March 25, 2015

Breath of Life

Posted in Breath of Life, Creation, Eastertide, Holy Spirit, The Church, Word at 6:34 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Entombed
Within four walls they hid,
Like Lazarus in his four-day grave.
In grief,
With dreadful doubts and halting hopes,
They waited for the storm to end.
They hung
Suspended between then and when,
Not even daring to ask why.
He died.
Of that they could be very sure.
Sure, some had said He lived again.
But how?
Who could have said the words for Him
That He had spoken in Bethany?
Come forth!
Creator-Word: “Let there be life!”
Now suddenly He speaks again
Sweet peace,
There in the midst of them.
And once again Creator’s breath
Ignites
The dust of earth with Spirit’s flame,
Foreshadowing Great Pentecost,
From whence
His Church breathes forth the Word
To call the dead to life anew.

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Based on John 20:19-23, the Gospel reading for the First Sunday after Easter

April 18, 2014

Poured Out

Posted in Atonement, Creation, Creator, Eastertide, Good Friday, Holy Spirit, Holy Week, Redeemer, Resurrection, Son of God, Suffering Servant, The Church, Water of Life tagged , at 10:17 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The river that poured out from Eden’s garden
And wound its way through time and history
Now flows from heaven’s throne, the font of pardon;
Its water holds the sacred mystery.
Its healing stream delights God’s city;
His people find refreshment for their soul.
Its cleansing power can restore the guilty;
In mercy it will every grief console.
On Golgotha its Source was manifest
When the Creator-King poured out His life.
The soldier pierced the heart of Heaven’s best,
And blood and water flowed to end our strife.
The Temple, briefly razed, would rise again.
The river from its threshold covers sin.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Today is Good Friday. At last evening’s Maundy Thursday mass I was struck by the concept of Jesus’ soul being poured out, mainly because it made me think of two related concepts. The first is the water and blood that flowed from His side when the soldier’s spear pierced through both His soul and that of His dear mother. The second was the prophecy in Ezekiel 47 of a river that would flow from the threshold of the Temple, would grow in influence, and would heal the sea when its water reached that far. That passage is one of my favorites, and it reads much like the creation story, which is only appropriate since it is the prophecy of the re-creation accomplished through the atonement.

Listed below are links to the Scripture passages on which the poem is based.

Genesis 2:8-17

Revelation 22:1-5

Psalm 46:4-5

Isaiah 53:11-12

Psalm 22:13-15

John 19:33-35

Ezekiel 47:1-12

His soul was poured out unto death, but in so doing, He drowned death with life. It is finished, and He is the victor. And thanks be to God, we share in His victory.

April 13, 2014

Fourth Day

Posted in Atonement, Creation, Creator, Eastertide, Good Friday, Holy Week, Lent, Original Sin, Palm Sunday, Redeemer, Resurrection, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, The Church at 8:41 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Sprawling sycamores and emerald fields,
With apple trees and every plant that yields
Rich food for man to gratefully receive,
Recoiled in horror as our mother Eve
Reached up and grabbed the fruit of doom.
With one swift bite great sorrow she consumed.
Though still the source of myrrh and frankincense
And spikenard for Christ’s feet, the plants were hence
Cursed, cursed for Adam’s sake by their own kind:
Food-yielding plants were choked by thorns that bind.
But at the appointed time Creation’s Lord
Entered Jerusalem, greatly adored.
Tall, graceful palms were hewn to smooth His way
And shouts of “Save now!” echoed for a day.
But all too soon the shouts were “Crucify!”
So on that woeful tree they lifted high
The Carpenter who formed the universe.
The King was crowned with thorns to heal the curse.
Third-day creation, plants that ne’er drew breath
Were made complicit in His gory death.
The third day Mary brought sweet oil and spice
To honor Him who paid sin’s awful price.
Her weeping ended when the Gardener she found;
Her sad laments in morning’s joy were drowned.
The Vine whose third-day triumph ransoms all
Bears fourth-day branches rescued from the Fall.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

14 April: I’m returning to annotate some of the scripture references. Sycamore trees are mentioned several times in the Scriptures, but most people remember them in connection with Zacchaeus, who climbed into a tree because he was having trouble seeing Jesus because of the crowd. The fields suggest the harvest that Jesus mentioned when He saw the multitudes and had compassion on them. Apple trees are mentioned in Song of Solomon (in reference to The Beloved), but also in Joel 1, withered apple trees (and other plants) demonstrate the effect of sin, and this idea is reinforced as the topic turns to creation and the fall.

