Saturday, December 28, 2019

POEMS BETWEEN FEAR AND FAITH - Introduction

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(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet and still am. Getting my poetry published in more than homemade binders had been a dream for years. Health challenges and the rise of modern book-publishing technology merged to motivate me to make the effort. This is not my sixth book of poems published in paperback and Kindle editions.

I wanted to put the introductory essays for each collection on my blog. If you want to know what makes me tick, my poetry tells it better than a biography.

This "Introduction" and the concluding poem are from my first book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:

“Introduction” to
 Poems Between Fear and Faith

When compared in general, fear paralyzes, while faith motivates. Fear erodes; faith edifies. Fear drains emotional energy; faith re-charges our batteries. Fear can lead to despair; faith can encourage hope.

Such contrasts easily multiply, because the experience of these two different attitudes is part of the human condition. God created our potential of either fearful flight from or a faith-filled fight with various challenging situations. Both are familiar responses to encountering hostile circumstances.
These two opposing states of minds may not always fit into vice-or-virtue categories. Just as pain alerts us to health issues needing attention, so fear can warn of real dangers to avoid. At the same time, faith in a deception can also be dangerous. Acting on a false belief can even be lethal.

In other words, healthy fear can be good, and inaccurate faith can be bad, not based on how we react to something but on the reality behind the reaction. Faith and fear cannot turn whatever initiates them into authentic realities. But they can transform unreasonable worries and unfounded hopes into powerful, mind-controlling factors in the way we live life.

When approaching a narrow trail on a steep cliff, a hiker is wise to cross it with caution. The object of concern is the real possibility of a deadly fall into the ravine below. But if, on coming to a calm, ankle-deep stream, that same hiker is frantic at the possibility of stumbling and drowning while wading across, we would call his fear childish. Objectively, the narrow ledge is a real danger, but the far-fetched threat of the shallow stream is totally subjective.

Faith’s situations are similar but not as easily evaluated. Beliefs are not considered to be absolute knowledge. The hiker’s friend might have told him earlier to go right, when the trail divides. But if he finds a sign posted at the fork telling hikers to go left, he must make a critical decision. Will he believe his friend’s word or the authority of the sign? Both are appealing for his subjective trust, but one direction will be objectively right and the other objectively wrong.

Based on a modern denial of absolutes, there is no right or wrong. Progressive thinking’s popular motto is: “The way you choose for yourself is the right one.” Maintaining a loyal confidence in his friend’s mistaken directions might feel like the right choice, but that feeling will last only until the sun begins to set on him and his unattained destination.

As in these illustrations, subjective experiences of faith and fear can misguide us. Fears spawned from nonexistent dangers or groundless worries may be emotionally felt but are falsely trusted. Likewise, faith in fictitious information or unsound instruction may be deeply sincere but can steer us far off course, sometimes into disaster.

God offers a divine solution to our debilitating fears and disappointing faiths by divinely wedding fear and faith into a life-affirming union. These two opposites can join in a happy marriage, if we learn how “to have and to hold” both godly fear and holy faith, while avoiding their false counterparts.

Did you know that we use the muscle of faith, when we cry out against the perplexing pains and recurrent griefs in the human condition? Suffering arouses our inner being to look up to God and say, “This ought not to be so!” That’s a good first step in proper faith, as long as we await His reply. Anticipating our Creator’s answer is the second step, and an essential one for our faith’s ongoing growth and health.

In nature’s beauties, God’s voice whispers only hints. When His Spirit anointed on the lips of prophets, He gave directions in signs and metaphors. But when He assumed our very nature and became one of us, His love shouted to us in perfect clarity, “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls.” (Mat 11:28-29.)

By heeding those first two voices, a faith rooted in the soul’s authentic longings, will choose to walk in the light of that last invitation from God’s incarnate Son. It would be not only foolish to reject His offer but a real spiritual danger.

This is why Lady Wisdom in Prov 9:10 says, “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” Without godly fear, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” The human condition offers abundant clues that something has definitely gone wrong. To disregard God’s personal involvement in resolving what went wrong is to ask for even more trouble.

Those who believe that only this material world exists imagine that death will end all troublesome human concerns. But their chosen faith is based on ignorance of humanity’s real nature and future. Suddenly, one day, they’ll be shocked to find that they have survived death. If they lived their lives without a morally wholesome “fear of the LORD,” dying will leave them in a truly dangerous predicament.

Fortunately, life offers instruction about moral choices. Most grow up learning that both action and inaction can have painful consequences. People shirking moral responsibility often find their evil choices catching up with them in their lifetime. Death, instead of alleviating this possibility, insures that this catching up will be absolutely unavoidable.

