Face to Face
I wrote this poem many years ago. It is, I admit, perhaps a bit odd. But it was written out of the recognition that submitting to Christ and dying to self is hard - terribly hard. We see that very clearly in Romans 7, where Paul talks about the battle between flesh and spirit. So for all of us who have struggled or are struggling to die to self that we might live in Christ, I offer you this intimate view of the battleground - and of the hope we have in Jesus Christ, our Champion!
Four corners, set not far apart
the sides between twelve paces spanned
no single soul within did tread
and silence hung o'er every head.
The watchers clothed in brilliant white
to worship at the Champion's feet;
no person waited at my side
nor desired to my victory meet.
This battle, hand to hand I sought,
but knew the outcome sure within.
It was to lose I entered here;
the agony of death to bear.
The multitudes of pure in heart
some of spirit, some of flesh
in praise and adoration part
as enters in the Champion.
His body is of burnished bronze
and robed in perfect holiness
His strength of hand and righteous power
are Love's incarnate Godliness.
I know myself in human strength,
I know I cannot hope to win;
yet I will strive with You, my God,
until I am full cleansed from sin.
The saw that hangs low at my side
is blackened doubt and dogged pride
and hard is wrenched at my heart
to see His sword of purest white.
From cross the space where self would shed
its ugly skin, I raised my eye
condemned, I knew, and yet the sky
framed blue His head and His gaze I
could not meet for it killed my soul
to see the compassion and the toll
that scarred His brow and marked His hands
beneath the sheathes of bronze He wore;
and knowing my look He gently bore
them off his wrists and tendons led
from strength to bone, there pierced.
I, dry-mouthed and cringing, turned my head.
Silence. And I knew that heaven judged me
weighed my doubt and stripped my faith
to my bare hope from which I cried
to build anew a life to love
and serve the Champion.
"It is enough. You have come;
now we shall end this wandering."
His sword sheered forth and out
and inscribed with fire on its blade
were words I longed to kneel and read
now flashed a nova in my eyes
a brilliant arc to come to rest
tip gentle on the grassy ground.
His foot stepped in, crossed the line
that held my soul in doubt's confine,
and I stepped forth, heart suddenly calm
I knew I met Almighty God, omnipotent
and though I longed to drop my sword
I knew that dropping would not leave my ward,
but, broken by the Champion's hand,
it would shatter and I would stand.
A breath a lunge, the Champion strikes
as lightning shouts and leaps up high
and catches on my saw-toothed edge –
and yet I cry a smile touches at His lips
as scrapes His blade from off mine own
though sure His aim and strong His arm
He would not now complete the stroke.
So circled we, and His broad back
easy took the next attack
with a simple lifting of His arms
to bring the sword-blade up –
and sweep my blow from His pure chest.
Light the blows and sure the ringing
from our clashes on His side
His burden laughing, springing high,
my own dying but desperate I –
Quick! – half a step and deep His eyes
low His brow and struck me down
my sword broken as my will
and yet I rolled beneath His skill
as cast He off His weapon to
the waiting throng that ringed the edge
and flexed His hands to grasp my length
and bring me down to grass and rock –
He had known my broken pride.
Tendons seared beyond the strain
and His breath hot upon the air
as forced my twisting torso down
no games we played, not here, not now;
my back breaking, dust and sweat
to dust and dust, I cried against
His punishing arms – eyes tight, then wide,
I gulped a breath
and choked the grit of dirt and sob
then locked –
my salt-fed gaze on naked arms.
A scream wrenched out, desperate, high,
and I fought Him: both against and for;
dark glorious paradox, O son of man, I.
Faster than my final throes,
iron hard and adamant,
He grasped my head and forced it back
His knee found purchase on my chest,
my final twist tore at my skull
and bared my throat.
The wind touched me.
Brought coolness through my sweat.
Those waiting watched; some, eyes closed.
One knelt and gave it Him, head bowed.
My fingers drew trembling through the grass.
His eyes found mine; wordless, asked.
"Yes, Lord." Clear sight and ready.
The bar of sun held angled on the sky,
unwavering, awaited, steady.
He never released me; eased my cry.
Sword bloodied, and the vast of emptiness
sobbed my soul and I clung to Him:
tried, but too weak to reach.
He clasped my arm and held me close,
His murmurs my mouth cannot repeat.
Firm as rock against His side
He raised me up, and boundless wide
a shout of triumph split the plain,
praised as I with full refrain
His rightful place in His demesne –