February 18, 2013

Oasis

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?


December 28, 2012

Holy Innocents

Posted in Christmastide, Faith, Herod, Holy Innocents, Hope, Sanctification, Suffering at 7:33 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Our lives, O Lord, rest safely in Your hand,
And nothing on this earth can thwart Your plan.
Your enemy—and ours—has many spies.
He sends his minions forth to spread his lies.
They plot against the Kingdom You hold dear;
They strut and roar to cause your people fear.
They would have even murdered Lazarus;
Most certainly they rage and threaten us.
Herod conspires to murder innocents,
While Pilate washes hands in wickedness.
Teach us, O Lord, to trust Your endless grace
And every joy or sorrow to embrace.
We are the clay and You the Potter kind,
The fire strengthens what You have designed.
For in the furnace one thing burns away:
Our fetters fall, Your glory to display.

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


The collect for the Feast of The Holy Innocents contains a line that many find offensive. It speaks of God having made “infants to glorify [Him] by their deaths.” But this phrase most certainly does not mean that He is using us for some dark and selfish purpose. To the contrary, that phrase should give us hope that none of our suffering is wasted and that nothing our enemies can say or do will destroy us. We can trust in Him to bring about all things to our good and His glory. The passages this poem should bring to mind are Genesis 3:15, John 12:9-11, Matthew 2, Matthew 27, Isaiah 64:7-9, Daniel 3, and Romans 8:28.


I started this poem on 25 October 2012, and completed it this morning during my meditations on this solemn day of remembrance. May God bless all the Holy Innocents who suffer for His sake.

December 27, 2012

Ever After

Posted in Christmastide, Faith, Hope, Incarnation, Suffering at 12:12 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The shepherds soon returned to the green field,
With greater joy than they had ever found.
Spurred on by news the angels had revealed,
They spread the word of Christ throughout their town.
His mother Mary kept these memories always,
And pondered God’s redemption in her heart.
But did the shepherds’ joy survive dark days?
And did their faith and hope ever depart
When sheep fell prey to dangers in the wild,
When illness took the finest of the flock,
When burying a wife or precious child,
When they were old and unable to walk?
No, for if their courage should begin to wane,
They heard the angels singing once again.

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


Not much explanation is needed here. The Biblical account in Luke 2 is supplemented with a bit of conjecture, for the purpose of inspiring hope in the promises of God.


After reading the nativity account in Luke, I began to wonder what life had to be like for those who were touched directly by His presence in those early days. I had to think that once a person had heard angels praising God, it would be very difficult to be discouraged ever again. The message of salvation is the only true “happily ever after.”

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 5, 2012

Thy Kingdom Come!

Posted in Atonement, Faith, Kingdom, Obedience, Son of God, Suffering, The Eucharist, Trinity at 6:43 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Thy kingdom, God, is strange indeed:
By Your Son’s death the slave is freed;
No more a slave, but Your own child,
Adopted from the raging wild.
But once a child, a servant too,
To wait the table set by You.
And You the Host and You the Bread,
And You the Firstfruit from the dead.
But not just child or servant, we
Are soldiers marching joyfully,
Enduring hardship in the fray
For God and kingdom, and the day
When pain and tears shall be no more
And we, with You, reign evermore.

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


No wonder the Kingdom of God is a stumblingblock for those who are not a part of it! From an earthly standpoint, these things don’t make sense. Those who are not children of God believe that they are the ones who are free, while all the time they are slaves to sin. And we who have been freed are invited to take up our cross and to take on the yoke of Christ and to do battle, using the sword of the Spirit.

But the thought that kept running through my head this week was that as soldiers of the cross, we are promised a share in the kingdom for which we fight. Our battles are not endured for the sake of a despot but for our own heritage in the glorious kingdom of God, at whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore.

If that doesn’t raise your courage level, I’m not sure what will.


 

December 24, 2011

On Christmas Day

Posted in Christmastide, Incarnation, Sanctification, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering, The Eucharist tagged at 12:41 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Just as it seemed redemption was postponed,
That evil reigned and we would be disowned.
The Light of God pierced through our wintry night,
And scattered all that would offend or blight.
His great compassion meets our low estate
With blessings rich and paths made straight.
Come, weary wanderer, and refresh your soul
For He has come to make the broken whole.
To give sight to the blind, the captive free,
To end sin’s reign as prophets did foresee.
The sorrowful sighing ended, joy abounds,
And praise for our triumphant King resounds.
Yea, come and find His coffers open wide
For He has taken us to be His Bride.
He bids us not unto a dark and lowly stable
But invites us to His well provisioned table.

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


As I continued my Christmas reflections today before going to midnight mass, the last two lines of this poem came blurting out, and they needed an introduction. That part came from Psalm 79 and Isaiah 61/Luke 2-4.


