• lenten journal: what the poet said

    by  • March 30, 2014 • community, faith, lenten journal, pilgrim ucc • 0 Comments

    I love it when a poem catches me by surprise.

    Most of the time, I do a pretty good job looking for them, but every so often (I’m happy to say) one shows up somewhere unexpectedly, ambushes me with alliteration or metaphor, and I am the better for it. Today was one of those days. Our worship today at Pilgrim was both Children and Youth Sunday and the ordination of Jake de Nap, one of our former students who is now a hospice chaplain in St. Louis. The children led the liturgy and read scripture. They were awesome: well prepared, enthusiastic, engaged. Jake had picked out the scripture readings for the day and, I found out, had also chosen a poem. This poem by Adrienne Rich. That caught me by surprise.

    For Memory

    Old words:  trust   fidelity
    Nothing new yet to take their place.
    I rake leaves, clear the lawn, October grass
    painfully green beneath the gold
    and in this silent labor thoughts of you
    start up
    I hear your voice:   disloyalty   betrayal
    stinging the wires
    I stuff the old leaves into sacks
    and still they fall and still
    I see my work undone
    One shivering rainswept afternoon
    and the whole job to be done over
    I can’t know what you know
    unless you tell me
    there are gashes in our understandings
    of this world
    We came together in a common
    fury of direction
    barely mentioning difference
    (what drew our finest hairs
    to fire
    the deep, difficult troughs
    unvoiced)
    I fell through a basement railing
    the first day of school and cut my forehead open—
    did I ever tell you? More than forty years
    and I still remember smelling my own blood
    like the smell of a new schoolbook
    And did you ever tell me
    how your mother called you in from play
    and from whom? To what? These atoms filmed by ordinary dust
    that common life we each and all bent out of orbit from
    to which we must return simply to say
    this is where I came from
    this is what I knew
    The past is not a husk   yet change goes on
    Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk out
    under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
    of light, the fields of dark—
    freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
    remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
    the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.

    Without parsing the poem to death, I have to say there were a couple of lines that stopped me in my tracks. The first was

    there are gashes in our understandings
    of this world.

    Not gaps. Gashes. As we endeavor to make sense of what is happening to us, much less to others around the world, there are huge tears in the fabric of our comprehension. What a powerful word picture. The second one comes at the end of the poem, in simpler language:

    freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
    remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
    the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.

    These lines make we want to stand on my front porch and holler, “Yes!” as loudly as I can. Freedom isn’t being able to do whatever I want, it is remembering what I was called to do and doing it. The gashes in our understanding are healed by the quotidian care and compassion we offer one another.

    Old words:  trust   fidelity
    Nothing new yet to take their place.

    Nothing indeed, thank God.

    Peace,
    Milton

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