by Tony B. Nguyen
A month ago, over a quiet weekend at my parent’s house, I wrote this poem, The Maker, which is an agrarian metaphor on the goodness of God, His place as master over all creation, His laboring love in redeeming us, and the hope we have in knowing that He is faithful and keeps His promises. It is a reflection on the past several years of my life and since we are in the Lenten season, a lament of sorrow, grief, and admission of guilt. It was inspired by my time reading the poetic works of saints like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Anne Steele, and several weekends spent laboring at our very own New Garden Farm.
A petrified wood of pest’lence wreaks the stench of death and scourge
is sudden set incinerate by the holy spark of rejuv’n burn.
The trees cry out in wailing blaze and the branches moan to ash
until the wind of holy ardor asunder pares the hulks aghast.
Whenceforth, the stumps, the amputees which wag their roots in spite
are plucked and seized by the Maker’s hands, weathered and calloused with holy might.
The Maker, The Maker! He cleaves the earth and tills it lacking tire.
With christening spade and crossing heaves, he churns and soothes the soil’s ire.
What does now the Maker do, the dirt with breath allayed?
He plucks and seizes from holy hands, meager paltry seeds t’embed.
The Maker puts the kerns to rest in rows of beck’ning hearths
and tucks the grains into abodes that welcome the holy lonesome warmth.
The wind then sings the rain to come, the clouds cry out their tears.
The ground then laps th’oblatious drops, wholly quenched of droughting fears.
The garden bed of sleeping specks aromes of expectation
and wonders of the buds to bloom, with dreams of holy imagination.
The Maker, The Maker reclines on high, awaits the coming yield
til blesséd day shoots up aground the first of sprouts—grace and mercy at last revealed.
While I pray the Holy Spirit would speak His own unique word to you in reading this poem, here are a few points that I believe are worth meditating on that I hope will be edifying to your Lenten walk this year:
The Lord is holy and His work is righteous.
Like the seraphim in Isaiah 6 who shout “Holy, Holy, Holy!” in acknowledgement of the King of all creation, the creation in the poem, from the trees to the clouds, cry out “The Maker, The Maker!” in the presence of the very one Himself who, at the moment, is hard at work in making right what is wrong. Though the story begins in what seems to be utter catastrophe by way of fire and upending, there is no question whether this is the proper course of action for this piece of land. For there is no way for this dead forest to bear life in and of itself, and thus, it must endure being laid waste if it is to ever grow again. In other words, as once said by a certain church farm director, who preached her sermon effectually on the same topic the very same week I published this poem (unbeknownst to either of us), she says, “God does not destroy needlessly, but rather purposefully, as a good creator, for the long-term flourishing of His creation.”
We have hope only in Jesus Christ who breaks into our earthly being.
As the spade is the tool for which one breaks through the ground, so the Lord Christ is the person who enters into our wretched and earthly condition. As it takes many crossing heaves of dirt over the shoulder across the body to prepare the ground for growth and vegetation, so it took Jesus’ carrying of the cross to prepare us for life and to bear fruit. Not only is His work ‘crossing’ as a reference to the literal means of His death, but it is also ‘crossing’ in that it’s perplexing and runs countercultural to what the world says will bring us life. While the world tells us to flee from death, ignore hardship, and run from iniquity, the Lord says, “Come to me, all you who are heavy laden…My power is made perfect in weakness…Blessed are the poor in spirit, and those who mourn…” In other words, our hope is not in building up ourselves, but in identifying with Christ and His lowliness. In other words, are we allowing the Lord to undo us and bring us low, or are we shaking our fingers at Him in disapproval like the stumps who were pared aghast?
We may enter into death, hardship, and iniquity confidently on the promise that God redeems all things.
With Jesus at the crux, the poem is composed of two acts—the first telling a story of undoing and rending, and the second telling a story of promise and renewal of life. In the first, we find rotting deadwood crying in agony of the fiery wind, while in the second, the wind sings in the rain which the ground receives joyfully, and the fragrance of expectant grace and mercy permeates the garden-to-be. Though in the first, the trees shake and convulse at the Maker’s purging of the ground, we see in the second that it is by the same hands that the seeds of salvation are sewn and put to rest in their proper place. This is our story as the Body of Christ—a story of both undoing and rending, and promise and renewal. Will we enter into the first part knowing that God will carry us through the second? Will we boldly rend our hearts knowing that God is faithful and does not destroy needlessly but purposefully for our long-term flourishing?
One of my favorite hymns is one by Henry Francis Lyte, Jesus I My Cross Have Taken. Therein is a verse which he prays the following:
“Go, then earthly fame and treasure,
Come disaster, scorn and pain,
In Thy service, pain is pleasure,
With Thy favor, loss is gain.”
My prayer for us, Church of the Redeemer, is that we would be so convinced of God’s grace and mercy that we would pray such prayers daily with all boldness and without fear. I pray that as we go through this time of rending, that we would not despair but hold fast the promise that God builds up what he makes low. I pray that we, brothers and sisters, in any season, would be a people quick to admit our faults, eager to ask forgiveness, and courageous to enter the death, hardship, and iniquity of ourselves and our brethren knowing that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever.