On a Disappointing Mid-November Snowfall

The year’s first snow should look more like the flakes
In snowglobes or in Hallmark’s Christmas flicks
Than this, a dingy slop of wet sleet thick
With slush and gross with leaves that lie unraked
Throughout the yard. Their tannins stain the snow
Like yellow piss. We’ll have to wait a few 
More weeks — a month, perhaps — before the truly
Picturesque snow falls. It will, I know,
Because it always has before. And when
It does, the lamppost in our yard will stretch
Its charming beams like fingers out to catch
And hold each gently falling snowflake. Then
The snow (at last, a faultless wintry sight!)
Will blanket all, like Christ our sins, in white.

An Unexpected Specter

for Becca

There are no graveyards here that want a ghost,
No clapboard churches crowning far-off hills
Whose stones like granite corn rows stretch almost
To where a slate-cold sky meets soil and chills
Our blood with thoughts of Pilgrim bones laid down
Beneath the frost line, safe from fall’s last fell
And skittish breath, which blows before it browning
Autumn leaves to heap in grave-like dells
Where wait old ghosts on crisp New England nights.
No, here belong no poltergeists to spy
And startle from our peace with sudden frights
We weary, footsore souls who wander by.

Here, instead, spring-turned-summer’s splendent rays
(As far removed from cold Atlantic glooms
As south from north) have long lit tranquil days
Where wildflowers — butter-yellow blooms,
Or lupine blue, like bonnets — dot vast plains
Still somehow green despite the noontime heat.
Those wisps might later swell with evening rains
To water prairie grasses, long like wheat,
But now they simply scuff the sky, too thin
To dim this bright and lively plein air scene,
A canvas brushed by youthful nature in
Acrylic hues, each masterstroke pristine.

Yet even here, beneath the shadeless sun’s
Benevolent and gently warming face,
The headless Hessian’s stallion sometimes runs.
Its sudden gallop spooks and puts to chase
Scared choirs of startled songbirds from their trees.
Then, its withered visage grimaced, tight-drawn,
An unexpected specter stoops to seize
With grasping, grapnel hands — and then it’s gone.
The steadfast sun still shines unfazed, still bright,
While we, who half-recall the birdsong, grieve
To hear the fading wingbeats of their flight,
The skittish scratch of browning autumn leaves.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)

Bless’d are the dead who die in the Lord,
Theirs is true peace, now, Christ their reward.
Those who are his their inheritance gain:
Rest from all labor, hardship, and pain.

Those left behind bear sorrow and grief,
Theirs is the mournful cry for relief.
Real is the pain, though there’s comfort in this:
God brings his own to heavenly bliss.

Paradise waits for those found in Christ,
Bread and fine wine for feasting unpriced,
Tree bending low with its dozens of fruit,
Waters of life to wet every root.

God for their daylight; Christ for their king.
Saints ’round his throne incessantly sing.
Christ for their ransom; forgiveness for sin.
God for their father; Christ for their kin.

Tears have no place there, sadness no more,
Grace for the weary, balm for the sore.
God will himself kneel to lift every chin,
Peace poured on all, all gladness within.

Ever immortal, ever with breath,
Never again to taste second death,
Sheltered forever from famine and sword,
Bless’d are the dead who die in the Lord.

© 2019 Josh Bishop

What joy will greet us in that place

What joy will greet us in that place
When we with unveiled stare
See in our savior’s ageless face
Our glory mirrored there

What joy! when we, no longer slaves
To flesh and sin and death
Exchange this Egypt’s burning rays
For Canaan’s endless rest

What joy! when sorrows sting no more
What joy! when death has died
What joy! in every loss restored
In tears no longer cried

What joy! when we, the Bride of Christ
Made splendid by his love
Are clothed in festal, spotless white
And seated high above

What joy! to join with saints around
A sea of glass aflame
What joy! when praises loud resound
To glorify his name

What joy! to drink the waters deep
That from God’s temple flow
What joy! to eat from Eden’s tree
What joy! to fully know

We’ve pallid joy while yet we grieve
And toil and long on earth
Impatient waiting to receive
True joy from death — then birth

Lord, bring us safe to Zion’s shore
And grant to us at last
This joy that lives forevermore
What joy! that will not pass

© 2019 Josh Bishop

A revised version of this hymn will be published in a forthcoming hymnal by Cardiphonia Music. © 2019 Cardiphonia Music

Santa Wants Beer and Tobacco

I wrote this poem as a Christmas song to convince my kids that Santa would rather have beer and tobacco than cookies and milk. Just needs some music, is all.

