Imprecatory Psalms Are Horrible Models for Christian Prayer

Imprecatory Psalms Are Horrible Models for Christian Prayer

The imprecatory psalms also have value for Christians today in reminding them of God’s holy hatred of sin, evil, and injustice. Christians not only petition for the judgment of the wicked but also for sin and evil to be expunged from their own hearts.

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Three Poems on the New Year: Perspectives on Time

Photo by  Alex Guillaume  on  Unsplash

          The measurement of time is so ingrained in our society that we take it for granted.  On a daily basis we have schedules that mark the beginning and ending of assigned or chosen tasks.  On a larger scale, we track the progress of each week, month, or year.  Our annual celebration of the transition from one calendar year to another invites a summary and evaluation of what has been accomplished or merely taken place in the past year.  In a more personal way, we celebrate birthdays as milestones in the progress of our lives.  Underlying all of this measurement of time is an awareness that we humans, along with our social and political institutions, have limited lifespans.  We are all on the path to death.

          It has not always been so.  When God created the Earth to be an environment for living things, especially for his ultimate creation, human beings, there was no sense of limited life, and so no need to measure time.  But all of that changed when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, thereby incurring the promised penalty of death.  Very quickly after the two of them were banished from the timeless Garden of Eden, the narrative about their offspring began to be marked by the passage of time: how many years between the births of their children and how old each person was when he died.  How different the human and divine perspectives on the passage of time had become.

          I have imagined in “Adam’s first New Year” how he might have ruminated about his new perception of the passage of time on the anniversary of his and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. In this monologue, Adam, though keenly aware of the sad new world he and Eve have brought about, realizes that God is still with him, transcending His own edict of judgment, just as He had done earlier when He clothed the just-realized, sin-conscious nakedness of the pair. 

Adam's First New Year

 

Adam paced the field

Made rough by tilling,

Unwilling ground since God

Withdrew His Presence from it.

The sun itself, now cyclic,

Gave only partial beams

To warm the stubborn soil.

 

"No need in Eden's bounds

To think of ebb and flow,

Of patterned change

Which gives us markers

For the progress of decay;

But now each day reveals

That something more of what we were

Is lost,

And nights accumulate

Until the sun comes back

To mark the point where death began.

 

"That day, I made a world

Where beginnings add up to ends,

And cycles are incremental.

Can God be heard in such a place?

Can timeless Love be found

Where time feeds hateful death?

I know only that breath,

Though shortened now,

Is still from Him;

And though I sweat for bread,

He feeds me yet."

 

            The next two poems show the same paradoxical way that God goes beyond our

time-limited understanding of the flow of events.  He sees without the restrictions of past, present, and future.

Tying Up Loose Ends

 

Accumulating year-ends is a purely human occupation:

Piling up tinsel monuments

And stacking shards of shattered plans.

Only the illusion

That things which matter have beginning or end

Spurs mortals to wrap up one year

And open another.

 

Celestial perception

Tolerates imperfection,

But gently urges us not to mistake

Our clocks for absolute.

We will accept, then,

The fragmentation of experience,

And search for the splices of God

By which the worst of the past

And the promise of the future

Are always joined.

           

            Finally, I offer a poem that reflects the perversity of our fallen wills in opting so often for the immediate, but temporal, pleasures of our mortal world, rather than the eternally significant treasures of God’s grace.

Bankrupt

Borrowed time

Is what we all live on.

Profligate spenders,

We purchase the gauds and trinkets

Of Vanity Fair.

We prefer our own

Purchased pain

To the gift of suffering

Which is beyond our means;

Our own indebtedness

To the solvency of Grace.

 

Kyrie eleison,

Christe eleison!

 

Lord, have mercy!  Christ, have mercy!  Grant us the eyes of eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

“Christ in you, the hope of glory”: Three Poems on the Incarnation

Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

            Incarnation has come to be a theological word associated primarily with the embodiment of God Himself in human flesh, living for a time on earth with the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  He was also given the name of “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).  But “God with us” means more than the fact that the Son of God was historically present on earth for a short time.  When He went back to Heaven to be with the Father, His place was taken by the Holy Spirit, so that the joyful Presence of God within us is the “hope of glory.”  Just as Jesus’ time on earth was lived and terminated for a larger purpose, so we, dying to the flesh, will find His Presence in these mortal bodies to be fulfilled by being resurrected into the eternal Presence of God.  God’s Incarnation is reenacted in us, adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

            The three poems below present responses to and experiences of the Incarnation.  In “The Husbandry of God,” Mary wrestles with the implications and the aftermath of yielding herself to be the instrument by which the God of Heaven would be incubated and born into the world.  She is the willing ground into which divine seed will be planted to bear the fruit of Heaven, and therein she prefigures the process by which every believer in the Messiah becomes a recipient of the Presence of God and by His power reaps eternal life.

                 The Husbandry of God

                        (Luke 1:26-35)  

How can I contain this word from the Lord?

His light has pierced my being

And sown in single seed

Both glory and shame.

Content was I

To wed in lowliness

And live in obscurity,

With purity my only dower.

Now, ravished with power,

I flout the conventions of man

To incubate God.

In lowliness how shall I bear it?

In modesty how shall I tell it?

What now shall I become?

But the fruit of God's planting

Is His to harvest.

No gleaner I, like Ruth,

But the field itself,

In whom my Lord lies hid.

 

            In “Immanuel,” the “one birth” at the center of the poem both emanates from and ends in God’s Presence.  In the first triplet, we look back to the source of the unique “one birth”; in the last triplet we see the results of the “one birth.”  God became flesh that we might truly know Him, and He truly know us.  

