Category Archives: Poetry

I’ve Found Gold!

Back in the 1600s when modern science was still in the cradle, alchemists devoted themselves to the pursuit of something they called the philosopher’s stone.  They were sure there was such a thing, and if they could just discover it, they would be able to transform base metals into gold.  Alchemists also experimented attempting to find the elixir, which to drink (they just knew) would keep them eternally young.

We who are arguably wiser now know that this is impossible, but it was exciting science back in those days.  If only they could discover how to turn a more common metal, say iron or lead, into gold.  Suddenly the rocks around them would make them rich!  Or this fleeting little life locked in to decay… if only they could discover the magic potion that reverses the inevitable.

And so everyone was talking about this back in the 1600s.  Would one of these alchemists actually find the philosopher’s stone or the elixir of life?  It was exciting to think so in a time when very few people lived into their 60s.  However, an Anglican rector by the name of George Herbert who knew and loved the Lord realized he had already found this stone, this elixir.  Herbert made it the subject of one of his poems, which were published after he died at age 40.  (Some might remember that a line from one of Herbert’s poems, The Call, inspired the title for this blog—A Mending Feast.)

Here is the poem, The Elixir.  It’s a little difficult for the modern ear; if you’re like me, it’ll take a few readings to mine out the riches in it.  But first, a few definitions that will bring Herbert’s use of the English language up to date.

Rude:  primitive, coarse, unthinking, like a brute beast

Prepossessed:  to be preoccupied with, to make something of exclusive concern

Tincture:  dye, stain

Mean:  ignoble, base

Now the poem.

The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see;
And what I do in any thing,
To do it as for Thee;

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossess’d
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.

All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—“For Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
Makes that, and th’ action, fine.

This is the famous stone,
That turneth all to gold;
For that, which God doth touch and own,
Cannot for less be told.

Is this not a wondrous find?  To borrow a favourite phrase of our Lord’s, He that hath ears, let him hear. There is an elixir that transforms drudgery into the divine.  It is found in doing all things as unto the Lord.  Let me not be rushing through life preoccupied with its needs and chores, harnessed to them like an unthinking beast that knows nothing beyond earthly things.  Let me be preoccupied with God in it all, and give my best to Him.

Yes, we can focus our attention on the window pane of life taking note of the streaks in it, and the smudges.  But it’s a bit strange that someone stands before a window looking no further than the pane.  We can look through that and see the heavens revealed.  The base things, the mean things of life, the “servant” things… we need not chafe at these.  I know, we’d all like to leave that to others while we ourselves get on with what we know we were cut out for in this life—being kings and queens.  But—what does God know that I don’t?—inevitably there is something before me that means I must stoop to being a servant.  I am not free to do my own thing, I must obey… someone else.  But God adds a clause in that law—Do it unto the Lord—that makes the doing of it something royal, something refined.

When our lot in life is “mean” things, base things, this is the transforming elixir that makes those very things heavenly.  This tincture, this dye—“For Thy sake”—causes all that is colourless to shine with new luster.  This is the stone that, since God is now involved, the most humbling things can only rightly be told (accounted) as gold.

I like that very much.  This transforms not only the disagreeable duties of life, but the whole of life itself.  Take my own life, for example.  What a plain, ordinary, bland, boring life I live. If I ever wrote my autobiography it would be a bargain-bin book for sure.

Except for one thing… and oh for eyes to see this always!  I’ve found a Stone… and He’s turned my life to gold!  Yes, all the troubles and afflictions, too!  It’s all gold!

Nay World, I Turn Away

I mentioned last time the price tag that is on the Testimony of Christ in our lives—the Testimony of the Spirit that means the Presence of Christ Himself is with us.  This will garner us the same thing it garnered Him.

But there is a price tag—a far heavier price tag—on being the friend of this world that hates God and His Christ. Oh, the loss… to one day discover that in going my own way in this present life (which is but a vapour), I missed out on the golden opportunity and privilege of walking with precious Jesus, and sharing His Cross… and being one in a great company of others who have done so at the cost of their lives in this world– the saints of the Lord.

Do I want to be the friend of a world that has crucified my Lord?  A world that through the centuries has spilled the blood of my brothers and sisters in great numbers, and continues to do so even today?

Nay world, I turn away,
Though thou seem fair and good:
That friendly outstretched hand of thine
Is stained with Jesus’ blood.
If in thy least device
I stoop to take a part,
All unaware thine influence steals
God’s presence from my heart.

I miss My Saviour’s smile
Whene’er I walk thy ways;
Thy laughter drowns the Spirit’s voice
And chokes the song of praise.
Whene’er I turn aside
To join thee for an hour
The face of Christ grows blurred and dim
And prayer has lost its power.

Margaret Mauro

Jesus And Idols?

It’s not likely that we modern-day Christians in the western world would be tempted to worship an idol of wood or stone the way they did back in Old Testament days, or still do in certain societies.  We like to assure ourselves we are not that primitive.  Even so, idolatry is a serious problem among many Christians.

Here from the New Testament are two verses revealing areas of idolatry that are very common.

“Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them, as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (1 Cor. 10.7).

In other words, when we view life as something that is our own to enjoy unto ourselves, this is idolatry—the idolatry of self.  It is perhaps the greatest form of idolatry in the world.  People who would not be caught dead worshipping a wooden idol bow down with ready abandon to the worship of themselves.  It is they themselves who sit on the throne of their lives ordering all things.  They believe their lives are their own to do with as they see fit.  If they are sitting down they are eating and drinking.  When they rise up it is to play.  The idol temples of eating and drinking and play are filled day and night—particularly in our secular western world.

Here is another one.

“…Covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3.5).

“…No covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5.5).

How is covetousness idolatry?  Covetousness is idolatry because the heart is filled with a lust for something other than God.  It is a heart issue—the idols of the heart.  Do we not trust God to give us whatever is necessary to glorify Him in our lives—whether material or spiritual?  (Yes, it’s also idolatry to covet our brother’s spiritual blessing for ourselves.)

These two areas of idolatry are rampant out there in “the world.”  But because we Christians live in the world we are vulnerable.  Perhaps we are not abandoning Christ wholesale and turning to the idols of the world, although that does happen, I know.  The more serious problem is that we want Christ and our idols.  We want Christ and what the world has to offer as well—its pursuits and joys and toys.  So we have this phenomenon so common in our day.  I am fixated on prosperity—so I make a Christian doctrine out of it.  If I was a biker, now I become a Christian biker.  If I was into the rock scene, now I become a Christian rocker.  If I am into football in a serious way, now I become a Christian football player.  I love the glory of entertaining.  Now I will give Christian concerts.  I will be a Christian movie star.  We want to pursue the best the world has to offer, and be a Christian too, so we don’t miss out on God.  Of course we want God—but just to bless us in the pursuit of our own endeavours.

Jesus’ words still stand.  On one occasion when He saw the multitudes following Him He turned and said to them, “…And whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Lk. 14.25-27).  (How’s that for an evangelistic technique, by the way—telling the multitudes to go home unless they are prepared to take up their cross?)

We Christians are to walk a holy walk—in the world yet not of the world.  Nevertheless, it is not a stiff legalistic holiness that will draw the idolaters of the world into the worship of the true God.  It’s seeing the holiness of love—the love of the holy Jesus burning in the heart—that turns the idolaters to Him.  Jesus, who though He was “separate from sinners,” loved them deeply.  And they knew it.

Here’s a poem I’ve loved for a long time.  I’ve seen it quoted in part, but I found it in full one day.  It’s based on a passage in Hosea who back in his day decried with broken heart this chronic problem of God’s people wanting their idols along with their God.  It’s such a beautiful book—Hosea.  You touch over and over God’s love for His people—it’s He who is broken hearted—even as He pronounces judgments upon them for their waywardness.  And in the final analysis what is it that turns them back to Him?  (I confess I am far short of this myself—but am pursuing.)