But in the vein of Genesis 3:15, we are not left in despair because the next plant products that are mentioned are two of the gifts brought to our Lord at His birth. The poem then echoes the spiritual battle that has plagued the world since the Fall, finding its climax in the Cross.

That battle is demonstrated in the outcries from the final two crowds that swarmed around our Lord. The Palm Sunday crowd, by yelling “Hosanna!” (which means “Save now!”), was actually yelling “Crucify Him!” and didn’t even realize it. We could not be saved without His death on the cross. Was that crowd one-for-one the same as the crowd at the cross? No point in answering that question because it is not the point. What is true is that both crowds were representative of mankind. I was not there, but my sins nailed Jesus to the cross. What is also true is that there were faithful followers of Christ who stood at the foot of the cross and neither deserted Him nor called for His death. But nevertheless, He died for them.

The final references I want to highlight are Mary’s mistaking Jesus for a gardener (an event I’ve written about before), which calls the Garden of Eden into remembrance, and the reference to John 15, in which our Lord declares Himself to be the True Vine and His people to be the branches. Between those two images is a reference to Psalm 30:5, which is one way to summarize the events that occurred from Good Friday to Easter Sunday:

For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.

Thanks be to God that the morning is coming.

August 2, 2013

Veterans

Posted in Creation, Faith, Grace, Hope, Thankfulness, War tagged , , , , , , at 10:13 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Black-eyed Susans peering through the chain-link fence
Divert my eyes from razor wire that looms above.
Unlike the well-armed guard, alert to every threat,
Their faces are alight with memory and hope.
For flower-beauty graced this place before
This fence was built and tanks assembled here,
And their soft splendor will withstand war’s ugly gaze
Until the time when swords become plowshares.
Even in death their eyes drop seeds that wait for spring
To shower them with the sky’s sweet tears,
Which blend with warming earth to coax new life,
New beauty, from the barren battlefield.
They bud, then bloom, diffusing calm amid the fray
And offering themselves as healing balm.
Their incense rises in the cruelest summer heat;
Their pollen nourishes a host of butterflies.
These blooms, untutored in the deadly art of war,
Prefer the art of peace and lavish loveliness.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


I have been pondering what it is like to live on this earth, where such incredible sadness can be countermanded by the beauty and promise that lives within a flower. I have referenced no specific Scripture within the poem other than Isaiah 2:4, but if you cannot see Christ in a Black-eyed Susan’s face, then nothing I can say will help you.

January 6, 2013

Sonnet for Epiphany

Posted in Creation, Epiphany, Hope at 10:37 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Born on day four with a host of other twinkling lights
Created to count days and seasons, months and years,
The star beamed out through numerous unchanging nights,
Joining the great celestial dance with countless shining spheres.
A minor player, yet content God’s glory to declare,
The star remained unnoticed by beleaguered man
Until a special glory it was called to share.
The glory of the One Light beamed in orient land
To call the Gentile seers to seek the promised King.
Their journey was with highest hope spurred on.
From half a world away they trudged, their gifts to bring,
As starlight’s rays connected earth to heaven’s dawn.
Obscure the star, obscure the Magi from the east as well.
Then Christ-Light beamed on all, their darkness to dispel.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This poem might be described as Genesis 1 meets Psalm 19, Matthew 2, and John 1. The interesting thing about the birth of our Lord is that every one of the people who took the time and effort to believe God’s word and come to see Him for themselves went away joyful. But those who did not desire the Light could neither be drawn nor illumined by it, namely Herod and the chief priests and scribes. There is no way to fathom the deceptive wickedness of Herod, who pretended to want to worship our Lord, while all the time plotting against Him (bringing to mind Genesis 3:15). There will always be opposition to the clear truth of Christ. But the Light cannot be extinguished. Dawn will break, and it will encompass the world.


Started and finished on The Feast of The Epiphany, 2013.


December 16, 2012

Lamp to Our Feet

Posted in Advent, Christmastide, Creation, Hope, Incarnation, Liturgical Calendar, Obedience, Word tagged at 9:15 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The Word spoke forth into the formless dearth:
“Let there be light,” and so the darkness fled.
The light was good and to good things gave birth.
And Light and Word like a great river spread.

Though chaos fought to keep its stranglehold,
The Light pierced through with beams of glory bright.
As Word spoke through His prophets sent of old,
The promise broke the curse of gathering night.

Through years of silence, still the Light remained
And kept sweet hope alive through trials grim.
The wretched people sat in darkness, chained,
Waiting the sound of morn’s melodious hymn.

