The poem in question: Means To The End
About the time this poem was written, my family took a trip to Oregon, via motor home. I don’t recall if it was the primary purpose, but we visited some extended family there. We also drove through the redwood forest in northern California, where I bought some “happy rocks,” which are little tiny rocks with smiley faces drawn on them.
It was a long drive (I know approximately how long, given that last fall I made a similar drive with my wife and children), but it was nice to have a bit of room to move around in rather than just being crammed into our minivan. As I recall, the old LDS movie Saturday’s Warrior was watched over and over during the drive by my sisters, along with My Girl. I read some books, and I think wrote this poem during or shortly after the trip.
The reason the subject matter was on my mind, I think, is that a shortly before we left, our bishop stopped by for an impromptu interview regarding whether I should be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. In another six months I would be 19 years old and eligible to serve a mission for the LDS church. We had a brief discussion and the bishop told me he would consider things while our family was gone.
Throughout my life, I have often had a difficult time fully relating to things that I could not tangibly experience, though the written word helped me out a lot, in that it was both easy to ingest emotion and to filter out things I didn’t really want to experience. So one of the ways I tried to experience a deeper closeness to the Lord was to write about him from a fictional spectator’s point of view.
The title Means To The End is a mixed bag. It evokes the common phrase “the ends justify the means,” which does not generally carry positive connotations. I suppose I was trying to turn that around somehow. I’m not sure how appropriate it is, but I stand by it.
A man who has been traveling for a while sees Jesus ahead on the road, and looking for some walking company (but not necessarily anything else) speeds up a little to catch him. The first thing out of Jesus’ mouth is that He’d like to be friends. For me, that is the fundamental characteristic of Jesus. Regardless of all the other godly characteristics He may possess, the personal relationship is first and foremost.
The man is a little taken aback by this statement; I just met you and that’s the first thing you say to me? But he’s drawn in by a kind smile. He’s not a sucker; I like to think that when Jesus smiles, you just feel that good. Within just a short amount of time, Christ has been betrayed and is on trial. Despite not knowing Jesus personally for long, the man already knows “no horm could this man ever do.”
Then the scene switches to the Crucifixion. Despite the reworking (and somewhat recontextualizing) of the famous words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” I think the heart of the matter is actually in the middle of the last stanza:
I caught His gaze and saw the passion hidden deep within
And in that moment, He quelled all my fears.
Again, despite the overarching reach of Jesus to be a savior for everyone, the focus for this person is, well, personal. Even though this moment is terrible, he is individually reassured. And that’s what I think Jesus is all about. It is also in this final stanza that the capitalization of pronouns referring to Jesus commences. It’s at this moment of true, personal connection that he becomes Him.
Now, a few words about a different, apparently earlier version of the text. I have one that changes three lines. The first is inconsequential: the last line of the second stanza,”This man would serve them better dead” became “The man would serve them better dead.”
The second is also relatively of little note: near the end of the first stanza, “We set off again, and as we walked…” became “We walked again, and as we walked….” I think the final version flows better.
The third change is the most interesting to me. The lines
I scurried to catch up to him, and so he looked at me
And straightway said he’d like to be my friend.
I scurried to catch up to him, and so he looked at me
And told me that he’d like to be my friend.
The change to use of the word straightway was deliberate. The word is used several times in the King James Version of the New Testament, and I take its meaning to be that of suggesting immediacy. The reference I always connect with use of the word is Mark 1:18, where Jesus tells some of the apostles who are fishermen to follow Him, and “straightway they… followed him.” The use in my poem reinforces to me the priority of Jesus to establish a personal friendship with each of us.
Finally, two years later, while serving as a missionary in France, I used this poem as a basis for one I wrote in French to share with members of the Church there. I debated whether to give the text its own blog entry, but I think maybe it fits here. I am pretty proud of the job I did of translation, especially the use of the passé simple tense, which is generally reserved for literary or other written texts. It is not something generally learned in high school French class or as part of missionary language training (but is used in The Book of Mormon and the Bible), so I had to struggle to get it right.
Mon Plus Beau Cadeau
Je rencontrai un homme l’autre jour qui me dit de le suivre.
D’abord, je m’en méfiai, mais il sourit.
J’oubliai toute pensée que ce fût un homme méchant
et sus que par lui je serais nourri.
Il me parla des chose si simples, des choses si évidentes;
je crus que n’importe qui pouvait les faire.
Moi, je n’eus pas l’idée en tête qu’il pût être contredit,
mais, tristement, j’appris le contraire.
Il y en eut certains qui le haïrent, certains qui voulurent le trahir.
Sans preuve de culpabilité ils voulurent voir son sang versé.
Je savais, tout au fond de moi, qu’il n’avait enfreint aucune loi,
mais ils crièrent toujours plus fort: «Il faut que l’homme soit mis à mort!»
Il survécut une nuit d’enfer avant d’être même plus tourmenté.
Sans se dérober, il prit la coupe qui lui fut confiée.
Je regardai son agonie, monté sur sa croix,
versant mes larmes sur cet homme de bien.
Puis je vis la passion qui était dans son regard
et tout à coup, je ne craignis plus rien.
Ses lèvres s’ouvrirent et j’entendis les mots qu’il chuchota:
«Tu vois, O Père, combien j’aime ceux-ci.
Me voici, Fils Bien-Aimé, qui meurs pour tes enfants,
celui qui prie d’épargner ses brebis.»
Quel amour me remplit le cœur en entendant ces mots précieux:
il mourut pour que moi, je vive, en sa presence toujours aux cieux.
The rough English translation of the above text is:
My Most Beautiful Gift
I met a man the other day who told me to follow him.
I didn’t trust him at first, but he smiled.
I abandoned all thought that this was a wicked man
and knew that I would be nourished by him.
He spoke to me of things so simple, so obvious;
I thought anyone could do them.
I couldn’t imagine that he could be contradicted,
but, sadly, I learned otherwise.
There where certain people who hated him, who wanted to betray him.
Without proof of guilt they wanted to see his blood spilled.
I knew, deep down, that he had broken no law,
But they cried louder, “This man must be put to death!”
He survived a night of hell before being tormented even more.
Without shrinking away, he took the cup that was given him.
I watched his agony, mounted on his cross,
spilling my tears over this good man.
Then I saw the passion in his gaze
and suddenly I feared nothing.
His lips opened, and I heard the words he whispered:
“You see, O Father, how much I love these.
Behold me, Beloved Son, who dies for your children,
he who prays to spare his sheep.”
What love filled my heart in hearing these precious words;
he died that I might live in his presence forever in heaven.