 

                             Immanuel  

 

In God's Presence

Is the essence

Of perfect earth;

In one birth

Knows all earth

The essence

Of God's Presence. 

 

 

Finally, “And the Word Became Flesh” emphasizes that it was the very essence, or “Word” of God Who gave up His rightful place beside the Father and came in the form of a fleshly baby.  In His short earthly ministry, He steadfastly walked the road to a death He did not deserve, and thereby enabled us who believe in Him to become children of God, inhabited by His Presence as a guarantee that we will someday abide eternally in His Presence.

 

"And the Word Became Flesh"

(John 1:1)

When Word invested in flesh,

No matter the shrouds that swathed it;

The donning of sin's poor corpse

(Indignity enough)

Was rightly wrapped in robes of death.

 

Yet breath of God

Broke through the shroud,

Dispersed the cloud

That darkened every birth before.

Those swaddling bands bespoke

A glory in the grave,

When flesh emerged as Word.

 

Take up this flesh, O Lord:

Re-form it with Your breath,

That, clothed in wordless death,

It may be Your Word restored.

                                                                       

 

 

 

 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

God’s Extravagance

A Twilight Musing

We have a politician on the national scene who consistently speaks in superlatives, a practice which leads to some skepticism about when the superlative is really applicable to the thing he’s talking about—sort of the “boy who cried ‘Wolf!’ principle.  We all have some temptation to exaggerate in order to enhance people’s perception of our talents and accomplishments, but we always run the risk of being caught out by doing so.  The only being who can legitimately speak in, or be spoken of, in superlatives is God, and that occurs frequently in Scripture.  Take Eph. 1:17-22 as an example, in which Paul prays for the Ephesians,

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Note that the greatness of God’s power toward believers is “immeasurable”; that Christ has been seated “far above all rule and authority” and “above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come,” that is, for all eternity, without end.

A little later in the epistle, Paul prays again that the disciples in Ephesus will be “rooted and grounded in love, [and] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17b-19).  Paul is not one to speak in moderate terms when he refers to what God has done and is doing for those in Christ; he wants all of his  readers  to “comprehend . . . the breadth, and length and height and depth” of “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”  But that understanding is not to be achieved by human effort, but by the superlative “power that is at work in us,” which is able “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”  The fountainhead of such an immeasurable outpouring of God’s Spirit is the atoning death of Jesus, an unfathomably extravagant gift of the Father, an unbelievably radical act of obedience by the Son.  As Paul says in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (8:31b-32).

In the Apostle’s description of his own response to such extravagant love we see the challenge for all of us to be similarly committed, without restraint or reservation: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).  In another place he describes being fully possessed by the Spirit of Christ, keeping nothing of his former self, so that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).  Jesus Himself expected an extravagant commitment from those who proposed to follow Him, calling His inner twelve to leave their occupations to become fishers of men, bidding a rich man to sell all he had and give to the poor, and challenging people to put the kingdom of God ahead of all other earthly ties.

I will conclude with a poem that depicts a contrast between moderate, conventional responses to Christ and a radical, all-giving act of love.  In the scriptural account on which the poem is based, Jesus draws a symbolic parallel between her action and Jesus’ own pouring out of Himself on the cross: “She has done a beautiful thing to me . . . .  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (Mark 14:6, 8).  We should remember her when we’re tempted to be merely moderate Christians.

 

 

The Broken Jar

(Mark 14:3-9)

 

The ointment with abandon

Runs down His cheek,

Sweetly joining tears of love

Set flowing by her extravagance.

Beauty and prescience

Are mingled there,

While spare and cautious faces

Grimace at the waste.

They advocate the shorter way—

Slipping pennies to the poor,

And making sure the books are kept.

But Jesus wept

That one should share His sacrifice,

And break the jar to pour out all.

 

                              --Elton D. Higgs

                                (Jan 9, 1977)

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Simon of Cyrene Takes the Cross (Luke 23:26)  

 

But I was only looking on!

No lover of this miserable Nazarine,

Who pushed his truth too far

And tempted power to kill.

The cross he bears

Is self-inflicted shame and pain.

I have no part in this

Except conscripted brawn!

 

--Heavier than it looks;

A burden more than wood.

Amazing

That he bore the thing this far,

And carries still

A weight He cannot share.

 

                                                  --Elton D. Higgs

                                                  (Apr. 8, 2012)

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

The Ambiguous Branch

A Twlight Musing

Two Messianic passages in Isaiah speak of the Savior as a shoot from an apparently dead source, but they are starkly different in tone.  In Isaiah 11 we have a mighty King:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. . . .  [W]ith righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

(Is. 11: 1, 4)

Here the emphasis is on the Messiah as triumphal ruler, exercising divine power to bring justice and peace on the earth.  In contrast, the other passage, Isaiah 53, presents a despised and rejected Messiah who is put to death unjustly:  He

grew up . . . like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53: 2-3)

His role here is seen, not as ruler, but as one “wounded for our transgressions” (v. 5) and “oppressed” (v. 7).

I find it both startling and instructive that that there should be such contrasting uses of the same image of the Messiah as an unexpected offshoot or sprout.  Both applications of the image are, of course, true, but they depict different stages of the Messiah’s impact on the world, and they need to be seen in the proper sequence.  The presentation in Isaiah 11 focuses on the Davidic lineage of Jesus and on the ultimate rule of Christ on the New Earth when he reigns as David’s heir, exercising power over the “Peaceable Kingdom” depicted in Isaiah 11 and 65:17-25.  However, this manifestation of the Messiah was not to come merely as a renewal of the flawed political Kingdom of Israel, nor was it to be a direct outcome of the First Advent of the Christ, but as a component of His Second Coming.  Before the full fruition of Jesus as the Son of David must come the fulfillment of His mission as the Son of God, accomplished through His death as the perfect sacrificial Lamb of God.  Only in that way could the temporal throne of David be transmuted into the Eternal Kingdom.

Moreover, that is also the pattern for us as God’s children.  If we are to be glorified with Him, we must first participate in His suffering (see Rom. 8:17).  Reflecting that truth, and in the spirit of the Advent season, I present the following poem.

 

The Budding Stump

(Isaiah 11:1-3 and 53:1-3)

 

The Stump of David,

Cracked and grey with age,

Neglected, cast aside,

Now sprouts again, as God had said.

Not couched in beauty, or in power,

Comes this obscure and unexpected Branch;

Nor with glory sought by swords,

Drenching Israel's enemies in blood--

Though bloodshed nascent lies within.

 

O Lord of stumps,

Whose sapience informs

What men have cast aside,

And makes to grow again

What You Yourself have pruned away:

Take now the hopes of glory

Grown and nourished by our pride;

Reform them by Your promised Shoot,

That we may find the power

That lies in roots, and not in mighty trees.

 

Elton D. Higgs (Dec. 26, 1982)

 

 

Image: "Winter Bloom" by MelissaTG. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Co-Guardians for the God-child

I like the 2007 movie “The Nativity Story,” because it presents the story of Mary and Joseph and the events leading up to the birth of Jesus with a gritty realism that easily (and usually) gets lost in the romanticized crèches and Christmas pageants that depict the Christmas narrative.  Both of the couple God chose to raise His Son had to face excruciatingly difficult circumstances and attendant decisions when Mary was “found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.”  In the two poems below, I have attempted to portray the consternation felt by each of them when an angel brought the message that they had been chosen to be parents to the Holy One of Israel, Emmanuel, the Messiah.

               The Husbandry of God

                       (Luke 1:26-35)   

How can I contain this word from the Lord?

His light has pierced my being

And sown in single seed

Both glory and shame.

Content was I

To wed in lowliness

And live in obscurity,

With purity my only dower.

Now, ravished with power,

I flout the conventions of man

To incubate God.

In lowliness how shall I bear it?

In modesty how shall I tell it?

What now shall I become?

But the fruit of God's planting

Is His to harvest.

No gleaner I, like Ruth,

But the field itself,

In whom my Lord lies hid.

--Elton D. Higgs

    1980

                                  

Joseph In Waiting

     (Matt. 1:18-26)

Familiar wood now nears its goal,

Purpose carved from formless block.

My wife sits waiting by,

Custodian of promised Son,

Full with Spirit-crafted child.  

.

How strange has been

This celibate intimacy

Since angel-visions

Translated besmirched betrothal

Into Holy co-habitation.

Others praise an act of mercy,

Taking shameful form into my house;

I know that in her Spirit-quickened womb

Lies more than chaste maid

Could ever have been.

Match made on earth

Transmuted now to Heaven’s pairing,

We dwell together with nascent God

And await the Day of Deliverance.

Elton D. Higgs

Dec. 12, 2015

Image: "Rembrandt van Rijn 195" by Workshop of Rembrandt - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_van_Rijn_195.jpg#/media/File:Rembrandt_van_Rijn_195.jpg

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Learning from Broken Relationships”

A Twilight Musing

My wife suggested that I write a piece on ways that I have learned from my mistakes. That opens a broad field of possibilities, but probably the most fruitful area would be bungled relationships, particularly when close friendships have been injured, sometimes permanently. The bottom line of what I learned from these snafus is that confronting others to point out their mistakes requires not only courage, but also compassion and awareness of one’s own vulnerability. Gal. 6:1-2 presents the standards for correcting a brother or sister: “You who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” I would like to relate a couple of instances of my own mishandled confrontations and the painful lessons I learned from them, detailing how those mistakes could have been avoided had I fully understood the passage just quoted.

The most painful of these was the rupture between myself and an intimate friend who was one of my closest confidants. He was a minister and a psychological counselor of great ability with whom I shared many common perspectives and tastes. In fact, the combination of our both having some academic and religious standing and enjoying fairly frequent stimulating and satisfying conversations meant that the intensity of our mutual reinforcement weakened our ability to challenge one another when we needed to. For either of us to do that would have threatened the ego satisfaction we had from boosting and being boosted. So when I became aware that his messages had lost their freshness and that he had settled into being comfortable in his reputation, I felt I needed to confront him with this error, but I had had no experience in doing so constructively. More than that, I was not guided by the advice of Paul in the passage quoted above to be gentle, to be aware of my own moral vulnerability, and to share my brother’s burden. Also, I thought the relationship between us was so strong that it would survive my being bluntly frank with him. At the time I saw my actions as being morally courageous, but my friend felt they were brutal and out of character with what he thought me to be.

It took me many years to understand fully why my attempt to challenge my friend shattered our relationship (which, by the way, was mended on the surface but never recovered its previous intimacy). As the years went on, I realized how I should have done it, and my deepest regret is that after the alienation he never again trusted me in the deep way he had before, and I destroyed a relationship that could have been enriched by my handling the confrontation more sensitively. I realized too late that had I dealt with his fault with more humility, gentleness, and compassionate sharing of his burden, I could have been his partner in correction, rather than merely his accuser. Moreover, the way would have opened up for a mutually beneficial relationship in which our love and regard for one another didn’t depend on our each maintaining an unrealistic image of who we were. We needed to see and acknowledge each other’s flaws and to experience the richness of God’s and each other’s forgiveness.

The other example of how I brought about an estrangement and how I could have avoided doing so took place in my workplace, an academic institution. Although the split was not with a fellow Christian, in a way it was worse, because my actions turned out to compromise my Christian witness, even though I acted from a desire to stand up for Christian standards. This incident involved two of my colleagues with whom I had close ties because we were next-door neighbors and members of the same academic department. Part of the mistake I made was from naivete, since it took several years for me to realize that they were homosexual companions. Consequently, Laquita and I became friends with them and socialized with them with no self-consciousness about their relationship. They naturally assumed that we knew they were sexual partners, but had found a way to accept that fact in spite of our conservative Christian convictions. (In retrospect, what we were able to do in our ignorance might well have been possible merely on the basis of respectfully dealing with people where they are, not where we think they ought to be.) One summer in the late 70’s, when homosexual militancy was gaining ground but did not yet have the majority support it has now, a group of people on campus decided that there needed to be a homosexual support group. When I read about it in the student newspaper, I felt moved to write a letter to the paper about my reservations concerning the acceptance of homosexual practices as normal and morally neutral. When the letter was published, I was thoroughly excoriated by my colleagues, and my next-door neighbors exploded in both public and private indignation at my “intolerance” and “bigotry.” They felt betrayed and stabbed in the back and regarded me as a hypocrite.

How could I have applied the principles of Gal. 6:1-3 to this secular situation? First of all, I could have put myself in their shoes and have anticipated how they would react to my suddenly, without any attempt to soften the blow for them, going public with remarks that they found personally insulting and disrespectful, seeming to reject out of hand a vital part of their identity. Had I gone to them privately and expressed my views, they would have been shocked and disappointed, but perhaps at least they would not have seen me as insensitive to the opprobrium and ill-treatment suffered by open or suspected homosexuals at the time. I could perhaps have stated my convictions with firmness but gentleness, not self-righteously minimizing my own vulnerability to sexual temptation, but showing a willingness to share the burden of our human condition. That could have opened the way for meaningful discussion that was not charged with the emotion of public argument. Once again, I was guilty of mistaking my boldness in confrontation as virtuous courage.

Unfortunately, there are several more instances I could cite, but even mea culpa can be overdone. I hope these examples are sufficient to deter others from the mistakes I made. If so, that is some compensation for the damage I did. I’m not sure that old age necessarily brings wisdom, but it certainly brings a deeper understanding of our experiences.

 

Reweaving (To an Estranged Brother)

When God has done, He has undone, too; The knots of will unraveled Await the Weaver's hand. Though that which bound our love Seemed closely knit, He knew that it required A purer bond to make us one. So, Lord, secure the cords again, And stay our fumbling hands, Lest we re-tie what you undid; In one deft stroke, Retwine our hearts in unity, For love alone, and not security.

--Elton D. Higgs (Oct. 29, 1982)

 

image: "Broken" by H. Olsen. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

What’s Really New?

A Twilight Musing

We Americans are fascinated with all things new, largely because both the word and the idea of “new” are at the center of promoting products, from cereals to automobiles. I heard just this morning in a newscast (as you can see, the word is even embedded in the media) a report about how Apple can get away with marketing a new iPhone every couple of years: people want and eagerly await the next new thing, especially in communications technology.

The assumption of the superiority of the new is also deeply woven into the fabric of modern Western thought. It is intricately connected to the idea of progress, undergirded both by ever-expanding scientific and technological knowledge and by the application of Darwin’s theory of biological evolution to human social development. Arising out of these elements of thought is the rather arrogant assumption that the present age is by definition more advanced than any that has preceded it, merely because it is the latest. This is the state of mind described by C. S. Lewis as “chronological snobbery.” In this context, it’s not surprising that modern theological opinions are considered superior to old ones. If doctrines and moral standards clearly stated in the Bible conflict with modern, enlightened, “scientific” understandings, then we must cast the old aside and embrace the progressive new.

However, the God of the Bible is actually the source of all things new—is, in fact, the only source of the New. The conflict is not primarily between the old and the new in a chronological sense, but between mankind’s “new” and God’s “New.” God demonstrated the archetypal New when He “created the heavens and the earth.” No such thing had ever existed before; it was unique, completely original, and God “saw that it was good.” When sin corrupted this perfect new world, God provided a lesser but sufficient way for the human race to survive on earth until God’s redemption of the fallen world could be worked out. For Adam and Eve, newly banished from the Garden, He balanced the penalties of pain in childbirth and painfully tilling the ground for food by providing them garments and promising that the Serpent who had deceived them would one day be bruised (fatally and finally, it is implied) by one of their offspring. (See Gen. 3:14-21.) We now know that the “offspring” referred to was Jesus Christ, Messiah and Incarnate Son of God, whose heel was bruised by the Serpent Satan when Jesus died on the cross. But before the culmination of that divine plan in the Incarnation, there was a very long period of progressive New Things, beginning with the purging and purifying of the earth through the Flood; the calling of Abraham to be the father of God’s nation, Israel; the institution of a Covenant with that nation, based on the Law given to Moses; the blessing of Israel with a land to live in; the apostasy of the nation leading to their being exiled from that land; and their return from exile to rebuild Jerisalem and the Temple. Thus, over long years, the way was prepared for the coming of God’s Son, the Newest Thing ever seen.

Jesus’ appearance in the world marked the creation of a New Adam, a being who, like the original creation, was unique and without precedent. The first Adam was created from the earth, and God breathed into his physical form the breath of life; but the Second (or New) Adam sprang from the very Spirit of God and was only temporarily clothed in a perishable body (see I Cor. 15:45-49). When Jesus arose from the grave after being struck to death by Satan, He became the source of a New Covenant, established through the shedding of His perfect blood to remove forever the curse invoked on mankind because of sin. With this New Covenant came a New definition of the people of God. No longer was His people merely physical Israel, but a unification of Jew and Gentile into “one New Man” (Eph. 3:15, my caps, and so throughout), so intimately identified with Christ as to be referred to as His Body. The people of God are made up of all those who have accepted Jesus as Lord and have experienced the transformation from death to life, putting off the “old self” and being “renewed” so that we can “put on the New Self” (Eph. 4:21-24), which is actually Christ in us (Col. 1:27). As Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20-21). All of this is preparation for our being ushered into the New Heaven and New Earth with which God will replace the flawed universe in which we now dwell. (See Is. 65:17-18; II Pet. 3:11-13; Rev. 21:1-8.)

God’s New is obviously glorious and benevolent, greatly to be desired and joyfully to be embraced. And yet, as I indicated above, we in this fallen world easily fall prey to the glittering temptation of the temporal new. Scripture has many examples from which we can profit in this regard. One of God’s repeated accusations against Israel was that they went after “new gods” and “forgot the God who gave [them] birth” (Deut. 32:17-18). The jaded old man whose voice we hear in Ecclesiastes is so satiated with his pursuit of the ephemeral “new” that he concludes “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9-10). And he is right, for what is under the sun is not God’s New, but mankind’s flawed new. Nevertheless, God is at work in His people of every age providing spiritual renewal in the midst of our weariness. Inserted into the middle of the book of Lamentations (3:22-24) we find the beautiful affirmation: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’" In Isaiah 40:31, those who “wait for the Lord” are promised that they will “renew their strength” and “run and not be weary . . . walk and not faint.”

Nevertheless, perverse beings that we are, we not only are easily lured by the glitter of the world’s fleeting “new,” we often are frightened and threatened by God’s ‘New,” even though he makes it readily available to us for the asking. But to receive God’s New, we must put off the old that would hinder us from growing in our walk with Him. I once wrote a New Year’s poem that expresses this ambivalence, and I present it here by way of conclusion.

A Reluctance for New Wine

The fabric of threadbare hope

Stretches toward year's end.

Pieces of frayed ambition extend

To cover the old wineskins

That many disclaim But few set aside.

Like children clutching tattered dolls,

We hug in vain security

The rags of the past,

Because in some degree

They are accommodated to our wills.

 

The outworn selves we cling to

Can be our own

The more as time goes by:

We patch and mend In order to possess.

The New Stirs something deep within—

But I would not willingly admit it.

--Elton D. Higgs (Dec. 31, 1977)

 

Image: "Beginning" by Uzzaman. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Two Calls to Peter

A Twilight Musing

Peter was called twice from his fishing by the Lake of Galilee to follow Jesus (Lk. 5:1-10, Jn. 21:1-19). The first time was full of hope, promise and excitement, a new beginning for a man who had lived a rough life (“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”); Jesus said to him and his partners, James and John, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” The second calling was to a Peter much chastened after his overconfidence in his own strength and ability had led him into actually denying that he even knew his Master. And this second call was much more ominous than the first, promising that his answering Jesus’ call to “feed my sheep” would result in his martyrdom. The parallels between these two accounts are striking. In each case, Jesus comes unexpectedly into Peter’s life while he is fishing, advising him and his companions to cast their nets once more, even though they have been repeatedly unsuccessful in catching any fish. As a result, they catch more fish than they can haul in. In both instances, there is dialogue between Peter and Jesus that ends in a call by Jesus for Peter to follow him. But there is also a big difference between the two calls Jesus gives to Peter, and only a Peter who had been brought up short by his insufficiency within himself could have responded to the second call.

Peter, like all strong and outgoing personalities, had to learn the hard way that his strong points were also his weak points. He could be insightful and spiritually informed, as when he was the only one of the disciples to answer Jesus’ question about who people thought He was with an explicit, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). But he could also be dense and uncomprehending, even to the extent of rebuking Jesus when He told the disciples that He was going up to Jerusalem to be put to death (Mark 8:31-33). Throughout Jesus’ ministry Peter was recognized as the leader of the disciples, and Jesus repeatedly singled him out in ways that anticipated his taking a leading role in the early church; nevertheless, in the midst of his boldness was a blindness to his faults, as in his boast that he would die to defend Jesus, followed shortly by his triple denial that he even knew Jesus. Peter had some hard learning to do between the first call of Jesus and the second.

In the following poem, I have depicted the enlightened Peter, looking back on His time with Jesus.

Sacrifice, Not Martyr
(Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13, 18, 20, 21)

How glorious it seemed to me,
To die for Jesus.
And so I shall,
But not for my glory.
His story, not mine, defines my death.

He knew
My peril as prey of Satan,
And prayed for me;
But His warning found no place
To pierce my pride.
I turned aside His words,
And plunged headlong into the trap
The Enemy had set for me.
In the Garden I was ready,
Sword in hand, bold for battle!
But the Master stayed my hand
And healed the man I struck.
Disarmed and cowed,
I fled.

Following from afar,
Defenseless now for the real assault
(For I could not shift to the plane of His example),
I stood by the fire to observe,
Hoping yet to save Him from Himself.
And then those questions—
Pointing to me as one of His.
But none of His I proved.
Oblivious to my sin,
I betrayed Him from within.
And then His gentle gaze
Drove home cock’s crow,
Soul-piercing sound
That brought the bitter tears.

That purging, though,
Was not the end,
For Him nor me.
As Thomas touched His wounds
And healing found therein,
So I was also called anew
Beside Genessaret,
When one last time He supped with us.
Not my boast this time
Was focus for His words,
But gentle probing of my love for Him.
Profounder death he called for then
Than sword could bring:
Living sacrifice to serve His sheep,
And glory at the end,
When God would send
His cross for me.

Elton D. Higgs
July 1, 2014

Image: The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew by  Caravaggio

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

The God Who Casts No Shadow

A Twilight Musing

Have you ever put your fingers in front of a projector to create the shadow image of a rabbit or some other object? This old trick illustrates the three elements necessary to create a shadow: a source of light, an object that interrupts the projection of light, and a screen or background substance on which the shadow can be cast. The biggest shadow show for human beings is an eclipse, as when the shadow of the moon blocks out our view of the main body of the sun, or the earth comes between the sun and the moon and we have an eclipse of the moon. In the eclipse of the sun, we are in the shadow being cast by the moon, whereas in an eclipse of the moon, we see the shadow of the earth cast on the moon. However, we never see a shadow cast by the sun, because there is no source of light greater than the sun, nor a “screen” on which its shadow could be cast.

Perhaps theoretically the conditions might exist that enable the sun to cast a shadow, but from our perspective it does not and cannot.

What is true of the sun relatively speaking is applied to God absolutely in the book of James:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, ESV)

James’s use of the imagery of light and shadow here is quite instructive. One might say that God, like the sun, casts no shadow, for He is Absolute Light, just as He is Absolute Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, beyond Whom and outside of Whom there is no reality. The conditions that create shadows in our physical world are in constant flux, for either the source of light or the objects that interrupt it are moving. Shadows are ephemeral, visual experiences that have only brief existence and cannot be captured or preserved. Even photographs of shadows are preserving only secondary images of a fleeting phenomenon.

Shadows in biblical poetry are used to reflect the briefness and transitory nature of human life, especially in light of the eternality of God. (All biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. (II Kings 20:11) Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! (Ps. 39:5b-6a)

My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (Ps. 102:11)

Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. (Ps. 144:1)

Beyond the use of shadow to depict the brevity of life is the representation of death as transition to a land of shadow and darkness, as depicted by Job:

Are not my days few?

Then cease, and leave me alone, before I go—and I shall not return— to the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness. (Job 10:21-22)

And of course, there are the references to the shadow of death, represented most familiarly in Ps. 23:4.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Here, however, there is also a positive element connected with shadow, for God is not only immune to shadows Himself, He gives comfort to those who are vulnerable to its threats. This picturing of shadow as a symbol of God’s protection is seen repeatedly in the Psalms:

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, (Ps. 17:8)

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Ps. 36:7) He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." (Ps. 91:1-2)

Thus the God Who casts no shadow has ultimate control of it, and can turn even the “shadow of death” into Good News. Ps. 107 depicts those who “sat in darkness and in the shadow of death” and were in physical and spiritual prison. They “cried out to the Lord in their trouble,” and in response “He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death” (Ps. 107: 10, 13, 14). In the same vein, Matthew quotes from Isaiah in regard to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned" (Matt. 4:16).

The ultimate good and perfect gift of the Father of Lights Who casts no shadow will be the creation of the New Jerusalem, where “night will be no more” and there will be no need of “lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light . . . “ (Rev.22:5). Into this eternal City of Light will be called all who in the midst of this dark world of shadows have walked in God’s light (I John 1:5-7). “’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished,” if one can radically re-apply the words of Hamlet.

Addendum to this Musing

Shadows

Shadows lengthen, deepen, merge.
Darkness is all, and I am there.
No thought of shadows when
The sun is full, for then
They merely accent the brightness.
When all is shadow, love may thrive,
Though hope be dim; when all is bright,
Shallow bliss holds sway.
Even the Arctic is both night and day.
Darkness gives more to defining light
Than light to the understanding of dark.
I will see the shadow grow,
And dwell in it even, to know
That light is its own verity,
And darkness but an island in its midst.

--Elton D. Higgs

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Creation and Re-creation

 

 

A Twilight Musing

1:1-18 is justly regarded as one of the foundational passages in the New Testament, since it could be called a hymn of praise summarizing the awesome picture of the eternal, ineffable God interacting with His physical and temporal creation.  There is a beautiful rhythm in the language of this passage, which manifests the economy and evocative imagery of poetic diction.  It begins by identifying the Creative Force in Genesis 1 and 2 as “the Word,” and ends with that Word becoming a part of the physical (and now darkened) world that He has created.  Just as “In the beginning was the Word,” so also in the end is the Word: the Alpha is also the Omega.  When the Creator became a part of His own creation, He reintroduced the original Light of creation, which operates to return the fallen earth to its pristine beginnings.

As I considered this way of seeing the Prologue to John’s Gospel, I began to wonder what it might look like to “translate” the embedded poetry of the passage into overt poetic form.  I present to you below my attempt to do just that, hoping that it provides a fresh approach to the text, while reflecting faithfully the essence of the Holy Spirit’s profoundly succinct theological summary given us through the Apostle John.

