February 14, 2013

Rest in Returning

Posted in Grace, Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Obedience, Parables, Prodigal Son, Sanctification, Self-Discipline tagged , at 9:58 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

He made a bed of self-pity and foul hay
Amid the rowdy pigs, his only comrades now.
Then he, the noble son, in sorrow lay
And dreamed of all that he had disavowed.

His dreams were fitful, for his hunger gnawed
So deeply he would steal the husks to eat.
Then waking up, he set out on the path unshod
To seek his Father’s blessed mercy seat.

Humiliated by the world, he ran
In humble penance to the Father’s arms
And there, enfolded, his new life began,
No longer tempted by the world’s false charms.

A robe of righteousness he then received
From Him who met him while he was far off.
Unbounded love flowed from the One he grieved.
Here ends the shame of dwelling in the trough.

Thou, Lenten fast, our tutor for these days,
Return us from the pigsty of our sin.
Make clean our hearts and cause our eyes to gaze
Upon our Father; help us rest in Him.

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

Based on Luke 15:11-22. The story is so well known that the poem needs no explanation. The title is a slight alteration of a line in one of my favorite prayers in the BCP:

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength; By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As much as I am able to squeeze into a poem, so many things must still be left unsaid. I wanted to revisit the idea of sin leaving him shoeless by stating that the Father put sandals on his feet, but I figured since the Scripture takes care of the second half of the equation, I only needed to supply the first. I also wanted to state that hunger drives us back to God, but it never found a place in the structure. The idea is there even if the words are not.

I completed this poem on 14 February 13. I started it last night and fell asleep shortly after asking the question “What rhymes with pig sties?” As you can see, I worked it out so that the rhyme was unnecessary.

February 13, 2013

The Lenten Call

Posted in Holy Spirit, Hope, Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Obedience, Sanctification, Spiritual Warfare at 6:36 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

And now resounding through the turbid earth
The solemn call to keep a holy Lent
Would lift our eyes from things of little worth
And bid us find in Jesus true content.

As Spirit hovered over formless void
Dispelling chaos by the Word decreed,
He clears the wilderness that sin destroyed;
He fills our hearts with all we ever need.

Beauty for ash, and love to conquer fear,
The days of Lent teach us to comprehend
That all else fades when Jesus we hold dear.
We throw off worldly weights in order to ascend.

Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

Begun on the evening of Shrove Tuesday and completed this morning, Ash Wednesday, 2013.

February 8, 2013

For Ash Wednesday

Posted in Hope, Lent, Liturgical Calendar tagged , , , at 11:12 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The stately cedar trees bow down their heads in woe
And shudder sadly as the savage wind swoops down,
Rearranging ghostly garments made of snow,
While all around stand trees with scrawny limbs of brown.
Thus winter-deep in grief, the trees remember days
When wild petunias danced and curtseyed at their feet
And honeysuckle draped them all in blooms of maize
That drenched the evening with their perfume sweet—
Days when vibrant bluebirds pirouetted in the sun
While sparrows drank the lees from last night’s shower.
The blooms are now mere memory; the birds are gone.
Rain hardens into ice; the sun has lost its power.
But with relentless hope, the evergreens remain
As witness that the buried seed will soon arise.
For just as spring shall put an end to winter’s reign,
Ash Wednesday fades amid the Easter victory cries.

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

This piece is written in the same vein as “Autumn Grief” and “Until Hope Ends.” All of them draw pictures from the natural order in an attempt to hint at deeper spiritual truths. This piece contains more personification than I normally use, but it seems fitting here. The finished work of Easter benefits the earth, not only mankind. Something in me wants to think that God’s whole creation anticipates the day of deliverance, and that may not be too far fetched:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:16-23)

That is perhaps the best passage to keep in mind during the very disciplined days of Lent.

I’ve had the concept of relentless hope in my head for several weeks, but I didn’t get anything on paper until 21 January. The word “relentless” seems to have has negative connotations under normal circumstances, so I felt that it also needed to be redeemed. There is something to be said for having unrelenting hope, love, and faith.

