Sing the Psalms with Me During Lent

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Lent’s not just a time for giving things up. As one of my pastors said this morning at our Ash Wednesday service, Lent is a time to make room in our lives to remember God. So I’m embarking on a project to sing through all 150 Psalms during this season of Lent. The book of Psalms is the hymnal of God’s people, and the psalms themselves were written to be sung, so I’ll be singing them from a Psalter, which re-sets the words of the psalms in meters that work in English, and fits them to tunes that match their meters. You can get Kindle and online editions of classic Psalters for free or very inexpensively, buy one from a Christian bookstore, or do what I did… and swipe one from a Presbyterian church.

Not a musical person? No worries. YouTube is packed with videos of Christians singing through the Psalms, which will help you with the tunes if you can’t read music (be aware that there are many different Psalters).

I invite you to join me in delighting in God’s word during this season. You’ll need to sing about three Psalms a day, which should take between 15 and 20 minutes. Spread them out, if you like: one in the morning, one after work, and one before bed. Or start or end your day with a longer time of singing. Recruit your spouse, kids, roommates. And sing the songs of God’s people.

Today’s Psalms: 1, 2, and 3.

Best Spam Comment Ever?

Man, the spam-bots really outdid themselves this time. I think I could legitimately enter this in a smug university-level poetry contest and get some traction if I read it in a really serious voice with my brow furrowed. Line breaks are mine; content is the spam bot’s.

Respectable assemblage.
I discover something
statesman stimulating on crystalline blogs .
I leave e’er be to noesis
off their writers and practise
a something from their fund.
I’d select to use
with all the proportionality
in my infinitesimal weblog
whether you do not
cognition. Naturally
I’ll offer a contact on your own net weblog.
Umpteen thanks.

Noesis? Crystalline? Infinitesimal? Cognition? Who knew that spam-bots had so much in common with a thesaurus-abusing junior high English class?

“Patience, Hard Thing!”

Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.
Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

1918

Dust

When I went to look at what had long been hidden,
A jewel laid long ago in a secret place,
I trembled, for I thought to see its dark deep fire—
But only a pinch of dust blew up in my face.

I almost gave my life long ago for a thing
That has gone to dust now, stinging my eyes—
It is strange how often a heart must be broken
Before the years can make it wise.
 
-- Sara Teasdale 
 
(HT: She's No Lady) 

HOLY SONNETS I

THOU hast made me, and shall Thy work decay ?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste ;
I run to death, and Death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday.
I dare not move my dim eyes any way ;
Despair behind, and Death before doth cast
Such terror, and my feeble flesh doth waste
By sin in it, which it towards hell doth weigh.
Only Thou art above, and when towards Thee
By Thy leave I can look, I rise again ;
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me,
That not one hour myself I can sustain.
Thy grace may wing me to prevent his art
And thou like adamant draw mine iron heart.

John Donne, 1609

On Hitting A Wall and Hating My Own Voice

When I was in college, I was a mediocre writer.  I got a bit better over the years thanks in no small part to an excellent creative writing prof who frequently eviscerated my verbose poetry, but in a really nice, upper-Midwest way, with a smile on her face, until it stopped being overwrought brain dumps and started to be lean distillations of emotional experience.

In seminary, writing dullsville reports on the minutiae of evangelistic techniques and scrambling for essay topics that wouldn’t put me or the grader to sleep, my writing got both better and worse.  More technical, perhaps a bit more precise, but thudding and heavy.

When I started writing this blog, I went through phases.  One week I’d toss out the same overwrought brain dumps I’d been carefully trained not to write, and the next obsess over word choice and syntax for hours before deleting the lot.  Now, having been out of seminary for going on three years, not having had to write a paper for anyone’s approval, not having deadlines and due dates looming, I’ve gotten sloppy.  I want that taut academic precision back in my writing.  I want to stop sounding like a cross between the Fug Girls and Ree Drummond, which, I fear, is the voice that’s developed.

So, all that to say, I will probably be writing here quite a bit more than usual, because practice, as they say, makes perfect.

In Case You Don’t Know This,

April is National Poetry Month.
I majored in English in college, which means I spent a good chunk of my late teens and early twenties reading, analyzing, and writing poetry — everything from thousand-year-old Japanese haiku to postmodern poetry written by unreliable authorial personas.  
I can’t even remember in which class we studied John Donne, but I remember being absolutely amazed and moved to tears by everything of his that I read, and that’s true to this day.  Every one of his poems that I discover or re-discover stuns me.  I forget sometimes just how much I love him.

The best thing about Donne is that someday I’ll get to meet him.  I wonder if he’ll be as cheeky as I imagine him to be?

Anyway, Donne’s Holy Sonnets are probably some of the best bits of Christian poetry ever to be written down outside the Scriptures.  Go read them, slowly and out loud. And then read this, also slowly and out loud, the fifth poem in Donne’s La Corona cycle:
CRUCIFYING.
By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat, 

For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate : 
In both affections many to Him ran. 
But O ! the worst are most, they will and can, 
Alas ! and do, unto th’ Immaculate, 
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate, 
Measuring self-life’s infinity to span, 
Nay to an inch.   Lo ! where condemned He 
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by 
When it bears him, He must bear more and die. 
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee, 
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole, 
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.

There is A Fountain

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

One of my favorite hymns — this one almost always makes me cry. Little known fact: girls will undoubtedly remember in the movie version of Sense and Sensibility the scene where Marianne is brutally critiquing poor Edward Ferrars’s reading of a poem. We catch the lines: “No voice divine the storm allayed/ no light propitious shone…” The author of that poem, William Cowper, is also the author of “There is a Fountain.”

Cowper battled depression his whole life. I love the fact that, in the midst of his struggles, he wrote such a beautiful hymn that expresses not just his personal hope but the hope of “all the ransomed church of God.”

Song for the Mofa Seven
Jamie Barnes

Lover of mine
It’s time for us to leave
The age of subtlety is finally over
Lover of mine
You’ve got to give it up to God
Unfold out of the dark and make things happen

If we make it through security
We’ll ask the Germans, the Japanese,
Rush the gates of every embassy

It won’t always be
It won’t always be this bad
It won’t always be.

You’ve got to push the kids in first
Get a foot on forgiving land
And I’ll push away the bayonets
And push away Satan’s hand
And go past the walls and past the filth
Past the dogs of Kim Jong-Il
Cross the waters up on rotted stilts

It won’t always be
It won’t always be this bad
It won’t always be

Lover of mine
You’ve got to show me where you are
Hang out your bloody star from the hooks of heaven

And I will take you out with a grieving spoon,
Smuggle you out behind black balloons,
And we’ll take the victory lap around the dying moon.

It won’t always be
It won’t always be this bad
It won’t always be

I Sing the Mighty Power of God
Isaac Watts

I sing the mighty power of God,
that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God's command,
and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word,
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed,
wherever I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread,
or gaze upon the sky.

There's not a plant or flower below,
but makes Thy glories known,
and clouds arise, and tempests blow,
by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be,
Thou, God art present there.

A Story

Li-Young Lee

Sad is the man who is asked for a story
and can’t come up with one.

His five-year-old son waits in his lap.
Not the same story, Baba. A new one.
The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear.

In a room full of books in a world
of stories, he can recall
not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy
will give up on his father.

Already the man lives far ahead, he sees
the day this boy will go. Don’t go!
Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!
You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.
Let me tell it!

But the boy is packing his shirts,
he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,
the man screams, that I sit mute before you?
Am I a god that I should never disappoint?

But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?
It is an emotional rather than logical equation,
an earthly rather than heavenly one,
which posits that a boy’s supplications
and a father’s love add up to silence.

Rejoice, now, all heavenly choirs of angels,
and celebrate the divine mysteries with exultation;
and, for the victory of so great a King,
sound the trumpet of salvation.

Exult, also, O earth,
enlightened with such radiance;
and, made brilliant by the splendor of the eternal King,
know that the ancient darkness has been banished from all the world.

Be glad also, O mother Church,
clothed with the brightness of such a light,
and let this house resound with the triumphant voices of the peoples.
Wherefore, dearly beloved,
who stand in the clarity of this bright and holy light,
join with me, I ask you,
in praising the loving kindness of almighty God;

through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and rules with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

A HYMN TO GOD THE FATHER.
by John Donne

I.
WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

II.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

III.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.

God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manly Hopkins

 
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Changing Gears…

Hey friends, thanks for bearing with my March Madness obsession for the last few days! This is just a warning that, since tomorrow marks the beginning of National Poetry Month, the sports talk is going to give way to something a little more sophisticated (although Steph Curry’s basketball playing was pretty sophisticated, if you ask me!).

This is just the buffer post. I hear a too-sudden change of topics can cause blogsplosion.

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste except you ravish me.

John Donne, 17th Century

Heavenly Father,

It was your eternal purpose to give all people life through mothers,
and to send your Son in flesh through a mother’s womb.

Bless our mothers as they follow you,
and guide them as they seek you.

Give them wisdom, that they may instruct their children faithfully.

Grant them discernment as they pray for their children;
shape their hearts that they might desire the gospel to shine forth in their children’s lives.

Lord, you know what we need even before we ask. We earnestly seek your perfect will for our mothers, so that they might raise up children whose lives declare the Gospel of your Son, by whose sinless life, perfect death, and glorious resurrection we come before you with our requests.

Amen