In the beginning was the Living Word.
Then Word made flesh brought light and life to men,
And through His death new life has been transferred.
Now all must walk in Light who live in Him.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


St. John provides an obvious link between the first chapter of his Gospel and Genesis 1. The two great “in the beginning” passages mark the narratives of creation and re-creation, the beginning of life and of life abundant. But in this poem I have taken this connection a few steps further to follow the thread in its path from Genesis to John’s Gospel and then beyond to his epistles. God’s working throughout history has been weaving a tapestry that is still taking shape as the Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. But from our vantage point, we can look back and glimpse creation and the fall, with the aftermath that included the prophets and the promise, and then the promise fulfilled in the Word made flesh who lived and died for us. In the second verse, there is a conscious play on words, as we normally think of promises being broken. But in this case a promise broke the curse. Thanks be to God!

I purposely stopped the poem at the point where our responsibility lies. It is true that one day we will live with Him in perfect Light, but in this present age it is still a daily struggle to walk in the Light; given the phrasing in John’s epistle, it is not a foregone conclusion that we will do so. It is an act of the will, one that begins with a love of His Word and Law, as we read throughout Psalm 119, the source of the poem’s title. It is also an act of faith, hope, and love to behave now as citizens of a Kingdom we cannot yet see. Abiding in Christ is the key, as He told His disciples in the Upper Room.

God help us ever to do so.


This poem is a by-product of my work to prepare the resources for Christmas Day. Now, back to work!

December 24, 2011

On Christmas Eve

Posted in Christmastide, Creation, Holy Spirit, Incarnation, Redeemer, Sanctification, Son of God at 9:13 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Hovering Dove, whose wings smoothed chaos into form
When “Let there be” spoke earth from nothingness,
Send forth the Sun of Righteousness
Whose healing wings convert the night to morn;
Scatter the scavenger birds that steal my peace
And threaten to undo what You have made.
Like Boaz, spread your wings to give me shade.
Redeem me, and from every fear release.
Word of God, speak truth where falsehoods reign,
For loving truth will silence fiery darts of lies.
Transfigure me, Your icon; as self dies
Show me your glory, that I may not strive in vain,
The glory Moses could not see until, the heavens riven,
Eternal glory in the Son of God was given.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Christmas is the time when we most seem to show that we simply do not “get” God’s plan. Propounders of the prosperity gospel tell us all year around that God wants to bless us with material stuff, and at Christmas time we seem to believe them. I do not believe that Jesus came to this earth so that I might have a flat-screen television. I believe He came to give me Himself, His glorious presence in my life, bringing peace and hope, but bringing also a cross of self-denial, the way of suffering that Christ Himself has trod. That, my friends, is our Christmas gift: the cross and the Cross, the opportunity to be transformed into His glorious image as we deny self more and more. That may not be the message people want to hear on Christmas, but it is the only one that saves.


The idea for this poem was born on one of my long drives to work this week. The last six miles is a lovely farmland/wilderness area with few houses, and I spend a lot of time enjoying God’s handiwork. I often see hawks or deer, but this week there was a flock of ravens in my path gloating over some morsel they had found, and as my car approached, they scattered. My mind immediately went to the parable of the birds that steal the seeds of faith. I kept repeating the phrase “scatter the scavenger birds” to myself until I had time to sit down and write the rest of the poem!

And so my best advice to all is this: never drive on the same road as a writer, for a writer’s mind may wander at the drop of a hat.

December 11, 2011

Sonnet of the Better Ark

Posted in Advent, Creation, Eastertide, Redeemer, Resurrection, Son of God at 7:19 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

You know how many lions roam the plains.
You shepherd from the clouds the quenching rains.
You make the meadows laugh with betony
And revel in the birds’ cacophony.
Your tender care o’er fields and cattle-kin
Blankets the earth and all that dwell therein.
The hills stand watch in loyalty to You
While trees reach up, embracing skies of blue.
Creator, God, Your whole earth sings of love.
You see each sparrow fall or soar above.
Though birds may hush and men fall silent too,
What You have made, You will create anew.
The rising of your Son who did descend,
Gives confidence this frail world’s not the end.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


I have been thinking a lot lately about sparrows falling and what that means in a couple of contexts. First, if God takes note when every sparrow falls, then “this frail world’s not the end.” It would be futile for God to count the sparrows if all He’s doing is keeping some sort of cosmic score to report when the “Game Over” sign flashes on the screen. The end of life in this world does not mean the end of life, or else what would be the point of counting sparrows? But the final word of the poem has a squinting meaning. I also mean that this world is not an end and purpose in itself. We live in a place where moth and rust corrupts and thieves break through and steal (Matthew 6:19-20). If we put all our time and effort into accumulating material things, we miss the point entirely. That is not to say that the material world has no value, for we do not deny the goodness of creation and the great gift that God has provided in the material world. It is to assert that this world has no meaning apart from the purposes of its good and kind Creator.