December 23, 2012

The Burden of the Lord

Posted in Advent, Christmastide, Good Friday, Holy Week, Incarnation, Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Son of Man tagged , at 6:23 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

In ages past good shepherds spoke the truth
And faced the scorn of disobedient men.
Some heard the call while they were in their youth,
Others, advanced in age, combatted sin.
A path of grief and pain the prophets trod;
Only a few saw fruit from labor long.
They bore the burden of the Word of God
And through the struggle sang His victory song.
Another bore the burden of the Lord:
The mother of the promised Son of Man.
Her heart would be pierced by Roman sword,
But freely she submitted to God’s plan.
And taking on that burden, she has borne
The Savior, who our deepest woes has borne.

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

St. Luke’s account of the annunciation has always gripped my heart. There is so much for us to learn by St. Mary’s responses to the angel. It is quite obvious that she knew the promises of God, recorded by the prophets of old. The angel did not offer any theological explanations of the need for a Savior, though he did answer her question about the biology of it all. In her question and the angel’s answer we see two things: God does not want us to follow Him blindly but to understand as much as we are able. We also see that when our concerns have been answered, the proper response is “be it unto me according to thy word.”

It is worthwhile to study the phrase “the burden of the Lord” or “the burden of the word of the Lord” as it is found in the Old Testament. I cannot do it justice here, but one good resource is a sermon by Spurgeon. He deals beautifully with the solemn task of being a preacher of the Word. My addition to the meanings of “burden of the Lord” is a poetic play on words related to the actual physical burden a mother experiences in bearing a child.

May we ever be as faithful as the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This resulted from the notes I took during the sermon today. I scribbled down the words “the burden of the Lord” when the priest was talking about St. Mary’s willingness to endure ostracism or worse in order to be obedient to the Lord God. As to the form, it is a sort-of sonnet. I probably violated all sorts of rules by ending the last two lines with the same word, but the ideas were so important to place together that I will accept the consequences, should the poetry police ever come knocking at the door.

December 9, 2012


Posted in Advent, Atonement, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Lent, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant, Word tagged , , at 8:57 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Lift up the valleys and raze every hill,
Repave the rocky roads and make them straight.
Level the hurdles so that nothing will
Obscure the vision that we all await:
The glory of the Lord shall be
Revealed for all the world to see.

Remove the walls and knock the scaffolds down
Take out the fences and fold up the gates.
Shout from the wilderness to every town,
For God has spoken, and His wrath abates.
The Word made flesh has borne our pains
And now as King forever reigns.

Comfort the people who were once beguiled
By dark desires that war against the soul;
Be kind to them, for though they’ve been reviled,
The Lord has come their sad hearts to console.
Behold the Lamb, who takes our guilt!
In Him all things shall be rebuilt.

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

Isaiah 40:1-11 is a Sunday reading during Advent in more than one lectionary, and so it seemed to warrant an Advent poem. I’ve purposely rearranged the ideas, because the passage starts with the concept of comforting God’s people, and the message I wanted to convey was better served in moving from the concept of leveling everything to that of lifting us up to Himself, comforting us, and rebuilding, only better. (I suppose that betrays my fondness for ascension theology.)

It occurred to me today in reading this passage that the tearing down of mountains and filling up of valleys seems to have a particular purpose: where there are mountains and valleys, the skyline is obscured, and so whatever is revealed would be hidden from some. The timing of Jesus’ arrival, as well as the location of His birth, supported the greatest opportunity for the message to be spread to all the earth. Also, He preached to rich and poor, outcasts and leaders, politicians and zealots, those who were afar off and those who were near. No haughty heart could withstand His gaze; no humble soul could fail to be comforted.

Finally, it is important to notice that there is no room for the status quo when Jesus breaks onto the scene. Everything that would keep us from loving Him sincerely must be knocked down, destroyed, ground to dust. But when He rebuilds our lives, He makes them strongholds.

