A) In Cinnamon and Myrrh and Parthian Wine I-IV, what is the theme each of the poems have in common?
Since Cinnamon and Myrrh is an allegory for the love God bears for us, what does the writer portray as more important, the trade goods of caravans, the whisperings of fame uttered by oracles in the ancient world, the wars of expansion by kings, or the quiet love that is demonstrated by God for us day after day? How does this relate to our quest for recognition or material things in our world today?
In the series Parthian Wine, Parthia is what the Romans called the Persians whom they regarded as decadent. When we face a crisis, we may fear the loss of goods in our material world. We may fear to lose luxuries we are accustomed to, or worse, we may fear even death. What does Cinnamon and Myrrh and Parthian Wine reveal about the way God upholds us throughout our lives? Does he promise us something that dwarfs our investment in the stock market? Exactly what is it that is promised to us by God? Examine the ending couplet of Cinnamon and Myrrh and Parthian Wine IV. What do they each have in common?
In the poems, can you see how the author wants your heart to dwell on spiritual matters, on God’s great love, and on the treasure of eternal life with God that Jesus sacrificed himself to offer? "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," Luke 12:34. In a time of trouble, remember that temples may fall but God’s columns remain sunk deep into the foundation of your heart. You can never be parted from the promises and the Holy Spirit of God. These just aren’t the promises of wealth and power that rulers of the time may wave as flags of the world.
B) In the poem Be Not Far Away, reliance on God as the comforter of all our sorrows is the underlying theme. What does it mean in a time of trouble to turn to God?
How does the author relay their grief? What kind of sorrow might prompt such grief in your own life? Can you give examples of times you’ve felt troubled by cares? And what troubles you now?
What kind of promises does God make who holds the “whirlwind in his hand” and yet gives of his glory to all who seek him? Look to the poem, The Rose. The ending couplet is as follows:
“Greater than dusk and the fluttering moth, behold the Rose,
As brighter than the Northern Star its flower grows.”
What does this couplet mean and how does it bear on our current times?
The Rose is also an allegorical poem that contrasts evil with good, Satan’s reign with that of Jesus. Doesn’t God promise us that he will be vindicated? That he will overcome evil and vanquish it once and for all? Because, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” John 1:5. In a time of chaos and fear, no matter what our situation, God promises us that he will reign unopposed. And we know what that reign will look like one day, with justice, love, mercy, and compassion; with the unity and redemption of mankind, with no more tears; with joy in God’s presence once again on earth today and always. In what way can we take these promises to heart and manifest them for ourselves and others in our daily life, especially when we experience fear and grief in difficult times?
Look at the ending couplet of the poem Noah and the Dove which asserts,
“From chaos see how beauty springs:
The dove above the water sings.”
So in the darkest hours of our deepest fears, God stands with us, ready to bring good out of evil, ready to comfort, and ready to sustain our hearts if we turn to him and seek only his love.
Perhaps on days when goods are scarce and death stalks our halls, we are reminded that all life relies on the Lord and that our control over our days is as fleeting and tenuous as blooming of flowers. We are reminded of how we really depend on God and how much we really need him. May we remember this when material goods once again overwhelm our lives and dollars prop up our bank accounts. In days of health, may we remember his admonition to share what we have with those who don’t, with those who experience the tenuousness of life not just in a crisis but on a daily basis. For in that we have love, in that we serve our God who came to not to rule but to serve us with his death on a cross.
Cinnamon and Myrrh, a study of the poem
Cinnamon and Myrrh is a love poem in which the beloved is compared to things of fleeting glory. In the poem, the loved one is portrayed as that which will abide. Beyond the reign of kings, beyond their wars, beyond the authority of an ancient classical priestess or a sibyl, is a love that holds fast and never falters. Stronger than the columned halls of sanctuaries and longer enduring than the trade routes of the Silk Road is a love that is impermeable to time and its finely woven grains of sand.