 

“The Alpha/Omega Word”

 

Beginning Word

Spoke Light to Chaos;

Light pushed Life from sod,

And God through Word

Made forms to walk on sod,

And finally man to trod

On finished earth.

 

But darkness pierced

The perfect pearl of Paradise:

The Word no longer heard,

Nor known the fellowship with Light.

 

In darkness, tyrannous Time was lord,

But Time was also womb of Light renewed.

Word of Light

Re-entered world He made,

Took on a mortal mould

That showed the face of God,

Unshadowed by shade.

 

Heralded by John He came,

Following in flesh

But eternally before;

Jordan-witnessed Lamb of God,

Light to be extinguished

So that Light could shine once more.

 

Time redeemed

Became a womb again:

Spirit spawned

Brothers of the Son,

Children owing naught to fallen flesh,

But reborn through God-in-Flesh,

The Light of Life.

 

New Covenant of Life,

Bought with blood,

Became God’s family,

Receiving grace and truth

Transcending Law of Death.

New breath breathed in

Through timeless Word,

 Beginning and also end.

 

                    --Elton D. Higgs

                       Jan. 12, 2016

Image: "The Creation of Adam" by Jessica Branstetter. CC License. 

 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

A Reluctance for New Wine

A Twilight Musing

The first few days of a new year invite us to review the recent past, to let go of our baggage, and to pursue self-improvement.  However, Jesus gave advice about the danger of trying to embrace the new while holding tenaciously onto the old:  “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved" (Matt. 9:17).

Both of the poems below deal with how our desire for the “new wine” of positively altered behavior is hindered by either our reluctance to break through the comfort boundaries of the familiar, or our substitution of face-saving guilt feelings for humble reform.  Our Adversary has no preference for either of the two, since they are equally effective in preventing the painful process of growth.  Happy New Year, folks.

 

A Reluctance for New Wine

 

The fabric of threadbare hope

Stretches toward year's end.

Pieces of frayed ambition extend

To cover the old wineskins

That many disclaim

But few set aside.

Like children clutching tattered dolls,

We hug in vain security

The rags of the past,

Because in some degree

They are accommodated to our wills.

 

The outworn selves we cling to

Can be our own

The more as time goes by:

We patch and mend

In order to possess.

 

The New

Stirs something deep within—

But I would not willingly admit it.

 

                                                            --Elton D. Higgs (Dec. 31, 1977)

 

A Prayer for Exorcism

 

Lord, spare me from the ghosts

Of work undone;

The year has run its course,

And once again I find

Unfinished what I had designed.

No doubt You hoped for more as well;

But, truth to tell,

I doubt my sense of falling short

Arises from the faults You see.

I prefer those sins whose guilty shades

Are quite definable,

And limit my lament

To my own thwarted ends.

Your design transcends my pride;

I cannot hide beneath the guilt

That comes from You,

For it speaks of new beginnings,

And brooks no misty sentiment

For what I've failed to do.

 

                                 --Elton D. Higgs  (12/30/78)

 

Image: "Growing" by A Tipton. CC license. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Time: from Regulator to Terminator

Marking the passage of time is such an ingrained part of modern Western society that we usually give little thought to why we are conditioned to do so.  Business and industry strive for the most efficient use of time to maximize the profitable productivity of their investment of material resources and human energy.  Contracts and agreements are drawn up and ratified with reference to the boundaries and limits of the time during which the agreement is to be carried out.  In social life, much is made of anniversaries and the celebration of what has been done or accomplished in the span of years leading up to the chronological milestone being observed.  All of these things are treated in a positive way:  “Happy Birthday,” “Happy Anniversary,” or “Happy New Year” we say.  But at the gut level, we all recognize that the passage of time leads eventually to the demise of the organization, or the nation, or the person whose milestone is being affirmed.  In other words, time, in our experience of it as fallen creatures, inexorably weaves the web that ensnares us in death.  Shakespeare’s Macbeth, at the end of his campaign to manipulate the world of time for his own benefit, expresses the despair that comes with realizing he has always been the victim of time, rather than the master of it.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death.

(Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5)

Time became our enemy when Adam and Eve rejected God’s order of things and thought to set up an alternative order, a substitute kingdom with themselves as rulers.  The way we experience time in our fallen state is at the core of our alienation from God, so how does our experience differ from the way God intended for time to function?   In His essence, God is completely unaffected by time, since time is perceived and measured only through some sort of change taking place, and God is immutable, without beginning or end, changeless.  However, His present creation does have a beginning and an end, and even in the Garden before the Fall, time was a defining element of order in both the act of creation and its ongoing operation. The Genesis account of creation calls its phases “days” even before the sun was created to define them, and the concept of the seven-day week, culminated by a God-honoring Seventh Day of rest, showed time as a natural thread integrated into a perfect creation;  but time in Eden carried with it no sense of limitation or decay. It was merely a regulator in the daily activities of Adam and Eve in caring for the garden.  But of course, sin changed all of that.  God’s regulator became humankind’s terminator.  

In the poem below, I have imagined Adam at the end of his first year of living with the consequences of his and Eve’s sin.  He shares something of Macbeth’s dark vision of the relentless advance of time, but unlike Macbeth, he also knows that God’s light and presence, though diminished, are still with him.

 

Adam's First New Year

Adam paced the field

Made rough by tilling,

Unwilling ground since God

Withdrew His Presence from it.

The sun itself, now cyclic,

Gave only partial beams

To warm the stubborn soil.

