From the Shepherd’s Nook: John Frye

Our Friday column, From the Shepherd’s Nook, is by John Frye, a Covenant pastor in Grand Rapids.

On Loving God

I have a good friend, Mary Dailey Brown, who served as a missionary in Spain along with her husband, Doug. Mary did an original translation of a poem by St. Teresa of Avila. The poem expresses passionate devotion to God. The theme of the poem is Teresa’s love for God, yet expressed in such a way that it causes us to pause and ponder. In pastoral ministry, love for God can get easily lost in the busy shuffle of things to do, places to go, people to serve. Wisdom slows us down so we may reflect. Do not merely read St. Teresa’s sonnet; let it wash deep into your being.



St. Teresa of Jesus, Avila, Spain

16th century (translated by M. D. Brown)

That you have promised me heaven

does not move me, my God, to love you.

Neither does hell so fearful

move me not to offend you.

You move me, Lord.

It moves me to see you

nailed to a cross and mocked;

It moves me to see your sufferings

and your death.

It moves me in the end,

your love,

and in some way,

even if there were no heaven,

I would still love you,

and even if there were no hell,

I would still fear you.

You don’t have to give me anything

so that I may love you,

because even if what I hoped for wasn’t there,

the same way that I love you,

I would love you still.

Eugene H. Peterson writes, “Poetry is language used with intensity. … Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us. Poets use words to drag us into reality itself…” (from Psalms: Prayers of the Heart). I find that writing poetry (as an amateur) forces me to slow down, to creatively work through the options of countless words on the hunt for the good one, perhaps, even the precise one. Poetry is a labor of love. Attempting to write poems can keep pastors focused. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks. A poet answers, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

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  • Mark Stevens

    I wish poetry moved me. Peterson speaks so lovingly of it but most of it goes over my head, or maybe around my heart. Not sure which.

  • Tim Atwater

    Thanks for this poem John. Teresa rocks.

    (she also was known to play castanets and dance for God… like David, also a seriously good poet, dancer, and passionate about God… )

    i too can have difficulty reading poetry but often it gets less difficult read aloud.

    saying the psalms outloud (as many as i can from memory) is probably the closest i get to regular practice of poetry…

    but sometimes the psalms regroup and respeak and maybe this too
    may speak his praise…


  • Brandon Bishop

    I echo Marks comment. This poem is beautiful and moving, but so much other poetry passes me by. Any recommendations of poets that would help us exercise our feeble poetry-comprehending minds?

  • John Duffy

    Read Delmore Schwartz’s “The Heavy Bear who Goes with Me”. Perhaps the most powerful description of what scripture calls “the flesh” ever written, and by a non-Christian drug addict.

  • MatthewS

    I’m not great at appreciating poetry either, though I appreciate the value of it more and more.

    Technical and scholarly writing is a tool box with labels, handles, and compartments; a place for everything and everything in its place. Poetry is like a jazz band that uses tools as instruments: I am at once intrigued that they are using the tools in ways I never would have imagined, and sometimes I’m so unsure of the tune being played that it gives me a headache.

    Of course, once in a while it clicks and time stands still. But I’m usually fighting the urge to speed read through it to see what happens.

    Maybe we need to have some poetry appreciation posts…

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Just this morning the Psalm reading for the day was Psalm 51, where David confesses before God for his sin with Bathsheba and murder of her husband. Beautiful language, but in the end it left me less than satisfied with David’s attitude toward those he hurt and killed. His confession to God that “Against you and you only, have I sinned.”
    OTOH, the OT reading was from Jeremiah 17: 5-10

    “This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who trust in mortals, who depend on flesh for their strength and whose hearts turn away from the LORD. 6 They will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 7 “But blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” 9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10 “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward everyone according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

    I wondered yet again at the words of the prophets, cast often in ways that seem to be literally irreducible to propositional statements. “They will be like a bush in the wastelands…They will dwell in the parched places of a desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” That opposed to “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

    I fear that we become ever more citified, we lose the soul of images like these such that poetry itself is weakened.

    Randy Gabrielse

  • Tim Atwater

    John (4) you might try the poetry part of Journey With Jesus (blog site, Daniel Clarenden) posts something, often several, each week

    i often like oldies like Robert Frost and (quite differently) WH Auden… Dan Clarenden helped alert me to Gerard Manley Hopkins, v postmodern back in the 1800s, and Eugene Peterson helped me rediscover Emily Dickenson…

    the current Christianity Today has a good profile of Christian Wiman…
    i can usually only read a little at a time but like the psalms
    often the payback is eventually
    way beyond initial expectations…