But isn’t that how a great romantic love always feels for us? Don’t we acknowledge and endlessly celebrate the passion of romance? In our culture, we write popular songs about it and maybe even tend its fires a little too closely in movies. Perhaps it appears as if romantic love is the one true thing in the world or (if we admit it) as if our soul mate is the only functioning padding or filling that will satisfy a sort of broken emptiness within us? And yet theologians have told us that we have a God shaped hole in our hearts that can only be filled by the Divine. So that while we continue to seek only mortal, temporal love our soul remains unfulfilled and it may long for something else unspoken and in vain. In despair, we might find fault with our partner or curse our occupation.
However, if we place our search for love in the hands of God, we may just find a source of joy that can bring us the sort of peace we desire, the sort of love that never fails us, that never gives up on or abandons us. Romantic love is rightly cherished but it doesn’t have the final say on who we are as individuals or even couples. Romantic love sells movie tickets but it doesn’t necessarily offer us the final, once in a lifetime, ultimate truth. Only God can wake our soul up to a love that transcends time, the universe, and even physical reality. And thus, this traditional love poem Cinnamon and Myrrh is also an allegory for the love of God.
Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold, spices in great quantity, and precious stones. There never again came such abundance of spices as the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. 1 Kings 10:10
Also take for yourself quality spices—five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane. Exodus 30:23
For the ancient Israelites, a shekel was a common name for units of weight to measure a commodity such as grain. By the time of Christ’s birth in 6-4 BC, a shekel referred to a pure silver coin that was minted in Phoenicia and used for the Temple tax in Jerusalem because of the purity of its metal. One half a shekel was the head price a man paid to the Temple each year. Scholars have suggested that the “thirty pieces of silver” that stole Christ’s life were thirty shekels. By contrast, a prutah (a small Jewish copper coin) would buy a pomegranate in the market place. Or you could pick a pomegranate in a field for absolutely nothing.
In the Roman Empire, by 77-79 AD, a pound of cinnamon cost up to 300 denarii (a standard Roman coin, also made of silver). By contrast, under the Edict of Maximum Prices issued by the Roman emperor Diocletian (in 301 AD), a barber charged a man two denarii communis for a haircut. A denarii communis was a portion of a denarii (perhaps 20 cents to a dollar), used for easy exchange in currency. The following prices are abbreviated to denarii, from denarii communis, as is the custom with scholars. But remember, these denarii are only a small portion of the standard coin, in their way like a penny to a dime.
So, to illustrate, a carpenter made 50 denarii a day while a farm laborer, with food, was paid 25 denarii. One could purchase about ¾ of a pound of beef for eight denarii or that much in chicken for 60 denarii (but really, most Romans ate pork). A pint of spiced wine cost 24 denarii or a more reasonably priced beer could be bought for four denarii. An egg was cheap at one denarii. In these examples, we can see how the importation of foreign spices was out of the price range for most of the Roman farm or laboring classes, who would have to save up to 120 denarii for just for one pair of boots. Just to show how much other luxury goods might cost, purple silk (used only at the direction of an emperor) cost up to 150,000 denarii for close to a pound of fabric.
In the poem, how does the high price of cinnamon and myrrh relate to Christ’s sacrifice of himself for our sake alone? What is worth more: the love with which our God cherishes us or the possession of many goods that confer status, comfort, and ease? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21): Where is your treasure, in luxury items, in status, or in God? It may surprise us that spices were presented as great a gift as gold to exceptional people, like the baby Jesus by the three Wise Men. In order to see how the richness of spice was used and portrayed in ancient times read Psalm 45:8 or the Song of Solomon 4:13, 14.
To see how wealth can be perverted, read the example of spices portrayed as morally corrupt indicators in Proverbs 7, especially in verse 17. The extraordinary gift of love that is Christ Jesus allows for the spread of spiritual treasure to everyday, ordinary people (the Gentiles), as well as to the ancient Israellites, so that in this love we’re all as wealthy as kings. While we may not be able to afford all the spices or luxuries of this world, each one of us is rich in God’s great love. What do you think is the “spark of art” that allowed for God’s love to be inscribed within our veins? Could we say that it's the Holy Spirit that makes us rich in God's love throughout our days?
Other Studies of Poems will follow in time.
Susan Weiner is preparing herself to begin work on writing for prison ministry in her home state of Maryland. She hopes to be of use and to bring a little light into the darkness where there is so much suffering and perhaps an overt engagement with evil. She hopes that in the future, the harvest will be large.