In January I read Andrew Murray’s devotional book Abiding in Christ, and it had a huge impact on me. The book is basically a 31 day meditation on Jesus’s words in John 15:1-17. Murray does such a good job of explaining how fitting the vine and branch metaphor is for our relationship with God. I’m still processing all the good stuff hidden in those pages!
Often I process what I’m learning and meditating on by writing about it, and more often than not those meditations end up as poetry. Since the beginning of February, I’ve been planning and drafting a series of seven poems inspired by Murray’s book, and tonight I have the first three to share with you! I’m attempting to write them in the order I planned them, but I must confess that number four is proving almost impossible to nail down. It might be a while before you ever see the last half of this series. 🙂
Unlike my November poems, which are often first drafts (and rough ones at that!), I have worked over these poems several times, which is part of the reason why it’s been slow going to get them written. I also love the content of Murray’s book and really want to make sure the poems are faithful expressions of what I’ve been learning. After each poem I’ve shared a little bit about the writing process that went into it and the poetic elements I tried to include.
On the third day you planted
the metaphors we needed
in Eden’s soil,
and they rose up singing–
the mustard tree and the lily,
the wheat and the vine.
You opened our eyes to eternity,
and in a moment we saw all
the good that could be
lost–a glimpse of fruit
before the fall.
This first poem (and really the idea for all seven) came to me as I was reading an early chapter in Andrew Murray’s book. In that particular chapter, he discusses how fitting the vine/branch metaphor is for the Christian life. For some reason, this made me think about how God planned and created these very things in the Garden of Eden, and I just loved the idea that God created the concrete things He knew we would need to understand Him. I also loved the thought that Jesus, who is holding all things together (Colossians 1:17), used these created things–things He sustains–to teach us about himself. He is literally holding the metaphors together for us. This idea of metaphors and how they work is a theme you’ll probably see repeated throughout these seven poems. Since this poem was about Genesis and creation, I also wanted to comment subtly on the idea that grace was presented to Adam and Eve before they left Eden. For that reason, the second stanza includes several enjambed lines to create three different ways of reading and understanding that sentence.
We live in the land of less
time and more
labor, cursed, but supplied
with the means to make meaning.
In this new state we rake
at the soil of experience
with sunburnt hands,
planting garden memories deep
in the wasteland.
We don’t realize, yet,
that the wilderness is always
we only feel the hot wind at our backs,
and see dust on our feet.
Could it be there are angels
even here, even here?
This second poem has less of a connection to Andrew Murray’s book than the first, but I wanted to continue on with the theme of metaphors and making meaning after the Fall. Just as God created the metaphors we needed in the Garden, all of those created things help us make meaning out of our existence. I also really liked the language of gardening that Murray used in his book, and I tried to pick up on some of those words in this poem: rake, soil, garden, planting. The poem ends with a reference to a verse I’ve always loved, Genesis 28:17. In that passage, Jacob awakes from his dream of angels ascending and descending, and he says, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
This is our prayer, for as a race we run
from garden to garden, dust to dust:
Lead us out, Lord, and fill our jars
with bread fine as frost, words sweet as wine.
Help us respond to your holiness
that we may be numbered among the holy.
Give us again the law of love that leads us
to the land of our inheritance.
Judge our hearts, O God; teach us to glean
truth from the deeds of prophets and kings.
Help us recount your works, even in exile,
help us rebuild what our sin has destroyed.
You have prepared us for such a time as this;
though you slay us, we believe,
and therefore our hallelujahs will rise
in shouts of praise from the hearts of the wise.
In our youth we will remember
that you are the lover who pursues,
the root and the branch, the sufferer
who brings restoration like the rain.
In seasons of lamentation, we know
that you are the LORD, the lion-tamer,
the faithful husband to whom we return.
Your day is at hand, and your power is seen
in the destruction of your enemies,
and in your compassion towards them.
You shepherd us well, for you are quick
to love and slow to anger.
You set our feet on the rock,
and we trust in you.
We are hidden in you, restored
by your presence. You are always working
to heal and to judge us; we are not afraid
to hold these truths in one hand.
We do not fear the silence of the desert,
for we know that you are on the move.
This third poem is much longer than most of my other poetry. I was looking for a way to transition somewhat chronologically from the Genesis to Jesus’ arrival. The problem with that is that pretty much the entire Old Testament stands in between those two events! For this poem, I tried to incorporate key phrases or thematic elements from each Old Testament book. I don’t think I’ve captured them all perfectly, and some of the references are pretty weak, but it’s a start! This one took a while to get to a place where I felt comfortable sharing it, and I’m still not sure it reads as a complete poem. And even though I’m happy with the way it turned out, when I look back over it, it feels more fragmented than I’d like.
I hope you enjoyed these poems, and I hope reading a little bit about my writing process was somewhat interesting to you. To be completely honest, this is the first blog post in a while that I’ve been scared to press “publish” on, so here goes nothing!
Stay tuned for the next group–if I can ever get around to writing them!