Second, the concept of sparrows falling means something for the whole “problem of pain” as it is often called. The passage in Luke that reassures us we are much more important than sparrows says that a fallen sparrow is not forgotten before God (Luke 12:6). The parallel passage in Matthew says that sparrows do not fall apart from the will of God (Matthew 10:29). How could a good and loving God will that a sparrow fall? The real question is, How can we creatures question the goodness and love of our Redeemer God? If He loves the sparrows (and us) and yet sparrows fall and children die, then death must not be the worst thing in the world and there must be something else besides the world that we can see. And so there is. There is the irrevocable hope that the God who made the world is making it again, that a day is coming when no one shall hurt or destroy in all His holy mountain (Isaiah 65:25), that His great love will prevail over every pain and every grief, but more important, over the sin that causes them. The painful path of re-creation is outlined in the Litany:

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgement,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Deliver us, indeed, O Christ, who pioneered the way of sacrifice, for You offered yourself before the foundation of the world. Thanks be to God!


This was written today, 11 December 2011. The passage from Isaiah 65 was the Old Testament reading in the parish I attend.  I had trouble with the title, as I generally do, but it seemed to me that if the ark was a type of salvation, then it also represents the fact that God is saving and will save His whole creation. New heaven, new earth, and a promise better than the rainbow. Perhaps another poem is brewing.


August 28, 2011

Epiclesis

Posted in Creation, Epiphany, Holy Spirit, Incarnation, Pentecost, Resurrection, The Eucharist tagged , at 6:21 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Breath of God, swoop down to hover
O’er frail elements as once Thou did
To birth the earth, and then again to cover
Blessed Mary, Ark whom Gabriel bid
To bear the perfect Son and Lamb of God:
The Uncreated on His creation trod.

Bright Spirit, now alight as on that day
The Son of Man cleansed Jordan’s stream;
As when, transfiguring Him, Thou showed the Way
And brought bright heaven down to beam
On humankind, who could not quench the Light:
The rising Star has overcome sin’s night.

Holy Dove, brood now between the seraphim;
Open the Ark, and break the heavenly Manna free,
And once again frail earth convert to honor Him.
Make wine His Blood, make bread His Body be.
Then, as at Pentecost, transform Christ’s own:
His Body, His Bride whose sins He did atone.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


So I’ve already broken my own rule about limiting Greek and Hebrew words, but in this case there is little choice. There is no adequate English word for epiclesis, the point in the Eucharistic service in which the priest, Christ’s representative to the Church, calls down the Holy Spirit to turn mere bread and wine into Sacrament. I suppose blessing or invocation would come close, but they still do not capture the full concept. In my studies for a paper about the prayer of epiclesis in various liturgies, I came to realize that this work of the Holy Spirit is just one in a long line of creative-redemptive-sanctifying moments throughout the history of the world, so the poem is another sweeping panorama that catalogs many of the key points in Scripture where the Holy Spirit is at work in this earth. The point at the end of the poem is that the Church (including me!) is part of that creative-redemptive-sanctifying purpose accomplished by the Holy Spirit.


In scouring all my resources for a poem to post this Lord’s Day that would also be appropriate for the Feast of St. Augustine, I found this one in an email I sent to a fellow seminary student on the Feast of Epiphany in 2008. I remember quite distinctly that the poem grew out of a paper I had written for Bishop Sutton’s Liturgics class. As I read my dialog with Jonathan (now Fr. Jonathan) I had to shake my head because I had sent him an early draft of the poem and then made the poor man read several paragraphs of pure angst spent in revising a few words to make sure the meter and sense were both correct. At the conclusion of the process, I wrote, “So now you’ve briefly been inside the head of a poet. Most of the time it’s a dreadful place, really. And when I obsess with these details, it’s a crashing bore.”

But he was gracious, and in his analysis he added this quotation from St. Augustine of Hippo via Garry Wills:

“If you want to know what is the body of Christ, hear what the Apostle Paul tells believers: ‘You are Christ’s body and his members’ (1 Cor. 12:27). If, then, you are Christ’s body and his members, it is your symbol that lies on the Lord’s altar—what you receive is a symbol of yourself.  When you say ‘Amen’ to what you are, your saying it affirms it. You hear the priest say ‘The body of Christ,’ and you answer ‘Amen,’ and you must be the body of Christ to make that ‘Amen’ take effect. And why are you a bread? Hear the Apostle again, speaking of this very symbol: ‘We though many are one bread, one body (1 Cor. 10:17).'”

