Categories
poetry

They Have Not Prevailed

Psalm 129 is located in a collection of psalms called the Songs of Ascent. These psalms are the songs sung by pilgrims on their way to celebrate the great Jewish festivals and to worship at the Temple of Jerusalem. These psalms speak of encouragement and comfort, they exhort and challenge, and some speak with a voice of defiance against the adversity one faces on just such a journey. Psalm 129 is one of those psalms.

There are many things which obstruct us in the way. Sadly, the obstructions oftentimes come from those whom we’d hope would go with us or at least encourage us. Rather than being indifferent or ignoring us, these wicked ones seek to prevent our going by compelling us to stay — stuck behind in shackles and scourgings.

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

Since my youth, they have afflicted me–
Foremen who furrowed my flesh of life,
Who scourged, whipped, beat and knifed–
The plowers who plowed in red.

Let all those trodden upon and left for dead
Say it with me. Say it with me!
“Though greatly afflicted, yet they have not,
They have not prevailed over me!”

Let the deeds they sow, though they sprout and grow,
Wilt, wither, and waste in the sun’s heat;
Let their garnered glory fade in defeat,
Leave them nothing in their hand.

Bind them to emptiness as with a band.
May these wicked be cursed, never know
The peace of fullness, for they have not
Prevailed, not prevailed, let them know.

The Lord is good. He is just. He alone, right.
He perseveres his people, breaks their chains;
With the iron scepter of his rule and reign,
He dashes as clay their oppression.

But he delivers by his own dispossession,
Takes the mortal cords, enters the night,
Gives his back to plowers, who plow up his life
To bury in death, snuff out the Light of life.

This was the plan, the eternal decree,
That the Sower furrow into the ground,
That in his plowing, bury death down,
Beyond the tomb’s door sealed.

Greatly afflicted, by your stripes I’m healed;
The limbs of your cross, my life-giving tree,
My glory and boast over my enemy,
My sin, which shall never, never prevail over me.

© Randall Edwards 2017
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: detail from an illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey form 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.

Categories
poetry

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is one of my favorite days. There is a slowness and calm from the business of the week and the events of Thursday and Friday. It seems to me to be a pensive day.

This sonnet, titled, ‘Arise’ takes for its inspiration Psalm 124 which is one of the Songs of Ascent. In this pandemic day in between the devastation of the cross and the miracle of the resurrection, marks a pilgrimage of sorts. In the midst of those “in-betweens” a reminder that the Lord is one who saves when there is no other hope or help sustains and strengthens. Psalm 124 reads,

If the Lord had not been on our side—
let Israel say—
if the Lord had not been on our side
when people attacked us,
they would have swallowed us alive
when their anger flared against us;
the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters
would have swept us away.
Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

In Psalm 124 David makes use of the Exodus as his image for God’s deliverance. But as I read the psalm, it seemed to me that Lazarus’ story could also be used to filled out and imagine the psalm’s meaning.

I hope you have had a blessed Holy Saturday. Hope to see you at the garden tomb tomorrow. You may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Here beyond, there is rejoicing and peace;
Death’s dull dank as a cloud gave way
To the balmy breeze of victory and grace
Which billows my shroud fills my new day.
For defeat as a dragon had swallowed me whole;
As a flood, fear flashed, swept courage away;
The jaw of death’s teeth, held, ground my soul;
Hopeless as a dove snared, my doomsday.
Had it not been for the Lord the Name high above;
The Name above all, WHO IS, WILL, AND WAS
The Name who spoke mine, called me in love
Out of the mouth, from the jaw, snare, and flood.
“Lazarus, come forth!” my Savior called me,
Fly from the earth! Arise! You are free!

© 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.
artwork: detail from an illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey form 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.

Categories
poetry

A Psalm for Evening and Morning

The Daily Office Psalter readings are currently in the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). I preached a series from that section in the Psalter a few years ago, and it remains one of my favorites. And by favorites, I think I mean that I grew to be surprised at how dear they became especially as I engaged them imaginatively in trying to communicate them poetically myself.

One of today’s psalms is Psalm 127 which reads,

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

There is a lot going on in this psalm, and one can get distracted by the seeming non sequitur of a builder, a watchman and child bearing. Yet, when we consider what blessing is, what ‘new morning mercy’ is like, when we consider the fullness of lovingkindness and amazing grace, there is in a similar way, a non sequitur of sorts. That is, when we receive the great gift of blessing or answered prayer, it seems wildly incongruous with what came before and is nothing short of being blessed with a child and in all its ways: courtship, consummation, conception, expectation, travail, delivery, and full arms.

As we seek the hope of miraculous blessing in the midst of great trial, Psalm 127 is both a psalm with which to start the morning and with which to head to bed. Today, what will bring blessing? Where may I turn to receive it? Or, Tonight what will bring sleep, and how can I rest peacefully waiting and wondering if blessing ever will come?

This sonnet is titled, “Unless the Lord.” I also offer it in honor of two friends who have just welcomed a child into the world. May their arms be full of the Lord’s lovingkindness even as they rest in His arms.

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

“Unless the Lord,” the qualification
That matters, the watchman’s only security,
The only footing, the firm foundation
Upon which to build, the builder’s surety.

But when you lie down, your heart’s empty of rest;
Your mind works all night at a rolling boil;
You arise in the morning stiff and stressed
To feed upon the bread of anxious toil.

Fruitfulness isn’t ledgered productivity
As if blessing could be quantified,
Rather it’s the labor of love’s creativity
As children begotten by husband and bride.

Beloved of God, be at peace tonight;
Sleep safe as his child, his beloved, delight.

© 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.
artwork: detail from an illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey form 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.

Categories
poetry

Waking in a Dream

The Psalms are prayers which help give voice to our prayers. To read the words of those who lived thousands of years ago and to read that they experienced life in much the same way (though the circumstances seem vastly different) is in its own way a great comfort. The psalms train our imagination to articulate the experience of the life of faith in God. Psalm 126 is one such psalm.

The author of Psalm 126 makes use of the surprise of a dessert bloom after a spring rain. Practically overnight, the desert, which had been brown and barren, becomes green and blooms. It must be a magnificent surprise and delight. This is the experience of those to whom blessing comes. It is miraculous: “like those who dream.” But that isn’t the psalmist’s current circumstance. Rather, they have had their good fortune taken from them and they are now ‘sowing in tears.’

This sonnet is based upon Psalm 126 which reads,

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
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.”

The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

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.”

© 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.
Photograph: Daviddarom / CC0. Judean Desert in bloom

Categories
poetry

Bless God

Psalm 134 is the last of the collection of songs in the Bible’s book of Psalms called the Songs of Ascent. These songs serve as a guide or a map of the life of faith, whose destination is the presence of God. The psalms were sung by pilgrims on their way to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem during the great annual festivals. In Psalm 134, the pilgrim at last, arrives at his or her destination. 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, in his book on the Songs of Ascent (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction) 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”. As I listened to the words earlier this week, I felt they bore a poetic-ligurgical quality. I have taken his words as they or modified them to fit into the form of a poem’s rhyme and rhythm.

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.