The word of God came unto me,
Sitting alone among the multitudes;
And my blind eyes were touched with light.
And there was laid upon my lips a flame of fire.
I laugh and shout for life is good,
Though my feet are set in silent ways.
In merry mood I leave the crowd
To walk in my garden. Ever as I walk
I gather fruits and flowers in my hands.
And with joyful heart I bless the sun
That kindles all the place with radiant life.
I run with playful winds that blow the scent
Of rose and jasmine in eddying whirls.
At last I come where tall lilies grow,
Lifting their faces like white saints to God.
While the lilies pray, I kneel upon the ground;
I have strayed into the holy temple of the Lord.
In A Sacrifice of Praise, James H. Trott, editor (Cumberland House 2006; stanzas slightly modified)
The Rock (excerpt from Section X of Choruses)
by TS Eliot
О Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening.
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
О Light Invisible, we worship Thee!
We thank Thee for the lights that we have kindled,
The light of altar and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the coloured panes of windows
And light reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.
We see the light but see not whence it comes.
О Light Invisible, we glorify Thee!
In T.S Eliot: Collected Poems 1909-1962 (HBJ 1963)
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive toward such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again The infirm glory of the positive hour Because I do not think Because I know I shall not know The one veritable transitory power Because I cannot drink There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again
Because I know that time is always time And place is always and only place And what is actual is actual only for one time And only for one place I rejoice that things are as they are and I renounce the blessed face And renounce the voice Because I cannot hope to turn again Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us And I pray that I may forget These matters that with myself I too much discuss Too much explain Because I do not hope to turn again Let these words answer For what is done, not to be done again May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly But merely vans to beat the air The air which is now thoroughly small and dry Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
In A Sacrifice of Praise (2nd ed), James H. Trott, editor (Cumberland House 2006), 714-715.
AT THE LORD’S TABLE
(One of seven entries in the source cited)
By Soren Kierkegaard
O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst first love us, who until the end didst love them whom Thou didst love from the beginning, who unto the end of days dost continue to love him who would belong to Thee; Thy faithfulness cannot deny itself–oh, only when a man denies Thee can he compel Thee as it were to deny him also, Thou loving One. So be this our comfort when we must accuse ourselves of the offences we have committed and of the things we have left undone, of our weakness in temptation, unfaithfulness to Thee, to whom once in early youth and ofttimes again we promised faithfulness–this be our comfort, that even if we are unfaithful, Thou dost remain faithful, Thou canst not deny Thyself.
In The Prayers of Kierkegaard, P.D. LeFevre, editor and author (Univ of Chicago Press 1956), 120.
Blue homespun and the bend of my breast keep warm this small hot naked star fallen to my arms. (Rest . . . you who have had so far to come.) Now nearness satisfies the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies whose vigour hurled a universe. He sleeps whose eyelids have not closed before. His breath (so slight it seems no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps to sprout a world. Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw, he dreams, hearing no music from his other spheres. Breath, mouth, ears, eyes he is curtailed who overflowed all skies, all years. Older than eternity, now he is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed to my poor planet, caught that I might be free, blind in my womb to know my darkness ended, brought to this birth for me to be new-born, and for him to see me mended I must see him torn.
In The Poetic Bible, C Duriez ed. (Hendrickson Pub.s 2001), 113.
AT THE MANGER MARY SINGS
By W.H. AUDEN
O shut your bright eyes that mine must endanger With their watchfulness; protected by its shade Escape from my care: what can you discover From my tender look but how to be afraid? Love can but confirm the more it would deny. Close your bright eye.
Sleep. What have you learned from the womb that bore you But an anxiety your Father cannot feel? Sleep. What will the flesh that I gave do for you, Or my mother love, but tempt you from his will? Why was I chosen to teach his Son to weep? Little One, sleep.
Dream. In human dreams earth ascends to Heaven Where no one need pray nor ever feel alone. In your first few hours of life here, O have you Chosen already what death must be your own? How soon will you start on the Sorrowful Way? Dream while you may.
In The Poetic Bible, C Duriez ed. (Hendrickson Pub.s 2001), 112.
JOURNEY OF THE MAGI
By T.S. ELIOT
‘A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year For a journey, and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter.’ And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory, Lying down in the melting snow. There were times we regretted The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces, And the silken girls bringing sherbet. Then the camel men cursing and grumbling and running away, and wanting their liquor and women, And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters, And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly And the villages dirty and charging high prices: A hard time we had of it. At the end we preferred to travel all night, Sleeping in snatches, With the voices singing in our ears, saying That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley, Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation; With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness, And three trees on the low sky, And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow. Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel, Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver, And feet kiking the empty wine-skins. But there was no information, and so we continued And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.