The inevitability of death calls for a serious and sober response to God, yet many are prisoners of unconcern. Their false faith inspires false courage. But the afterlife will correct their unbelief. They will experience the same dread known by their deceiving captors, the demons who “also believe, and tremble,” (James 2:19). The only hope for unbelievers is a present one. During this earthly life, they must embrace a reverential fear and turn in faith to God with repentance [metanoia, a Greek word meaning “a change of mind”].

Although godly fear grows into an ever-deepening love for God, worldly dangers may nag believers with worry. As depicted by my optical-illusion painting on the front cover, such fear looks dark, when it invades the light of God’s promised care. Conversely, when surrounded by threatening darkness, true faith glows brighter. Some day, in Heaven, dark danger will flee away and faith will become sight. Obviously, we’re not there yet. But, while we await our eternal home, faith can live life fearlessly, if we maintain our awareness that the Lord of Heaven indwells our hearts.

As with my other poem books, some poems here have nothing to do with the title or this introduction. While I’m still on this whirling globe, worldly fears continue to vie for control over my heart and mind. Some of these poems were written to encourage myself and fellow-believers to keep a faithful, steady pace in our journey with Jesus. A few others were merely for comic relief along the way. You’ll find experiments with haiku and brevity, on both light and deep subjects. Walking life’s narrow path between fear and faith is serious business, but not morose. Faith can be lighthearted, especially when enjoying a good laugh at a silly fear.

My hope and prayer in sending forth these poems is that some of them will reach those still wavering in their faith, whether non-christians or straying believers, and help them make that wise decision to respond to Christ’s invitation, “Come unto me . . .”

David L. Hatton

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

 LETHAL GUESTS

As hungry, burrowing worms gnaw through,
destroying the plants from which they grew . . .

As rust reduces to soft red earth
the mighty iron that gave it birth . . .

As moths lay larvae in woolen wear
to ravage the threads that feed them there . . .

As ashes fall in a fiery flame
from the fueling wood from which it came . . .

So pride’s long reach for its haughty goal
consumes the life of its host, the soul.

                          — David L. Hatton, 2/20/2019
            (Poems Between Fear and Faith, © 2019)

For more single poems from this volume, visit my website's “Poetry Page.”

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #20 - “Christmas Presence”

This last poem for this blog posting series—written only 2 days after “Peace and Good Will” (see MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #19)—offers solutions to the relational difficulties that some may face at social or family gatherings during this season, even on Christmas Day itself...


CHRISTMAS PRESENCE

Don’t fail to give the gift
that no one else can bring.
If there’s a former rift,
Let love remove its sting:
    All grudges find release
    when bygones rest in peace.
Your joining in can lift
a broken tune to sing.

You may cause ice to melt,
if you are truly there.
No matter what life’s dealt,
Stay present with your care.
    Meet eye-to-eye, as planned—
    no smart-phone in your hand.
Your self’s uniquely felt,
when you remain aware.

As get-togethers mount
at Christmastime each year,
your heart can be a fount
to draw the thirsty near.
    The smiles and hugs you give
    must flow while people live.
So, make connections count
before they disappear.

— David L. Hatton, 12/09/2018

(this is in Poems Between Fear and Faith
for purchasing it, go to My Books 4 Sale)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #19 - “Peace and Goodwill”

This very short poem, written during Advent of the same year as “From Crèche to Cross” (see MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #18), is a brief expansion on the implications of the message announced by angels to the shepherds....


PEACE AND GOODWILL

Since Adam ate from off that tree,
Earth spins without tranquility.
No golden age of ancient Greece
Nor Pax Romana gave us peace.
The Son of God and Mary brought
The hope that midnight angels taught.

If you’d find peace from Heaven’s King,
Then join the song the angels sing:
“To God the highest glory be!”
That’s goodwill’s faithful melody!
All sinners, willing to believe,
Alone that Prince of Peace receive.

— David L. Hatton, 12/7/2018

(this is in Poems Between Fear and Faith
for purchasing it, go to My Books 4 Sale)

Monday, December 23, 2019

MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #18 - “From Crèche to Cross”

Next in chronological order, after  “Ever-Circling Years” (see MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #17), is a Christmas poem I wrote during the Lenten season, mixing themes from both Advent and Calvary....


FROM CRÈCHE TO CROSS

Amid the mishaps, plight and pain,
Or when grief’s prayer gets few replies,
Some doubt there lives a God above;
Some hearts despair of Heaven’s love,
As swollen eyes search silent skies
And stress besets their brow and brain.

