September 17, 2011

The Gardener’s Song

Posted in Eastertide, Obedience, Original Sin at 5:53 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Eve, in the perfect garden, craved to know
Some tender morsel that might make her god.
Yet, knowing, found the path of pain and woe.
Thus plunged in bitterness of night she trod.

Another to a garden brought sweet herbs
Gently to tend the lifeless Lamb of God
Who had from her removed all that disturbs,
Had borne for her the cruel, chastening rod.

Seeking and finding not, she wept aloud,
Though holy angels she did hear and see.
She turned from them in tearful cloud
And asked the Gardener where her Lord might be.

The Maker of all gardens then replied
With the same question that the angels posed:
“Woman, why weepest thou?” And so she sighed
And asked if He the Body had disposed.

One word—her name—came from the Lord;
Bright tears of joy eclipsed her night of loss,
For this blest morn had hope restored,
And empty tomb o’ershadowed rugged cross.

Her glad response, “Rabboni,” was replete
With Eve’s desire to know the ways of truth.
But Mary humbly learned at Jesus’ feet.
Eve’s crop was death, while Mary bore good fruit.

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

Another poetic comparison between an Old Testament woman and a New Testament woman, this poem looks at Eve and Mary Magdalene and compares two moments of grace in gardens. The first verse sets the stage in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), with the temptation of Eve, who got what she asked for (her eyes were opened to new knowledge- Genesis 3:5) and found out it was not what she wanted. All the knowledge in the world cannot make us wise, nor can it save us from our own dark desires. But thanks be to God that He provides Salvation.,

The second verse flashes forward to the scene at the Lord’s tomb, where the women had gathered with aromatic herbs to dress the body of our Lord. The reference to him as the Lamb of God mentioned shortly after the “sweet herbs” looks back at the Passover Lamb and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). (I have another poem that talks about Jesus’ death and resurrection banning forever the bitter herbs.) The next line talks about other bitternes he had banned from Mary’s life in the “evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2) that He had driven away.

The next verse begins in John 20:11 with Mary’s sorrow that her Lord was missing, and even though she now saw angels instead of demons (think of that!), she could not process the information that finding an empty tomb was a good thing, not a bad one. As she turned, away from the question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” she heard it again, this time from someone she assumed was the gardener. He was a sort of Gardener, actually.

But for me the heart of the poem was that when she realized it was our Lord, her sorrow instantly turned to joy, and she called him “Teacher.” Not Lord or Savior or King or Friend or Son of God or Son of Man or even His name, but Teacher.

So what?

Go back to the fact that she was twice in this passage called “woman.” And in her culture, learning was not women’s work (remember Mary and Martha). But Jesus was willing to teach women. He saw them as having not only the capacity to learn of Him but the responsibility to do so. This woman who had formerly been possessed by seven demons was now possessed by a deep hunger for knowledge, but not in the sinful way that Eve had done. Eve selfishly hungered for personal power so that she wouldn’t need God. Mary hungered for knowledge of Jesus Christ, to lose herself in Him so that she could be found by Him and in Him, to be hid with Christ in God.

On December 23, 2008, I completed the final paper required for the M.A.R. degree. I wrote the poem “The Gardener’s Song” as an expression of my gratitude for the CTH professors who faithfully taught me the Word of God.

August 31, 2011

Daily Bread and Kingdom Come

Posted in Egypt, Incarnation, Kingdom, Laetare, Lent, Original Sin, The Eucharist at 6:34 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Their fathers had craved bread from Egypt’s store
And spurned the manna sent from God above.
Now seeing wine from water vessels pour,
Sons thronged to hear the words of Light and Love.

Since they had stayed till setting of the sun,
He had compassion on their hungry souls.
The Bread of Heaven fed them everyone
With one child’s meal of fish and barley loaves.

He fed them without money, without price,
As with the barley gleaned by faithful Ruth.
He, the better Boaz, made the sacrifice,
Revealed Himself as Way and Life and Truth.

By rolling back the stone of sin, providing
Bread and wine not earned by sweat of brow,
He shows us that in Him abiding
We can glean His Kingdom blessings now.

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

One of my favorite themes is the Eucharist, and having all of the bread themes in the Scriptures pointing to the Bread in some way makes for a broad palette for poetic images. Part of the curse that Adam endured was having to toil for bread by the sweat of his brow, but Isaiah 55:1-3 tells of a time of effortless bread, provided through the “sure mercies of David.” The bumpy ride that the Israelites gave Moses throughout the Exodus is replayed by the finicky followers who clung to the Lord Jesus for as long as He was providing bread and miracles. But in that one child who offered up his food, we see other children (whose faith we should emulate), including Isaac on the altar briefly, Moses in the river briefly, and ultimately the Child who served up the Bread of life even as early as the age of 12 as He stood teaching the teachers in the temple.

Also mentioned is the beautiful love story between Ruth and Boaz, which mirrors the relationship between Christ and the Church. Boaz provided food for Ruth and then stepped forward to become her kinsman redeemer. All of these ideas are bound together in the poem’s final verse, which proposes the Resurrection as the final resolution of the Adamic curse. The poem ends with a reminder that we may abide in Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 15) who connects us to God’s Kingdom here and now. The word glean brings back the image of Ruth, the Church fed by her Boaz until the final redemption is complete. The poem’s title binds all of these ideas in the cord of the Lord’s Prayer, where we ask for daily bread (and daily Bread) and that the will of God be done as perfectly on earth as it is in Heaven. It is only God who can make that happen, which is why the words are given as a prayer and not a commision to us, but we have the holy invitation to participate in the work of accomplishing God’s purpose on earth. May God grant us grace to trust in the work of Bread and Spirit and Father, giving thanks daily that we have been invited to be part of the heavenly Family. The Eucharist is our down payment for better communion to come, when we see Him face to face.

I don’t have much personal background for this poem, other than some dates. It was completed 30 June 2007 and edited 16 February 16 2008. That last date would have been a few weeks after my son’s death, and the one thing I do know is that after we buried him, I buried myself in the Word and in contemplation on the things of this life that have eternal value. For those who know the Bread, there is confidence that we will be fed then as now, and always perfectly. Otherwise, the loss of a dear one would be unbearable.

When I posted the poem, I changed one word in the last verse. It had originally read “rolling back the curse of sin,” but I wanted to reinforce the image of resurrection, so curse became stone.

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 26, 2011


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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