Palm Sunday

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Like George Herbert and Edward Taylor, I found the pastorate highly conducive to following the secondary calling of Poetry.  Pastoral ministry rightly pursued keeps you focused on big ideas (Theology) mediated through concrete story (Scripture) and applied to the real lives of real human beings (your congregation).  A number of these poems come out of that matrix.  Preaching surely should be an attempt to elucidate and focus the impact of Scripture; and the distillation of that attempt can’t help but generate poetry too, in those so called.   This one is an appropriate meditation for Palm Sunday, which is only three days away now.

LUKE 19:41

The crowds cried out, “Hosannah!”

As his humble mount drew near.

The waving of the branches,

The excitement of the cheers,

The strewing of their garments

Kept their thoughts from being clear;

But the Savior saw the City

And saluted it with tears.

 

Still they echo through the years!

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

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 Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Jerusalem from the Old City Wall

The early church father Tertullian famously asked, “Where does Athens meet Jerusalem?”  Athens and Jerusalem were synechdoches for Hellenistic and Hebraic culture, or more specifically, human reason and divine revelation.  Tertullian implied that there was no intersection between the two, an assertion that was true in one sense and profoundly false in another.  It is true that God’s revealed truth is a challenge to fallen human wisdom, not a supplement to it.  But the answers it gives are answers to the same questions all human beings have to ask, answers whose full implications can only be discerned in the light of those questions and of the history of our failed attempts to figure them out on our own, with our rebellious assumptions and premises.  The failure to understand the proper relationship between reason and revelation that Tertullian represents has hindered revelation from shedding the light it was meant to shed: that Light that, coming into the world, needs to enlighten every man.

 

THE HELLENE AND THE HEBREW

Commentary, Rom. 12:1 (KJV)

 

So where does Athens meet Jerusalem?

Tertullian couldn’t find a single place

And thus condemned the blind and groping race

To groping blindness.  Greeks?  Well, as for them,

They asked the Questions brilliantly, but slim

Or none the odds that they would ever trace

The Answers, which the Jew in every case

Possessed; the Questions never occurred to him.

 

Separate, they both remain opaque,

A price we pay for our ancestral treason.

The unexamined life will never find

A Cross between the two is what can make

The sacrifice of self an act of Reason:

To love the Lord your God with all your mind.

Modern Jerusalem from Mount Scopus

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

 

CVIII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

It is now 1982-83.  I have accepted a position as pastor of the First Evangelical Free Church of Marietta, GA.  The transition from teaching writing to preparing two sermons a week, doing hospital visitation, counseling, etc., is one that I had prepared for, as you will realize if you’ve been following this history.  But nevertheless, it was rather all-consuming, for a while taking up all the space on my hard drive, as it were.  As a result, I only wrote one poem that year.  But the new stimulation of the discipline of weekly biblical exposition would bear much poetic fruit down the road.  This poem was in The Evangelical Beacon, July, 1985, p. 17.  It is about the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem.

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

Miracula

 

It is not so astounding that a stone

Would have cried out, “Hosannah” had the crowd

Left the Lord to enter town alone.

More marvel you can read theses lines aloud:

In us,

He gave a tongue to dust.

TriumphalEntry1

It is not so amazing that He meant

To purchase all our sorrow for His own

And for that painful bargain to have spent

The Glory at the right hand of His throne:

His love

Him to such deeds would move.

TriumphalEntry3

But ponder this for paradox:  the ones

To whom that Gift was given—life complete,

Eternal peace, adoptions as His sons!—

With such ingratitude can daily treat

As worthless toys

Such high and holy joys.

TriumphalEntry4

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

What I Learned in Israel

Extra Bonus Post!  (Could not wait my turn for this one):

Two weeks in Eretz Israel.  What have I learned? 

*      An ibex (kind of gazelle) is small, really not any bigger than a goat.

*      Sunset on the Dead Sea turns the mountains of Jordan blood red.

*      Jesus was raised in a small mountain town.  (Our bus could barely manage some of the switchbacks going up to Nazareth.)

*      The Sea of Galilee would be at home in the English Lake District (minus the palm trees.)

*      A rock badger is neither a rock nor a badger.

*      The holier the site, the uglier the church.

*      The Church of All Nations (in the Garden of Gethsemane) is an exception to this rule.

*      Palestine is the Latin word for Philistia.  The Romans renamed Judaea with this word after the Jewish revolts to humiliate the defeated inhabitants, despite the fact that the Philistines had long disappeared into the dustbin of history.  The word has no historical connection to the people currently called Palestinians.

*      There is one lunch, pita, and falafel is its prophet.

*      The River Jordan is neither deep nor wide.  There appears, though, to be milk and honey on both sides.

*      Israelis and Palestinians really don’t trust each other.

*      The Dome of the Rock is pretty in its own way, but quite simply out of place on the Temple Mount.

*      One does not have to stand at the Wailing Wall to pray intensely—but it helps.

*      Sermon on the Mount (Matthew), or on the Level Place (Luke)?  The Mount of Beatitudes has both. 

*      The Muslims blocked up the Eastern Gate to prevent the Messiah from coming in.  The Jews and Romans blocked up the Tomb to keep him from going out.  The one attempt will likely prove as successful as the other.

*      The Holy Land is truly a miraculous place.  The same event there can have happened in two very different places at the same time (or more).

*      The Garden Tomb may or may not have been the actual place of the Resurrection (its tradition unfortunately is only a couple of centuries old), but it is what the Holy Sepulcher looked like two thousand years ago.

*      The Church of the Holy Sepulcher may not be the actual place either.  Helena (mother of Constantine) claimed to have found the True Cross there three hundred years after the fact.  Ri-i-i-ight.

*      There was an actual place.

*      It was empty on Sunday morning. 

One cannot capture the impact of this country in words.  One reaches for profundities and finds oneself grasping trivialities instead, on every attempt (as I have illustrated all too well above).  But that is the genius of the Christian faith.  It is rooted in History as the nexus of Incarnation.  It is rooted, in other words, in the concrete, mundane details of daily life and in simple Facts.   And those Facts in their very mundane simplicity, rather than abstract Ideas, are indeed our best handle on ultimate Reality.  (Not that Ideas do not have their place; but they get their meaning from their relationship to those Facts.)  It is out of a host of stubborn, small facts that the most profound Truths are revealed: facts like a baby crying in a borrowed feeding trough, and an unexpectedly empty Tomb; details that alone might seem to mean nothing—but when you put them all together . . .

When you put them together, you get something like this:  Baruch attah Adonai, Elohenu, melek ha olam!  Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, King of the universe, Who dost cause bread to spring forth from the earth, meaning from facts, Jesus from the Tomb.

 Amen.

 Donald T. Williams, PhD, who teaches at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, USA, spent his Christmas break of 2011 touring Israel with the Toccoa Falls College Choir.  His most recent books include Mere Humanity: G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Broadman), Credo: Meditations on the Nicene Creed (Chalice), and The Devil’s Dictionary of the Christian Faith (Chalice).  His website is www.doulomen.tripod.com.  He blogs at www.thejournalofformalpoetry.com.  History