Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed

The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
which adore.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.

---Christina Rossetti, circa 1872

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Praise, Oh, Praise our God and King

A Paraphrase of Psalm 136
Praise, oh, praise, our God and King,
Hymns of adoration sing;
For His mercies still endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

Praise Him that He made the sun
Day by day his course to run;
And the silver moon by night,
Shining with her gentle light;
For His mercies still endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

Praise Him that He gave the rain
To mature the swelling grain;
And hath bid the fruitful field
Crops of precious increase yield;
For His mercies still endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

Glory to our bounteous King,
"Glory", let creation sing:
Glory to the Father, Son,
And the Spirit, Three in One!
For His mercies still endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.
---Rev. Henry Baker, 1861; reformatted c.m.b. 2007

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Who Am I?

Dietrich Bonhöffer, a young [Lutheran] theologian of great promise [from the German state church], was martyred by the Nazis for his participation in a plot against the life of Adolf Hitler. His writings have greatly influenced recent theological thought. This article appeared in the Journal Christianity and Crisis, March 4, 1946. [Some Lutherans question the depth or expression of his Lutheran theology, but this is a moving poem, regardless.]Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!*
----Dietrich Bonhoeffer; March 4,1945
*Because Jesus died on the cross for us

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sing to the Lord of Harvest

Sing to the Lord of harvest,
Sing songs of love and praise;
With joyful hearts and voices
Your alleluias raise.
By Him the rolling seasons
In fruitful order move;
Sing to the Lord of harvest,
A joyous song of love.

By Him the clouds drop fatness,
The deserts bloom and spring,
The hills leap up in gladness,
The valleys laugh and sing.
He fills them with His fullness
And all things will increase,
He crowns the year with goodness,
With plenty and with peace.

Bring to His sacred altar
The gifts His goodness gave,
The golden sheaves of harvest,
The souls He died to save.
Your hearts lay down before Him
When at His feet you fall,
And with your lives adore Him,
Who gave His life for all.

To God the gracious Father,
Who made us “very good,”
To Christ, who, when we wandered,
Restored us with His blood,
And to the Holy Spirit,
Who doth upon us pour
His blessèd dews and sunshine,
Be praise forevermore!

---John S.B. Monsell, 1866; adapted c.m.b., 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Indian Summer

These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries* of June ---
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf!

Oh, sacrament** of summer days,
Oh, last communion** in the haze,
Permit a child to join,

Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!
---Emily Dickinson
*Sophistries: subtly deceiving reasoning or artifacts
**Emily was so taken with the natural experience that she equates it with the Lord's Supper (Communion). No, I don't put nature on that par (it doesn't give forgiveness of sins), but the fact that nature is less tinged by the effects of sin makes it sometimes seem almost "sacred."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


This isn't a poem, but it IS a lovely rendition of Vivaldi's "Autumn" with great video clips:
BTW, you can read a translation of the poems Vivaldi wrote describing each of the Four Season Concertos by clicking the "Vivaldi" link below or to the left.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Own Heart Let Me Have More Pity On

[originally untitled]
(Forgiveness in Christ brings joy; but sometimes a tender conscience is hard on a person for a period of time. Hopkins experienced a period of what appears to be depression in connection with this.)

My own heart let me have more pity on; let
Me live to see my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By going round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find*
Thirst's all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Would, self; come, poor Jackself*, I do advise
You, jaded, let be;*** call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile****
's bit wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather---as skies
Betweenpie mountains---lights a lovely mile.
---Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1885

*The poet is "groping around" in the manner of a blind man, searching for comfort that eludes him
**Hopkins often used "Jack" as a stand in for "anyone", the "man on the street", himself
***"Let it go", in modern language; he's telling his soul this hanging on to jadedness & sad thougts needs to go
****No, the poet doesn't really believe that God (the Father) has a physical smile; it's figurative, and he's comparing it to the "dappled" bright "U" of sky in the saddle between two dark mountains

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Destruction of Sennacherib*

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride:
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail;
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances uplifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword*,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
---George Gordon, Lord Byron

*II Kings 18: 13-19; II Chronicles 32: 1-21; Isaiah chapters 36-37. Sennacherib was an Assyrian king. A previous Assyrian king, Slamaneser, had carried the northern kingdom of Israel. When Sennacherib threatened Judah, Isaiah and King Hezekiah prayed to Yahweh (the Lord), and the Angel of God killed Sennacherib's best fighting men in camp. Sennacherib withdrew home, and was later killed by some of his own sons in the temple of his god.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Music on the Wing*

Let me be to Thee as the circling bird,
Or bat with tender and air-crisping wings
That shapes in half-light his departing rings**,
from both of whom a changeless note is heard.

