As the Ruin Falls: A Poem for a Hot Mess

A bridge ruin

Are you a hot mess? A broken soul? Ruined and a wreck? Check, check, and check- all in the past two weeks, I’ve been. But there is a balm in Gilead. There is a poem for that, as your ruin falls. 

But I am not a poet and—if haiku and limericks are excepted—I do know it.

Still, poems bowl me over in ways most prose can’t. A good poem cools a hot mess and soothes a broken soul.  A great poem kindles my heart and nourishes my spirit. The best of poems have undertones that you can’t quite name on the first read-through. I turn the page and say, I don’t get it all the way. But the words are tantalizing, and I return. I know it is there.

It was there, like that the poem,  “As the Ruin Falls.”

As The Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I’m mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love- a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.
For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

—C.S. Lewis, Poems, Edited by Walter Hooper

It was to these words I returned this week, as my ruins fell.

Let us not love in word or talk. (A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek.)

Like a partly-pieced puzzle left on the dining room table, I kept returning to those lines, trying to make more pieces fit. But turn the lines as I might, this line, And everything you are was making,  would not conform to my prose-formed mind. Those words were an itch I couldn’t quite scratch, a word stuck on the tip of the tongue. I was deaf to its meter.

But I persisted. I kept going back to that poem until I could read that third stanza right.

I think it finally happened last night.

First, a word about stanzas one and two.  Because if we’re honest, we are here: fallen image-bearers, lost and ruined by the fall, all of us with pride-tainted, self-seeking, mix-motived love.  In our heart of hearts, we all know our flashy rhetoric about loving God—and his children too—sometimes feels like hollow, empty talk. A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek. 

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth, the beloved disciple wrote. Because words are cheap. Then, when friends correct us and break our rules or dare make us wait. Then our love-talk rings hollow. We see how much our love was all about us.

Yes, there is a gap.

I see the chasm. And everything you are was making…

Now enter the third stanza. The one with tricky line with you are was above. Those words threw me and kept me coming back to decode.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

I see the chasm. Everything you are-was making my heart-into a bridge-by which I might get back from exile, and grow man. That’s it in prose. The -‘s mark the pauses as I read. Read like this, I think I finally understand what Lewis meant.

I see God, the God I say we love, the God who is love over the chasm of my self-seeking, separating sin. And once I see Him, I am undone. Like Isaiah, I see my unclean lips. Lips that speak lightly of love. Flashy rhetoric.

My heart a bridge…And now the bridge is breaking

Do you see what so long eluded me?

That everything you are was making, is God’s mercy? That He is folding all of our hot-mess wrecks to build a bridge back to him? The sooner we see that the crumbling bridge is meant to loosen our grip on the things of earth, the fitter and more free for both heaven and earth we’ll be. We’ll see that the Great I AM- Lewis’ YOU ARE – our God, HE IS working all things together for our good. 

Those broken dreams, that cancer, those tests were a bridge he built (then broke) to bring us back to him.

We see the measures God would take- and everything you are was making our heart a bridge to get back– to cleanse and reclaim us sinners ruined by the fall. He would remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. 

I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

There is a hound of heaven.  There is  a Creator who reclaims his own lost and ruined by the fall from sin’s hard exile. Ruined sinners to reclaim is why Jesus Christ came. So yes to Mr. Tolkien: Everything sad will come untrue.  The Man of Sorrows makes all things new.

But denial of self and death to the flesh hurt. Ruin and pains come before everything sad comes untrue.

Pains more precious

Once we’re back to God, once our warfare is completed and we are reclaimed and remade new, we’re still this side of heaven. The bridge will break. In mercy,  He will shake us from the chains that bound us. And surgeries and getting old and broken dreams just might be the ruins falling.

But His love is in the crumbling ruin, too.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

The suffering that’s not worth comparing. The pain that builds in us a longing for a better place, where no moth and rust and thief destroy and where there is no crying or dying or heartache.

But we’ve got to be longing for that gain. We’ve got to be longing for his appearing and not looking back across the bridge to where the ruin fell.

Don’t Look Back at Your Ruin

Lot’s wife looked back. Remember her, Jesus said in Luke 17:32. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.  And in Luke 9:62 he warned, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

Saints look forward. Hebrews 11:15  says, If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.

So, no. Saints don’t look back. The faithful  recognize these pains- of dying to self and slaying pride- as a saint’s growing pains. And they welcome them as a mother welcomes a baby’s kicks in her once barren womb. It is Christ being  formed in you.

The ruin- even our ruin-must fall. As it falls, will we echo Saint Paul?

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

Will we come to the meek and humble one and bless him as your ruin falls?

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry ’til you’re better
You will never come at all.

-Joseph Hart

Flowers That Glide: Writing, Dying, & Pride

Flowers butterfly

Have you had it where words won’t come? When your heart hurt so much that it bled, but none of that precious ink would drain through your hand? Could it be that God designed dying seasons with your writing life or pride in mind?

Working, and Writing, in Secret

I’m guilty. I act as if worth is found in public, as if a thing is only of value if I publish or post. My motives for sharing* are not always right.

When I live like this, my faith is weak. When I live for the praise of man, my soul shrinks. I’m deaf to my Lord’s words. “He who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Jesus repeats that again and again (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18) to underscore the warning he gave the disciples in verse one.

What was the warning?

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Do we do our righteous deeds “to be seen by them,” or do “we make it our aim to please Him“?

It’s not a question of if we do the thing—the praying or fasting or giving, or the writing and creative working. Instead it’s a question of why. The biblical way is not that we make names for ourselves, but that we make God’s name great. Our creativity is derivative, or imitative, of God’s. Lest we forget these two truths, God may send his dear workers winter.

Enter “The Flower.” It is a splendid, seven-stanza poem by the 17th-century, English poet George Herbert. It has been a means of grace this week.

‘The Flower’

How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greenness? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an hour;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell,
We say amiss,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.
O that I once past changing were;
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at heav’n, growing and groning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-showre,
My sinnes and I joining together;
But while I grow to a straight line;
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

George Herbert has something to say to those in silent, dry seasons. He knows what it is to be dead to the world and to keep house unknown.

We are flowers in God’s garden that blossom and flourish, then wither and decline. Herbert has learned that whatever the season, God delights when we abide in Him. This is to glide.

And Now In Age I Bud Again

No matter our age, the poem pulsates in us who long to see our words and our work blossom and bear eternal fruit.

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light

Winter is past. Now in age, Herbert the wordsmith buds again. Writing and life and writing life return, refreshing like dew and and rain. George relishes versing.

So hope on, friends. Barren seasons and dry spells are not the end.

Far from it. Dying to self brings freedom and life. “Unless a grain of wheat dies,Jesus told Andrew and Philip, “it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.This death is as a seed “dies” when it is buried in the ground and germinates. Jesus would be crucified, buried, and burst forth—the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

But our hard, outer husk must be humbled down low before flower and fruit can appear. This might feel like the God’s frost, frown, and anger. But, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love (Lamentations 3:31-33). In fact, our dry spells and shrivel’d hearts sound an awful lot like Paul’s thorn.

The thorn was sent to keep Paul from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). Our barren time under ground keeps us from swelling, from becoming conceited, and forfeiting Paradise by pride. The Lord does hate pride (Proverbs 6:17-19, 8:13, 16:5).

Because He loves us and wants us to bide in his garden, God acts to kill our pride.

A Flower That Glides

This is not to say all dry seasons are sent by God strictly to banish pride. But it is to say that peace and joy come when we learn to glide.

Which brings us back to that exquisite last stanza. Herbert’s eyes are wide open to God’s severe mercy and uncomfortable grace.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

Now he sees his barren season as, get this, a wonder of God’s love. Because in the winter, in the heart’s shriveled, hidden season, he learned meekness and humility. He learned this gift to come down to where we ought to be.

Now the radiant poet knows that he is not his own. Nor are we.

We are not past changing. But we can be flowers that glide.

For behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
    the time of singing has come.

Song of Songs 2:11-12a

*To post or not to post? These 10 questions from Kevin DeYoung’s “Think Before You Post” have helped me decide.

I Am From: The Roots Of Me

Abigail, Age 2

I Am From

I am from
A hard-rock maple, leaves-in, dining room table
A rusty Ford Granada and Dad’s brassy menorah

I am from
A parsonage beside the red barn church
A little white goat barn and the huge console radio where the Sugar Creek Gang came

I am from
Vegetable field gardens
Whose open arms taught me there’s return on work and never to mind some dirt

I am from
Narnia and Little House on the Prairie
from
Harvey and Elaine and Hazel and Al

from
Hard-working, God-fearing, straight-talkers
from
Hay-baling, deep-thinking, goat-milking farmers

I am from
Football and hymn-sings after Thanksgiving dinner and fish and bread at Easter dawn

from
Dad’s creamy oatmeal and Mom’s squash pumpkin pies
from
Great-great grandpa’s flu-time raising to life
and from
Never knowing vivacious Grandma Joanne

I am from
Weeding rows and milking goats, from hiking country lanes, from a family who whips real cream in stainless steel and prays

And from always God with us.

From always knowing that. From God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Psalm 90:1-2

🥧 🎶 🌽 📖 🐐 👩‍🌾 ⛪️ 🌱 🦁

👉 Now it’s your turn. Where are you from?

Need help getting started? This site has a 👍 template to help you write your own “I Am From” poem. I’d 💗 to read it when it’s ✅ .

L-R: Harvey & Elaine, Abigail & Jim, Hazel & Al