Holy Saturday

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.

A Psalm for Evening and Morning

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.

Waking in a Dream

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

Bless God

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.

What Fellowship?

What Fellowship?

I am continuing my current project of writing a series of poems based on the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). The Songs of Ascent are a collection of songs intended to guide the pilgrim in their upward ascent to God. They are traveling songs meant to encourage, challenge, and console the singer and listener. They are a map of the life of faith.

Psalm 133 is the second to last of the songs, and it sings the song of fellowship and community. If one recalls, the first of the Songs of Ascent (Psalm 120) is about the disappointment and disfunction of community, but now at the end we are rejoicing in it. The irony may feel more deep because this psalm is attributed to David. And though there was a point when the people of Israel were joyfully united under King David, much disappointment and tragedy would follow in the stories Uriah and Bathsheba, Amnon and Tamar, and David and his son, Absalom.

Psalm 133 is willfully ignorant of these events or wisely instructive about true community. It reads,

1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Nothing here of disappointment, just the beauty and goodness and pleasantness of unity — which of course, is beautiful and good and lovely. It is precisely the failure to experience this sort of community which leads to such great disappointment.

A part of the psalm’s encouragement to us, is that just like everything else, if we are to arrive at our destination, we must have faith. We must believe that God is and can do what he has promised. He will make his people one. (Talk about needing faith). In addition, the psalmist reminds us that this sort of community is not the result of contrivance and manipulation, it is the fruit of God’s provision and blessing (comes down). The unity of love is a “bond of faith” and what binds us, is the atonement which God has made possible through his high priest. Just as our “at-one-ment” is made with God, it settles everything else between us and our fellows. It pours down from above and out upon others. In arriving into God’s presence, His promise is that we will arrive together.

As for this sonnet, I begin by imaging all the sorts of people God’s people are and all the names by which we tag others and ourselves. Only when our identity is identified with the one “who brings peace” are we freed from those other names so as to bear and share in his beloved name.

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

Bless our hearts, people pleasers, control freaks,
Sloppy, extroverts, neatniks, jocks, and nerds,
Authentic hipsters, awkward introverts,
Are Your peculiar people, in other words.
The defiant and stubborn, the weepy,
Stoics, passionate, patient, short-tempered,
The fringe, those keeping it weird and creepy,
They make up Your flock, us odd, little birds.

Whether Peter, Paul, Apollos, or James,
We are members of one congregation;
No matter the labels, whatever the names,
We’re bound by the Name who is salvation,
Who pours out, by our new name addresses,
Drenches in love, makes holy, and blesses.

© 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.

What End?

What End?

Over the past several months I have been working through a collection of psalms in the Old Testament’s book of Psalms called the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). This collection of songs is believed to have been sung by pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem for the great Jewish festivals.

The Songs of Ascent are more than a collection of songs, they are a geography of the pilgrim’s walk of faith to God. In these psalms we hear about the pitfalls and dangers as well as the necessary encouragement and motivation to make and finish such a journey.

Psalm 132 is the longest of the Songs of Ascent and speaks to us of what is needed to make the last push to the finish. A journey of 100 miles can just as easily be forsaken in the last mile and is all the more pitiable when that journey is given up within sight of the finish. I know that pitifulness.

Psalm 132 reminds the pilgrim that the journey which they are making, this last climb through Judea up to Jerusalem, was one which the Lord has made too if only symbolically through the presence of the ark of the covenant. David vowed to bring the ark to a resting place among the people of God in Jerusalem; this is the destination of the Old Testament pilgrim: the Temple which housed the ark.

As the psalm reminds us of the vow which David made, the search for the ark which had fallen into obscurity, David’s desire to see the Lord’s worship honored even as he danced among the procession, and the promise which the Lord made to David and his descendants, we are reminded of the reward of faithful obedience.

For the pilgrim on pilgrimage, the joy at the end is not that the journey is over. The pilgrim’s joy breaks into view when they see that the God whom they have sought and pursued has, in fact, come to them.

This sonnet imagines the pilgrimage of one who, like the psalmist of Psalm 120, has come to his senses and gone to God. However, the dangers of pilgrimage waylay him near the finish. Remembering the kindnesses shown and the hope of fulfillment, he is persuaded to “arise”. The prodigal pilgrim makes the final push to the finish to find that “while he was still a long way off his father…”.

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

Here at the finish, the way is steep;
Having come so far, the end now in sight;
The vows made at dawn, when refreshed by sleep,
Seem cynically foolish in the fading light.
Lost in worries weeds, the tangle of cares
Trip me with cries to forget the vow,
Tempt me with lies by which comfort ensnares,
Falling, I slip into despondency’s slough.

A call to arise calls me from the end
And recalls to mind the kind offers made;
I stand, and stumbling, the last hill ascend
To behold the blessing for which I’d prayed.
The fullness sought in leaving now I see:
The father whom I left, running to me.

© 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.

Dear Heart

Dear Heart

This sonnet is a second based upon Psalm 131 and is a word of comfort or a moment of self-talk over and against all the words, phrases, and speaking which often rolls through one’s thought-life. In the South, “dear heart” can be spoken in a condescending fashion much like it’s sister expression, “Bless your heart…”. Though I may reserve that tone for reading this to my own self, it is not intended that others read it that way.

Also, I do not generally make use of the archaic, “thou”, “thine”, and “thy”. However, in this case it seems to me there something lost of the intimacy of a distinguished 2nd person personal pronoun in our common usage today. If possible, don’t hear a “formal” address, but rather words of intimacy.

Psalm 131 reads,

1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.

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

for PBP on October 6

Dear heart, do not lift thine eyes to the hills
Where control and pleasure are wound as one,
But feed on grace, the daily bread which fills,
Lest thou be left empty, thy life undone.
Dear soul, be calm, do not churn in thy breast
Fret not the drought, nor the flood of keening
Trust as a child who on his mother rests,
Patiently endure thy rooting soul’s weaning.
Dear child, rest thy head on shoulders which bore
The rough beam upon which hung all thy fears,
Be held by arms which opened wide the door,
And the hands which took thy sin, wipes thy tears.
O Israel, put thy hope in the Lord
Rest in Him this day and forever more.

© 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: Dora Hitz (1856–1924), Motherhood. The image is from the 1905 print after page of “Women Painters of the World, from the Time of Caterina Vigri, 1413-1463, to Rosa Bonheur and the Present Day”, by Walter Shaw Sparrow, from The Art and Life Library, Hodder & Stoughton, 27 Paternoster Row, London.