In The One Year Book of Poetry, P Comfort and D Partner, compilers (Tyndale House Pub.s 1999), December 28 & 29.
When Moses, musing in the desert, found The thorn bush spiking up from the hot ground, And saw the branches on a sudden bear The crackling yellow barberries of fire,
He searched his learning and imagination For any logical, neat explanation, And turned to go, but turned again and stayed And faced the fire and knew it for his God.
I too have seen the briar alight like coal, The love that burns, the flesh that’s ever whole, And many times have turned and left it there, Saying: “It’s prophecy–but metaphor.”
But stinging tongues like John the Baptist shout: “That this is metaphor is no way out. It’s dogma too, or you make God a liar; The bush is still a bush, and fire is a fire.”
In The Earth is the Lord’s: Poems of the Spirit, H. PLotz, ed. (Thomas Y. Crowell Co. 1965), 57.
“Adoro te supplex, lateens deitas”
by Thomas Aquinas
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more, See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived; How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed; What God’s Son has told me, take for true I do; Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men; Here thy very manhood steals from human ken: Both are my confession, both are my belief, And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.
In The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, W.H. Gardner and N.H. MacKenzie, ed.s (Oxford Univ. Press 1967); Hopkins had translated this Aquinas poem.
by Victoria Priest
God abounds, is all around; His love for me endures. But I, up in the air then on the ground; Smitten now, but later all demurs; Oh love! How foul am I! Your love abounds, is all around; You yet wait for my return.
Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for, you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new. I, like an usurped town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but O, to no end. Reason, your viceroy to me, me should defend, But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue. Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am beroth’d unto your enemy: Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
In The Oxford Book of Christian Verse. D. Cecil, ed. (Clarendon Press 1940), p 87.
By George Herbert (1593 – 1633)
Immortal Heat, O let they greater flame Attract the lesser to it: Let those fires, Which shall consume the world, first make it tame, And kindle in our hearts such true desires,
As may consume our lusts, and make thee way. Then shall our hearts pant [for] thee; then shall our brain All her inventions on thine Altar lay, And there in hymns send back thy fire again.
Our eyes shall see thee, which before saw dust; Dust blown by wit, till that they both were blind: Thou shalt recover all they goods in kind, Who wert disseized by usurping lust:
All knees shall bow to thee, all wits shall rise, And praise him who did make and mend our eyes.
In The One Year Book of Poetry. P. Comfort and D Partner, ed.s (Tyndale House Pub.s 1999), Feb. 14.
“BUT ART THOU COME, DEAR SAVIOR?”
But art Thou come, dear Saviour? hath Thy love Thus made Thee stoop, and leave Thy throne above
Thy lofty heavens, and thus Thyself to dress In dust to visit mortals? Could no less
A condescension serve? and after all The mean reception of a cratch and stall?
Dear Lord, I’ll fetch Thee thence! I have a room (‘Tis poor, but ’tis my best) if Thou wilt come
Within so small a cell, where I would fain Mine and the world’s Redeemer entertain,
I mean, my heart: ’tis sluttish, I confess, And will not mend Thy lodging, Lord, unless
Thou send before Thy harbinger, I mean Thy pure and purging Grace, to make it clean
And sweep its nasty corners; then I’ll try to wash it also with a weeping eye.
And when ’tis swept and wash’d, I then will go And, with Thy leave, I’ll fetch some flowers that grow
In Thine own garden, Faith and Love, to Thee; With these I’ll dress it up, and these shall be
My rosemary and bays. Yet when my best Is done, the room’s not fit for such a guest.
But here’s the cure; Thy presence, Lord, alone Will make a stall a court, a cratch a throne.
In The Oxford Book of Christian Verse. D. Cecil, ed. (Clarendon Press 1940), pp 260-261.
The Way My Ideas Think Me (Jose Garcia Villa) is a playful and familiar (as opposed to formal in a religious sense) poem that may mask the seriousness of the subject matter. The first stanza presents a difficulty, a problem, the tension. The second stanza is fun, as if the author is in a playland; the third stanza flows from it – though something is getting serious enough for the author to become angry. The fourth stanza presents action to relieve the earlier presented—and the building—tension. Some specifics are below each stanza (these are my current and concise thoughts on the poem, without influence from other literary critics).
The way my ideas think me
Is the way I unthink God.
As in the name of heaven I make hell
That is the way the Lord says me.
