A Poem For Easter Sunday

Suddenly

R.S. Thomas

As I had always known
he would come, unannounced,
remarkable merely for the absence
of clamour. So truth must appear
to the thinker; so, at a stage
of the experiment, the answer
must quietly emerge. I looked
at him, not with the eye
only, but with the whole
of my being, overflowing with
him as a chalice would
with the sea. Yet was he
no more there than before,
his area occupied
by the unhaloed presences.
You could put your hand
in him without consciousness
of his wounds. The gamblers
at the foot of the unnoticed
cross went on with
their dicing; yet the invisible
garment for which they played
was no longer at stake, but worn
by him in this risen existence.

Your Correspondent, Go deimhin, tá sé éirithe!

Loaves of Poetry, Loads of Faith

Lying in bed last night, enjoying one of those moments of matrimonial bliss (you know the ones – that come from an hour of silently reading your novel beside someone else silently reading a novel), Wife-unit turned and asked me “Does anything else beside bread get described as ‘a loaf’?”

“A loaf of pigeons?” I helpfully proposed. “A loaf of turnips?”

I googled it this morning and the magic auto-suggest function gave me “a loaf of bread” and “a loaf of poetry”.

Loaf of poetry

Don’t worry, I don’t use Internet Explorer, except when I want to mimic a result that Chrome has already amassed into its hivemind data-portrait of me. The particular poem “Loaf of Poetry” is fine. It is a little comparison between yeast-risen dough and making a poem. For a man hoping to do a PhD on the parables of Jesus, yeast-risen dough illustrations have to be simply divine to get my attention.

One of the things that I have grown to appreciate even more passionately as my hairline recedes and my hipness ratio diminishes, along with the unique satisfaction of infuriating my wife by making her laugh just before she falls off to sleep, is poetry. I attribute this new depth of appreciation to patience. Growing old requires spending more time with yourself. That time, if spent well, makes you more patient about things because you see more clearly how slowly you achieve the good.

Well, that’s my experience. Maybe you are so impressive you don’t even need to be patient.

That doesn’t sound all that impressive, actually.

***

People ask you questions on the internet that they would never ask you in person. Some of the questions I have been asked in person in the last few days include: “Are you staying for the wine reception?”, “Will you have another glass of wine?” and “Are you meant to drink that wine straight from the bottle?” But today on the internet, someone asked me to help him believe in the inspiration of Christian Scripture.

Although I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Scriptures and how they came to be and what it is they meant when they were being put together and what it is they mean now and all kinds of questions that would make me an interesting person to randomly be stuck beside on a long-haul flight if you liked obscure ideas, I have very little to offer someone on the internet who wants some short sharp answers to shore up something that gets called “faith”. I would have once relished such a task.

Today I almost dreaded it. The only thing worse than someone languishing in doubt about God is someone convinced by off-the-shelf frequently-asked-questions about Him.

Later in the day, (already) utterly exhausted, I started reading Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss. Early on he writes:

Faith is not some half-remembered country into which you come like a long-exiled king, dispensing the old wisdom, casting out the radical, insurrectionist aspects of yourself by which you’ve been betrayed. No. Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by your life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life – which means that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived – or have denied the reality of your life.

The book begins with a poem he has not been able to finish:

My God my bright abyss
Into which all my longing will not go
Once more I come to the edge of all I know
And believing nothing believe in this:

Wiman says what interests him now is not what to believe but how to believe it. (He believes in orthodox doctrinally fussy Christianity just like me, but he can’t settle there.) I think this is the heart of my apologetic aversion. I have a good grasp of the gnostic Gospels and can explain what actually happened at the Council of Nicaea and I can briefly outline the different ways different Christians at different times have considered the authority of the Scriptures. I have even managed to acquire enough knowledge to stumble through reading the blasted books in their original languages. But the end result of these years of study is not: “Look at all this pristine data at my disposal!” but “Thanks be to God that there is more to consider!”

I was once an apologist. The “what” of what I believed was that communicating truth propositions about the Gospel was important. But the “how” of that belief meant engaging with the life of Jesus in a way that rendered that first stage of apologetics irrelevant. The “what” led to a “how” which changed the “what”. This is not a redescription of losing faith or becoming “liberal” or settling for the wishy-washy. It is a movement. It is a journey. It is a pilgrimage. It is faith.

It isn’t finished yet.

Which is why Wiman is so trusted a guide when he leaves his poem to close on a colon (* thanks JM) dangling…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your Correspondent, Then he waddled away, ’till the very next day.

Missing God

Aidan Mathews quotes this poem in one of the pieces from In The Poorer Quarters. It is phenomenal.

Missing God by Dennis O’Driscoll

His grace is no longer called for
before meals: farmed fish multiply
without His intercession.
Bread production rises through
disease-resistant grains devised
scientifically to mitigate His faults.

Yet, though we rebelled against Him
like adolescents, uplifted to see
an oppressive father banished –
a bearded hermit – to the desert,
we confess to missing Him at times.

Miss Him during the civil wedding
when, at the blossomy altar
of the registrar’s desk, we wait in vain
to be fed a line containing words
like ‘everlasting’ and ‘divine’.

