“In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words” (Chapter 39, The Spiritual Canticle).
In the spirit of St. John of the Cross, this blog reflects on the contemplative experience and the poetic experience, sometimes separately and distinctly, sometimes in common, as mutually enlightening.
I will also post to this blog, from time to time, my own poetry, with a short interpretive note attached.
~ Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
Conjuring Up the Eternal – Part 7 of 7
Fri, Mar 2 2018
The Not Yet Already
First, there was the river the boat followed when,
As I'd decided, I set sail for the sea. Second,
There were the spongy tufts of grass pushing up
From the earth and padding the riverbank where
I stepped ashore, releasing the boat back into
The river's sleepy embrace. Third, there was
The tree whose leaves held the sun's tyranny
At bay; I sat in its shade and spoke to the quiet
Around me. "Whose voice is this," I asked, "that
Lowers itself down to me as if on an invisible wire,
Issuing its long crescendo of praise? Have I
Stumbled upon creation's very first day, here where
It's been waiting for me, never really having left me?"
And I knew then that all that had happened along this
Long slog of years was really just the stuff of nothing:
"A vacuous eddy, a swimming void," I called it.
Rather, it was this moment, and this moment alone,
That had wrung from nature's buzzing hive of plucked
Strings and bunched chords a fair melody of Eden
Housed deep within this world, thoroughly steeped
As it is in its own creation. "As if from a high cliff
Where eagles roost breathing the thin air," the song
Sang, "he looked out at a feathery wisp of cloud afloat
Beneath the sky's blue dome, the blue surface
Of the sea rising to meet it, and he saw not cloud,
But a man's hand, its index finger pointing, like
The white tip of the angel Gabriel's airy lance,
Towards the womb of the shy maid, the Virgin Mary."
Thus, from today I no longer cry out for more life,
Nor for that magic word that alone can unlock
My voice. Instead, I listen for what I am to do,
Emboldened as I am, ever since a steady heartbeat
Awakened me and clear insight, like a stream
Cutting through meadow and tumbling over rock,
Set me firmly on my feet. I may feel overburdened
With all this new vigor, this fire coursing upward
Through my lungs and throat. But the sunlight
Has spoken, and before my very eyes, as if
At a word of command, the gates of the sea
Have opened by themselves. Out of the solid
Blue wall of the horizon I summon a shadowy green
To set upon my lawn; I order up strips of a fiery red
To pin to the setting sun like the tail of a kite.
The breeze this evening, thick with the smell
Of the dying day, I paint in vivid black. "It's time
We slow down," I suggest, "and settle into our
Armchairs, the lamplight flush on our faces. It's
Time we greet each other in the dark, our words
Of peace flowing out from us into the sacred silence."
This poem is very much a parable of the world to come (the Not Yet) as it is present to us in some measure even now (the Already). The poem makes sense, then, only as imagery, as symbolism, marshaled to this end.
By the way, the "fair melody of Eden," quoted, so to speak, in the second section of the poem, is a reference to the OT story of Elijah atop Mt. Carmel, where he sees a cloud far out at sea no bigger than a man's hand (1Kgs 18:42-44), announcing the end of the drought and the coming of rain. This cloud Carmelites have long associated with the Virgin Mary, specifically at the moment of the Annunciation.
Do you believe it possible to have such foretastes, even in this life, of that new heaven and new earth, that new creation, which God has promised us? The poem presents us with the experience of the idyllic face of nature, of the setting sun and gathering dark of nightfall, and the peace these moments bestow. How have you experienced such moments of a transcendent peace?
Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD