MEDFORD — The people Jesus met were sometimes famous, often not. Some were people of great virtue. Most were habitual sinners. But none stayed the same after their encounter with the carpenter-turned-healer who preached God's kingdom.
Those who came face to face with Jesus in the gospels are the voices in a new collection of poems by Wayne Robinson, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Medford. Each of the 27 brief poems in "And Then He Touched Me" (Walden Press, Walden, Colo.) is spoken by someone who encountered the Lord — pharisees, a man possessed by demons, an adulteress, a rich man, a blind man, a leper, a despised tax collector. Classic illustrations accompany the poems.
Rhymed, metered verse works for letting these people tell their stories, which are both personal and universal, to the author's credit.
"What was it like to have your whole world view turned on its head?" Robinson asks. "What was it like to match wits with the Son of God and lose? What was it like to literally have your life given back to you miraculously? And what was it like to go on living after such a momentous encounter?"
Robinson, 64, is retired from teaching language arts for 20 years at Eagle Point junior high and White Mountain Middle School in White City. He volunteers regularly at St. Vincent de Paul in Medford.
For his poems, he draws mostly on the gospels, but also knows the rich oral tradition surrounding figures like Simon of Cyrene and Joseph of Arimathea. Robinson, a solid writer, adds detail and personality to most of the characters. Nothing goes beyond the pale. He refuses to fall into overly sweet piety.
The poem "Lilies of the Field" is spoken by a dying man who years ago was sitting on a hill listening skeptically to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:25-34). He scoffed as Jesus taught that one need not worry about clothes or food. Lilies of the field have to work hard to survive, he told himself bitterly.
"My mantra was get and spend, then get and save, and finally, get all my coffers could hold." On his deathbed, the man is revising his position. "The words He sowed so many years ago Have fallen on ground made miraculously fertile By death's probing tendril. Pity their season in my heart will be so short."
He realizes that souls are sustained in faith, hope and love as pure gift, which "requires no toil, no pain."
A poem spoken by a man with a skin disease (Matt. 8:1-4) explains a surprise — when Jesus healed his sickness, the man also felt "inwardly new and clean." He becomes a Christian and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ maintains his inner sense of healing. The interesting "The Blind Man of Jericho" (Luke 18:35-43) is a series of two-word phrases that tells the amazing story of new in an economic way, like a stunned man blurting out the marvel on the scene.
"Blind once Hard life Beg food wear rags." Later, after healing: "Old now Breath short Feeble too Die soon See Lord New eyes New me All time His word."
In "The Crucifier," a centurion who had been posted in Jerusalem explains in crisp language that he planned to make it a dignified, swift execution for the Jewish teacher condemned to death. Once the Roman crew had Jesus on the cross, the centurion took a closer look.
"He seemed very calm for a man about to die, And I could see a gentleness in his eye."
The man holds up a drink to Jesus and receives a thanks. Later, to make sure his charge is dead, the centurion pierces the side of Jesus and receives a baptismal flow of water. The gruff Roman is amazed as the sky darkens and days later he hears reports that Jesus had risen. He later becomes a leader in the Christian community, which is expecting the end times soon.
"We prepare for the end of the world He said would come So that we will be ready to enter into Christ's kingdom. The thought of His victory over death gives me a thrill. I marvel that it all started on Golgatha, that glorious hill."
The poems would fit well into the prayer method proposed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century. St. Ignatius asked retreatants to imagine scenes from the gospels — feeling, smelling and hearing. Most of all, retreatants were to watch and hear Jesus.
The poem project began with fits of insomnia five or six years ago. Robinson began thinking about the Sermon on the Mount, got out of bed and began typing "Lilies of the Field."
"I'm hoping it has the ability to strengthen people's faith and help them see things from someone else's point of view," Robinson says.