Advent

I wrote this short acrostic poem last night with thoughts freshly stirred by the morning’s first-day-of-Advent worship service. Specifically, I had a melody sounding in my head as I wrote these lines—the tune to which a new Advent hymn has been set by my worship pastor, Matthew Westerholm. The new hymn is called “Tiny Infant, Meek and Holy,” and its tune is that of “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” This tune’s meter and voice guided my poem. Besides this melody, some of the concepts in the poem came from the new hymn, as well as from Pastor Jason’s sermon on Psalm 38 (“darkened eyes” corresponds to Psalm 38:10—”and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me”).

Advent
by Christina Faye Soukup

Answering dreams where sighs had only
Deadened hope and darkened eyes,
Visits now the infant holy,
Every pure heart’s longed-for prize.
Never fear, my soul, though slowly
The dawn comes, God satisfies.

Confidence (NPM #15)

Confidence
Inspired by Hebrews 10:19–39

Sanctified from insincere
Hearts and base conscience,
With a Priest who casts out fear,
We have confidence—
Confidence because of blood
Cleansing us from stain.

Don’t shrink back into the mud:
Knowledge held in vain—
Knowledge of His sacrifice,
Yet you count it vile;
Deeming it will not suffice,
You live as Gentile.

No, instead, trust Him who saith,
“It is finished”—Christ.
Cast yourself headlong in faith
On the Sacrificed;
Confidence will be sustained
By His promise true.

Draw near boldly; He ordained
Grace to come to you.
His own Spirit, full of grace,
Lives in you to show
That, “The just shall live by faith”
As in grace you grow.

Early Will I Seek You

“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.”
– Psalm 143:8

I couldn’t get back to sleep this morning. I had gotten up to use the bathroom (a regular routine at this point in my pregnancy), and on returning to bed, busy thoughts and a busy baby conspired together to keep me up while the faint light of early dawn became a “you-may-as-well-get-up” kind of light.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I’ve always struggled with setting aside the first part of my day to meet alone with God – to meditate on His Word and seek His presence in prayer. I’ve questioned many times whether or not it really matters when I do my devotions during the day, and of course, there is a sense in which it doesn’t matter. I don’t earn my acceptance with God by a daily routine; I receive it by trusting the work of Christ on my behalf. However, there is another sense in which it really does matter how I structure my day. Of itself, turning to the Bible and prayer first thing in the morning does not please God, for that activity can be done without accompanying faith. But, turning early to the means we have for knowledge of God and fellowship with Him can be the expression of a heart priority that greatly honors God. The expression itself can honor God as an act of faith. What’s more, not only can the act honor God, it can also be a means of further shaping the heart priorities of the one acting. Diligence in morning devotions can be a faithful preaching to yourself with your actions that every day, God is the most important reality in the universe, and that therefore, every day, seeking Him is the most important thing you can do.

Amidst my busy thoughts in bed this morning was the recollection of a poem I wrote over three years ago about turning early to God’s Word and abiding therein throughout the day. It was inspired by Psalm 1, which is about the “blessed” man who delights in and meditates on the law of the Lord day and night. Remembering that poem helped me resist the temptations to not turn first to my Bible reading when I ended up getting out of bed at 6:00am. It is a happy humbling when God uses His past grace in my life to provide me with grace for the present. And it’s my hope now that the poem blesses your heart as it has mine this Monday morning.

Blessed
by Christina Faye Soukup
(April, 2012)

When dawn, with “rose-red fingers,”*
arouses sleeping trees,
an evil whisper rises –
a traitor with a tease.

Our roots will look for water
and if we don’t act fast,
the whisper takes them to the well
they’ve drunk from in the past.

Flee quickly to the words of God
and quench your thirst therein!
For drink held in the scoffer’s cup
induces trees to sin.

How I love Your law, O Lord!
What comfort it provides!
What joy I find when in Your Word
my fears and doubts subside.

The sun is hot this afternoon
and leaves begin to curl
on trees who, hopeful, long to feel
their leaves and buds unfurl.

Stay yet longing – deeper plunge
your roots into the stream
of living water, fresh and cool –
of water wholly clean.

Abide therein and soon you’ll find
sweet fruit comes in its season.
But sweeter is the stream itself –
the trees who drink have reason…

…to love Your law, O Lord our God,
to in Your Word find rest,
as day by day we grow in strength
and live the life called “blessed.”

*a favorite phrase of Homer’s in The Odyssey

– Christina

Jesus Is Alive!

I just had to write a poem for Easter. Jesus’ triumph that resurrection Sunday over two thousand years ago secured my joy for eternity. May my soul ever rise in praise to Him!

Jesus Is Alive!

Calls the bird on feathered wing,
says the warmth of tender spring,
shouts the Church as choirs sing,
“Jesus is alive!”

Wakened now from deepest sleep,
bringing joy to friends who weep,
promises of God to keep,
Jesus is alive!

