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Habakkuk’s Prayer

after Habakkuk 3:2, 16-19; excerpts of the prophet’s
prayer as he awaited certain destruction
of his nation,
Judah, by the Babylonian armies (6th century BC).

My Yahweh God, I raise my prayer to you
I’ve heard of your renown, your fame.
I stand in awe of all that you can do.
In our own time please do the same:
In our time your fame you must renew;
Have mercy, when your wrath will flame!

My body shudders at the sound I hear
And lame lips quiver at the noise;
My bones decay as I convulse in fear
And footing falters, void of poise;
I must await impending fates come near:
Invading army that destroys!

Although the fig tree blossoms have resigned
And vineyards abnegate their yield,
The fruit of olive groves is undermined
Nor waits a harvest in the field,
A fold with flocks one can no longer find,
Nor herds the stalls once safely sealed.

Yet I shall find in Yahweh my delight;
I revel in my saving God!
My only master, Yahweh, is my might,
My feet, like deer-hooves, has he shod;
As cervids navigate a rugged height,
Secure on lofty crags I plod!

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The Patriot’s Prayer

The patriot’s prayer as he faces impending doom
of the United States of America from within, in the 21st
century AD.

My God, I raise my anxious plea to you.
Our founding fathers praised your name
With confidence in all that you could do.
In our own time please ease our shame.
In our time your renown you must renew;
Have mercy, ere your wrath would flame!

The deaths of slaughtered, unborn souls now haunt
Me as my soul in terror reels;
And those who govern and their minions flaunt
Ungodly power with Marxist heels
Upon our necks; Our honor has grown gaunt
Beneath their dense, despotic wheels.

Although the taxes soar and freedoms fall
And climate swindlers fling their dung;
Though books and news are subject to recall
With racist-charges like graffiti flung;
Though rivals of the Party—cancelled, all—
By fascist wasps are being stung;

Withal, I will extoll my savior God
And will of this republic sing;
It’s constitution I shall not defraud.
I pray that freedom yet shall ring,
Our founding may our citizens applaud,
And tyrants meet their reckoning!

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Jeff Kemper has been a biology teacher, biblical studies instructor, editor, and painting contractor. He lives in York County, Pennsylvania.


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13 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    Stunning, Jeff
    Among many memorable words, “our honor has grown gaunt” may be the most pointed.

    Reply
  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    Thank you so much, Jeff — these are really moving poems. The way you were able to stick so very closely to the text of Habakkuk, yet put it into this lovely-sounding 5/4 metric scheme, is very impressive! (Even using “cervid” for “deer” to keep to the rhythm, was clever — and you taught me a new word!) “My bones decay as I convulse in fear / And footing falters, void of poise;…” are my favorite lines in the first poem. In the second, I love “Ungodly power with Marxist heels / Upon our necks…” and “And climate swindlers fling their dung”. And the connection of the two poems with each other is sadly, poignantly true. Only God can save us. May tyrants meet their reckoning, indeed.

    Reply
    • Jeff Kemper

      Thank you for your kind words, Cynthia. I wish I could be certain that better times will come.

      Reply
  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Jeff, I cannot thank you enough for these much-needed poems in a world that has lost sight of the Truth – “our honor has grown gaunt” is a perfect poetic description of where we’re at right now. The poems work together beautifully to convey a much-needed message, a message that has touched my heart this morning.

    Reply
  4. Brian Yapko

    Jeff, these two poems work beautifully separately but they need to be kept together as a set. You have made some fascinating poetic choices which I admire. First, as Cynthia pointed out, you have the 5-4-5-4-5-4 meter which you use for both poems. You also have an a-b-a-b-a-b rhyme scheme which I’m particularly fond of. By linking the poems structurally this way you make it clear that this is an old and on-going story. The world faces imminent destruction — whether it’s now or 2500 years in the past — and the few prophets who have eyes to see properly invoke faith and trust in God. I particularly like your biblical first person voice in poem number one and I also like your repetition of the lines “In our own time…” and “In our time.” Well done!

    Reply
    • Jeff Kemper

      Thanks, Brian. In both cases the threat began with cultural/spiritual/moral decay from within, followed by its due reward, in the midst of which we can beg for God’s mercy.

      Reply
  5. David Watt

    Jeff, your message of cultural and spiritual decay, now and in ancient times, is eloquently stated through many incisive phrases. Those climate swindlers flinging their dung are succeeding in pushing up power prices, if nothing else.

    Reply
  6. Margaret Coats

    Just as Habakkuk from Israel managed (by God’s power) to have dinner and conversation with Daniel in Babylon, you put two poets together. I have the Habakkuk lines in a meditation book because of their beauty and strength; you make good use of them to give a solemn but upbeat tone to these two pieces.

    Reply
    • Jeff Kemper

      Thanks for your comments, Margaret. I wasn’t aware of the Habakkuk-Daniel tradition you referred to. I’m wondering, what is its origin?

      Reply

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