What Hope?

What Hope?

The Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-135) are the songs of pilgrims on the road to meet with God. They vocalize the reasons for pilgrimage, its benefits, and struggles.

Psalm 124 is a song from the vantage point of the finish and of hope realized — the hope which pilgrim’s carry in their hearts along the way. The pilgrim way is a way of faith, and it, rather than an optimistic feeling, is the manner in which we walk. Hope is at the end, it is the reason we keep on walking. Midst the journey though, hope is still unrealized, unseen, and the unseen is very difficult to trust, to remain steadfast unto.

Psalm 124 is a song for the fearful — for those who’s hearts are beginning to give way to the terrors and catastrophes which can suddenly befall us. Within its verses is a collective memory, that ‘the Lord has not left us alone’ nor given us over to death and defeat. The Scriptures are full of the accounts of people who, rather than stoically rising above life’s disappointments (as we might think the godly, dignified saints out to have done), succumb to despair, honestly complain against, and about which sing lament. In Psalm 124 we hear the rallying cry of those who have been delivered, who were beyond hoping things would turn out better, but thankfully were not without the hope of their faithful savior.

Psalm 124 reads,

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
4 then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
5 then over us would have gone
the raging waters.
6 Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

If helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet 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 names, WHO IS 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.

Look Up?

Look Up?

The posture of the Christian’s walk of pilgrimage to God is one of service and humility. It is a posture of pleading for mercy. The mercy we seek and which God offers is not one begrudgingly given by our Father. (Who gives his son a stone?) Rather we best participate in the mercy God desires to show when we are well-convinced that we both need and continue to receive mercy.

This sonnet is based upon Psalm 123 which exemplifies the pilgrim’s posture as well as his need. The psalm reads,

1 To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. (ESV)

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

To Thee, in heaven do I lift my eyes;
Look, how I look, how I wait on Thy hand;
Wait as a watchman, for the dawn to rise,
For Thy mercy as light to flood the land.
Enough! –the contempt of the proud who look down,
Who sneer and scowl over their upturned nose,
Who turn away, ignore, “tisk-tisk” and frown
At the brethren they trample, use, then dispose.

The Richest of All looked down, stepped into,
Looked up, cried ‘Why hast Thou forsaken me?’
Looked down, plead, ‘They know not what they do!’
Cried, ‘Enough! It is finished; my spirit, receive.’
Three dawns hence my called name lifts up my head
To behold, Mercy reaching, risen from the dead.

© 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 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 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.

Stay Home?

Stay Home?

The songs of ascent (Psalms 120-135) are a collection of psalms which were sung by those making their way to Jerusalem to worship during the great feasts of the Jewish year. Psalm 122 is written from the vantage point of one who has arrived in Jerusalem. The gladness which awaits one at the end of the journey is surely a motivating factor to those making their way, and this rejoicing in the assembling of God’s people should be just as joyful.

However, such a collection of sinners in one place for several days is eventually going to lead to disillusionment. What then? What if having travelled so often just to be disappointed by self and others, you think, “I’d be better off if I just stayed home”? It seems to me that Psalm 122 helps us take on that very struggle as we walk the upward climb.

This sonnet is based upon Psalm 122 which reads:

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2 Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!
3 Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together,
4 to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
“May they be secure who love you!
7 Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!”
8 For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good. (ESV)

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

I was glad when they called and said to me,
“It’s time; let’s go up to Jerusalem
To the house of the Lord where we may see
And sing His wonders; in thankful unison.”
As a symphony sing, parts joined together
Fitted and formed in compliment, made one–
One family, one house, one heart, one Father,
United by His decree, by His love won.

But this collection of customs, accents, tribes,
Opinions, crowds, the throng, and commotion
The snickering suspicion and dress down jibes?
I might stay home, keep with private devotion.
No. I’ll pray, seek the city’s peace and rest
Go to God’s house, for His sake do my best.

© 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

Come to the Table

Come to the Table

The Presbyterian Church in America’s General Assembly is June 12-16 in Greensboro, NC.  The week’s theme is “Come to the Table.” The phrase itself comes from the sentiment in the Parable of the Narrow Door in Luke 13:22-30 which reads,

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’
26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

I began a project last spring to write a sonnet for the Assembly to be used as the organizers saw fit. I was encouraged to have been asked and set about exploring the themes of the parable.

At first I wanted to understand the parable which (as many of Jesus’ parables are) a little distressing. The first two poems I wrote were to understand the meaning of parable itself. The first sonnet concerned itself with the door itself.

The Narrow Door 1
Someone asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
And Jesus perceiving, told a parable of a door.
“Do all you can, strive to find your way through
Into the King’s presence and peace forevermore.”
“Be wary, the door shall not always stay open,
And many will come late expecting they’re in.
And even though they’ve listened, supped, and broken
Bread at a table, yet they remain what they had been.”

Though the door is narrow its beauty now I see:
Through its humble casing, I cannot carry pride;
Its head’s as tall as a man hung on a tree;
Its sill spans the breadth of his arms open wide.
Through this door all are welcome, are seated with a ring.
To find plenty of room and fullness at the table of our King.

In the second sonnet I further considered the door. In the first, I imagined what the door what it was, how wide and high. In the second, I tried to imagine the sorts of doors beyond which one may be shut. This poem is a bit more personal to me. The parable’s exclusive message cuts against our contemporary inclusivity and opportunity. Nevertheless, lines are and will be drawn. Doors will be opened and closed, and though it may seem harsh, there is no way around it. The parable’s irony is viewed when one reads it through the lens of Jesus. Jesus himself is one who will be shut into the darkness by a door — he who should’ve had every door open to him. Yet in obedience to the Father and love for the ‘shut out,’ he laid down his privilege that he might take our place. As I considered that irony, I also considered the apparent hopelessness of the stone door of a tomb. How final did that door’s closing seem?

The Narrow Door 2
“Will those who are saved be few?” a man asked.
“Will you by the narrow door make your way in?
Will you in humility, serve, be last?
Or set your conditions, remain in your sin?”

“But what if that door is closed, sealed tight?
What if it’s too late? What if life has withdrawn?
What if the darkness overcomes the light?
Is there hope beyond hope? Hope yet for the dawn?”

The Greatest has come, has departed as least;
Though favored with fame, was abandoned by fans;
He offered himself a sacrifice and a feast,
And opens a new door through the marks of his hands.
To His table be welcomed, come all East and West
Where the unknown are exalted; the weary, given rest.

Since the theme was not “come through the door” but the Come to the Table, I began to imagine the sorts of tables from which the Lord called his disciples and calls us. The account of the calling of Levi away from his tax collecting booth and to host Jesus at a dinner table captured my imagination. The Pharisees who are scandalized by the scene of this dinner party reminded me of the table of Psalm 23 in which we are promised that the Lord sets a table before me “in the presence of mine enemies.”

Levi’s Table
He stopped at my table, stood and stared
At me and the extorted wealth I’d taken;
He discerned in me how poor and scared
That my collector’s kingdom would fin’lly be shaken.
He called, “Follow me.”  I arose and followed after,
Abandoned booth and scales, cast them each aside,
And welcomed to my home light and love and laughter;
No longer marking other’s debts in the ledger of my pride.

And reclining with this Rabbi, at the table of the least
While my betters stood despising, scoffing from outside,
My Master “in the presence of mine enemies” set a feast
Of lordly leisure and promise: to never leave my side.
My mission now is to carry news, calling from east and west,
“Come to the table of this King, be found, be filled and rest.”

Lastly, I settled on considering the sorts of tables to which God has called his people and around which he has gathered them. Specifically, I was captivated by the table upon which Abraham was to offer Isaac, the tables around which the Israelites gathered in Egypt at Passover, and the table to which Jesus instituted the Last Supper to which he invites us to “come and taste that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8).

Come to the Table
“Come to the table my son, my laughter,
Take wood and knife and let us walk away
Up into His provision.” When Isaac calls after,
“Without a lamb? Do we only go to pray?”
“Come to the table;” stand packed and waiting
Holding your staff, eating pilgrim’s bread
List’ning to the stories of God’s emancipating
Which leaves the darkened kingdom’s firstborn dead.
“Come to the table; long have I waited
To celebrate this Passover with you;
Which I give and pour in love consecrated:
The meal of my body, my body to renew.”
“I am the narrow door, the ram provided, the lamb, slain;
Come you humble, to my table, be filled, rejoice, and reign.”

If helpful, here is an playlist in which you may listen to me read each of the poems.
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© Randy Edwards 2016.
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.

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday

Perichoresis” is a Trinitarian term describing the the interplay in the Godhead of mutual love and honor. It means “around” (peri-) and “move toward”(-chorein). It is oftentimes described in terms of a dance.

Dr. Timothy Keller in his book, Jesus the King, writes about perichoresis as it manifest at Jesus’ baptism in this way,

Mark is giving us a glimpse into the very heart of reality, the meaning of life, the essence of the universe. According to the Bible, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit glorify one another. Jesus says in his prayer recorded in John’s Gospel: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had with you before the world began” (John 17:4-5). Each person of the Trinity glorifies the other.
In the words of my favorite author, C. S. Lewis, “In Christianity God is not a static thing … but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.”

I make use of several images of the Trinity in this sonnet. The first is of the Godhead at the beginning, in creation. The second is at Jesus’ baptism, when again, the Spirit hovered over the waters, to alight on Christ (who is the Word made flesh), and the Father decrees. The third is the joy of our inclusion in that dance of love and honor reflected in sign by our own baptism.

You may read about Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:9-11 which reads,

In those days Jesus scame from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

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

Before time and light there IS, Three in One;
When darkness was not yet as darkness is;
Before stars took their place, before moon and sun,
Three danced as One in perichoresis.
From the top midst the wild world’s ruin
Chaos threatens to overcome the light
The Allemande-Three at Jordan breaks in,
“You’re my beloved in whom I delight!”
The Three’s contra dance, the world’s hall shakes;
The Father calling, pours praise from the skies.
The Spirit alights, enfolds with embrace;
As the Word steps to, with fire, baptize.
Let the Caller of Dawn in baptism call me
Gathered in the swing of the dancing Trinity.

© 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.

artwork: Baptism of Christ; Fécamp Psalter; c. 1180; Manuscript (76 F 13), Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.