Alleluia, Christus resurrexit!
RISE, heart, thy lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may’st rise:
That, as his death calcinèd thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and, much more, just.
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art,
The cross taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretchèd sinews taught all strings what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.
Consort, both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long
Or, since all music is but three parts vied
Oh let thy blessèd Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
If we have never sought, we seek thee now;
Thine eyes burn though the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-marks on thy brow,
We must have thee, O Jesus of the scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by thy scars we know thy grace.
If, when the doors are shut, thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of thine;
We know today what wounds are, have no fear;
Show us thy scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.
– Edward Shillito (1870-1948)
So I’ve just discovered the poetry of Mary Oliver.
I’ve been reading what I think is her latest collection of poems, Blue Horses, and about two thirds of the way through it I discovered a poem that describes an experience I’ve had from time to time over the past few years.
This experience is not a rational argument for the existence of God, and I’m sure Richard Dawkins wouldn’t be impressed by it. All I can say is that it’s vividly real to me. Here is how Mary Oliver describes it.
Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof.
It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the
trees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with
its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and
makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some
spirit, some small god, who abides there.
If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing
I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this
holiness, which is why I’m so often late coming
back from wherever I went.
There it is. If I were an atheist, I don’t think I’d know what to do with this experience. And I’m certainly not trying to explain it. It’s mysterious and wild and completely beyond my control. I can’t make it happen. But if I pay attention, it happens more often. And those are some of the times I feel close to God.
This poem is taken from Blue Horses, by Mary Oliver (The Penguin Press, New York, 2014).
This one’s by Robert Herrick (1591-1674).
To Keep a True Lent
Is this a fast, to keep
The larder lean ?
From fat of veals and sheep ?
Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
The platter high with fish ?
Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
A downcast look and sour ?
No ; ‘tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
Unto the hungry soul.
It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate ;
To circumcise thy life.
To show a heart grief-rent ;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin ;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.