—–

A cold Christmas Eve with a warm moonlit glow
A quiet night soft with the fresh-fallen snow
Inside, out of reach from the cold winter air
Santa’s stuffing the stockings with care

The kids left a glass and a plate piled high
But Santa just pulls on his beard with a sigh
It’s a been a long night, still there’s hours to go
And he’d rather have beer and tobacco

CHORUS
Oh, milk is okay if you don’t drive a sleigh
But a cold ale would warm Santa’s toes
And cookies are fine if you’re staying inside
But a corncob would thaw Santa’s nose

Rudolph got oats from the neighbor next door
And Santa’s already had cookies galore
The last thing he wants is an after-school snack
O, give Santa some beer and tobacco

CHORUS

His pipe can’t be packed full of ready-rubbed holly
And milk won’t make anyone’s cheeks red or jolly
Kids, put down the chocolate chip cookies this year
Please leave Santa tobacco and beer

CHORUS

Santa’s eyes never twinkle so bright as they do
When he’s half a bowl in while he’s sipping a brew
Eat the cookies yourself, kids, I promise I know
Santa really wants beer and tobacco

© 2018 Josh Bishop

Coram Deo (Before the Face of God)

Whatever good I aim to do,
Whatever evil I have done,
My honor small, my virtues few,
My sins and failures — every one —
Are lived before the face of God.
We live before the face of God.

Although it’s calm and comforting
To rest beneath God’s watchful care,
It’s still a rightly fright’ning thing
To bear in sin his wrathful stare.
We can’t escape the gaze of God.
We live before the face of God.

In this they both were glorified,
As there before the Father’s eyes
The righteous Son was crucified.
Look, you, with long-lamenting cries
And see the bloodied face of God.
See there the suff’ring face of God.

I cannot earn what Christ has done,
His sacrifice was gift for me.
Now sighting me God sees his son
And leaves my sins on Calvary.
All this is only grace from God.
We glorify this grace of God.

So when our given time has passed,
When soul and body come apart,
When at the end we breathe our last,
All those who lived in Christ take heart:
You’ll die before the face of God.
We’ll die before the face of God.

But joy will greet us with the dawn,
When, from the tomb as from our beds,
We wake to see that night has gone.
Then lifting from the grave our heads,
We’ll rise before the face of God.
We’ll rise to see the face of God.

There clothed in Christ, our sins washed white,
We’ll sing to him loud songs of praise.
To God all glory, pow’r, and might,
The King of Kings, Ancient of Days.
We’ll finally face the face of God.
All stand to praise this grace of God.

© 2019 Josh Bishop

This hymn will be published in a forthcoming hymnal by Cardiphonia Music.
© 2019 Cardiphonia Music

Lord’s Day, July 5, 1891

Adapted from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon

It is righteous, this pleasure in natural things:
In these star-speckled heavens – sky-scattered delights! –
In these meadows, pale garnished with daisies and kingcups;
In seas, where beasts creep from deeps darker than night’s
Vasty pitch; in these woods, sounding round as with wing
Beats swift minstrels mark time and, mid-carol, take flight.

They are madmen who marvel the mountains and say
Of their chisel-chipped peaks – here brushed light, there daubed dark –
“No, I see here no God,” though the Maker’s mark’s made
In pinched clay. There is something of him in this art.
Only look: Lift your eyes from that beauty-blind way
To rejoice – echo: “Good” – as God praised from the start.

O what gladness – what joy! – in the craft of his hands.
Hear our Christ in the hills – how he thundering raves!
Hear him whisper his hush at the sea’s pebbled strand,
Where his cadence sings soft in the sun-stippled waves.
When admiring these works of our Father we stand
All the nearer, among them, to him. If we say,

Then, that bulbs’ goblets gold, filled with sunlight in spring,
Speak of life newly waking from winter-wrapped rest –
How much more must the sight of a man new-born bring
News of goodness and grace? How much more should a breast
Choked with thorns, once – once withered with sin’s leeching sting –
Give us joy when revived by Christ’s cross-borne caress?

How much more than the buds of the silver-leafed birch
Bursting new should those walking, once-dead, now proclaim:
“Let this slum-become-temple, this whorehouse-turned-church –
This old life dawning new like the darkness turned day –
Spur your praise!” Though there’s joy to be found when we search
Shore and brake, glory’s more in creation remade.

© 2015 Josh Bishop

This poem was published by The Rabbit Room in August 2015.