I have found my music in a common word,
Trying each pleasurable throat that sings
And every praised sequence of sweet strings,
And know infallibly which I preferred.

The authentic cadence was discovered late
Which ends those only strains that I approve,
and other science all gone out of date
And minor sweetness scarce made mention of;
I have found the dominant of my range*** and state--
Love, O my God, to call Thee Love and Love.
---Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1865
*Originally untitled
**The bats circling to depart at sunset ("half-light")
***The author found his "true singing voice" late, or so he says. His "range" (literally, how low & high one can sing) is all wrapped up in Love for God. (This love can come only as a response to knowing that Christ has died for our sins.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Be Still, My Soul

[These are tough economic times for people. And, yet, the timeless wisdom and loving care of God never change.]

Be still, my soul*: the Lord is on your side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to your God to order and provide:
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake:
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
Christ's voice, which ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears.
Then you shall better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise;
While still on earth, sing to your Lord on high.
Acknowledge Him in all your words and ways**,
So shall He view you with a well-pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of Life*** divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we will meet at last.
---Katharina A. von Schlagel, 1752 (German); translated 1855 Jane L. Borthwick; adapted c.m.b., 2009
*Psalms 46: 10 & 42: 4-11
**Proverbs 3: 5-6
***Malachi 4:2; Jesus as the "Sun of Righteousness"

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Narnia Findings

I'm totally a fan of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. (Nature alert: if you read his books with the love of nature in mind, you see Lewis's sensitive treatment of nature all over the place.) But I have a beef with how the many productions cast the Narnia characters because I've read and re-read these books about 8 or 9 times, at least. And they don't bother to get the physical charactertics right. (And don't even get me started on how the big budget films just bury the warm, cozy joys of the books in special effects!) Anyway, for you Narnia buffs, here's how Lewis described them:

Digory, Edmund, Lucy, Cor (Shasta) & twin Corin, Caspian X and Prince Rilian all had "golden" or blonde hair.
Susan had "raven" (black) hair.
Jill was curly-headed.
Frank was red-faced and a good singing voice.
Helen/Nellie was young.
Jadis (the White Witch) had long hair; was 7 feet tall; was 1/2 Jinn (genie??) and 1/2 giantess; had white, white skin (like snow or paper) and bright red lips (which became that color when she ate the "forbidden fruit").
In all my combing through, I have not detected what color Peter's hair was. Same for Polly and Trinian.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Making Known God's Glory

(an original translation of Psalm 19; verse numbering follows the Hebrew text)
(1) For the choir director. A song of David.
(2) The heavens are recounting
The glory of God*,
And their expanse makes conspicuous
The work of His hands.
(3) Day to day speech bubbles up,
And night to night knowledge is told.
(4) There is no speech nor are there words:
Their voice is not heard.
(5) [Yet] In the whole earth,
Their line has gone out,
To the end of the earth, their utterances**.
He has set up a tent for the Sun in them.
(6) And he [the Sun] is like a bridegroom
Coming out of his canopy;
He rejoices as a strong man
To run the course.
(7) From the end of the heavens
Is his going forth;
And his circuit is at the ends:
There is nothing hidden from his heat...
(8a) The Torah *** of Yahweh is perfect,
Turning back the soul...
(10b) The judgments of Yahweh are true,
They are altogether righteous...
(12) Also by them is Your servant warned;
In keeping them is great reward****...
(15) Let the words of my mouth
And the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your Presence,
O, Yahweh, my Rock and my Redeemer.
*St. Paul speaks in Romans 1:19 how all creation reflects God's divine power
**Romans 10:18 quotes this to show how evangelists have taken God's Word out into the world.
***"Torah" is sometimes translated "Law", due to old Jewish use. It more properly means the entire collections of Moses, the Prophets, and the special writings; in other words, the Old Testament. (Not all of the O.T. is "Law"!!)
****"Great reward"; following the best path usually provides its own rewards in this life by keeping you out of trouble. The teachings in the Bible keep you connected to Christ, who actually gives the eternal reward.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Luther's Backyard

