Two Quote Review: In The Poor Quarters by Aidan Mathews

Here is Aidan Mathews, writing a letter about the future to his daughters:

From the moment of your real baptism, which will be closer to thirst than to fonts and freshets, you will be propelled ‘immediately’, as Saint Mark likes to insist with his frequent use of the word ‘euthus’, into a desert experience, into the wilderness of the deep evolutionary interior. God will enter your life there as disaster. Your loneliness will grow around you like a monastery. This is not all, but it is everything. For, as my teacher, the poet Denise Levertov used to say to me, if you bring the Lamb of God into your living room, he will almost certainly ruin your carpet. There will be incommunicable spaces of pain and insight within you which have been set aside by God as the pavilion of his presence, like an oxygen tent or like the tent of meeting itself, for the most intimate of encounters.

And that paragraph brought me to tears when I read it because its talk of ruined carpets and incommunicable spaces and intimate encounter with God put words on that which I don’t have it in me to say, even though all that is in me longs to say it.

And then later he writes:

It’s in the cross, however, in the crucial and excruciating obscenity of casual human violence, that God’s self-description as a saviour is exposed, like a photographic negative, outside the encampment in the rubbish dump of Calvary, where the memory of the killing of one condemned criminal signifies God’s total recall of all humanity, especially of those whom humanity has deemed not to be human at all. So, in the Greek of St. John, our weak and wounded nature is lifted up to hang and is lifted up to heaven in the same moment, by the same verb, for the passion narratives vivisect the beating heart of the violence that we call keeping the peace, law and order, the status quo, social cohesion, self-preservation, public demand, the democratic mandate, the moral imperative.

And in writing the first, so deeply personal, paragraph and then the second so brutally wide-ranging paragraph, he once again reminds me that Christian faith is not a proposition about whether God exists and nor is it a psychological coping mechanism that assuages troubled Western consciences. It is the truth. My interiority and humanity’s exteriority: nothing escapes God’s subversive grace, that perhaps looks like a photographic negative because it is our responsibility to develop it.

This book is a collection of reflections on the Gospel of Mark that Mathews shared on Irish national radio in 2006. I didn’t know they were on. I missed them all. I am now deeply grateful to have copies. It is a beautiful and stunning work by a uniquely articulate fellow pilgrim.

Your Correspondent, Knows drinkers often have writing problems