I’ve been meditating a lot on the Advent passages for Sundays, and this one in particular is filled with poetic symbols that hold great meaning and great comfort. I began scribbling this during the service this morning and completed it this evening. The first line that came to me, since amended, was “break down the walls.” As I pondered this concept of breaking things and rearranging them, I heard an echo from The Hobbit, a book I read in childhood. When Gandalf finished “chipping the glasses and breaking the plates” in Bilbo’s life, his whole future had been rearranged, but both he and his beloved Shire were better off because he bravely endured many adventures.

Faith Works

Posted in Advent, Faith, Lent, Works of Mercy at 8:21 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

True faith has busy hands and feet
And eagle eyes that seek out
Hunger to fulfill and pain to ease.
Faith binds up broken hearts
No physic can amend and dries the tears
From faces stained with hopelessness.
Hearts buried in despair are warmed and filled
With every good gift God supplies.
And those who suffer famine of all kinds—
Of wretched body, soul, and mind—
Are satisfied by faith that lives and breathes,
By faith that prays and works and hopes,
By faith that loves the Triune God
And also loves the sheep for whom Christ died,
By faith that works.

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

More to come later on an explanation, but for a long time I’ve wanted a way to bring together I Corinthians 13 and James 1 and 2, and these are the thoughts that finally emerged. I am convinced that no organization can call itself a branch of the Church unless it is actively engaged in works of mercy, perhaps the most important of which is evangelism.

I’ve dropped my usual form-bound style and opted for a more natural flow of language.

November 4, 2012

Bride’s Room

Posted in Advent, Bridegroom, Holy Spirit, Lent, Sanctification, Spiritual Warfare, The Trinity tagged , , at 2:38 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Comb out her matted hair and wipe her face.
Then wash her hands and cleanse her filthy feet.
Becalm her restless soul; fill her with grace.
Give her fine wine to drink and bread to eat.
Take every spot and wrinkle from her dress,
And beautify her feet with shoes of peace.
Strengthen her heart; increase her righteousness.
Shield her with faith, and every fear release.
Spirit of God, take this unworthy Bride,
Transform her thoughts and thus renew her mind.
Be thou her comfort; never leave her side.
Teach her all truth, or else she will be blind.
Prepare her for the coming of the Groom,
Who in His Father’s house prepares her room.

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

This morning we celebrated the Feast of All Saints at the parish I attend. The sermon was about heaven, and one of the passages that the priest expounded was John 14:2, where Christ assures His disciples that although He has to leave them, their separation will not be forever, and that He will not only be waiting for them but will also have a special place prepared for them. I started thinking about how wonderful it is to have a Lord who will prepare a place for His Bride in heaven and who has sent His Spirit to prepare us in the meantime.

At that point, the image of a Bride’s Room came to mind, that lovely spot in any church or wedding chapel where brides are curled and swirled and pearled, to make them beautiful for their special day. The Holy Spirit does for us in a spiritual sense exactly the kinds of things that take place in a Bride’s Room because being sanctified is the process of being made ready for our Groom. Those are the ideas that unfold in the first 10 lines of the poem using various images from Scripture, but especially two from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

  1. Ephesians 6:14-16, where St. Paul lays out the spiritual armor that prepares us for the battles we will endure until that day when all tears are wiped from our eyes.
  2. Ephesians 5:25-28, where St. Paul delineates the connection between marriage and the relationship that Christ has with His Church.

There are also references to Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; John 16:13; and any verses that talk about the Eucharist, for can there be sanctification if we neglect the Body and Blood?

On the Feast of All Saints, I always think about my loved ones who are in heaven, but today in particular my father was on my mind. He went to heaven 33 years ago today, and I still miss him. But I take comfort in knowing that our Lord had a place prepared for Daddy and that I will someday see them both. And even now we are knit together in that holy fellowship which includes everyone whom Christ’s blood has redeemed. I prefer to think of 4 November 1979 as the day my father stopped dying. We are all born dying, and only when we reach Heaven’s shores are we safe forever more from the ravages of decay. No moth, no rust, and nothing that can cause corruption. In heaven, there is only life and light. By God’s grace, I can bear anything here because I know that is what awaits me there.

