The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Monday, November 20, 2006

Just When You Were Tempted to Despair....

I read the following poems at a poetry reading tonight. Since you have to suffer through all of the other bright ideas I have, you might as well suffer my poetry, at least the stuff I inflict on the public.


A Rejected Proposal

Break it open-
A hundred flakes of glass
Rushing over the floor.

Break it open and
Do not be afraid-
The heart is not as
Delicate as you think.

It is made of spirit
And forgetting.

Break it open and
You will see the hills
Veiled in darkness-

They dodge the lonely
Headlights and look at
The scars
Left by the hooves of cows.

There is a full moon tonight...
What is she saying?
Does she see me immersed
In you-
In your smile soft
Like the fog-tainted sunset?

Break open that little box
Gilded and glistening
In my chest-
It contains the sweetest ointment-
Biblical almost-
That will fill this room
With childhood memories
Of cucumber fields
And work-scared hands-
They hold mine lovingly
At the end of a joyful,
Dirt-strewn day.

Break open and fill
The sky with mercy
And tears-
You will see that maybe
The walls of time will fall
And we will stand on top
Of the hill- that hill
Occupied by the
Late afternoon wind
Making its vesperal pilgrimage
From the ocean.

Break open what can be
And do not reject that embrace
Of a small glance exchanged
Over coffee.

Peter's Tears

I turn away ashamed
After denying the King of kings,
That harsh word in my ears
Still accusingly rings.
My hour came and went
And in the trial I have failed-
For Divine love I have returned
Cruel cowardice and betrayal.

For so long I walked
With you, but all for naught-
I swore that I would die next to you
And for you I bravely fought.
Against your teaching even
I rose up and used the sword,
But with this phrase I
Offer you an undeserved reward:

“I know him not!” I cried,
Not knowing what I said-
At a maiden’s teasing jokes
I turned away and fled.
My mind sank within me,
Your memory was a haze-
Until I caught those sorrowful eyes
Fixed in a tender gaze.

Lord, I am sorry,
I was not as strong as I told,
To fear my words have turned
So reckless and bold.
I acknowledge that I am weak
Before you,
Into this sin did I fall,
As you go now to shed your blood
Poured out for the life of all.

My heart is ripped out of me,
And I am nothing in your sight,
Confidence turns to darkness now,
Despair and tragic flight-
The air is damp and cold,
The night is long and deep-
The only consolation I have here
Is to hide myself and weep.

Accept these tears, Lord,
Not as a sacrifice to you-
For there is only one sacrifice
That is valued and true-
Sealed in your own blood
On Golgotha’s dreadful height-
Dispersing sin’s clouds
And revealing the light.

Accept these tears, Lord,
And look upon them from above,
For though I am selfish, afraid,
And wicked,
My heart still longs, Lord,
It longs to love.

I almost did not read this last poem. This is Berkeley after all, and who would understand it? Trying to preach Christianity to a bunch of agnostic bohemian poets is not an easy task, and it was one I was reluctant to do. But I threw in a token of Christianity into my "art", and thought myself rather daring for doing so.

But then........

A light-skinned black woman got up to read after me. She was young, quite attractive, and wearing a rather snug-fitting tee-shirt that said "Diva" on it. I thought I knew what was coming. But, as usual, the Holy Spirit came down and smacked me in the face.

Basically, this woman "flowed" for almost twenty minutes about how Jesus had saved her, and pleaded with the audience to accept the motions of the Holy Spirit and the Christian message in an almost endless series of flawless rhymes. My jaw dropped, but not that far. I am getting very used to these random acts of grace that the Spirit springs on me every now and then. I smiled as she continued, without regard to human opinion about being "preachy", to spin her verses into a multi-colored quilt of the Gospel colliding with modern life.

"Okay God," I thought, "you got me again. And I thank You."

People recently in these posts have been arguing how lost everything is, how the old ways are dying and that young people are completely lost. It's a good thing God's plans are not our plans. Was it not Evelyn Waugh, speaking through one of his characters in Brideshead Revisited, who said that the Gospel is a series of beautiful suprises? I just had one again tonight. There is no need to despair. God is with us.

I later went up to this woman and confessed that I had almost not read my last poem thinking people would not understand it, and I congratulated her on her willingness to testify to her Faith in Christ. Perhaps she was not "theologically correct", perhaps she will never set foot inside a Tridentine Mass or a Divine Liturgy. Perhaps her faith is deficient, and we can stand back smirking that she may have those nice words, but we have the "smells 'n bells", Apostolic succession, and the "True Church". You can think that if you want. But this time, at least, I am going to shut up.

"The Holy Spirit dumped a bucket of grace on us tonight," I said to her. And He made our little poetry reading, supposedly a very agnostic affair, into a small Revival tent. He indeed blows where He wills.


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