Yet in this wayward world of woes,
From Virgin seed and Spirit breath
Was born a New Humanity,
To rescue us from vanity
And from the grasp of endless death:
The worst of dreaded human foes.

Before His Advent’s humble birth,
He caused the starry host to shine
And spread abroad the galaxies.
But then—His Father’s will to please—
The Son forsook His place divine
To don our flesh and dwell on Earth.

While on His trek from crèche to grave,
Christ showed our race the way to live.
Commending by compassion’s work
The labors some might loathe and shirk,
He shamed all hands too tight to give
By how He cared and what He gave.

He came to bless, not to condemn,
But was condemned for how He blessed.
Enduring ridicule and scorn
To win a world in sin forlorn,
He bids our weary souls to rest,
By choosing life filled up with Him.

Made blind from sin, misled to roam
Like faithless flocks, we wandered off
From Shepherd’s fold to danger’s loss.
It’s by His Incarnation’s Cross—
At which so many skeptics scoff—
That Jesus brings His lost sheep home.

— David L. Hatton, 2/10/2018

(this is in Poems Between Fear and Faith —
for purchasing it, go to My Books 4 Sale)

Sunday, December 22, 2019

MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #17 - “Ever-Circling Years”

For 5 years after “Gifts of the Magi” (see MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #16), I wrote no Christmas poems. But in the 6th year, after news of several deaths crowded our holiday season, this sonnet came to me....


EVER-CIRCLING YEARS

Our noisy table brood has slipped away,
This roof, its rules and rituals outgrown. . . .
Yet we still light the wreath that waits the Day,
Content to celebrate as two alone.

As Advent marks the end of every year,
So lately it has brought a final word
About dear friends who’ve quit their journey here,
Whose “Merry Christmas!” won’t again be heard.

Despair makes hope and peace seem overdue
Within this weary world, so worry-worn.
But Advent shines its starlight ever new
And welcomes love divine to be reborn.

Grace greets our griefs with Advent’s sacred call.
The wreath’s four candles? We’ll ignite them all!

— David L. Hatton, 12/11/2015

(this is in Poems Between Here and Beyond
for purchasing it, go to My Books 4 Sale)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #16 - “Gifts of the Magi”

Not all are ready for a “Christmas Eve Communion” (see MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #15), until they respond in faith as the Magi did, which is the prayerful goal of my chronologically next Christmas poem....


GIFTS OF THE MAGI

Three Spirit-drawn astrologers,
Sincere and sage philosophers,
Brought precious tokens from afar
To Him they found beneath the star:
Their frankincense, as to a Priest,
As to a King, gold from the East,
And myrrh to bless a Prophet’s tomb,
They gave this Son of Mary’s womb.

Such gifts as these might likely show
The path a common child might go
Through twists of time or whims of chance
Or Heaven-guided circumstance.
But just before they turned to part,
These Magi bowed, with head and heart,
To worship Him on bended knee,
As though this Son was Deity.

Today we know the claims He made
That matched the gifts the Magi laid
Before this Prophet, Priest and King.
But can you do that final thing?
Will you bow down before this One
And worship Him as God’s own Son?
These wise men did. They somehow knew.
Will their example speak to you?

— David L. Hatton, 4-30-2009

(this is in Poems Between Birth and Resurrection
for purchasing it, go to My Books 4 Sale)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #15 - “Christmas Eve Communion”

The therapeutic value of my previous poem “Wait for Christmas” (see MY POEMS OF CHRISTMAS #14) points to the relationship where the believer’s individual need is met—uniquely manifested at a very special Meal, which I observed the night before writing this poem....


CHRISTMAS EVE COMMUNION
(Gospel of John 6:54-56)

Last night I fed on Christmas in the broken bread and wine.
I tasted sacred nourishment that brought God’s life to mine.
With thoughts of Mary’s holy Child, by candlelight and songs,
I worshiped at the Table where all Adam’s race belongs.

I pondered how the sweetness of our Lord’s nativity
Should never be seen separate from His death upon the tree;
How God, wrapped up in human flesh, sojourned with human need,
How hands that sculpted human form could feel our pain and bleed;
How incarnation taught Him through life’s weariness and sweat;
How only after learning these, He chose to pay our debt.

Last night I fed on Christmas, and the strength I gained was real.
Our present peace and future hope draw meaning from that Meal.
Our banishment is ended; our empty lostness gone.
The Babe and Lamb of Bethlehem is Whom I feasted on.

— David L. Hatton, 12/25/2006

(this is in Poems Between Birth and Resurrection
for purchasing it, go to My Books 4 Sale)