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 Prince?

What Prince?

This poem finds its inspiration in Psalm 119:161-176 and is the last in a series on Psalm 119.

One of psalmist’s antagonists throughout Psalm 119 are the “princes”. Rather than take “prince” as merely one who is a member of the king’s household, I have imagined them as those who, because of material resources and proximity to power, seek to exert controlling influence wherever they find themselves and use what power they have not to influence for justice but for their own benefit. The “princes” of Psalm 119 have their mirrors in today’s middle managers and corporate vice-presidents.

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

The princes who hide behind smiles, a glower—
Who greedy and gorging, the weak devour—
The schemers with nothing better to do
Than plot to get more, the vulnerable screw;
These are the princes of power.

I hate and abhor their falsehood and lies
Who fawn and cower in noble disguise;
Their hearts are foul; their love and delight
Are the deeds done under cover of night;
Their lord is lord of the flies.

But in their buzzing I hear my own voice—
Full of fear, proud, a damnable noise;
Cursing in anger, their fall fuels my hate
Crushes my life ‘neath the burdensome weight;
What prince deliver, bring peace?

One Prince suits up, girds himself for the fight
Sets out before dawn, on the road at first light
Leaves ninety-nine to seek one who is lost
With a princely sum, he pays the full cost
To buy me back, one who in sin took flight
Makes me a child, makes a prince, makes me right.

© 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 [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With My Whole Heart

With My Whole Heart

This poem finds its inspiration in Psalm 119:145-160

With my whole heart, I cry. With all of me
I call out when in my own company
Before the morn, when I in mourning be.
Alone I wait and wait to see
You rescue from the grave
As promised in your testimony.
With my whole heart I cry, “Save!
Oh Lord, please save me!”

With your heart, will you, do you love me?
May I trust, believe you love beyond degree?
Are just, judge with impartiality?
Love to the end though the end bitter be?
No matter the cost?
Though denied, yet love faithfully?
With your whole heart, seek the lost?
Oh Lord, do you love me?

“Nearer my God,” I sing, “Nearer to Thee”
When my enemies draw close, threaten me
Who are far from your law, who act wickedly
Who are blind, yet deny, claim they can see
Claim they alone are right?
Will you my deliverer be?
Will you rescue, enter my night
To draw me near’r to Thee?

Why? My God, why has thou forsaken me?
My enemies heap contempt scoffingly
My friends deny they know, abandon me
Leave me to hang on this tree
This I do for love.
That blessing may rain more fully
Descend in fire, alight as a dove,
Give them you, Hide them in me.

© 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: Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Project Gutenberg.

Your Word Unlocks

Your Word Unlocks

This sonnet is loosely based on Psalm 119:129-144. Much of my meditating has come from the line in verse 129 which reads, “Your testimonies are wonderful”. The “wonderful” is akin to the meaning of supernatural. When received, good news is wonderful. It is this amazement that I attempt to contrast with the troubles the psalmist expresses and my own.

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

Your word unlocks, runs straight, is just and right;
It cuts to the heart and pierces the night.
Strong and stable, firmness to rest upon
Is your word, the promise I depend on.

I am small and despised; my enemy knows
I am but a breath, can be felled with blows:
A roll of the eye, a sigh, fuels the shame
Of my thirst for the draughts of praise and fame.

But you redeem the fear-of-failure’s slave,
Steal sin’s sting and the victory of the grave;
Your light beckons, draws me into the day
Sets me to walk in the steps of your way.

I wonder is that word too good? Can it be?
The Word cries, “It is finished!” Bids, “Follow me.”

© 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 (French, 1836-1902). The Woman with an Issue of Blood (L’hémoroïsse), 1886-1896. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 11 x 7 1/16 in. (27.9 x 17.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.111 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.111_PS2.jpg). No copyright restrictions.

I Hold My Life

I Hold My Life

Translators do curious things. One of those is the translation of Psalm 119:109 which is usually rendered something like what the ESV renders, “I hold my life in my hand continually”. I am nowhere near familiar enough with Hebrew to understand the reasoning behind this translation, however, I have reason to think that the meaning of the verse is lost in this translation.

The Hebrew word, “hand” in the verse may also be translated “palm”. Rather than the psalmist “carrying” himself and his life, or “clutching” it, I believe he is rather, “handing” over his life. The image of one offering with their open palms all of their life is one of the great images of faith, and I believe it is the picture intended here. It is the albeit empty-handed-but-everything-offered picture which captured my imagination for this poem.

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

Seeking, I sat with teachers under trees,
Mimicked opinions, held their high regard,
Took their approval as the sacred keys
To unlock the blessing from which I’d been barred.

Longing, I asked, “What does the wise world know?”
“What gifts can they offer, bring me glory?”
I took in my hand the world’s tool to show
Through filtered pics my envious story.

Greedy, I took wickedness without care,
Grasped at pleasures with debauched revelry;
My so called friends led me into despair:
Approval’s trap from which I’d not get free.

Holding, this pail of cast off table scraps,
Wondering, could they nourish, feed my soul?
Rememb’ring my father, “Would he perhaps
Take me on, let me eat from a servant’s bowl?”

Returning, I hold my life, palms up in offering;
Not taking but giving my life, surrendering.

© 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 Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: In Foreign Climes. Oil on Canvas (c. 1882) Musee de Nantes, France.

Could Your Word?

Could Your Word?

This sonnet is next in a series based on Psalm 119. The sections of Psalm 119 stand alone as individual meditations. Even though the sections are distinct, many themes repeat and are re-voiced throughout.

The Psalmist makes use of a metaphor which captured my imagination. Speaking of the personal impact his afflictions, he says, “I have become a wineskin in the smoke.” By this I believe he means that he is emotionally dehydrated — he has cried all his tears.

By coupling the two sections of Psalm 119:81-96 together, one sees the contrast between the Psalmist’s anguish in the first section and his marveling at the greatness of the Lord and his word in the second. The tension between nearness and greatness or between height and depth is one that continues to capture my imagination. God is both exalted and greater, above and beyond reaching, and he is near, intimate, and tenderly close. The gospel sings when we apprehend the span of his reach and the significance of his condescension.

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

How long? How long must your servant endure?
How many prayers prayed before you assure,
Come with comfort, save from enemies,
Bring to an end those who seek to end me?

Hot and bitter, fire as affliction burns;
Confusion clouds the hope for which I yearn;
Its oily smoke obscures, burns, blinds and chokes,
Leaves me brittle as a wineskin in smoke.

In the waste around, I look to the sky,
I ask for the wisdom to see, know why
You let your servants suffer shame and die,
Make dust of their dreams, let them in ashes lie?

Could your Word so high, stretch for me, reach down,
Lift me up from ruin though buried ‘neath the ground?

© 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.
Artist: James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I Walked for Him

I Walked for Him

This poem is based on Psalm 199:65-80, and is next in the series The Disciple’s Alphabet.

In the poem I imagine the psalmist reflecting on their previous suffering and how that affliction was employed to teach and sanctify. The psalmist speaks of the insolent and their scoffing of whom the psalmist himself was once a companion but are now those whom he has forsaken for another, the Lord and His word. This is the same story told through the lives of God’s people: suffering compels one to cry out, some cry out to the Lord, and some of those to receive His word.

As I’ve worked through this series it has been helpful to have a Bible character in mind to help expand on the passage’s themes. Rather than decided beforehand, these person usually emerge as I write, and in this poem, I found Simon of Cyrene. There is nothing in Simon’s story to indicate that any of my attributions are historical fact. I think it likely that he knew Psalm 119 and that he was a sinner who would’ve said of the Lord, “you are good and you do good” (Psalm 119:68). Though I am making use of his story, these are my imaginings, and I wouldn’t want any future meeting of Simon to lead to the misunderstanding that I presumed to know what his life or experience was like. However, I cannot help but wonder how his experience changed and shaped him.

A powerful image that further stoked my imagination is a sentence from Matthew Henry’s commentary on Genesis 2 and the creation of Eve. He writes,

The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.

Carrying the cross of Jesus, for and with Jesus, is a powerful image. Being there, on his wedding day, by his side “under his arm to be protected and near to his heart to be beloved” is both tender care and loving service — sacrifice and devotion.

To return to his side in repentance, take up his cross, resume my place “near his heart where I had always been” seems to capture for me my life-long experience of repentance in the gospel even as I set out again in self-will and self-determination from which the Lord will call me back again through suffering to his side.

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

I knew it all; I had my way;
Lived for what I could get that day;
The truth was whatever I’d say–
Whatever would pay the rent.

Then to suffering’s school I was sent
Whose tutors took my ignorance,
They bowed my stiff neck, broke, and bent
My back neath hardships load.

A man took for me what I owed,
Bore the crowd’s curse when he stumbled, slowed,
Slipped, and fell on th’blood spattered stones
Of Jerusalem’s roadside.

They saw my shock, pulled me aside,
Made me carry, yoked with him, tied
To the one I’d always denied–
The one I’d never let in.

Under the weight I walked for him
Who bore my shame, paid for my sin,
Close to his heart where I’d always been
Though I’d ever wander and stray
Thinking,
I know it all; I’ll have my way.

© 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: Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons