship and that is also the purpose for coming. However, what if in coming so far, at such cost, enduring such difficulties, one does not arrive in strength but arrives in weakness — as one who barely makes it? Eugene Peterson writes about the first words of Psalm 134 with the condition of the arrivals in mind. If the Songs of Ascent are a map, Peterson seems to place a hypothetical red arrow on the map and ask, what if YOU ARE HERE?

Peterson writes,

Read one way, the sentence is an invitation: “Come, bless GOD.” The great promise of being in Jerusalem is that all may join in the rich temple worship. You are welcome now to do it. Come and join in. Don’t be shy. Don’t hold back. Did you have a fight with your spouse on the way? That’s all right. You are here now. Bless God. Did you quarrel with your neighbor while making the trip? Forget it. You are here now. Bless God. Did you lose touch with your children while coming and aren’t sure just where they are now? Put that aside for the moment. They have their own pilgrimage to make. You are here. Bless God. Are you ashamed of the feelings you had while traveling? the grumbling you indulged in? the resentment you harbored? Well, it wasn’t bad enough to keep you from arriving, and now that you are here, bless God. Are you embarrassed at the number of times you quit and had to have someone pick you up and carry you along? No matter. You are here. Bless God.

Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Peterson has the psalmist speaking to the many circumstances one may arrive to worship and has the psalmist call them to worship (no matter where they’ve come from) with the refrain, “Bless God”.

In honor of the Pastor Eugene Peterson, I am reposting this poem based on his words. He gets all the credit for anything good, but if bad, the blame lies with me.

Lord, we bless you and thank you for the pastor.

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

Did you fight with your spouse along the way?
That’s all right. You’re here now.
Bless God.

Did you quarrel with your neighbor while on the road?
Forget it. You are here now.
Bless God.

Lost touch with your children, haven’t seen them all day?
Take a moment; for these worries, pray,
But while you wait, arise, say,
“They are yours; you are mine;
I bless you, God.”

All those wasted miles pouting, are you ashamed–
The grumbling indulged? the resentment inflamed?
It wasn’t so bad that it kept you abroad,
And now that you are here,
Bless God.

Embarrassed by quitting, that you’re not counted tough?
How your burdens were carried by those who bore you up?
No matter. At long last, you are here;
That’s enough.
Bless God.

Join with the assembly, the joyful throng
Whether sinner, saint,
Afraid, faint, weak, or strong
We have arrived together,
You’re where you belong.
Welcome, take your place, and
Let us, bless God.

The thoughts and some of the words are most certainly, Eugene Peterson’s.
See: Eugene H.. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Kindle Locations 2394-2401). IVP Books. Kindle Edition.
artwork: Illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey from 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 Joy?

What Joy?

Psalm 126 is the seventh of a collection of psalms called, Songs of Ascent. This collection of psalms were sung by the people of God as they traveled from their homes to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship during the great festivals of the Jewish calendar.

In this psalm we see how joy or gladness manifests itself in the life of the pilgrim who is journeying to be with God. Pilgrimages can be comfortable or uncomfortable, difficult, dangerous, happy, thrilling, and awe inspiring. For the pilgrim though, they are always, joyful. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad.” (Psalm 126:3).

Even as I say that, I experience a push back. “What, are we always to be happy?” “But what about…?” “Are you saying I’m not…?” “Surely you don’t mean…?” Yes, there are qualifications, but a pilgrim’s joy is not the consequence of any earthly circumstance. “The Lord has done great things for us” — this is the basis of our joy. Circumstantially, the psalmist is in a season of want (vs 4), tears (vs 5), and weeping (vs 6). Nevertheless, the pilgrim is able to rejoice because, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion”, and even though that was a past circumstance, the pilgrim employs the Lord’s past faithfulness as reason to continue to ask and trust in their present need.

In faith we trust the Lord to restore in his timing. Sometimes he restores suddenly like the spring rains in the Judean Negev desert. One day you’re standing in the barren, brown desert and the next day there are flowers everywhere (as the image shows). What a surprise! Sometimes however, the Lord’s restoration takes a season, a season of sowing and tending after which a harvest is gathered in. The pilgrim who sows with tears, who goes out in weeping (pictures of repentance) will not only reap the harvest of the crop they’ve planted, but they shall reap shouts of joy.

Psalm 125 (ESV) reads,

1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

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

Wasn’t it just like walking in a dream —
Wonderstruck, eyes shining with delight,
The joyful surprise in the face of what seemed
Impossible, a victory, the wrong made right?
And then there was the long, weary waiting,
The months of work with no compensation,
Suddenly a payday, no more speculating
About the coming joy and salvation.
But again we’re in need, again overcome;
Our weakness the world counts as shame;
Though famine, fire, and flood overrun,
We still lift our hands and call on Your name.
Giver of life, Fulfiller of dreams,
Restore our fortunes like Negev’s desert streams.

© Randy 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.
Photo by Gideon Pisanty, Spring bloom at the Negev Mountains, with Tulipa systola, Helianthemum vesicarium, and Erucaria microcarpa. March 5, 2010.

What Help?

What Help?

Psalm 121, the second of the psalms of ascent, has the psalmist on the road of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the way, both the hardships of vulnerability manifest themselves to the pilgrim. The pilgrim needs help, but where to look? All around upon each of the hilltops he passes are altars to which locals offer sacrifices to the local deities of the local’s folk religion. Why not just worship there? Why may the long arduous journey to Jerusalem? This sonnet reimagines the inward struggle of pressing forward and not relying on self and taking matters into one’s own hands.

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

Once decided, the leaving? No question.
Disgusted with the way things were,
Gladly, I set out, joined the procession—
Resolute, no hardship would deter.
But having begun the narrow, upward climb—
Stifled, stumbling my footing unsure
I look ‘round for help, for any sign,
Any assurance, I’ll arrive, endure.

I’ll manage myself; I’ll hedge my bets;
Reduce my risk, leverage my best;
Trust what I know; what my getting gets–
That my will be done, in my resting rest.

Look not to the hills but trust him to keep
Your life from all evil, give shelter and sleep.

© 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.

Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?

This sonnet is loosely based upon Psalm 120. Eugene Peterson in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, notes that the one often begins the pilgrimage of discipleship in response to being thoroughly disgusted with the way things are. He writes,

“A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquillity, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.”      -Eugene Peterson

I tried to capture the place in which one who is disgusted has the opportunity to repent, but because of the cost of effort and forsaking seems so great, they instead turn back again to their optimistic hope that their chances for success and fullness on their own terms will be better tomorrow.

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

I didn’t slide in here on a rainbow,
Didn’t arrive in a new Cadillac,
Not basking in vict’ry’s afterglow,
But hanging from my rope’s end, no way back.
Caught in these straits between death and doom,
I sue for peace, they only make war;
I want the truth, to see justice bloom,
They lie through smiles while fixing the score.
Am I yet sick and tired of being sick and tired?
Will I own every step I’ve taken here?
Will I get up, chose, do what’s required?
Own the shame? Submit? Listen? Hear?
A nap’s what I need, just a little vacation
I’ll kill it tomorrow, win this crowd’s adoration.

© Randy Edwards 2017