November 30, 2014

The Curse Undone

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Bread of Life, Grace, Original Sin, Redeemer, Serpent, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering, Suffering Servant, The Eucharist tagged , , , at 10:20 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Hiding their faces from the evening sun,
They stood ashamed among the shuddering trees
And heard the bidding voice of God, the One
Whose judgment brought the sinners to their knees.

“You will give life, but mingled with deep woe,”
He said to Eve, who sold her children into war
With him who on his belly now must go,
His fangs poised for destruction near and far.

To Adam, careless watchman, God then said,
“And you will earn your food by toil and sweat,
The dirt shall thwart your quest for daily bread,
While children doomed for death you shall beget.”

But of the woman’s pain a Seed would come
Just at the moment of earth’s darkest night.
This promised Seed to sin could not succumb,
The Second Adam, who all wrongs would right.

For He would freely give Himself for food,
The Bread of Life to take the curse away.
His agony the grieving world renewed
As death gave way to life at break of day.

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

This is the companion piece to The Advent of Grace.

The idea that I could not let go in writing that piece was that the remedy for the curse is not only as real as the physical effects of sin have been upon mankind, but also is like in kind to the Fall and its results. Stolen food was the undoing of man; Food given freely now gives us life and nourishment. The Eucharist is the meal that we may have without money or price (Isaiah 55:1). Pain, toil, and death were sin’s reward; the Son of God bore all of these on our behalf, then threw them back into the face of the wily serpent as He crushed its wicked head.

I suddenly realized that reading most of my poems is like attending an abbreviated version of Lessons and Carols or The Great Vigil. This one starts with the Fall of man and ends with the Resurrection of the Man, Christ Jesus, which was the undoing of the Fall. Even the first and last lines are bookends of sorts, the first ending at evening and the last at dawn. Though it may not seem like it when you read the newspaper or watch the news, the victory has already been secured. Day has broken; let us walk in the light. Food has been provided; let us meet Him at His table.

November 23, 2014

The Advent of Grace

Posted in Advent, Redeemer, Serpent, Son of God, Son of Man, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, Thorns/Thistles/Tares tagged , , , at 8:57 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The sibilant voice poured pride into her soul
While her protector, silent, shirked his role.
The perfect garden at her feet, Eve reached
To pluck forbidden fruit, and thus she breached
The kind decree that promised life and breath,
And opened up her home to pain and death.
For when she said, “Take, eat,” and Adam took,
The curse unfurled, and seas and mountains shook.
Their stolen meal brought famine yet unknown,
Dearth earned for taking what is God’s alone.
The outlaws hid, believing all was lost,
Their eyes now open to the dreadful cost
Of plundering God’s throne, for with that hand
They had instead laid waste to Earth’s fair land.
Still worse, they had estranged themselves from Love,
But God took pity on them from above.
At His appointed time, His Word rang out
To say, “Where are you?” and to bring about
Undoing of the curse that fell upon their head,
Of pain in birth and sweat poured out for bread.
The garden lay in ruins many a year,
Till Advent bells rang out unbridled cheer.
For the power and the glory man had sought
Rest in the Man whose blood their lives has bought.
He freely left His throne to seek and save
The lost; God’s Son was traded for the knave.

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

I often provide detailed explanations of my poems, but this time, I would suggest that a reader who wants to know more should pay very close attention to the word choices. In some cases, you should be reminded of other scriptures, in other cases to the Eucharistic liturgy, and in still others, to the liturgical calendar. I’ve purposely conflated time in a couple of places and added an anachronism at the end in the reference to Advent, but I will blame it on poetic licence. If you don’t get anything else from the poem, remember that the Father who would not forsake the criminals in the Garden, but sought them out, sent His Son to die for them, and in so doing forsook His only Son for a brief period on the cross.

Adam and Eve never had to say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

The first two lines refer to the fact that many scholars believe Adam was present during the conversation between Eve and the serpent. I have also attempted to pull together two concepts that have been used in contrast to each other through the years. At the risk of oversimplifying the argument, the Western Church looks at sin as a judicial matter. The  law has been broken, and a penalty is to be paid. The Eastern Church looks at sin as a breach in the relationship between God the Father and the children He created. I do not see any conflict between these ideas; there are scriptures that support each view. They are, in fact, both true. But Grace consumes it all. The penalty is paid and the relationship is restored. Thanks be to God.

I’ve been trying to finish this poem for several weeks now, and the ideas would not fall together until today. It always amazes me to see how the ideas unfold as I meditate on the concepts from Scripture. I actually started with a slightly different idea, so there is a poem yet to be written….

February 18, 2013


Posted in Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Sanctification, Serpent, Son of God, Son of Man, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering, Suffering Servant, The Eucharist, Water of Life, Word tagged at 7:59 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

He, the Living Water, was baptized,
Then made a path into the wilderness
To meet the challenge Satan had devised
When thirst and hunger left Him in distress.

He yielded to no purpose but His own,
Rebuking lying words with living Word,
Thus proving that though He had left His throne,
The God-Man’s power could not be deterred.

Now in our wilderness we find Him still,
For He precedes wherever we may tread.
He freely gave Himself so He might fill
Our famished souls with living wine and bread.

The meal prepared by human hands is blessed
To be our sustenance and sure repose.
The One who fought temptation bids us rest;
The Rock was struck, and living water flows.

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

This is a companion piece to the lectionary for the first Sunday in Lent, in which the Gospel reading is Matthew’s account of the Temptation of Christ. If we look only at that event in isolation, we miss so much, and even this poem does not make all of the connections that it could. Our Lord’s triumph over temptation is, of course, God’s setting right of what happened with our first parents, who did not rebuke the Opposer, but were willing to entertain the evil notion that God’s commandments were not intended for their own good.