Firstborn hope of every race,
Brother to each child of grace,
freeing His from Death’s embrace,
Jesus is alive!

O, my soul, this glory hear,
little faith, no longer fear,
longing heart, see Love appear –
Jesus is alive!

– Christina

Help My Unbelief [Poem #4]

Here is a short poem-prayer for tonight. When doubts dim the eyes of my heart, I remember that the same Jesus who prayed for Peter, that his “faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32), prays for me. He is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

The beginning phrase of the poem, “I believe; Lord, help my unbelief!” is adapted from the lips of a father seeking healing from Jesus for his boy (see Mark 9). The man had qualified his request with a telling “if” (“if you can do anything…”), and Jesus had responded with rebuke. “‘If you can’!,” He quoted. “All things are possible for one who believes.” “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” I so often feel just like this man. I need rebuking, and I need help.

I believe;
Lord, help my unbelief!
I believe
Christ lives and pleads for me.

Oh wrestling soul, give up your fight –
surrender all to Him.
Forsake the darkness for the light
and walk by faith again.

Equilibrium [Poem #3]

I dream I walk a razor’s edge
of balancing between
extremes of gravest consequence
and phantom foes unseen.

I’m tripping and I cut myself –
my thoughts dart east and west.
My balance rod feels wobbly
and distant from my chest.

My sweaty hands, they twitch and grip
the center of the beam,
and quasi-equilibrium
returns within the dream.

“Relax, relax, and focus straight
ahead along the line,”
I tell myself and strain my eyes –
I’m searching for a sign.

“How will I balance in this dream
of freedom and of weight –
of joy and sorrow always linked,
of love affixed to hate?

Why is each step so treacherous
for both my heart and head?
Why are the options limitless
and yet my road a thread?

I’m called to peace and war at once;
I’m called to rest and work.
But where and how and with whom when?!”
And still the dangers lurk.

My tread is growing weak again,
my tired eyes despair,
when suddenly – “Look! See what comes
to meet my doubt-filled stare!

It comes – a sign!” It’s right before
my dim, short-sighted gaze;
there stands in front of me the Man
whose Name the ages praise.

His eyes assure my conscience as
His Spirit hears my plea.
He whispers, “Your obedience
is sure through faith in Me.

You’re walking on the razor’s edge
that God Himself has blessed.
That balance rod, it is His Word
you’re holding to your chest.

In peace be still, my child, and sleep –
you’ll persevering wake.
I’m Christ your Equilibrium
and I will ne’er forsake.”

The Lingering Fledgling (Part 2)

Writing is a contested thing. Some people say it helps the brain relax or organize. Others find it stressful or un-necessary. Ernest Hemingway said, “The writer must write what he has to say. Not speak it.” I am not that kind of writer, but I do find myself tending toward writing in the exercise of my mind and the expression of my heart.

So here we go with Fledgling Fear #2:

If my first reason for reluctance to begin this blog was the threat of becoming prideful, my second reason was the fear of coming off as prideful. Who am I, after all, to be publishing my thoughts? What are my credentials? If this were merely an online diary for friends, these questions aren’t important. But this blog is intended to be more than a subjective and personal account of my little world. Don’t get me wrong. It will (and must) be a more or less subjective account (I haven’t yet found a way not to see things from my vantage point). And, I hope that it will also be increasingly personal. But of my little world? I feel like singing with Belle from Beauty and the Beast, “I want much more than this provincial life!”

Douglas Wilson, a pastor and writer from Idaho, recently made the following remarks. “We are living in a time when to speak a sure word, based on what God has said, is thought to be arrogant.” On the other hand, “to shrug your shoulders and make your own doubts, your own skepticism, your own questions the center of the universe is thought to be humble.” Many blogs on the web today, even many Christian blogs, are nauseating slues of self-centeredness. As if everything were new under the sun, bloggers trumpet their “novel” thoughts and, more importantly it seems, themselves as novelties for considering such thoughts. I pray this blog will be decidedly different. I pray it will be a happy source of sure words – words that are rooted in Scripture and typed in sincere, brotherly love. Sure words will doubtless sound high-handed to some (I can assure you they will not often, if ever, be novel), but in my own experience, it has been the sure, old word that brings sweet conviction and leads to life. I want this blog to serve and bless you, the reader, and this is the best way I know how.

Of course, by “sure words,” I do not mean that I intend to post only about things I think I understand completely (this would be a very empty blog in that case). I mean that I want to shy away from fruitless questionings and speculations that leave you (and me) without solid food for thought and a God-ward trajectory.

I begin my sophomore year at Bethlehem College (BCS) in less than 7 hours. I will be devoting much of my time over these next months to reading some of the most prominent thinkers in history. Some were godless, some were saints. All (except the prominent thinker, Jesus) were sinners like me. I’ve found there is much to learn from sinners.

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” – John of Salisbury

I know I am not a giant. I stand on the shoulders of great men like Plato and Augustine (whom I’m reading at BCS) and my Papa (whom I’ve “read” since infancy). These men have helped equip me to think and speak and write.

And yet, though these men have equipped me, they have not compelled me to write about so “much more than this provincial life.” For this, I have read and am still reading the Bible, where I am told what I was made for.

“Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!'” – Isaiah 40:9

The Lingering Fledgling (Part 1)

“‘Extra, extra!’ My dear friends, I submit to you the fledgling project my tedious mind’s eye has watched lose its fuzz for pin-feathers and linger in the nest. Yes, this feels overdue in many ways…”

Welcome to [From the Inkwell]. At last. I’ve decided to start by sharing a little more about my reluctance to push this “fledgling” out of the nest. But first, what exactly is this project? To cut to the chase (and you can expect more on this later), Christ is my only hope in everything I do. Not only is He my only hope for this blog being anything worth reading, He is my ultimate hope for bothering to write at all. I earnestly desire to gain more of Christ for myself and for you, reader, through taking the time to think and write clearly, truthfully, and beautifully.

As far as I can tell, my wariness to begin a blog of this nature was rooted in two fears. I’ll tackle the first one in this post and write about the second in “The Lingering Fledgling (Part 2)” another day. So, here is Fledgling Fear #1: I am afraid of that incapacitating strain of pride commonly known as “perfectionism.”

Frankly, my inborn perfectionism will threaten the fruitfulness of my time spent writing here. People have told me that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” I usually need to hear this; I know what they are driving at. But surely there are clearer ways of talking about “the perfect…”

Once upon a time I strove for perfection, not caring what it cost me. Then I despaired, learning that the cost of “the perfect” would always be beyond what I could muster to pay. Whoever thinks he is perfect has yet to feel the warmth of the sun on his proud brow. Then, I rejoiced, for I learned that “the Perfect” has come and has paid what it costs to be found in me. And now, being found in Him, I strive for Perfection, not caring what it costs me.

For me, overcoming the fear of perfectionism often starts with simply remembering that pride (the root of perfectionism) is a universal heart disease, with its only cure the gospel. Perfectionism is not a neutral “personality type.” My fears related to perfectionism, whether I realize it or not, are always due to something gone sour in my relationship with God. I fear when I am not trusting Jesus and resting in the fullness of the gospel.

Dear Soul: God is perfect, and  you are made in His image for fellowship with Him. Your first parents set the course of drastic deviation from the perfection God originally created. In your pride, you are dead-set on recovering the lost ground on your own. Wake up! You are delusional. You have forgotten God’s promise that in the day Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, they would surely die. Fool! Instead of trusting God’s word, you continue to believe Satan’s primal garden lie. “You, my charming friend, will be like God.”

Self-exalting perfectionism. Oh, what a morbid enemy of the soul!

Back to the lingering fledgling. For years I have known, correctly, that pride is a miserable companion. However, to avoid its suffocating presence, I have sometimes gone to confused extremes. I love to write. Thanks to Mom, I started keeping a journal in kindergarten, and ever since, I have scribbled ideas for essays, novels, poems and songs. Fiction, non-fiction; words for adults, words for children. I’m better at some of it, but I like all of it. Some of my scribblings have become completed works. The feeling of having written a complete piece (and yes, I am the one who defines “complete,” until my critics take over, of course) – this is one of the best feelings in the world. I am so thankful for the creativity and determination God has inspired in my mind and heart over the years. I don’t want to neglect to say this here, because I’m going to say something rather discouraging next. I am easily smitten with my own work. More to the point, I am easily smitten with “Christina, the writer.” I mean sinfully smitten, of course.

Many times over the past several years when I would begin to write about something, the nausea of pride would loom in my consciousness and appear to me as the inescapable outcome of continuing. It was probably a correct premonition at times, but instead of focussing my attention on fighting the darkness in my heart with prayer and the truth of the gospel, I would usually just stop writing. How silly, and how sad! Think about it. Joy perishes in the heart long before a joyless pen can bear joyless words. Words, after all, are the overflow of the heart, and the threat of pride (and its attendant misery) is as present for the human heart today as it was in the Garden of Eden. Laying aside the pen brought me no hope, let alone victory and joy. Only Christ brings my heart hope and the strengthening vision to fight for joy in Him.

I really hope you enjoy [From the Inkwell], dear reader. I’m looking forward to writing on many things, LORD-willing. There are so many deep and wide truths to think on and affirm, over and over and from different angles. There are, as well, so many sweet and whimsical truths to weave into minds and hearts with words as choice as the finest honey. I pray that through this blog, where writing features, you may yet know “Christina, follower of Christ” far better and more fondly than you know “Christina, the writer.”

With thankfulness on this sunny Monday,

Christina Faye Hall

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalm 30:11-12