"No need in Eden's bounds

To think of ebb and flow,

Of patterned change

Which gives us markers

For the progress of decay;

But now each day reveals

That something more of what we were

Is lost,

And nights accumulate

Until the sun comes back

To mark the point where death began.

"That day, I made a world

Where beginnings add up to ends,

And cycles are incremental.

Can God be heard in such a place?

Can timeless Love be found

Where time feeds hateful death?

I only know that breath,

Though shortened now,

Is still from Him;

And though I sweat for bread,

He feeds me yet."

--Elton D. Higgs

 (Jan. 1, 1983)

Image: "Closing Time" by Kevin Dooley. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Son of Perdition (Matt. 27:3-5)

A Twilight Musing

Did all the powers conspire

To make me plant that kiss?

And why did what He sowed among the Twelve

Bear bitter fruit in me alone?

I was called and sanctified

And given power to exorcise—

Even held the purse for all the rest.

He alone could see the secret fires

That burned my soul away,

And yet He left me to my course

And urged me from His presence

In the Upper Room.

My doom is His to bear as well;

This day we meet in hell.

He let himself be killed,

Poured out the ointment

Meant as alms for all,

While I, at least, have

Dared to test my worth

And act my will.

Even now,

When emptiness engulfs me,

I cannot be still

Beneath the scourge of God;

I shall die on a tree

Of my own devising.

 

                              --Elton D. Higgs

                                (Sept. 22, 1979)

 

Image: "The-Last-Supper-large" by Carl Heinrich Bloch - http://www.carlbloch.org/The-Last-Supper.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The-Last-Supper-large.jpg#/media/File:The-Last-Supper-large.jpg

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Touching Thomas (John 20:1-29)

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Caravaggio. Public Domain. 

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Caravaggio. Public Domain. 

 

 

Why should I have touched His wounds,

Who asked a measure more than those

Who only saw, and made His peace their joy?

Still others, seeing not, will have His touch.

And I, who walked with Him and shared

A thousand days of common ground,

But ran away when He was taken off

To bear the wounds I now have touched--

These wretched hands have felt the anguish of

The wounds He took for me.

Little did I know that what I asked

Was sharing in His pain.

Yet in his love for me, He let

My probing hands renew the desecrating

Thrust of nails and spear;

And now I know that all along

His sufferance of our selfish, grasping fingers,

Seeking only fleshly touch,

Was of a piece with baring all His wounds.

How far He had to reach

To let me touch His side!

 

                                                      --Elton Higgs

                                                       5/3/87

 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

A Matter of Conscience (Matt. 27:1-10)

"Judas returning the thirty silver pieces" by  Rembrandt

"Judas returning the thirty silver pieces" by Rembrandt

 

 

 

They were exceedingly careful

In handling blood-money;

They picked it up gingerly,

And debated what,

In conscience,

Could be done

With the price of another man's life.

They provided

For the burial of the poor

With the rejected silver,

Then busily turned

To the murder

Of the man it had bought.

 

                                      --Elton D. Higgs

                                                  (12/17/80)

 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Cock-Crowing (Luke 22:61)

The Denial of St. Peter . circa 1620-1625. Gerard Seghers.

The Denial of St. Peter. circa 1620-1625. Gerard Seghers.

("And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter
remembered the Lord's words . . . .") Luke 22.61

Grey dawn
Gone,
But day
Still waits.
Cock-crowing
Flowing
Flashing
Tearing
Through anguished heart.
Part
Of me
Is dead--
The thread
Of boasting, knowing,
Throwing words about
Is snapped,
And dangling ends ensnare the dawn.
Dark my heart since dawn
And dark the curtain drawn
Across my soul
By fear which stole
My light away.
But day must come.
The One who prophesied the broken thread
And gazed on new-made shreds
Can knit my soul and turn
Cock's call to Light indeed.
It needs my Master's face
To make cock-crowing
Both breaking
And making
Of dawn's first rays.

--Elton D. Higgs
(Spring 1973)

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Nicodemus, Post Mortem (John 3:1-21; 7:45-52; 19:38-42)

"The Entombment of Christ" by Luca Giordano.

"The Entombment of Christ" by Luca Giordano.

 

 

His words are done, and now He rests,

A fragrant corpse in a rich man's tomb.

Lifted up, indeed—but are we healed?

The night He chided me for darkened mind

Is not behind me yet,

For this death no more

Than second birth I grasp.

How can earth receive

A body so unlike itself?

Not spice nor worthy grave

Can honor Him, nor rescue us,

But only words of life I heard

When cowardly I went by night.

 

No words now—but pregnant death!

That brings us to the womb again

And stirs our souls to breathe anew

The air His Spirit stirred!

Both birth and death are buried now

In the Word that does not die.

--Elton D. Higgs

(Nov, 11, 1980; rev. 3/18/04)

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

The Final Steps (Mark 14: 32-42)

"Christ in the Garden" by Caravaggio. 

"Christ in the Garden" by Caravaggio. 

   

I have slept in Gethsemane,

Lacking the sense

Of immanent pain

My Master bears.

His sorrow

Has been my pillow,

And I have slumbered

In the shadow

Of a dying God.

Because I cannot look upon

The final step that Love must walk,

He kneels alone,

And trembling

Takes the proferred cup

For Him and me.

 

"Wake up!" He says;

"Though you could not watch with me—

Though you could not

Embrace my task—

I have met my fear alone,

To seal the bonds of brotherhood,

That we might live at one."

 

--Elton D. Higgs

10/15/78

 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)