Category Archives: Poetry

Shine Upon Thy Work of Grace

Today our church began a series that is focused on the great themes of the Reformation: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone and Christ Alone.  Today, in worship we reminded ourselves of God’s amazing grace.  Our Prayer of Confession:

God of grace, we are reminded this morning that we are dust.  You know our “dustiness”-our character that is so fragile and easily disintegrates.  We bring our hearts and our souls to You this morning, trusting You to bring forgiveness and healing.  We confess that sometimes we simply don’t trust You with our lives and the lives of those we love.  We confess our unbelief of the promises in Your Word that Your grace really is sufficient for us.  We confess our sins, the times we have willingly gone against Your good will for our lives, choosing that which is wrong.  We confess that there are times we ignore the promptings of Your Spirit, and fail to do the good deeds You have prepared for us to do.  Forgive us, Lord, and continue to shape us by Your grace.  We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.

We confessed our faith answering the Heidelberg Catechism’s question, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”   The answer is probably my favorite in that catechism:

That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

This poem of John Newton,  shared by Tim Challies, expresses, as only poetry can, what that grace really means:

’Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought;
Do I love the Lord, or no?
Am I His, or am I not?

If I love, why am I thus?
Why this dull and lifeless frame?
Hardly, sure, can they be worse,
Who have never heard His name!

Could my heart so hard remain,
Prayer a task and burden prove;
Every trifle give me pain,
If I knew a Savior’s love?

When I turn my eyes within,
All is dark, and vain, and wild;
Filled with unbelief and sin,
Can I deem myself a child?

If I pray, or hear, or read,
Sin is mixed with all I do;
You that love the Lord indeed,
Tell me: Is it thus with you?

Yet I mourn my stubborn will,
Find my sin a grief, and thrall;
Should I grieve for what I feel,
If I did not love at all?

Could I joy His saints to meet,
Choose the ways I once abhorred,
Find, at times, the promise sweet,
If I did not love the Lord?

Lord, decide the doubtful case!
Thou who art Thy people’s sun;
Shine upon Thy work of grace,
If it be indeed begun.

Let me love Thee more and more,
If I love at all, I pray;
If I have not loved before,
Help me to begin today.

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When You Have Nothing More to Say

More poetry from a blog I frequent:

The Peninsula

When you have nothing more to say, just drive
For a day all round the peninsula.
The sky is tall as over a runway,
The land without marks so you will not arrive
But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,
The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable
And you’re in the dark again.  Now recall
The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,
That rock where breakers shredded into rags,
The leggy birds stilted on their own legs,
Islands riding themselves out into the fog
And drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this:  things founded clean on their own shapes,
Water and ground in their extremity.
Seamus Heaney, Door into the Dark (Faber and Faber 1969).

Communication and Communion

“Even to imagine such words brings us into a new relation of wonder with the realities, wonder that has very little to do with communication, to use Allen Tate’s distinction, and everything to do with communion.”

This delightful sentence, found in an essay, sent me looking for Allen Tate, and I was not disappointed.  A southern American poet and writer of the 20th century, he was Poet Laureate from 1943-1944.  One of his more famous poems is “Ode to the Confederate Dead,”  here read by the author:

I found more about him in an archived “First Things” essay.

Early on [Tate] certainly showed signs of having been habituated to a racist culture, but the mature Tate repented, and confessed that as original sin was to humanity so was slavery for the South.

And especially this which endeared him to me:

In one of his most important essays, Tate argued that it was the task of “the man of letters in the modern world” to hold up to his own age “an image of man” that can be judged by a standard, that can “distinguish the false from the true.” Here his literary concern is with the power of words and “the vitality of language” to communicate, but the questions of true religion continue to percolate beneath the surface, for by mid-century his literary criticism had become Catholic.

The man of letters in the modern world “must discriminate and defend the difference between mass communication, for the control of men, and the knowledge of man which literature offers us for human participation.” Yet such discrimination requires a standard which in a secularized, egalitarian culture is constantly being refused. This he said stems from an “internal crisis” in the West, a crisis in “a society that multiples means without end.” Tate argues that secularized societies proliferate communication, but every act of communication, indeed every action, is orchestrated along the lines of a “plotless drama of withdrawal.”

…..What he fears is dehumanization through mechanized power, through a social machinery that substitutes means for ends, and thus multiplies communication (he could have predicted the Internet) in such a way as to deprive people of communion. As Tate put it, “Communication that is not also communion is incomplete.” In his view, communication is a means, not an end. And the problem with a secularized society is that it refuses “the end of social man” which is, as he puts it “communion in time through love, which is beyond time.” (emphasis added).
I plan to read his book on Stonewall Jackson soon.
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Far From the World

A hymn of comfort and hope in difficult times, written by William Cowper:

1 Far from the world, O Lord, I flee,
From strife and tumult far;
From scenes where Satan wages still
His most successful war.

2 The calm retreat, the silent shade,
With prayer and praise agree;
And seem by Thy sweet bounty made
For those who follow Thee.

3 There, if Thy Spirit touch the soul,
And grace her mean abode,
O with what peace, and joy, and love,
She communes with her God!

4 There, like the nightingale, she pours
Her solitary lays;
Nor asks a witness of her song,
Nor thirsts for human praise.

5 Author and Guardian of my life,
Sweet Source of light divine,
And, all harmonious names in one,
My Saviour,–Thou art mine!

6 What thanks I owe Thee, and what love,
A boundless, endless store,
Shall echo through the realms above
When time shall be no more!

Poetry for Children of All Ages

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I bought this book from a friend, many years ago.  Copyrighted in 1947, my edition was printed in 1965.  A few days ago I read several poems from it to a grandchild.  My mother knew many of the entries by heart.  (That is an odd way to say something is memorized, word for word).  This is one I heard many times over the years.

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The collection is not at all politically correct, and absolutely delightful.

Cathedral of My Enchantments

More from Stephen Pentz:

        The Wind Shifts

This is how the wind shifts:
Like the thoughts of an old human,
Who still thinks eagerly
And despairingly.
The wind shifts like this:
Like a human without illusions,
Who still feels irrational things within her.
The wind shifts like this:
Like humans approaching proudly,
Like humans approaching angrily.
This is how the wind shifts:
Like a human, heavy and heavy,
Who does not care.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (Alfred A. Knopf 1923).

And this:

As I suggested here recently, wisdom does not necessarily come with age.  I can attest to that.  But growing old does provide an opportunity to pare your life down to essentials.  Think of all the things you once thought were important and that now mean nothing.  The length of that list will depend upon the length of your time upon the earth, dear reader.

One day you will realize, out of the blue, that you have lived more years than the number of years that remain to you.  On that day, life becomes simpler.  You may turn your attention to the wind.

Autumn

Cathedral of my enchantments, autumn wind, I grew old giving thanks.
Czeslaw Milosz, Road-side Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1998).

James McIntosh Patrick, “Braes o’ Lundie”

Sign of a Nation

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The Flag Goes By

Hats off! Along the street there comes A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums, A flash of color beneath the sky: Hats off! The flag is passing by! Blue and crimson and white it shines, Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines. Hats off! The colors before us fly; But more than the flag is passing by. Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great, Fought to make and to save the State: Weary marches and sinking ships; Cheers of victory on dying lips; Days of plenty and years of peace; March of a strong land’s swift increase; Equal justice, right, and law, Stately honor and reverend awe; Sign of a nation, great and strong Toward her people from foreign wrong: Pride and glory and honor,–all Live in the colours to stand or fall. Hats off! Along the street ther comes A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums; And loyal hearts are beating high: Hats off! The Flag is passing by!

Henry Holcomb Bennett