Miss Him when the TV scientist
explains the cosmos through equations,
leaving our planet to revolve on its axis
aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.

Miss Him when the radio catches a snatch
of plainchant from some echoey priory;
when the gospel choir raises its collective voice
to ask Shall We Gather at the River?
or the forces of the oratorio converge
on I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
and our contracted hearts lose a beat.

Miss Him when a choked voice at
the crematorium recites the poem
about fearing no more the heat of the sun.

Miss Him when we stand in judgement
on a lank Crucifixion in an art museum,
its stripe-like ribs testifying to rank.

Miss Him when the gamma-rays
recorded on the satellite graph
seem arranged into a celestial score,
the music of the spheres,
the Ave Verum Corpus of the observatory lab.

Miss Him when we stumble on the breast lump
for the first time and an involuntary prayer
escapes our lips; when a shadow crosses
our bodies on an x-ray screen; when we receive
a transfusion of foaming blood
sacrificed anonymously to save life.

Miss Him when we exclaim His name
spontaneously in awe or anger
as a woman in a birth ward
calls to her long-dead mother.

Miss Him when the linen-covered
dining table holds warm bread rolls,
shiny glasses of red wine.

Miss Him when a dove swoops
from the orange grove in a tourist village
just as the monastery bell begins to take its toll.

Miss Him when our journey leads us
under leaves of Gothic tracery, an arch
of overlapping branches that meet
like hands in Michelangelo’s Creation.

Miss Him when, trudging past a church,
we catch a residual blast of incense,
a perfume on par with the fresh-baked loaf
which Milosz compared to happiness.

Miss Him when our newly-fitted kitchen
comes in Shaker-style and we order
a matching set of Mother Ann Lee chairs.

Miss Him when we listen to the prophecy
of astronomers that the visible galaxies
will recede as the universe expands.

Miss Him when the sunset makes
its presence felt in the stained glass
window of the fake antique lounge bar.

Miss Him the way an uncoupled glider
riding the evening thermals misses its tug.

Miss Him, as the lovers shrugging
shoulders outside the cheap hotel
ponder what their next move should be.

Even feel nostalgic, odd days,
for His Second Coming,
like standing in the brick
dome of a dovecote
after the birds have flown.

Your Correspondent, Doesn’t know what else to say

Ahead Of My Final Latin Exam Tomorrow Morning

Rudiments, Part V of “Psalms for a Mammal”, a poem at the end of According to the Small Hours by Aidan Mathews.

Mensa
The Mass in English and our flesh in Latin –
It takes a lifetime to be sinful and luminous.
We’ve been declining for years an immense word
That alters and turns the tables on us. You hardly
See it at times for the food that isn’t finished,
A service laid in matchsticks and menorahs,
In what might be a vocative – O table of ours! –
Or the muddy ablative life of kids enlarging.

Amo
At the same time we are conjugating, love,
The first verb we have learned from start to finish
In the present, in the imperfect, in the unconditional.
Such language there has been out of the two of us!
It all stems from the mystical phoneme Om,
From page one of a primer with block capital
Autographs hacked out like hearts in wood there,
And a dust-jacket the school-lunch smells amassed.

_

Your Correspondent, Finds marriage even more satisfying than Latin

“Thanksgiving Day in the United States”

by Julia Esquivel
Revelation 17-18

In the third year of the massacres
by Lucas and the other coyotes
against the poor in Guatemala
I was led by the spirit into the desert

And on the eve
of Thanksgiving Day
I had a vision of Babylon
the city sprang forth arrogantly
from an enormous platform
of dirty smoke produced
by motor vehicles, machinery
and contamination from smokestacks

It was as if all the petroleum
from a violated earth
was being consumed
by the Lords of capital
and was slowly rising
obscuring the face
of the Sun of Justice
and the Ancient of Days…

Each day false prophets
invited the inhabitants
of the Unchaste City
to kneel before the idols
of gluttony,
money,
and death:
Idolaters from all nations
were being converted to the American way of Life…

The Spirit told me
in the River of death
flows the blood of many peoples
sacrificed without mercy
and removed a thousand times from their hands,
the blood of Kekchis, and Panzos,
of blacks from Haiti, of Guaranis from Paraguay,
of the peoples sacrificed for ‘development’
of the trans-Amazonic strip,
the blood of the Indians’ ancestors
who lived on these lands, of those who
even now are kept hostage on the great mountain
and on the Black Hills of Dakota
by the guardians of the best…

My soul was tortured like this
for three and a half days
and a great weariness weighed upon my breast
I felt the suffering of my people very deeply!

The in tears, I prostrated myself
and cried out: “Lord, what can we do?…
Come to me, Lord, I wish to die among my people!”
Without strength, I waited for my answer.
After a long silence
and a heavy obscurity
The One who sits on the throne
to judge the nations
spoke in a soft whisper
in the secret recesses of my heart:

you have to denounce their idolatry
in good times and bad.
Force them to hear the truth
for what is impossible to humans
is possible for God.

Your Correspondent, While MLK had a dream, Obama has a drone.