Say what you will about the coming of the Kingdom,
of the fire-washed multitudes
that shall gather together and be raised whole
and inhabit the clean rooms of the spirit –
but that first morning we followed him to the mountain
no one was healed. There was not flash
from the heavens, no chorus of hosannas:
there was only Jesus, in love with the world
even as he renounced it, swaying
like a storm-shaken reed as he spoke to us,
saying, the poor in spirit shall be sundered,
sundered and blessed, and the wind
caught his robes, and parted to make room
for his body, and his voice was like honey
drenching the olive leaves. And I knew him then,
knew him for what he was: dust
torn from the light, imperfect and radiant,
an untrammelled flame loosed on the ripe fields
that Sabbath, eating the grain from the cupped hands
like a blessing – and when he said, Judas follow me
and you shall taste the abundance of paradise
how could I turn from him then,
blessed as I was, blessed with a love
that would rise and consume me forever?
I do not want to explore all the reasons that I find this particularly moving, but it may be worth highlighting just a few. ‘No one was healed’ suggests to me the in my interaction with God miracles are not the only way he communicates with me or shows his love. I think I should be able to feel that just from being with Him. ‘There was only Jesus, in, love with the world’ inspires me to look with new sight at sensuous importance of this life. Further this poem makes Jesus so human. He is like us and relishes his experiences with the world and the people in it.
All this connects in my mind with a quotation I read from from Bernard Loomer, cited by Dan Wotherspoon (former editor of Sunstone) at his ‘Pillars of my Faith’ presentation at the symposium recently. Using Size as a metaphor for spirituality, Loomer, who is a process theologian, writes: “By size I mean the stature of [your] soul, the range and depth of [your] love, [your] capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness. I mean the power to sustain more complex and enriching tensions. I mean the magnanimity of concern to provide conditions that enable others to increase in stature.”
This poem suggests to me that Jesus grew in Size, and so must we.
David Rosenberg has written: “Much of the Hebrew Bible was written by poets who were not parochial writers but more resembled a John Donne or T.S. Eliot: poets first, devotees second.” Perhaps the distinction between poetry and scripture is not so easy to define. Steven Walker has argued that the literary style of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants often changes, as he sees Joseph become more influenced by the spirit. He notes that “When the Prophet records the direct words of the Lord, his style is different from the style in which he writes his own thoughts… when he is intensely inspired, he is more eloquent than when less moved by the Spirit.”
A recent Master’s candidate at BYU who attempts to discuss the relationship of contemporary American poetry with divinity wrote: “The purpose of both scripture and poetry becomes the examination of the individual‘s relationship with God or the divine… That God is present in [poetry] is indisputable. What is created here is not only a conversation of how man is like God, but how the individual is like God—how the reader can relate to a being who is all things, who is in every way so unlike him/her that the only way to understand is to find those similarities.”
My questions are these:
Do you like this poem, and/or are there other examples of poetry or other forms of literature that have affected you spiritually and if so which?
Does poetry, or other literature, do things for us that ‘sacred’ texts cannot?
Are poetry and scripture closely tied together? Is the influence of scripture linked to the aesthetic of the words as much as the truth of their content?