Commentary on “The Golem on Ash Wednesday”

Here’s the link you haven’t yet read the poem “The Golem on Ash Wednesday.”

Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite church days. There’s something about confessing that the wages of sin is death then spending a whole season reflecting on our mortality as caused by our sin. Like the legend of golem, who has his head marked with the Hebrew symbol of truth, we confess from dust we came and to dust we’ll return and have our heads marked with the cross of Christ. It’s a mourful time juxtaposed with the exciting motion in spring. As the gloom of winter fades away you can smell new life in the air. We move with nature and Easter Sunday is all the sweeter. We spend a whole season thinking about our brokeness and then on a surprising moring we wake up and, “Hallelujah! Christ is risen!” The wages of sin may be death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I’ve been writing “The Golem on Ash Wednesday” for three years now. I had one draft that I kept reworking that never quite captured the idea that God is the start and end of me, that any pride in my self-sufficiency is a joke. That draft always had these obtuse attempts at poetry and vague allusions to famous Bible characters, notably Adam, David, and Jesus. But, recently I did away with that middle section and decided to write about myself specifically. Or, at least, write about a made up version of myself. I’ve combined several events and locations to make for one moment in history.

True confession – I’ve never wandered drunk on whiskey around Elgin, Il alone at night. That would be stupid and dangerous. There’s a reason Craig, my cousin-in-law who is an officer of the law, calls Elgin: “The Dirty E.” This isn’t the place to discuss alcohol usage for the Christian,  maybe in the future, but I do abstain from getting drunk as the Bible commands us to. Anyways I have wandered sober around Elgin alone in the evening and my all time favorite bar is in downtown Elgin on Chicago Street.

The first and last stanza have direct allusions to Psalm 139.

I am the king of a kingdom of thimbles
I am the vulture of a far-off wilderness
I am an evening shadow and when

The first line is an absurdity I wrote in a short story a long, long time ago (I can still remember). A king in a kingdom of thimbles is a king of nothing. The other two lines in this section come from Psalm 102. The Amplified Bible which adds all the possible words that could be translated had the phrase “I am the melancholy pelican” which I thought was awesome, but ultimately decided was too

I’m looking forward to celebrating the glorious end of Lent. I’m excited to sing “Hosanna! Hosanna!” this coming Sunday, drink the wine and eat the bread on Thursday, repent of when I’ve cried, “Crucify Him!” on Friday, and realize the tomb is empty on Sunday. But it all starts on Ash Wednesday: “From dust I came, to dust I will return.”

Commentary on “The Golem on Ash Wednesday”

2 thoughts on “Commentary on “The Golem on Ash Wednesday”

  1. This really ties in with your message on Forgiveness last Sunday. If we are walking in the awareness of our own fallen humanity, how could we dare withhold forgiveness to anyone else?

    I really wish Tolkien hadn’t hijacked the word “Golem”. Practically no one will ever learn of the historical definition without first fighting off that wonderfully written character.


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