(Free Verse)
I stood in Luther's "backyard",
A walled enclave behind Wittenburg castle.
I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday,
Even though it was Nineteen-ninety-nine.
There were trees, bearing white blossoms
And fresh grass.
What was once one large enclosure,
Including Katie's beer crops
Was now divided by a road.
I had some sense now
Of those things which inspired Luther's
Writings about Nature.
Now when I need a safe place
In my own mind,
That is the place
To which I return.
---C. Marie Byars, (c) 2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spring "Song"

(from "Pippa Passes")
The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in His heaven---
And all's right with the world*!
---Robert Burns
*Well, sort of. The natural world goes along with a lot of beautiful & good things in it; but it, too, is damaged by sin.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

He's Risen, He's Risen & Happy Easter

He's risen, He's risen, Christ Jesus, the Lord;
He opened death's prison, the incarnate, true Word.
Break forth, hosts of heaven, in jubilant song,
And earth, sea, and mountain the praises prolong.

The foe was triumphant when on Calvary
The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree.
In Satan's domain did the hosts shout and jeer:
For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.

But short was their triumph: the Savior arose!
And death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes.
The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high:
He lives, yes, He lives, and will never-more die.

O, where is your sting, death?* We fear you no more!
Christ rose, and now open is fair Eden's door.
For all our transgressions His blood does atone;
Redeemed and forgiven, we now are His own.

Then sing your hosannas and raise your glad voice;
Proclaim the blest tidings that all may rejoice.
Laud, honor, and praise to the Lamb that was slain;
With Father and Spirit He ever shall reign.
----Rev. C.F.W. Walther, 1860
(adapted from the translation by Anna M. Meyer)

*Hosea 13: 14 & I Corintians 15: 55

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

O, Darkest Woe!

O darkest woe! You tears, forth flow!
Has earth so sad a wonder?
God the Father’s only Son
Once was buried yonder.

O sorrow dread! God’s Son was dead,
Upon the cross extended.
There His love enlivened us
As His life was ended.

Laid low in death, Sweet silent lips,
As You, dead, then lay sleeping!
Surely all that live must mourn
Here with bitter weeping.

Oh, blest shall be Eternally
All who repent and ponder
Why the glorious Prince of Life
Should be buried yonder.

O Jesus blest, my Help and Rest!
With tears I pray, Lord hear me:
Make me love Thee to the last,
And in death be near me.
---Friedrich von Spee, 1628 (German); translation: composite

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

God Bless Our Native Land

(A poetic hymn to celebrate & exhort our nation this Inauguration Day.)

God bless our native land;
Firm may she ever stand
Through storm and night.
When the wild tempests rave,
Ruler of wind and wave,
Do Thou our country save
By Thy great might.

For her our prayers shall rise
To God, above the skies;
On Him we wait.
Thou who art ever nigh,
Guarding with watchful eye:
To Thee aloud we cry,
God save the state!

And not to us alone,
But be Thy mercies known
From shore to shore.
Lord, make the nations see
That men should brothers be
And form one family
The wide world o'er.

--Stanzas 1-2, Siegfried A. Mahlmann, 1815
--Stanza 3, William E. Hickson, 1835

Saturday, January 3, 2009

To Bethlehem With Gladness

(An adaptation of the hymn "As With Gladness Men of Old")

As the Wise Men from of old
Did the guiding star* behold
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright:
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To Thy lowly cradle bed;
There to bend the knee before
Thee, Whom heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At Thy cradle, rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin's alloy**,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our
heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light:
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its Sun*** which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!
---William Chatterton Dix, 1860

*Numbers 24:17; it was prophesied that a Star would rise out of the Israelites, referring both to the actual star & to Messiah Jesus
**An alloy is something mixed in which diluted purity. Dix prays that we can offer our gifts to Christ with the greatest of purity, an admirable hope, but a condition we will not see perfectly in this lifetime.
***Messiah Jesus was to be the "Sun of Righteousness" who would rise "with healing in His wings." (Cf. the words of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.)