Tuesday, December 9, 2014

POEMS BETWEEN BIRTH AND RESURRECTION - Introduction

Signed copy can be purchased through Tictail
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I 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. Now all five of my poem books are 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 fourth book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Heaven and Hell;
Poems Between Darkness and Light;
Poems Between Death and Life;
Poems Between Here and Beyond.)


“Introduction” to
Poems Between Birth and Resurrection

My life journey has brought me delightful discoveries, all of them best described in their relationship to love and truth. Loving brings joy, whether through sending a check to a worthy cause, putting extra care into someone’s body-work massage, or holding my wife in an affectionate embrace. Joy rises especially strong when a sudden burst of love for God overflows in silent, verbal, or poetic praise. But love’s nature is fully experienced only when fully reciprocated. I find the same joy in loving as in being loved and appreciated, whether by my wife, family, Christian friends, hospital co-workers, or grateful new parents I’ve helped with newborns. Love returns to us in sincere “thank you” notes, in spontaneous hugs, in a silent presence at times of grief. The God of love has prescribed equally mixed proportions of loving and being loved as the divine epoxy glue that binds human hearts together. He ordains this mutually reciprocating love to characterize our journey from the womb to the tomb. It’s our calling during this present life and for the eternal glory beyond it.

In a similar way, love itself must be tempered with truth, and vice versa. As loving draws us closer to the God of love, so discovering and embracing truth draws us closer to the God of truth. Truth liberates love from the dysfunctional rut of sentimental lies. Love emancipates truth from the chains of stifling legalisms. The wedding of love and truth gives birth both to an abundant life and to an authentic lifestyle.

Two special theological truths make the Christian Gospel the most alive and human-friendly faith in existence. One is the Incarnation. God, our Creator, “became flesh to dwell among us.” He was born into this world as a real human being to teach us, as our Master; to die for us, as our Redeemer; and to restore us and the rest of creation, as our Deliverer. The other human-friendly truth is the Resurrection. This same incarnate God-Man was physically raised from death to be the body-spirit Mediator and priestly Ruler of all worlds, cosmic and celestial. His bodily resurrection is the guarantee of our own, for which the whole “creation waits in eager expectation” (Romans 8:19-23). In His own physically resurrected human body, God—as King of the universe—will forever lead the rest of redeemed and resurrected humanity in ruling over the whole material and spiritual creation. Nothing is more human-friendly than these two truths: in His Incarnation, Jesus is Savior; in His Resurrection, Jesus is Lord.

In my journey of digging out rich gems from these two deep mines of doctrinal truth, I’ve had to grapple with some human-unfriendly attitudes toward the material world, and toward our physical bodies in particular, which seem firmly embedded in the popular “Christian” view of earthly life. This first happened in my job as an RN, when my frank view of unclad female bodies didn’t arouse in me the immoral, lustful thoughts that all my life had been faithfully preached to me as inevitable. Many years of experiencing this discrepancy between religious teaching and realized truth led to intense research about the phenomenon of human nakedness, not just by a careful review of Scripture, but by a laborious investigation of various historical, aesthetic, and psycho-social disciplines. The resulting fruits of this educational pursuit was nothing less than a major paradigm shift in my thinking. That bold intellectual endeavor helped me see the heretical Gnostic influences behind the “body shame” issues in the typical modern church. It led me full circle, back to the awesome implications for human destiny in those two doctrines, Christ’s Incarnation and His Resurrection.

Some people do personal journaling. I do poetic journeying. My poetry often records personal experiences of love and truth during my earthly sojourn. The title of this fourth book of my poetry, Poems Between Birth and Resurrection, describes the source of many of the themes in my poetry since the turn of the century. Much in the world has changed, especially in this last decade, and much has changed in me. A poet’s poems cannot help being autobiographical, but I’ve always wished mine to be prophetic, in the sense of proclaiming truth that corrects and reforms.

Contemplating the truths of the incarnate birth and resurrection of God’s Son have brought my theological thinking “down to earth,” where it belongs. I’ve gained a new awareness of humanity’s original, God-given responsibilities as body-spirit beings, and of our duty to recognize the God-pronounced goodness of this physical world, even while it still groans under sin’s curse. These twin doctrines have dramatically changed my attitude toward the wholesomeness of the human body, with or without man-made, fig-leaf dress.

This shift in attitude toward human embodiment led me into taking art classes, learning massage therapy, and trying to practice natural ways of health maintenance. These involvements, overflowing into my poetry, reveal the direction and depth of this conceptual shift. If I sometimes sound radical and startling, it’s on purpose. Shocking minds to alertness is often the only effective prelude to dislodging long-believed lies and sacred half-truths. If the surprising reality about the human body hadn’t jolted me awake, I couldn’t share some of these poems. I felt consciously called to write them, and now feel relieved of a prophetic burden in publishing them. Through them, I hope my readers can experience an epiphany similar to what gave them birth.

God bless your journey between birth and resurrection! May these poems inspire your life as they have mine. Don’t miss any of your life’s mission in the here-and-now by an otherworldly focus on the hereafter. God intends our eternal life in Christ to be lived out with overflowing abundance in these “fearfully and wonderfully made” earthen vessels from the cradle to the grave, and beyond.

— David L. Hatton

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

GOD’S NAKED LAMB


When Jesus died stark naked on the Tree
Prescribed by Roman minds for cruelty,
Shrewd Pilate had his will against the hoard
Who pushed his hand to crucify our Lord.
Above Christ’s head he made the placard stay
That said, “Here dies the King of Jews today.”

Stripped to the skin of every Jewish thread,
His body, bare, had one thing left they read
That marked His place distinctly by the sign
Of promise in the Abrahamic line:
That tender cut received eight days from birth
To seal God’s vow of blessing all the earth.

But we, who like to cover up His loins,
Forgetting how He went for thirty coins
The way nude slaves did in the marketplace,
We blush to look, so miss the glow of grace
That shines from His exposed humanity
To light salvation’s path to sanity.

The unclad body of our Lord displayed
That God took up the very flesh He made
To show by sacrifice without His robe
That every human tribe around the globe
Was purchased in a body like their own.
We see this in God’s naked Lamb alone.

— David L. Hatton, 2/14/2008
(Poems Between Birth and Resurrection,  © 2013)

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

POEMS BETWEEN DEATH AND LIFE - Introduction

Signed copy may be purchased through Tictail
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I 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. Now all five of my poem books are 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 third book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Heaven and Hell;
Poems Between Darkness and Light;
Poems Between Birth and Resurrection;
Poems Between Here and Beyond.)


“Introduction” to
Poems Between Death and Life

Death is something we have to live with, but that does not stop us from trying to ignore it. We hide it from ourselves by sweeping its inevitability under the carpet of busy schedules and daily routines. When its alien countenance creeps up to stare us in the face, we cringe. When its foreign hand grips someone we love, we are devastated. Death’s approach captures our full attention. Its arrival gives birth to the powerful, heart-rending emotion of grief. It awakens us to the reality of our human condition, brought about in the Garden, when our first parents embraced death’s mother: sin. Yet, failing to stay alert to death, or neglecting to live with it properly, can set us up inadvertently to fail at life.

A common exhortation to spiritual seekers woven into the mystical writings of monks in the Orthodox tradition is this: “Meditate on the day of your death.” You might protest, “How morbid! How depressing!” But there is deep wisdom in such a practice. Those who frequently recall the brevity of life, and the uncertainty of its limit, are more apt to place proper value on every minute of time that God grants them. A daily recollection of death’s certainty can emancipate us from squandering precious hours in trivial pursuits. Intentionally remembering that one day, any day, we will die, helps to keep us on the pathway of freedom from a thoughtless, aimless dissipation of life. Also, regular meditation on departing from this life motivates our sober preparation to face God as Judge of how we have lived our earthly lives. We all must, and will, have our “day in court” with our Maker. Death is a reminder that, sooner or later, we will definitely keep that appointment.

But while it may be helpful in spurring us on in life, death is still our enemy. We were created for life, not death. The whole tenor of Scripture sets the two in opposition: death to be avoided, life to be sought (Deuteronomy 30:19). Not only did death enter God’s creation as a foreign power, but somehow, perhaps through some spiritual transaction in the nature of the Fall, its power was seized by the malicious hands of another foreign foe of humanity. That enemy, Satan, held Adam’s race in bondage through the “fear of death”, until the Author of Life gave His life to destroy “him who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus Christ became for us both the Way out of death and the Way into life. God invaded our death-ridden planet, incarnating Himself to live in our skin, so that Life could challenge death to a duel. Augustine wrote, “The Immortal One took on mortality to die for us and by His death to destroy ours.” It was the only way: God’s Life for our death, so that His death and resurrection life could bring new birth to Adam’s death-bound race.

While living with death and growing toward dying, we should live faithfully. Much of Christian faith is anchored in a sure future with God, when death shall be no more. But right now, we still have dusty feet, walking on trails of dust to which our bodies, these vehicles for our souls, will return. The contrast is stark: we burst into this world screaming with vitality and promise, but approach our earthly exit with progressive decay and a concluding moan. So, a legitimate earthly faith must hold these two realities in tension, not denying or trifling with death, but neither allowing it to spoil life. Let’s not slip back into the bondage of fearing death, while remembering its reality. Let death remind us to live real life and to flee the lethal trap of a sinful lifestyle. Carelessness with life is not truly living at all.

For years, as an emergency room nurse, I often watched death at work. Presently, as an obstetric nurse, I often watch the advent of new life. As a part-time pastor, I am called to assist people spiritually on their journey between those two realities. As a poet, I have tried to share my thoughts and feelings “between death and life.” And so, like my other two books of poetry, this one also bears the title, “Poems Between . . .” Not everything in this book is of a spiritual nature. Some of these poems are from my teen years and exhibit my early poetic experiments in structure and style. Others merely reflect feelings of gladness or sadness that I wanted to capture in poetry. But most of what I’ve compiled here is from the past six years and reflects my own personal journey between life and death.

My deepest desire in writing poetry is to promote the gift of divine life offered to us through God’s Son. Karl Barth wrote, “Already in this life the wise person lives beyond death. Already here and now we may begin to live eternally.” If I help introduce life in Christ or nurture it in my readers, I will count my work successful. In particular, I hope you see why I place “death” first, before “life” in my title. Historically, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” before we were “alive in Christ.” Spiritually, we enter the abundant life in Christ only by submitting to and experiencing death to self. This is a choice Jesus holds before any would-be disciple in His words, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” Somewhere between birth and death, we must embrace this self-denying “death” in order to live out “new birth” in its fullness. Somewhere in our journey, we must grasp and apply what Christ meant in saying, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25, NIV) That loss, difficult as it might seem, is nearly insignificant in comparison to the treasure of divine life in Christ, both for the rest of our earthly journey and for all eternity beyond.

David L. Hatton

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

CAUGHT BY LOVE

Love of God, You awesome Seeker,
Searching for our straying heart,
Gaining speed as we grow weaker,
Closing in to end the chase.
Love of God, You ardent Hunter,
Waiting for our will’s head start;
Watching, till our path grows bleaker,
Then begins Your steady race.

“Let me go!” screams out the quarry,
“Let go; let Me!” the Hunter calls.
So persists God’s passion-story;
Stubborn Love has set the pace.
“Let me go, You ardent Hunter!”
But we fail to see the walls
Limiting our flight from glory,
As we run from Love’s embrace.

Slamming into such protection,
Stopped and spared from suicide,
We are trapped by God’s affection,
Forced to hear Love face to Face.
“Let go; let Me!” repeats the Hunter,
“Let Me heal the wounds you hide:
First, your sins; then hurts . . . rejection . . . .
Let Me bathe them in My grace.”

Caught by Love’s intent pursuing,
Captured for eternal bliss,
Fools we were to flee the wooing
Our retreat could not erase.
Let go; let God, the loving Hunter
Catch your hand and plant His kiss.
Our escape was our undoing;
His arrest, our resting-place.

— David L. Hatton, 8/15/1998
(Poems Between Death and Life,  © 1999, 2014)

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

POEMS BETWEEN DARKNESS AND LIGHT - Introduction

Signed copy may be purchased through Tictail
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I 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. Now all five of my poem books are 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 second book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Heaven and Hell;
Poems Between Death and Life;
Poems Between Birth and Resurrection;
Poems Between Here and Beyond.)

“Introduction” to
Poems Between Darkness and Light

Everyone appreciates sleep, and along with it, the darkness of night. For those like myself, who work at night and sleep in the day, closing the eyelids is not sufficient for escaping light. Most of us also darken the room for sleeping. Yet upon waking, if we found neither sunlight nor lamplight to dispel the darkness, we would panic. Darkness is fine for the inactivity of sleep, but for the business of living, we need light. All people, even the blind who have learned to see with their ears and hands, want to know what is going on around them, who is present nearby, which direction is clear to walk in. Whatever lies in the darkness or in the unknown becomes apparent with light or with enlightenment.

Many people have poisoned themselves by taking medications in the dark. False assumptions can be dangerous. I remember one of my nursing instructors insisting on our doing “under-cover rounds” for all our patient assessments. It meant to pull back the covers, lift up the gowns and examine bare bodies. Merely presuming that all was well could result in negligent care. At first, I felt uncomfortable crossing a stranger’s normal boundaries of privacy to gather the physical facts. But as a seasoned nurse, I would now feel uncomfortable and even delinquent in not doing so.