But enough about what the poem does NOT cover. What it does bring in are references to the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, also not doing very well in resisting temptation, but still sustained by the Living Water and the manna from heaven. How unworthy we are, and yet God still loves us!

There is also some of the language of Psalm 23, for it is in the spiritual wilderness that we meet our enemy, and it is also there that Christ bids us come to His table and be filled with the Living Water of His grace. The serpent bids us come and worship him, thus securing the destruction of our souls. Jesus bids us come and dine, come and live, come and rest. Whom will you hear?

August 27, 2011

Consuming Regret

Posted in Lent, Original Sin, Serpent at 10:01 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Deceived, she reached into the fragrant tree
(Not knowing “If thy hand offend thee”)
And dared to pluck the lovely, luscious fruit
(Not knowing it was rotten at the root).

At first her tongue exploded with delight
Of sweetness as she took the stolen bite.
Then, swallowing the pride of life,
She felt the ache of never-ending strife.

The fleeting splendor of her carnal bliss
Was smothered as she heard the serpent’s hiss.
She could not bear the acrid aftertaste,
For, lo, the once-good world lay now in waste!

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

Several themes appear frequently in the work I’ve done thus far, so here is another look at the events of Genesis 3. This version is more of an internal reflection upon what Eve must have felt when she realized she had been so utterly deceived. She listened to the serpent (even though she was supposed to have dominion over him), and she began to rationalize: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” Hebrews 11:35 talks about how Moses chose the difficult path of obedience to God rather than enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season; I can just imagine that Eve’s enjoyment was very short lived. The parentheses were my attempt to show that those things we often overlook are the most important. The hand that reached into the tree in disobedience would have much better been cut off, as we read in Matthew 5:30, Matthew 18:8, and Mark 9:43. By its presence in both Jesus’ very public sermon of Matthew 5 and His private teaching to His disciples in Matthew 18, the concept of dying to our own desires demands our attention.

My notes show that I completed this poem on February 16, 2005, and then edited it again in July of 2007 before tweaking one more word when posting it tonight. No doubt it was inspired by the Lenten season, which would have begun on February 9 that year. That is the time of the liturgical year in which we reflect upon how much sin really matters because we see how much it cost the Lord to redeem us from it. The title can be taken in two ways. In consuming the fruit, Eve could be thought of as dining upon the very thing that would cost the world its peace. But in so doing, she was also consumed by regret. The consumer became the consumed.

August 21, 2011

The Messenger

Posted in Advent, Serpent, St. Paul at 5:35 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Dripping wet, he shivered on the rainy beach,
Bruised by shards of the once-mighty ship.
He reached to help his rescuers build a fire
And felt a viper sting his fingertip.

The natives, seeing his misfortunes grow,
Assumed that justice plagued an evil man.
But God’s Apostle shook the poisonous snake
Into the fire, and rested in his Father’s plan.

So they, amazed that he remained unharmed,
Then changed their minds and said he was a god.
And he proclaimed to them the news of Him
Whose foot had on the deadly serpent trod.

How beautiful the path-worn feet of those
Who battle with the serpent and still bring
The Gospel to this shipwrecked world!
Their sufferings proclaim a conquering King.

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

The primary text that inspired this poem is the story that begins in Acts 27:1 and ends in Acts 28:10, which tells of St. Paul being shipwrecked on Malta while being transported to prison in Rome. It would have been all too easy for him to feel sorry for himself, a prisoner who had warned his captors that the sea was dangerous, who was cold and bruised from being shipwrecked, and who now, in the process of building a comforting fire, has just been bitten by a poisonous snake (reminiscent of Genesis 3:14-15). Instead of wallowing in self-pity, St. Paul used this opportunity to minister to others, and through his prayers for the sick, to give glory to the One who rules all storms and heals all our diseases. The natives had originally thought St. Paul bore the curse of God, yet he was able through the power of the Holy Spirit to turn back the curse by healing the sick among them. The poem ends with a reference to Isaiah 52:7-8 (which St. Paul quotes in Romans 10:15) in genuine thanks to all who follow St. Paul in sharing the Gospel of grace and hope.

My notes indicate that a non-rhyming version of this poem was completed on June 17, 2007. I had the ideas together and needed to get them written down, but it took some time to shape it into a form I was willing to share. Even though I enjoy reading other people’s free verse, I have a difficult time considering any of my theological poetry complete unless I’ve put it through the discipline of meter and rhyme. I suppose that need flows from my concept of God as orderly. My favorite truth about the Holy Spirit is that He comes into our lives to bring order out of chaos. I’ll reserve discussions about free verse when I post one that I left in that form. Meanwhile, here’s the original version, which I really like a lot because it contains the word “fangs.” One does not often get to use that word in poetry:

Dripping wet and shivering by the fire
And bruised by shards of broken ship,
He felt the sting of viper fangs
And sighed, and shook it to the ground.
The natives, seeing that he suffered much,
Assumed that justice plagued an evil man,
But then amazed that he remained unharmed,
They changed their minds and said he was a god.
So he proclaimed to them the news of Him
Whose foot had crushed the serpent’s head.
How beautiful the bitten hands of those
Whose sufferings proclaim their mighty King!

Just as an aside, the original title for this poem was the Greek term for “messenger,” from which the English word “angel” is derived. The farther I get from seminary days, the more pretentious it seems to have a lot of Greek and Hebrew floating around in my poetry. I promise to keep it to a minimum.

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