Art | Poetry

Immanuel

A chiastic poem.

Meetings in the cool of the Garden,
…..torch and oven covenanting between the pieces,
……….One Who Sees a pregnant slave’s sufferings,
……………answerer of maternal questions,
………………..re-namer of returning brother,
…………………….comforting, guiding, protecting shepherd,
…………………………manna, fire, cloud, Torah.

……………………………..This God has
………………………………….always
……………………………..been with us.

…………………………Bread, Light, Door, Truth,
…………………….shepherd seeking one stray sheep,
………………..father welcoming lost sons home,
……………woman rejoicing over one found coin,
……….Word enfleshed in womb of woman,
…..fiery reformer, humble healer, homeless rabbi
meeting sorrow in a garden.

Notes:

This poem takes its shape from an analysis of Psalm 23. In Hebrew the focus of Psalm 23 is in the very center: “For you are with me.” There are exactly 26 words before and 26 words after this phrase. In my poem, there are 37 words before the central portion and 37 words after it.

That is because Psalm 23, like this poem, is arranged as a chiasm. Chiasms are common to Semitic literature and follow the format of an “X” (the Greek letter “chi”):
…..A
……….B
……………C
………………..D
……………C1
……….B1
…..A1
Here, A and A1, B and B1 are parallel in topic and so on. This draws attention to the main idea which always comes in the center (D). Chiasms are common in both poetry and prose throughout Scripture, including many of Jesus’s parables.

Go back and read the middle section first. Then, read the line directly above the middle and the line directly below the middle. Keep moving outwards, comparing lines in this way, and see what you notice!

The shepherd of the Luke 15 parable mirrors the shepherd of Psalm 23. The “prodigal son” welcome uses the same words as Esau falling on Jacob’s neck and kissing him welcome. A woman rejoices over a coin that was lost and is now found, like Rebecca and Hannah rejoicing over God’s words. Mary bearing Jesus parallels with Hagar and Ishmael. God shows up in the fire of a reformer who desires justice for the oppressed and in the fire of a torch that makes covenant with His friend Abraham. With the last line, I was thinking about Jesus meeting Mary (sorrow personified) in the garden post-resurrection.

You may notice a heavy emphasis on Jesus’ parables in Luke 15. All these stories end in repentance, except that sheep don’t repent and coins definitely can’t repent. What is Jesus getting at here?

The “restore” verb in Psalm 23 shares the same root as the verb “repent,” but in causative form. Chad Bird points out that we could equally well say, “He repents my soul.” Psalm 23 closes with, “Goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life”. The Hebrew word for follow, raphad, is usually used for chasing down enemies.

Henri Nouwen defines “repentance” as “acceptance of being found”. My poem begins and ends with God finding humans—Adam and Mary—and perhaps this is their “repentance”: being found by a God who chases them. Ultimately, we are with God and God is with us because He pursues us.

If you’re interested in more of the details that went into this poem, contact me at moc.liamg@relddifsardnek. I encourage you to try your own hand at weaving together Psalm 23 and the story of the two lost sons in Luke 15—there’s quite a lot to be found!


We’re delighted to feature Nicholas Mynheer’s art alongside Kendra Fiddler’s poem. Mynheer has featured once before in our pages and we encourage our readers to explore more of his work here.

  • Kendra Fiddler is from Oregon and is currently living in Ukraine while completing her MA in Abrahamic Studies through Dallas International University. She works as a freelance editor and proofreader. In addition to theology and poetry, her interests lie in languages, travel, and the arts.

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