This past week at Trinity CRC, Pastor Henry spoke from Ephesians 2 about how Jesus is the center of the Biblical story and desires to be the center of our life stories, too. The apostle Paul has a great line in this text – “We are God’s handiwork.” Retired CRC pastor Dale Vander Veen reminded me of how Paul’s words get even more powerful when you hear them as the first listeners to Paul’s letter heard them. Dale wrote this meditation last year and graciously welcomed me to share it here.
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Authors and speakers often explain that “We are his handiwork” can be translated, actually transliterated (letter by letter), as “We are his poem,” noting that the Greek word is poiema. Checking numerous translations, I never saw “poem” used. I found God’s workmanship, masterpiece, creation, accomplishment, work of art, product of his hand. Frequently the noun is rendered as a verb, i.e., “God made us what we are.”
I still like “We are his poem” because I admire the time and effort that poets expend in their creative process. William Cowper (1731-1800), best known for “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” and “Oh, for a Closer Walk with God,” wrote,
There is a pleasure in poetic pains
which only poets know.
My favorite poems are found in the Scriptures and the hymnal. Even those who have little affection for poems find solace and joy in the psalms. And hymns with the music removed become delightful poems. Some hymns have sprung spontaneously from the mind and pen of their composers. Many more have been written with great labor. The “poetic pain” behind Cowper’s hymns and many of the psalms was not the pain of finding the right word, but the pain of excruciating experiences.
Exactly what is a poem? Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) wrote,
Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet’s job.
That is a pretty good description of God’s poetic work. He took me, a commonplace, and began the long task of cleaning, polishing, and lighting me. When eternity reveals his finished product, I will have all the youth, freshness, originality, and spontaneity of Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) wrote,
In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all.
God loves me with all his capacity to love anything at all, and so he is making me one of his poems. Amazing!
“A good poem is a contribution to reality.
The world is never the same
once a good poem has been added to it.
A good poem helps to change the shape
and significance of the universe.”
– Dylan Thomas, “On Poetry”
…With the prayer that today, as one of God’s good poems, you will make a contribution to his world through the works he has prepared in advance for you to do.