As I mentioned in the last post, poetry and I don’t have a strong and intimate relationship. And so it was a bit of a surprise to me to remember and think about the poem that provided the basis for the last post. It was an even greater surprise to me that as I was writing the post, another poem from long ago popped into my mind. And I even knew where to find this one–it is in one of the few university textbooks I have left.
Shelley’s poem Ozymandias describes a traveller who finds a ruined statue in a desert with these words written on its base: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look at my works, ye Mighty and despair!”. The poem ends with a description of the barren desert stretching as far as the eye can see. For a variety of reasons, that poem has also stuck in my mind and keeps coming back at various times–enough so that I can always find it in the book when I want to.
I think the reason it keeps coming back because God knows that I need the injection of realism the poem brings. In the end, no matter what I or someone else builds, things will change and I will be a long forgotten curiosity. The obvious application is not to take myself and my work too seriously. My work in churches is important–but once I leave the church, I become the former pastor and what I did may or may not have lasting effects. I have to let God be in control–I am reminded that I am seeking to do his will and work and build his church, not a monument to myself.
One of my Ozymandias moments came one day when I member of a church I pastored years ago met me in a store and struggled to remember my name and when I was at the church. This was one of the significant leaders of the church when I was there. Since she wasn’t struggling with any form or dementia, it did remind me that I do what I do not to be remembered but to follow God–or at least, I am supposed to do that.
While that application of the Ozymandias principle is important and humbling and therefore somewhat painful at times, there is another application that I find more helpful. Over the years, I have been hurt more than I care to admit by church members and leaders. It seems like my personality and approach to ministry put me in positions where I am on the losing side of issues with other leaders. Without going into details, at several point in my ministry, I have ended up battered and bruised, depressed and even unemployed as a result of such events while the others have continued on in the ministry I loved and lost.
Ozymandias helps here–God has a way of using effective tools in a variety of ways. The pain and difficulty and the loss take on a new perspective when seen through the lens of the crashed statue and grandiose inscription. Both I and the person(s) I had issues with are Ozymandias. No matter what we build and what battles we win, eventually, things will change and we will become curiosities and our battles will be covered with the desert of time.
This, by the way, is not meant to be a cynical and depressing post. I actually find this a freeing thought. Ultimately, Ozymandias teaches me that God lasts and what I do is temporary. God’s plans and directions will never crumble and they don’t depend on me. The plans and schemes of those I disagree with are also not the same as God’s plans and they too will pass.
In the end, I think God uses Ozymandias to remind me of what is really important. The poem helps me remember the advice of Jesus from Matthew 6.33, where he tells us to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness..” In seeking his kingdom, I need to remember that I am helping God accomplish his goal and that it isn’t about me. God will work through me on my good days and around me on my bad days and in the end, I hope that the glory will be his.
May the peace of God be with you.