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.

What Rest?

What Rest?

The Songs of Ascent are a collection of pilgrim songs — songs sung by those on the road who are journeying to God. These psalms contain encouragement and counsel for the pilgrim, and like a geographer, these songs describe the lay of the land of a pilgrim’s world.

The lesson which the psalmist is seeking to teach his fellow travelers is that faith in God and our hope in Him is more than what He can do for us in the moment. God can be trusted, and the pilgrim must learn to wait on Him. This trust and peace is likened to that of the weaned child who has learned to trust its mother though she no longer offers the same comforts she once did. Spurgeon writes, “It is a blessed mark of growth out of spiritual infancy when we can forego the joys which once appeared to be essential, and can find our solace in him who denies them to us.”

Psalm 131 reads,

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.

In seeking to flesh out these sonnets it has been helpful to imagine the psalms working out in the lives of others. Over and over again, the lives of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus capture my imagination. The sonnet below is an imagining of Martha’s experience and concern about many thing, Mary’s chasing what is better, and the Lord’s invitation to Martha to calm and quiet her soul.

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

Concerned and worried about many things:
The work which needs doing, (I carry and bear)
The burden of healing, my sibling’s welfare,
Rests on my shoulders, on what my hand brings.
When He came I was filled with greater care:
For our guest’s comfort and our saving face
Among those who thought our table our place
Was sparse in joy and our graciousness spare.
And my worry broke in desperation,
“Master!” with heat and hurt, as a prayer
“Tell her to help, relieve my frustration
Can’t she see? Do something? In the work share?”
“Martha, she’s working by resting in me
Sit here also, and you too shall be 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.

What Redemption?

What Redemption?

This sonnet is based on Psalm 130 which is both a song of ascent and is one of what St. Augustine termed the penitential psalms — a collection of confessions of sin of which Psalm 51 is the more often well-known.

In the pilgrim’s sojourn to his destination with God, Psalm 130 is for me happily situated. Psalm 120 starts us on our journey as we own our dissatisfaction, but Psalm 130 reminds us that our journey is not one glorious rising and bounding from mountain top to mountain top. Rather, our pilgrimage is interrupted (and frequently) with times spent in places that are less than valleys, we are sometimes taken to the depths. The pilgrim, must neither be afraid of those depths nor avoid the indignity of “crying out for mercy” and for “waiting, waiting as a watchman”. These are not diversions or side excursions, but the journey to the depths is the path. If you find yourself “in the depths”, though disoriented and lost, you are yet not lost, but are walking the pilgrim way.

In this sonnet I imagine the person who is down, but not out. The depths from which the psalmist cries is the utter bottom, it is the grave, it is hell. The only one who sings Psalm 130 is the one who is left with no other help or hope but God. There is no personal reliance or confidence; there is no resolve to do better; there is no hope in a little suffering to atone for sin and guilt. There is only the cry for forgiveness and reconciliation — unqualified, unconditioned, and beyond hoped for.

At the moment of arriving to “the depths”, we are shocked by how far we’ve descended. However, the steps (oftentimes many) we’ve taken to that place are minuscule compared to the descent our Redeemer traveled to “get low”, to get beneath us, and to raise us up. Herein is the abundance and the plenteous, plentiful redemption he has secured: He has gone to every length to redeem us. And full of awareness of the great price paid, we gladly share with him both his crowns.

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

If you have not been all the way down
To the bottom where earth, sun, and sky
Seem only vague memories of some ghost town,
There’s more below the ledge on which you lie.
If you have never been down so low
Where there’s nothing but ruination,
Where all is barren, death’s all that grows,
Bad news, you’ve not reached your destination.

But He went there for us to the utter depth
Spared no ignominy, stripped, emptied of
All dignity, any glory in death
To buy back the sinner, hopeless, unloved.
For full redemption comes through Him who went down
Secures our forgiveness and shares with us his crown.

© 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.

Good Grief

Good Grief

Here’s an example of how other’s words are like seeds which find their way into your imagination and grow and bear fruit — in this case a poem.

Tish Harrison Warren, writes of her season of lament and grief HERE. In her post she says “grief is like sand”. That is a great metaphor and line. It found its place in my imagination and sprouted into this poem which I had not written as, but to no one’s surprise, was actually a sonnet.

The sonnet is entitled, Good Grief. If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Grief is like sand; it finds its way into
All around, underneath, through and through;
It gets in my shoes, the stuff of my day;
I vacuum, clean but to my dismay
It’s followed me on my vacation.
It stalks my way to each destination;
Uninvited, it sets an ambush of tears.
Botheration, this sand, it gets in my drawers–
Into my chest which holds and stores
The feelings I don’t often wear.
Grief opens doors when we, sadness share
The heart of our loss, worries, and cares
Grief, though not a good, is yet a sign
Of love that was and yet remains mine.