Sufficient light banishes both doubt and inaccurate conjecture. It endows us with the priceless knowledge of reality. After all, we want the truth, don’t we? Without the light of truth, the world of humanity is dysfunctional and abusive. Purposeful lies, sly half-truths, ignorant falsehoods, or whatever else wields the power to mislead thought and action: these are the central agents of disintegration in a friendship, a home, a nation, a world. Although the gift of imagination is magnificent, we fail at life if we live in a world of dreams which are never brought into reality by our planning, prayer, and personal sweat.

In keeping with the thematic title of my first book, Poems Between Heaven and Hell, I have entitled this one Poems Between Darkness and Light. On earth we are in the midst of a tension between the forces of good and evil, between the holy influence of Heaven and the damning incitements of Hell. There is such complexity in life’s mixtures of good and evil, so many shades of darkness, so much filtering of light’s intensity, that ultimate choices become confusing. Humanity’s common plight in this world of thick mist and shadow is a lost sense of direction and destiny. At the core of our muddled thinking is a divided heart. We were created for and crave unity with our Maker, yet, at the same time, try to avoid Him. Perhaps our sleep has become too precious. We fear a God whose light obliterates the comfort of dreamy pillows and the secrecy of thick blankets. But our only legitimate fear is that of not fearing, not heeding, not obeying such a loving God whose commitment to truth causes Him to call us to, and insist upon, the same commitment.

The God who is love is also light. Light is not subtle or complex, but simply pure and revealing. If the God of light hides Himself at all, it is for our own preservation. In our inner selves, we often house such a turbulent amalgamation of good and evil, truth and error, light and darkness, that His fully directed focus, like the blast of a high-powered laser beam, would blow us away in an instant. In His love and kindness, God bestows little glimpses of truth here and there during the course of our lives in order to turn us away from the darkness of selfishness toward the light of holiness and love. But often this slow process is only to prepare us for an essential “crisis” experience where a sudden pouring in of His light catches us off guard, exposing our true situation and our danger. At such moments, the choice is clear. We either turn back willfully toward the deceptive comfort of our darkness or enter a new, bright journey on the highway of God’s will. At such a crossroad, choosing not to choose is by default to sink back into the darkness, which may not only be costly, but even damning.

This book has been compiled without categorical or chronological arrangement. As in my first book, I have included some older poems, along with others which do not necessarily follow this introductory theme. Some of them are merely poetic experimentation. But for the most part, the poetry in this volume captures my insights on the human condition, in which light and darkness are so intertwined. I have tried to embody in poetry a message that exposes the blind spots that prevent our world from recognizing the truth. In these areas especially, I pray that my poems succeed in pointing readers away from darkness and toward the light. Where I have included poems of a personal nature, whether humorous, sentimental, or descriptive of life experience and observation, I hope they do not detract from the central theme of this introduction.

As a Christian, I am not ashamed to state my absolute confidence in God’s Word, the Bible, as His guiding light for our lives in this world of shadows. Many of these poems express my longing for closer union with God, and I hope they engender that same desire in all who read them. Above all, I want my readers to know that God’s invitation is open to everyone for a new life in His Son, Jesus Christ. This God of love and light waits for all of us to come to Him, and the nearer, the better—the closer, the brighter.

— David L. Hatton

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

THE PERFECT POEM

When a poet is a prophet,
When the singing strikes and stings
At the shifting social conscience
Modern foolish thinking brings,
We’re reminded of the Poem
From God’s lips of love sublime:
Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate,
Perfect rhythm, perfect rhyme.

God spoke nature into being:
Beasts and rivers, rocks and hills,
Trees and sunsets, stars and seasons,
Human passions, human wills . . .
Then, because we failed to listen,
God in perfect harmony,
With Himself the Song and Music,
Sang to us His Melody.

Passions twisted and perverted
By our wills that went astray
Wander blindly through a wasteland
That we know so well today.
But God’s law still speaks within us
By true guilt when we are wrong,
And true grace will only greet us
At the singing of His Song.

There is hope for our confusion—
Dissonance from sins we sung.
Hear the rhapsody of passion
On the cross where Jesus hung:
Perfect words for perfect healing,
Peace throughout eternity
In the chorus choir of Heaven,
If we choose God’s Poetry.

— David L. Hatton, 5/19/92
(Poems Between Darkness and Light,  © 1994, 2014)

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