August 19, 2012

The Son Restored

Posted in Atonement, Faith, Good Friday, Holy Week, Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Redeemer, Suffering, Suffering Servant at 11:15 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Desolate, the weeping mother followed
One last time her precious boy.
Years ago her steps were lighter,
But great losses stole her joy.

Jesus saw the sad procession,
Took compassion on her pain,
Asked her first to cease her weeping,
Then He raised the child of Nain.

Reuniting son with mother,
Christ restored what death had won.
Eve received her fallen Abel.
God has traded Son for son.

Soon His mother would be weeping
As her Son walked through the gate
On His way to die for sinners,
Sin’s dread curses to abate.

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

The very worst part of the entrance of sin into the world is not just that we individually were tarnished by sin, but that all our relationships are ruined by its curse. Even when we are redeemed, when we live and love and walk in the light of Christ, we will most certainly face the death of loved ones. So when Jesus broke into the sorrow of this world and proved by healing the sick and raising the dead that the curse could be rolled back, He fulfilled the hope that had been building up since Adam and Eve were called out of hiding and back into the grace of God.

The very short passage in Luke 7 that tells the story of the widow and son of Nain has some notable details that are emphasized in the poem. First, he meets the funeral procession on their way out of the city. This was the idea that drew me most into the story tonight, because as the last verse relates, this situation mirrors the one at Calvary. Second, as soon as He saw her, Jesus told her to stop weeping. In other words, He asked her to have faith in Him, for His promise of blessings is surety of that they will be delivered. Third, the situation with a mother losing a son is close to my heart, and I cannot help but relate all such instances back to Eve and Abel. How deeply she must have felt the pain of losing her dear son (actually both her sons), for she knew for a fact that it was her sin that caused his pain! The same is true with the mother of our Lord.

Although there are echoes of these ideas in other poems, this one was written fresh tonight.

August 13, 2012

The Grace of Pain

Posted in Faith, Lent, Sanctification, Suffering at 9:14 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Seeking to sever pain from grace
I struggled to secure a place
Without the pain I’ve known so long,
Which often scourges cruelly strong.

But stronger still God’s grace shone through
To fortify my life anew.
For through the blood of His dear Son,
The battle is already won.

He does not take the pain away
But gives me grace meet for each day.
Yet, even more, the pain is grace,
Imploring me to seek His face.

So when the pain envelops me,
I quickly to His bosom flee
To plead the blood of Christ the Lamb,
And He enfolds me as I am.

Then through His mercy He amends
My life so I will follow Him.
In choosing Grace my heart will soar
To Heaven’s throne through Christ the Door.

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

Suffering. How we long to avoid it! But how necessary it is for our spiritual growth. Look at Joseph, Moses, David, and any of the prophets, but primarily Jeremiah. Look at St. Paul, who was haunted by an affliction that he termed “a thorn in the flesh.” Whatever it was, he entreated God to remove it, to take away his suffering. Yet God refused:

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12:8-10)

Was St. Paul a masochist, serving a cruel God whose only goal is to flex His muscles at the expense of vulnerable humans? If we count this life only, then that might be a reasonable conclusion, and we would want no part of such a God. But as St. Paul had observed earlier in his second letter to the Christians at Corinth, all of those events that seem to be chipping away at our “outward man” are actually renewing the “inward man” day by day. Our afflictions are light, in comparison to those of our Savior, and they are light in comparison to their effect, for they work in us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Corinthians 4:16-17). The pain IS grace.

Just one wordsmithing note: I chose the word enfold at the end of the fourth verse because I had just mentioned Christ the Shepherd-Lamb, who brings us to His fold. But there is also more. The word itself means “to cover with or as if with folds,” and it reminds me of how Boaz covered Ruth with his garment. Another meaning is “to hold within limits; enclose,” which reminds me not only of a sheepfold but also that He holds us within the loving limits of the paths of righteousness. Finally, the word means “to embrace,” which reminds me that we are His beloved. Could you possibly imagine that one word’s suitcase had so much meaning and connotation packed in it?

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything, partly because I’ve been busy, but mostly because I have been under the weather for several weeks. For a while I was really frustrated over this situation, as I’ve not had enough mental energy to write poetry or enough physical energy to participate in some of the ministries I’ve been a part of in the past; I haven’t even done a very good job of taking care of the basics at home. But after a crisis situation sent me to the emergency room a couple of weeks ago, I’ve slowly begun to feel better. This post is not a new piece at all, but it is a major revision to a poem I wrote in 2003. Judging by my numerous revisions of this poem (February 16, 2005, July, 1, 2007, September 6, 2007, September 22, 2007, February 7, 2008), without being willing to share it with anyone, it is obvious that I’ve been struggling with these concepts for almost ten years. Until tonight, I was unable to put the whole thought together. The third verse, which is new, is the lynchpin of this poem, and apparently expresses that which was most difficult for me to grasp. May God grant me the grace to keep learning this lesson.

March 21, 2012

The Miracle of the Loaves

Posted in Holy Spirit, Laetare, Lent, Sanctification, Son of God, Son of Man, The Eucharist at 6:38 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The hillside, covered with the hungry host
Who had walked far into the wilderness,
Was glad to lift its eyes and bless
Its Maker as He blessed the barley loaves.

The young old Adam offered all he brought
But found it insufficient for the mass.
Mere loaves and fish are not a meal that lasts.
For man craves food that is not sold and bought.

But taking this small offering from the earth
Our Lord invoked the Spirit’s life and breath.
His Bread invites us to a holy death,
Yet in this death His people find new birth.

Then after every pilgrim had his fill,
They gleaned twelve baskets of the table crumbs:
Now to this feast the hungry world yet comes,
And Gentile folk eat from those baskets still.

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

The miracle of the loaves and fishes is as vastly underrated now as it was then. In Mark 6, the sequence of events is given as this: Jesus shows His dominion over the material world by feeding the multitudes. He sends His disciples away in a boat while He goes into a mountain to pray. The disciples are tossed about by the material elements of wind and water. Jesus walks out on the water and calms the winds because He has dominion over the material world. The disciples, who have been an integral part of the feeding of the multitude, become agitated because they think the figure walking on the water is a ghost (non-material). How could anything, material or not, destroy them while they were under the care of the Almighty? Mark 6:52 indicts their fear as follows:

For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.

It is no coincidence that the next event recorded is that of Jesus healing the sick, again showing again that He has dominion over the material world. The prayer that He taught His disciples was being lived out. He was demonstrating how His Kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven, where His will is perfectly carried out. The invasion of earth by heaven does not negate the material world but rather blesses and restores it to its proper status.

But so what? And what connection does that concept have with this poem? The Eucharistic liturgy also demonstrates our Lord’s dominion over the material world, represented by the bread and wine, as well as by those who consume them. In a sense, every Eucharist is a creation and an incarnation, and it is most certainly the evidence of unity between God and His people, and by extension, of God’s people with each other.  The first line of the poem, which refers to the people as a “host” reflects not only that there were many of them but also that God’s people ARE one bread and one body becauase we partake that one Bread (I Corinthians 10:17). The entire first verse personifies the hillside (to represent all of the created order) as blessing our Lord because He saves not only the souls of mankind but also restores all of creation.

This poem was started in my head during the sermon on Sunday (March 18) and I’ve worked on it every morning since then. The final pieces fell in place today, March 21, which also happens to be the Feast of Archbishop Cranmer. I was told in seminary that Cranmer died for the sake of the words from the eucharistic liturgy which appear in bold italic below:

Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.

The Eucharist, as with Creation and the Incarnation, is where heaven meets earth, where the breath of life combines with the dust of the earth.

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