• John Longhurst

MDS volunteer reframes the Psalms as Haiku

Roger Friesen’s book, “Songs That Jesus Sang: The Psalms in Haiku Verse,” a fundraiser for MDS

WINNIPEG, MB – It was a winter storm that led Roger Friesen of Winnipeg, Manitoba to start writing poetry—and then to creatively reframe the Psalms as a fundraiser for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Canada.


Friesen, 69, was on his way to Minot, North Dakota in 2013 from his home in Winnipeg to serve with MDS when he was caught in a snowstorm.


Just outside of Winnipeg all traffic came to a halt due to the wintry conditions.


“I was caught in a line of traffic and couldn’t move,” he said. “As I sat in my truck, watching the snowflakes fall on my windshield, and started composing haiku poetry to capture these moments.”

After five hours, he was able to turn around and head home. But the idea of doing more haiku stayed with him.


Fast forward to the pandemic, when everyone in Canada was stuck at home for long periods of time with not much to do. To keep himself occupied, in late 2021 Friesen started re-writing the Psalms as haiku poetry.


“The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament is essentially a collection of poems and formed the Hebrew hymn book,” he said, adding he started doing haiku with Psalm 1.


“It came quite easily. So off I went!” he said.


Haiku, Friesen explained, is a form of poetry that comes from Japan. Each haiku is made up of seventeen syllables in three lines of five, seven and five words.


Not every chapter or verse in the Psalms easily fits that structure, he said.


“But I did my best to retain the essence of the psalm, or as I refer to it, ‘The Story,’” said Friesen, who has served as a construction worker or crew leader with MDS 13 times since 2011, most of those times with his wife, Anne, who has served as a cook.


“It is my hope that anyone who reads these haiku verses will catch the spirit of the story of each Psalm and see them in a new way,” he said.


Friesen, a member of McIvor Mennonite Brethren Church in Winnipeg, is quick to add he’s not a theologian. “I’m just a person of faith who appreciates well-crafted literature and who loves the Psalms,” he said.


After completing the project, which he did for his own contemplations and meditation, friends encouraged him to publish his haiku Psalms.


He agreed to do that, but decided to donate a portion of the sale of each book to MDS.

“MDS is important to us, and we support it with both donations and our service,” Friesen said, adding “our many service trips with MDS have shown us how privileged we are to live in a country and climate where we are not constantly subject to risk of loss of our home.”

For that reason, when he decided to publish the book, “I thought the forwarding of the net proceeds of the sales to a charity like MDS would be a good way to use these funds.”


 


Psalm 23 in Haiku Verse
by Roger Friesen

My shepherd and Lord

Let’s me lie in green pastures –

lacking for nothing.

In His love and care,

He leads to tranquil water.

There I find my rest.

My soul is refreshed.

He guides me along right paths.

He is glorified.

Even though I walk

through shadows and dark valleys,

I will not panic.

You are at my side -

protecting and guiding me.

That gives me comfort.

The Lord is my host -

a banquet prepared for me.

I feast in His peace.

Enemies surround;

I feel His security

and experience peace.

Oil poured on my head

and my cup is over-filled.

He refreshes me.

Goodness and kindness

will always be at my back.

They will attend me.

To dwell in Your house -

my greatest expectation.

With You, forever.



 

Titled “Songs That Jesus Sang: The Psalms in Haiku Verse,” the book is available for $15 CAD/$11.71 USD. It can be ordered on Amazon.ca or by contacting Friesen at 150haikus@gmail.com.


This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 59 No 3