September 7, 2011


Posted in Obedience at 10:55 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

What have I to offer You
Who send me out to tell your story?
Though I’m your child, the load of sin
Bears down more than the weight of glory.

Bruised and broken by the Fall,
By wicked world, by my own sin.
Blurred image of your majesty,
I rise to serve, yet fall again.

But You, with lovingkindness vast,
Seek out your child so lost and spent
To heal me with your blessed Word,
Renew me with Your sacrament.

Now broken like the spikenard flask,
I die to rise as incense sweet.
Deriving worth from You alone,
I fall, but this time at Your feet.

And so dismissed (Thanks be to God),
I turn to face the weary world
To seek the lost for whom you died,
To offer them the priceless Pearl.

But what have they to offer You?
They daily spurn your love and grace.
The mirror crack’d, the image marred,
The best of them hides from Your face.

You answer gently, “Child, they have
As much as you to offer Me.
Not for the righteous did I die.
I came so that the blind might see.

For Nineveh and Israel
Alike are filled with sin and doubt.”
What would you have us do, O Lord?
“Seek them as you have been sought out.”

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

The inspiration for this poem is primarily Scriptural, as its sentiments and references look back at Jonah. A somewhat imperfect prophet, Jonah was quite willing to receive mercy for Israelites like himself but thought it best for God to treat the rest of the world with unmitigated justice. And isn’t that selfishness imbedded in each of us, if we are perfectly honest? I am convinced that it was one of the reasons our Lord included in His model prayer a petition for us to be forgiven as we forgive. It is not our nature to be merciful. It is, however, as our prayer book so eloquently states it, God’s “property always to have mercy.” When we catch that vision, however, of our duty to serve Christ by loving others, we become like the spikenard flask, sacrificing all we have for His glory. (For more on spikenard, see the previous two posts.)

The other inspiration for the poem, as seen in the term “weight of glory” (which originates in 2 Corinthians 4:17) is from C.S. Lewis’ book of the same name. This quote in particular caught my eye:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. —C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. (New York: Macmillan), 1980, pp. 18-19

Students of literature will also notice the reference to Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” in the phrase “the mirror crack’d.” The poem and the Arthurian story on which it is based have always fascinated me. Like Eve, the Lady of Shalott did what was forbidden and was cursed for it. Finding her dead, Sir Lancelot pronounces, “God in his mercy lend her grace.” As we encounter those who are dead in trespasses and sins, may we do the same.

About the title: I came from a tradition that was always talking about a “worldview.” My point here is that what is really called a worldview is actually more about the condition of one’s own heart than anything else, and so it would be a better exercise to expose our hearts. I thought it was time to turn the tables on the “Weltanschauung” crowd. (Can you tell I don’t put much stock in philosophy?)

The first version of this poem was completed on 10 March 2002, at a time in my life when I was struggling with how to serve God adequately. The poem has gone through many iterations, and for a time was pared down to include nothing but the second through fourth verses. There is an alternate final line that I discarded because it sounds entirely too flippant (a recurring problem with me, I’m afraid). The intent was not flippant, however, as it was my answer to a mindless outlook that has been attributed to Christianity. Here was the version I discarded: “Tell all, and let Me sort them out.” You will easily surmise the concept I was trying to negate.

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