Two poems written in one day. That’s a record for me. The last few weeks have been extremely difficult. I guess the words flow freely from a heart that is forced to seek the Healer.

Update: I changed one line in the entry “On Christmas Day.” I had read the line 20 times and knew what I meant when I wrote it, but when I saw it again two hours later, I realized it could be taken another way that was completely unacceptable. Revision complete!

November 24, 2011

Eucharist

Posted in Grief, Suffering, Thankfulness, The Eucharist at 8:15 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

With open hands I will abide
Ready to take what You provide
Or to release what You require,
Following You through flood or fire.
For Your kind mercies heal my soul
When pain and sorrow take their toll.
Your brightest blessings bring delight
Even when terrors pierce the night.

Though cruel is the curse of sin,
You send Your peace to reign within.
And therefore will I thankful be
For all You give or take from me.
Your mercies are forever new;
My weary heart finds rest in You.
With open hands I’ll trust You, Lord,
Praising You now and evermore.

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


This is one of those poems that doesn’t emanate from a specific passage but draws together various threads throughout the Scriptures. My purpose was to define the nature of the Christian life as essentially one of thanksgiving. (The word in Greek that means “thanksgiving” is the one from which we derive the word “Eucharist.”) In Christ, our lives are to be filled with such deep faith in the goodness of God that we remain grateful and content in our circumstances, no matter how dark they may seem (Philippians 4:11; II Timothy 6:6-8). This was the faith of Joseph, who understood that all his trials were designed not to break him but to sanctify him. This was the faith of Paul, whose writings are filled with the message of faith that is not merely an abstract belief in the facts of salvation in Christ but in a living, breathing trust that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (if I may borrow from St. Julian of Norwich).

Each of us carries a weight of one kind or another. It is either the weight of sin, made heavy by doubt, fear, and separation from the God in whose image we were created, or it is the blissful weight of glory, which enables us to be pressed on every side but somehow never crushed (II Corinthians 4:8). The weight of sin will eventually break and undo us. The weight of glory will make us what we were always supposed to be. How can we not be grateful for that?

As we live with open hands, trusting that God will give us exactly what we need and will not take away anything that is necessary for our life in Him, we find contentment in the midst of great trials, and we show forth the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

(Posted on Thanksgiving Day, 2011)


The original version of this poem was written February 6, 2008, one short week after my son died. No matter how much time passes, I will always miss him. But I will also always trust that God was working for him and for me exactly what each of us needed.

November 4, 2011

Autumn Grief

Posted in Suffering at 6:34 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The morning that my father died
(It was entirely too early)
On that long and silent ride
Clouds descended, dense and pearly.

Fog that over all things hovered
Sanctified the autumn grief
For earth decaying, death uncovered;
When flowers wane, bereft of leaf.

Then the bare trees shiver
In the moaning of the wind
That stirs their leaf stacks to deliver
Mocking presents back to them.

The morning that my father died
(It was completely premature)
The fog rolled in and also cried
For the loss we all endure.

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


This is one of the few strictly personal pieces that I’ll post here, but I think the overall concept shows an Anglican outlook on the realities of life and death. My father was only 51 when he passed away on 4 November 1979, and for all those years when I was not an Anglican, I hid and denied my grief. I was told two weeks after his death that I just needed to get over it and stop crying because my Daddy was in heaven and was much better off. It was not until years later that I came to understand the necessity of going through the grieving process. It is neither ungrateful nor selfish for us to show that we miss the presence of someone we love. Granted, as Christians, we have the hope of abundant life here and life beyond the grave, so our grief is mingled with the hope of better days to come and the assurance of God’s presence with us as we deal with our pain and loss. But deal with it we must, and if we pretend that it doesn’t hurt, we miss the opportunity to be truly human. If nothing else will convince you, remember that our Lord Jesus Christ wept beside Lazarus’ grave. St. Paul’s message in I Thessalonians 13 is often misunderstood. He does not prohibit grief; he encourages us to grieve through the eyes of hope. It is no testimony to our faith for us to deny loss and pretend that we feel nothing. Our faith is demonstrated by surviving, thriving, and continuing to serve the Lord in the face of great suffering and loss. We say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

That cold, sad morning when we drove back to my parents’ house after there was no more reason to remain at the hospital, I welcomed the thick fog that had already covered the dark suburban road, but I hardly knew why the fog seemed like a dear friend. Years later I realized that somewhere deep inside I had accepted it as a sign that the Holy Spirit was hovering over our grief to comfort us.


I completed the first version of this poem on 31 October 2007, and I revised it again this week. I had ended the first stanza abruptly, and I was concerned that the word “pearly” sounded trite and would be dismissed as “merely a rhyme.” Because of Revelation 21:21, heaven is known for its pearly gates, so I was hoping to evoke with that one word the idea that fog is a visible symbol of the “mystic sweet communion of those whose rest is won” that we sing about in “The Church’s One Foundation.”


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