“Ephraim shall say, what have I to do any more with idols?  I have heard Him, and (beheld) Him…” (Hos. 14.8).  That’s what does it!  Hearing Him!  Seeing the unmatchable Jesus!

Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand, own Him?
Joyful choose the better part?

Idols, once they won thee, charmed thee,
Lovely things of time and sense;
Gilded, thus does sin disarm thee,
Honeyed, lest thou turn thee thence.

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty
But the sight of peerless worth.

Not the crushing of those idols
With its bitter pain and smart,
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.

Who extinguishes their taper
Till they hail the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer has begun?

‘Tis the look that melted Peter,
‘Tis the face that Stephen saw,
‘Tis the heart that wept with Mary
Can alone from idols draw:

Draw and win and fill completely
Till the cup o’erflow the brim;
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?

Miss Ora Rowan
(1834-1879)

The Primal Fault

When I was in university back in the dark ages I used to read the poetry of A.E. Housman a lot. His poems fed a kind of melancholy in my heart, something I found I could further nourish by exercising my right elbow.  I would often dwell on one of Housman’s lines: “I a stranger and afraid in a world I never made.” I had a friend back then who knew I liked Housman, and one day he gave me a book of Housman’s poetry. I still have that book, which contains a poem I’ve long since known by heart.

Stars, I have seen them fall,
But when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.
The toil of all that be
Helps not the primal fault;
It rains into the sea,
And still the sea is salt.

This sad but perceptive theme runs through all of Housman’s poetry—the meaninglessness of life, the futility of it all.  I think Housman and King Solomon of old, along with myself back then… the three of us would have enjoyed each other’s company, nodding sadly together and consoling ourselves with mournful reflections. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, all is vanity,” mourned Solomon. That is to say, all is futile, meaningless, a striving after wind. There is a primal fault in this world, and the toil of all that be never deals with that primal fault. All that man has ever done, all he is still doing, all his achievements in all the fields of human endeavour—it is all just rain into an unchanged sea of salt.

There is wisdom in this understanding, important wisdom, and I wish more people realized this—though it will leave those who probe it very troubled about life, as it did Housman, and Solomon—and myself. There was an inward emptiness in me that could not be filled with the things I sought to fill it with. Though I tried hard enough. Was it I that Housman had in mind when he wrote the following poem?

Could man be drunk for ever
With liquor, love, or fights,
Lief should I rouse at morning
And lief lie down of nights.
But men at whiles are sober
And think by fits and starts,
And if they think, they fasten
Their hands upon their hearts.

Lief: it’s an archaic word meaning willing, glad. If you could live this kind of dissolute life forever—eating and drinking and making merry—you’d be glad to get up in the morning to pursue it all again, and glad to lie down at night. But you can’t be drunk forever. There are times when you are sober. That was my problem—those thinking times. And my hand would go to my heart. You mean you live your little moment of life and then you die? And that’s all there is? You are here but for a fleeting moment and then “man goeth to his long home,” as Solomon called the grave? How is there any meaning in a world like this?

It’s very sad that Solomon, perceptive as he was as to the real state of things “under the sun” apparently never saw the hope for which God had made Israel the custodians of His oracles. Perhaps there is a reason for this; the story of Solomon is one of the most tragic in the Bible. He has the reputation for being the man God endowed with profound wisdom. He himself in later life thought otherwise. It was no doubt himself he had in mind when he spoke of “an old and foolish king who will no more be admonished” (Eccles. 4.13).

A.E. Housman blamed God bitterly all his life for the world He had made. And he too went to his grave apparently never discovering that the God who subjected His universe to futility when Adam sinned back there in the Garden also did something else in His universe.

And I? Lord Jesus Christ… how is it that a very lost young man finally got down on his knees and came to benefit from that eternal moment at Calvary when the God who had subjected His universe to futility rectified the primal fault?

