Archives For Poetry

wendell_berry-247x300 copyWendell Berry is one of my favorite poets. For 35 years he has been writing what he calls Sabbath Poems. They are crafted mostly outdoors; on-foot walking his beloved Kentucky hill farm on Sundays. He has published some of these in different poetry volumes, the first of which was A Timbered Choir (1979-97). Now, he has two new poetry collections, one this dayof which is dedicated solely to his Sabbath poems. It’s titled This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems.

The introduction is a beautiful essay on the importance of Sabbath.

I deeply enjoyed reading it on my ‘sabbath’ today:

Here is his description of practicing sabbath, and what can happen there – though not automatically, and not without attention and intention.

In such places, on the best of these sabbath days, I experience a lovely freedom from expectations – other people’s and also my own. I go free from the tasks and intentions of my workdays, and so my mind becomes hospitable to unintended thoughts: to what I am very willing to call inspiration. The poems come incidentally or they do not come at all. If the Muse leaves me alone, I leave her alone. To be quiet, even wordless, in a good place is a better gift than poetry.

On those days and other days also, the idea of the sabbath has been on my mind. It is as rich and demanding an idea as any I know. The sabbath is the day, and the successive days honoring the day when God rested after finishing the work of creation. This work was not finished, I think, in the sense of once and for all. It was finished by being given the power to exist and to continue, even to repair itself as it is now doing on the reforested hillsides of my home country. 

We are to rest on the sabbath also, I have supposed, in order to understand that the providence or the productivity of the living world, the most essential work, continues while we rest. This work is entirely independent of our work, and is far more complex and wonderful than any work we have ever done or will ever do. It is more complex and wonderful than we will ever understand. (p. xxi-xxii)

Are you making space for ‘Sabbath time?’

I just had the intense enjoyment of several days with a life-long friend and missionary. His endless stories of being available to the”Everywhere present Jesus” in-spired me! I’m again reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem ending:

Every day you have less reason
Not to give yourself away.

Mary Oliver versed it another way in a poem from Evidence, p. 39:

I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then love the world.

And in prose words, Tim Keller has a wonderful small book with a much larger title. My favorite quote:

“…The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy. 

p.s. It’s 99 cents on Amazon in the Kindle ebook version. Buy it!

Poetry is the intensity of our experience;
a way of recognizing and preserving our experience.

Christian Wyman

I agree intently! I thought I would share one of the first poems I wrote that “intensified my experience”- in this case, a Mission Trip. I was in Czechoslovakia with an international assembly of Navigator teams helping to visit believers in then closed countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.  We could not take pictures or exchange addresses for security reasons. After 5 incredible weeks we re-assembled in Vienna and I desperately wanted a way to remember. I turned to simple poetry. Every time I read it, I am immediately  brought back to the events that these simple words helped preserve. Others who have been on trips such as this echo the feelings expressed.

Slavic Tears

The last day together;
bowed heads around a humble table;
hearts brimming with varied emotions;
sweet recollection, sad resignation.

Those first few days never allowed for this moment.
So hard to say the words:
“I may never see you on earth again!”

We prayed for one another
and our homelands;
understanding the language of every other prayer.
We needed no translation –

and I wept in Slavic tears.

[Czechoslovakia, 1980]

EphremEphrem the Syrian, known as the ‘Harp of the Holy Spirit’ is described as ‘the greatest poet of the patristic age and perhaps the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.’ Ephrem was not only a well-known figure in the Syriac-speaking world but also was well known in the Greek East and the Latin West.

I recently picked up a used volume containing Ephrem’s Hymns on the Nativity. It is a gem of beautiful and unending word pictures on the wonder of the incarnation – God taking on human flesh. Filled with quotes and illusions to Scripture, it fills the heart and mind with joy and praise!  Here is a taste from two of the hymns:

 

Blessed be the Child, Who today delights Bethlehem.
Blessed be the Newborn Who today made humanity young again!
Blessed be the Fruit, Who bowed Himself down to our hunger!
Blessed be the Gracious One, Who suddenly enriched
all of our poverty and filled our need.
Blessed is He Whose mercy
inclined Him to heal our sickness.

Today the Deity imprinted itself on humanity.
so that humanity might also be cut into the seal of Deity.

(from Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns – Classics of Western Spirituality, 1989)

The 17th century pastor and writer Richard Baxter, in his later years, spent a portion of each day in ‘Heavenly contemplation.” It deepened his love and delight in God and helped his fruitfulness in ministry. I’m finding  myself “homesick” too, in a joyful way, eager to taste the sweetness of that eternal Communion with my Lord.

Colossians 3 – If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

20th century poet Anne Porter wrote most of her work late in her long life.  After the death of her husband, she writes longingly of the New Jerusalem, our true home. It’s the place where “death will hunt us in vain.” Here’s a portion of her poem that I read today:

We know little
We can tell less
But one thing I know
One thing I can tell
I will see you again in Jerusalem
Which is of such beauty
No matter what country you come from
You will be more at home there
Than ever with father or mother
Than even with lover or friend
And once we’re within her borders
Death will hunt us in vain.

__ from Four Poems in One in Living Things

William Cowper was one of the most popular poets in England. He wrote poems and hymns, influenced by his association with John Newton (of Amazing Grace fame). Here is a poem/hymn originally titled “LIght Shining Out of Darkness.” It speaks of trust in our sovereign God. The last stanza reminds us that we miss the goodness of God if we don’t look to God to be his own interpreter in times of trouble!

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

William Cowper (1731-1800)

Where do you need to trust in the Lord’s grace with “fresh courage?”

Poetry has a way of capturing what can’t be easily put into words. Here are two poems that give voice to the voiceless children of poverty; children loved by Jesus. One is by a poet, the late Anne Porter.  The second is by one of our church elders, who doesn’t often write poetry, but was moved to verse after his second trip to South Sudan.

A FAMINE CHILD, Anne Porter (see her bio)

You had no food today
And may have none tomorrow
Child whose ribs are showing
Under your dark skin

Unwilling to be wounded
By the sight
Of so unjust a hunger

Or to confront the anger
Of the Lord who made you

We look away
We turn away our faces.

African Kids, Mike Galdonik

Why should I care?
They’re over there.
Why should I care?
They’re just a bunch of kids.
They’re far away,
I don’t have to see them.

So what, they don’t have a home.
So what, they didn’t eat today.
So what, they don’t have a father to sing them a song.
So what, they don’t have a mother to love them.
So what, there’s a sick girl…
is she alive any more?

They’re over there,
why should I care?
They’re over there,
but they’re in my mind.

Did God put them there?
But they’re over there.
Did God put this tear in my eye?
They’re over there,
why should I care?
They’re over there…
God put them there.

See here, to learn more about Covenant Kids Congo, our denomination-wide movement for child sponsorship through World Vision.  Go to our Christ Church website to listen to the teaching at Christ Church on “Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World.”