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Book review: “The Valley of Vision”

TheValleyOfVision

I rarely do this in a book review, but I give five stars to The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, by Arthur Bennett. A former pastor, Darryl Craft, introduced me to this amazing book of prayers when he quoted it in worship. I decided to buy a copy and spend this year slowly reading them in morning devotions.  

To say this is a popular, influential book is an understatement. First published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1975, it has been through numerous printings in the U.K. and USA. Collected and edited by British author Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision contains over 200 prayers of Puritans such as Richard Baxter, David Brainerd, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, and Charles Spurgeon (whom Bennett calls “the last of the Puritans”). However, Arthur does not identify the authors of the individual prayers. The prayers are grouped by sections under ten subjects such as the Trinity, redemption, penitence, and service. The final section are a collection of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week. These prayers use poetic rhythm and repetition to deliver a powerful emotional punch. For example, the prayer “Spiritus Sanctus” (p. 27) begins, “O Holy Spirit, as the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of thee…” Others use poetic imagery, as the prayer “Humility in Service” (p. 178), which includes the line, “O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood…”
Modern readers may find many of the prayers to be extremely self-deprecating and so full of humility that the reader appears too hard on himself. For example, “After Prayer” (p. 150), says, “Let me be as slow to forgive myself as thou art ready to forgive me.” I would question the spiritual healthiness of being slow to forgive oneself. Yet with that caution, modern culture has gone so far in the opposite direction, that most modern Christians could benefit from a healthy dose of feeling the heaviness of sin.
If you want to be inspired to pray with conviction, read this book, but read it slowly, to savor every morsel. Then read it again. That’s what I plan to do.

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Poem: “Awake in Bed”

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

Note: I wrote this poem originally as a teenager in 1975, but to this day, I continue to struggle with the same feeling that it expresses.

AwakeInBed

When I plop wearily into bed

Lights out at the end of the day

I suddenly begin to remember

All of the things I forgot to say

All of the things I forgot to do, too.

The simple reason for my every view

I remembered I had left unsaid

What later popped into my head.

These thoughts come slowly, like

the gradual approach of a far-off light.

And they always manage to come to me

in the midst of the night.

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Poem: “Pinned and Wriggling”

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

“I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.” – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

PrayJAlfredPrufrock

Oh! Beastly burdened groan

Piercing pain in my side

Blood dribbling from my mouth.

 

I shot the arrow and missed the mark

Boomerang cutting back at me

I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.

 

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

 

The incomprehensible creature comes

To pull our arrows out

But what will it be like?

I have grown accustomed to chopped flesh

No! I will keep my arrow

How else can I keep close contact with the wall?

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Poem: “Going Away”

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

MoonTreeRed leaves

falling

in the silver moonlight.

I saw your face

in the moon.

Descending

from the limb

drifting

through black-stained clouds

flat

onto the damp brown earth.

Easter light

chasing the moon.

Still

I know your silver rays

will return another hour.

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Poem: “Ballad of the Frustrated Sleeper”

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

NoSleepDaring to be deceased

I climb in and cover the top.

Ah, but early it is and foul

As animals are on the prowl.

 

A cat toys with my tomb

Trying to roll the stone away.

Go on! I’m not the Christ–

Nor is it the third day.

 

Hearing fades to seeming

Seeing fades to dreaming

Time rots and relaxes my body

Though anointing oil smells strong.

 

A skylark screaming outside

Loud enough to wake the dead.

A thunderbird thunders by

Joyfully jolting my head.

 

Resurrection is not my request.

From awareness I wish release.

Animals, go back to the zoo

And let me rest in peace!

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Poem: “Meditations Under a Tree”

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

SittingUnderTreeGentle brown leaves on the ground

Stout trees proud of tradition

Supported by eternal grass

Crisp cool wind caressing me.

 

Back against the oak

Tradition supports nicely

A squirrel darting by

The world races on

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The shotgun house on Desire Street

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

DesireStreet

Lillie Mae Lanier leaned on her wall

In her shotgun house on Desire Street.

Missing her husband, afraid of it all

In her shotgun house on Desire Street.

Her heart hurt, her head broke

Open the truth that she spoke

To her wall– as it wondered if it could stay still

When such painful emotions were written on the wall

In the shotgun house on Desire Street.

Katrina had come, Katrina had gone

To the shotgun house on Desire Street.

Waters had risen, families washed away

But Lillie Mae Lanier never wandered away

From the faith she had on Desire Street

Why? You may ask. Why lean on that wall

In your shotgun house on Desire Street?

Lillie Mae still leans day after day

In her shotgun house on Desire Street

For she knows the wall will never give way

And one day will take her heart far away

From her shotgun house on Desire Street.

When all that you have has melted away

And Monday’s food must last till Friday

You need a wall to lean on

You need a foundation to stand on

Lillie read the words written on her wall

That keeps her faith strong

That moves her along

She knows that one day He will take her away

And she’ll never again live on Desire Street.

For she’s a princess in hiding

And she’s waiting for her King

To smile on her heart on the day she departs

From her shotgun house on Desire Street.

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Juggling Sunday

Juggling Copyright by Bob Rogers

A hymnal in my left hand, a Bible in my right

Tossing a communion cup on a one-foot hop.

Cascading with a committee on Sunday night

Spinning a budget, now what will I drop?

 

A juice-stained Bible by my foot on the floor

Heart cut on the cup, fingers shut in the door

I thought diabolo was a juggler’s trick

But I ended up falling on the devil’s stick.

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The Closet of Mirrors

Mirrors

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

I was comfortable in a dark closet

Thinking dark thoughts

Doing dark deeds.

Then a brilliant burst of light revealed

That I’m in a closet of mirrors

I see my ugly, naked body everywhere

I cannot escape in any direction

Every wall is a mirror.

Outsiders can see me through the mirror

But I cannot see them

I wonder what they think and what they see

But I can only see me—

The one person I do not want to see.

I want to cover myself

But I have nothing.

I want to drive a nail through the mirror

But I have nothing.

I fall to my knees, curl into a tiny ball

Wailing, whining, whimpering.

Oh, God, kill me! I have nothing! I need you!

Ting…ping…ping…ting…

Softly a nail falls by my side, skipping on the glass

Then two…three…ten…fifty…a hundred…

Nails crash down, crack open

Cutting me — and covering me.

But now I have something

I have a covering—a covering of rusty nails.

And the mirror is broken at last.

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