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.”

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