© Randall Edwards 2017
artwork: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), St. John Comforting the Virgin at the Foot of the Cross (After the Ninth Hour), 1862; pencil and watercolour with bodycolour and gum arabic on paper laid on linen

What Blessing?

What Blessing?

Psalm 128 is the ninth in the collection of pilgrim songs called the Songs of Ascent. Each of the songs offers encouragement and wisdom regarding one’s walking the pilgrim way to meet with God. The destination for the Israelite was the Temple in Jerusalem, but they, as we, understood the larger and more metaphorical image of the journey through life which finds its destination in meeting God.

In Psalm 128, the psalmist takes up the image of blessing — an image echoed already and especially in Psalm 127. Whereas Psalm 127 spoke of the manner in which blessing comes, Psalm 128 speaks of the way in which blessing is experienced: the fear of the Lord.

Psalm 128 (ESV) reads,

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.
5 The LORD bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
6 May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!

“Fear” has a negative connotation to modern ears. In speaking of this biblical “fear” one can spend a lot of time explaining and qualifying — so much so that it’s easy to make it more confusing or simply, meaningless. In the Bible, the “fear of the Lord” is a good thing. When we read about it, we should think in terms of “love” or “what is precious”. We fear that which is most important to us, we respect it, and we are not careless with it.

I’ve been helped in considering how to read this psalm by two things I’ve happened upon this week. Firstly, G.K. Chesterton said about our disenchanted world in Tremendous Triffles: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” He’s saying that we think we are languishing because of a lack of blessing. Rather he asserts, there are plenty of things which are wonderful, for which we may count blessings, our failure is to feed upon the marvels and blessings that are all around us. This thought is echoed in Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Messenger” in which she says, “Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.” In this sonnet, I try and do just that.

Rather than try to merely reword the psalm’s promises and images or to imagine myself as its speaker, I imagined myself as the object of its promises. I tried to view the blessings through the lens of Christ who is The Blessed. Who are his wife and children? Where and around which table does he seat me?

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

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord
Except for him who faced every fear—
Who walked faithfully, whose word was his word
Who wept with the poor, shed tears for every tear.
He ate not the fruit, but took with his hand
Our hearts hard as iron, our damned deeds of death;
Bore with pierced palms into the loathsome land
The curse with which we cursed till his last breath.

Who is your wife? Where is this fruitful vine?
Who are your children, the promised olive wood?
At whose table shall they drink the Blessed’s wine?
Or in what house gather, taste, and see what is good?
Are we (am I) the bride for whom you bore the shame
To sit beneath the banner of your love and name?

© 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: 12th Century Historiated initial letter from the beginning of Song of Songs. Library of Winchester Cathedral.
The Latin text reads: “Explicit lib(er) qui vocat Ecclesiastes. Incip(it) lib(er) qui appellatur hebraice Syr asyrim, latine Cantica Canticorum. Vox ecclesi(a)e desiderantis adventum Chri(sti).
“Here ends the book that he called Ecclesiastes. Here begins the book that is called in Hebrew “Shir hashirim,” in Latin “Songs of Songs. The voice of the church as she longs for the coming of Christ.”

What Work?

What Work?

Psalm 127 reads like two separate, self-contained words haphazardly spliced together. The psalm is one of two psalms attributed to Solomon, and the themes within the psalm, reflect the concerns of other Solomonic passages. Psalm 127 (ESV) 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 are clues in the words which Solomon employs which help us tie the two together. The first clue is the word house, which not only has the meaning of an “abode” or a “place to stay,” but also of a “dynasty.” The second is a pun in the Hebrew between the words builders (bonim) and sons (banim). For Solomon, the making a name for one’s self through “building” will not come from the successful self-determined and directed plans of the individual nor will security be had through one’s self-acquired and overseen efforts; these blessings will only come “unless the Lord.” The blessing we seek through work comes not through our individual effort but more like the manner of child bearing. Blessing is not achieved and mastered, it is conceived and delivered. Blessing is the result of a loving consummation which births into a greater joy and blessing.

As one walks the pilgrim way, one must understand what is being wrought in them and what awaits them even as one does the labor of walking, step by step, day by day to God (and this not alone but in community). The blessing at the journey’s end is exponential (1+1=3), conceiving is miraculous, laboring is travail, but delivery is glorious. And as one works and walks and waits, one rests each night in the name bestowed upon them, the special name which the Lord gives his children and the name which his children receive and own. We are called, “Jedediah” even as Solomon (2Sam 12:25). We are and rest soundly in our identity as “the Lord’s beloved.”

Psalm 127 (ESV) 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.

If it’s helpful, 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.