This year—2012—marks the fortieth year since that lost young man became a Christian, and a different kind of stranger in a world he never made. And as the years go by… in fact in the last five years or so the realization of this truth has hit home to me like never before… and I am not going to be able to adequately express the way I feel about this… but I am often… I am struggling for words here… I am transfixed by this… as I dwell on this and its ultimate implications… I am so thankful, but thankful is not a large enough word… I am more and more… utterly undone with gratitude… with the realization, the awareness, that the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary DEALT WITH THE PRIMAL FAULT.

My fellow Christian, whatever your problems and troubles, do not despair. Know this and REJOICE… and my fellow man as well, whoever you are, wherever you may be in this troubled world of ours—do not despair. Believe, and REJOICE. When the Lord Jesus Christ hung bleeding on that Cross at Calvary and died, He dealt with the primal fault—sin in the heart of man—in your heart, and mine. He dealt with the primal fault. He died to sin. He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

…I am so grateful, Lord Jesus. Whatever my troubles and problems and afflictions… Lord, I believe. It is well with my soul: You took the stripe at Calvary that healed the deep wound of sin in the heart of man… and in my own heart.

O happy day! O happy day! When Jesus washed my sins away…!

Next:  The Primal Fault– A Law  https://amendingfeast.org/2012/01/04/the-primal-fault-a-law

Thyself

Many years ago I came across a poem, which I wrote into the flyleaf of my Bible.  I’ve read it so often that it’s etched in memory now.

I thought I’d share it here.  You will recognize one of its lines as the title I used for an earlier post.

                Thyself

I read Thy word, O Lord, each passing day,
And in the sacred page find glad employ.
But this I pray:
Save from the killing letter; teach my heart,
Set free from human forms, the holy art
Of reading Thee in every line,
In precept, prophecy and sign,
Till all my vision filled with Thee,
Thy likeness shall reflect in me:
Not knowledge, but Thyself my joy!
For this I pray.

J.C. Macaulay

 

   

Welcome to A Mending Feast

Welcome to A Mending Feast! No, this is not an online sewing bee; it’s my contribution to the Table of the Lord. Please come in and sit down and make yourself at home. It’s my hope that all who partake here will taste and see that the Lord is good, and gracious, and will leave with appetites whetted to know Him more and more.

This has been my own experience at His table, which He invited me to sit down at some forty years ago: me, at the time a beggar sitting in a dunghill. He picked me up, and caused me to sit down among princes at His table. And oh, what a Table it is! It fills me, yet leaves me hungering for more of Him; it grows; it gets better all the time.

And that’s the meaning of the title of this blog, which was inspired from a line in an old poem by George Herbert (1593-1633).

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.

Come my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes His guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

Isn’t this a wondrous poem? I love poetry that leads me in worship, and this is certainly one of them. Herbert saw that it is Christ Himself who is all things to the Christian — our Way, our Truth, our Life… the Way of the Spirit, of the Wind, that, to walk in is moment-by-moment breath to us; the Truth in Whom mercy and truth are met together, in Whom righteousness and peace have kissed; the Life who, dying in the will of God, vanquished him that had the power of death with his own weapon. He is our Light, our Feast, our Joy… the Light that shows a feast spread for us in the very presence of our enemies…

…A feast that “mends in length.” In the old King’s English Dictionary my friend Reg gave me years ago, one of the definitions for “mend” is, “verb, intransitive: to grow better, to improve.” The perfect word to describe the Feast of the Lord! All the feasts of earth sooner or later come to an end, with the guests departed, the table depleted, the once full dishes now empty and forlorn.

Not so this Table. This feast never ends – and it mends in length: the longer it goes the greater it grows, and just gets better, and better, and better, and fuller, and greater, and richer, and leaves the soul, oh, so satisfied… yet hungering for more, and more, and more.

There’s so much in this beautiful old poem, for there is so much in our wondrous Lord Jesus Christ. His feast is a feast that makes us, imparts strength to us: we sit down famished, weak and feeble, but rise up strengthened for whatever is before us. His joy is a joy that none can move, that no man taketh from us; His love is a love that rejoiceth in the truth, is a love that nothing can separate us from.

…And, whatever it was that our hearts rejoiced in when our hearts were in darkness, now we have a heart like His own – a heart that joys in love.

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