“This then is the ‘bread that comes down from heaven, so that the one eating it shall not die (Jn. 6:50).’  But these words apply only to the validity of the mystery, not to its visibility—to an inner eating, not an external one; to what the heart consumes, not what the teeth chew.”

[From Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills—p. 141—quotes are from Augustine’s Interpreting John’s Gospel 30.2, 28.2 and 26.12]

To become a part of God’s eternal purpose through participation in the Church, the Body of Christ, is the grandest calling the human heart can ever hear.

August 26, 2011

Ascension

Posted in Ascensiontide, Christmastide, Creation, Eastertide, Incarnation, Original Sin, Pentecost, Son of God at 9:12 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Once noble, earth’s dust heard the Lord’s command
To burst forth with abundant sustenance.
Thus grass and trees and all food-bearing plants
Were ready for the lively creature band.

Then, hallowed even more, the lowly dust
Was touched by God to make in His likeness
Mankind to take dominion and to bless
The earth, to be obedient and just.

Had Adam trusted Providence, then Eden’s sod
Would ever have produced enough for all.
Yet reaching up too high, he then did fall
And brought upon mankind the wrath of God.

The serpent, for his part, received the blight
Of eating dust and making violent war
With those in whom God’s image he did mar
By tempting them to turn from God’s pure light.

Then He who breathed His life into the earth
Condemned it to grow thistles with the wheat,
Compelled the man to labor in the heat,
And cursed the woman with great pain in birth.

Now dust we are and go to it again,
And dust and ashes mark our deep regret.
But the Covenant God would not forget dust yet,
For as the dust will number Abraham’s kin.

Awake, and sing, O you who dwell in dust,
For earth has given back the Holy Dead,
And through the One who took away our dread,
We rise again from deadly sin and lust.

For God’s own Son took dust to be His frame
And sanctified the earth by treading here.
He breathed again on those that He held dear
And cleansed them from their deepest dusty shame.

Now blessed are we who would have died alone.
All who receive the Word as fruitful soil
Are noble through the God Incarnate’s toil,
For in Him earth’s dust sits on heaven’s throne.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This poem has a sweeping Scriptural scope, beginning joyfully as it does in Genesis 1 with Creation and ending triumphantly with re-creation in the risen, ascended Lord Jesus on the throne of Heaven. Between those happy bookends, it deals with the dusty death proclaimed in the curses of Genesis 3 and announces the hope that is offered in Genesis 13 when the Covenant God promises Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the dust particles on earth. Interestingly enough, in Genesis 15, when God repeats His promise to give Abraham many descendents, He says they will be as numerous as the stars in the heaven. This theme of raising dust to heaven is completed in the sanctification of dust that was accomplished in the Incarnation. Our salvation is secured by the holy life, bloody death, glorious resurrection, and triumphant ascension of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.

The Fall of man is a fact of life (actually a fact of death, I suppose), yet an even greater fact of life is that our hope is found in the ascension made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. Through Him, we die to sin and rise to newness of life. We ascend every time we are raised to commune with Him, and we will eventually be raised to see Him face to face in our glorified bodies. And with St. John, we hear Him say, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” (Revelation 1:17b-18)


I suppose if I had to choose a favorite of my poems, it would have to be “Ascension.” The last line is purposely difficult, with lots of consonants banging against each other to slow down the rhythm and make the reader think about the concept of earth’s dust (almost a tongue twister!) dwelling not just in the heavenly places, which would be amazing enough, but on heaven’s very throne. This poem began with my reflection on an Ascension day sermon preached by Father Stuart Smith in 2007. He is now a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Fort Worth, and I am quite certain he is still preaching the Truth.

On a personal note, while I was finishing this poem on September 7, 2007, I was at the bedside of my son James who was enduring a two-day medical procedure in a futile attempt to discover the cause of his seizures. Once I finally had all the words the way I wanted them, I handed James the laptop so that he could read it, and he broke out into that handsome smile that would light up a room and put everyone at ease. Less than five months later he died from complications of a seizure. In my grief, I have found it a great blessing to know that God is not limited by the fragility of these earthen vessels; He chose to work through the Son of Man’s earthen vessel to accomplish our redemption. That is a great comfort to me today of all days. James would have been 33 today.

To God be the glory.

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