This stanza, and poem, would be easier if the author seemed to be saying that he makes his own life hell, but he says he makes hell “in the name of heaven.” How would you be making your own life hell “in the name of heaven”? When we do something in someone else’s name, it’s outward – in witness, in action with someone or something else. The author, then, seems to be saying that his ideas are contrary to God – he “unthinks” God with his incorrect notions of God and His will – and he witnesses or puts into action those incorrect notions. These actions can push people toward hell more than toward God; they can make life worse for everyone involved instead of better. The author hears from God, however, letting him know of his false and detrimental ways.
And all is adventure and danger
And I roll Him off cliffs and mountains
But fast as I am to push Him off
Fast am I to reach Him below.
But now we have this fun stuff. Well, is making hell in the name of heaven serious, or not? The life of the Christian can certainly seem like a dangerous adventure, and I think the author is simply stating this in attractive terms so that we’ll pay attention. He isn’t talking missions trips, however. Maybe the author thinks it’s challenging and maybe a bit fun to see how far he can go with God – how much “on the edge” activities he can do (sinning or border-line behavior)—without losing Him. After all, he pushes God away. The author is “on top” or up high, and he pushes God down. However, he doesn’t actually want to get rid of God, but quickly reaches back to Him.
And it may be then His turn to push me off,
I wait breathless for that terrible second:
And if He push me not, I turn around in anger:
“O art thou the God I would have!”
The author recognizes his behavior and wants acknowledgment from God – that He’s around and that He’s going to give guidance – also that He has the righteous authority to do so. If He isn’t such a God, what’s the point? What is the point of life without a God who is good, moral, has authority in these matters, and has the ultimate capacity to teach, guide and judge? If you keep on going down the wrong road, would you rather God left you alone, or that He intervened – as a loving parent would? The author recognizes that there should be consequences to our actions – he waits for God to push him off the mountain.
Then he pushes me and I plunge down, down!
And when He comes to help me up
I put my arms around Him, saying, “Brother,
Brother.” . . . This is the way we are.
God is there for the author–he’s not alone. God pushes him off the high place (perhaps that he made for himself), but afterwards God also extends His hand and gets the author back up on his feet. He is so glad to have such a friend, such a God. With all his foibles and human delusions (like thinking we can do stuff on our own and be our own king of the mountain) he can still depend on his Lord, and even delight in him as “brother.” And who is our “brother” but the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us to be adopted into God’s family? We can sin and make mistakes, but Jesus will never leave us if we continue to seek Him.
I understand that matter can be changed To energy; that maths can integrate The complex quantum jumps that must relate The fusion of the stars to history’s page. I understand that God in every age Is Lord of all; that matter can’t dictate; That stars and quarks and all things intricate Perform his word—including fool and sage.
But knowing God is not to know like God; And science is a quest in infancy. Still more: transcendence took on flesh and blood— I do not understand how this can be.
The more my mind assesses what it can, The more it learns the finitude of man.
In The Poetic Bible, C Duriez, ed. (Scribner Poetry 1997), 180.
By Gjertrud Schnackenberg
My father at the dictionary-stand Touches the page to fully understand The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand
His slowly scanning magnifying lens A blurry, glistening circle he suspends Above the word “Carnation.” Then he bends
So near his eyes are magnified and blurred, One finger on the miniature word, As if he touched a single key and heard
A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string, “The obligation due to every thing That’s smaller than the universe.” I bring
My sewing needle close enough that I Can watch my father through the needle’s eye, As through a lens ground for a butterfly
Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room Shadowed and fathomed as this study’s gloom Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb
To read what’s buried there, he bends to pore Over the Latin blossom. I am four, I spill my pins and needles on the floor
Trying to stitch “Beloved” X by X. My dangerous, bright needle’s point connects Myself illiterate to this perfect text
I cannot read. My father puzzles why It is my habit to identify Carnations as “Christ’s flowers,” knowing I
Can give no explanation but “Because.” Word-roots blossom in speechless messages The way the thread behind my sampler does
Where following each X I awkward move My needle through the word whose root is love. He reads, “A pink variety of Clove,
Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh.” As if the bud’s essential oils brush Christ’s fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh
Odor carnations have floats up to me, A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy, The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it’s me,
He turns the page to “Clove” and reads aloud: “The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud.” Then twice, as if he hasn’t understood,
He reads, “From French, for clou, meaning a nail.” He gazes, motionless. “Meaning a nail.” The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,
I twist my threads like stems into a knot And smooth “Beloved,” but my needle caught Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,
The needle strikes my finger to the bone. I lift my hand, it is myself I’ve sewn, The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,
I lift my hand in startled agony And call upon his name, “Daddy daddy”— My father’s hand touches the injury
As lightly as he touched the page before, Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore The flowers I called Christ’s when I was four.
In The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, JD McClatchy ed. (Vintage Books 1990), 535-537.