Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

Provincial Blog

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“From the abundance of his spirit [the poet] pours out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanation” (Prologue, The Spiritual Canticle).

“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

The Hours ~ 7 Poems – Part 5 of 7

Initially, I wrote 4 poems for the collection called The Hours. Since the publication of those four poems, I have written three more– The Hours has now been expanded to comprise 7 poems in all.
– Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD


V.

Late at Night:  Matins (1)
~God Sends Dreams

When I lie down, my mind is filled by You
and through the night watch, I meditate on You.
(Ps 63:7)

In a first dream, I stepped into the light as if
From out of nowhere.  There before me
Was a small, waist-high, square wooden table.
Further up ahead a great, towering arch
Swept from one end to the other like a rainbow.

In the center of the table lay a large pile
Of ashes, white as ivory, that one could easily
Mistake for an arctic hare or ermine or
doll-sized Snowdrift.  “What shadowy figure
left these here?” I wondered, without hope

Of answer.  “But surely the ashes symbolize
Something,” I wisely surmised, “for it’s a dream
After all.”  So, I began to reason.  “Maybe
They're what’s left of my dry and achingly dull
Doctoral dissertation on the Elijan cycle

In 1 Kings.  Or perhaps they're what remains
Of a thick, leather-bound, vellum-paged
Volume of Cabalistic poetry delivered
To the flames.  One must, any way one can,
Protect such beauty from the wandering eyes

Of the merely curious, the Uninitiate.  Or,
As a third option, maybe I'd finally succeeded
In returning to the earth from which it came
That teeshirt of sackcloth I admittedly long ago
Stopped wearing.  And now, having become

Ash, it can better serve its true purpose.  By
Scooping up ashes by the hand loads
And letting them rain down from above,
All over my head, I can offer stark proof to
The world of the genuineness of my contrition.”

After a little reflection, though, my dream-self
Soon realized I had in life ashes Aplenty,
perduring in the taste that certain memories
Left in my mouth whenever they welled up
and forced Themselves upon me.  Perhaps

on a sleepless night, in that very moment
when the wind howls and rain Gallops by
like a horse-drawn carriage—“It's a gritty,
chalky, truly tasteless Taste that even
a pitcherful of water can't wash away.”

In my dream, then, I lifted the bowl of ashes
And held it high above my head in both hands.
But I didn’t overturn it.  Rather, I strode forth,
with a practiced solemnity, through the arch and,
before he eyes of all, entered the arena.

Which arena?  The Dreamland Arena, of course,
Which happily opened its arms to me in a
Truly splendid embrace, wide and consoling as a valley
Ringed by hills.  Thousands of breathless Faces
Were staring down at me, hushed in an unearthly hush.

*

A second dream:

Rising upward from a ridge of sand, like so many headstones looking out over the beach to the water and waves of the Gulf, was a low picket fence of sea oats, each shoot meant to memorialize a key moment from my past, one I must never forget, despite the temptation to do so.  About these moments, whenever I happened to recall this one or that, it was a sacred duty to offer up a quick prayer and let it soar heavenward on the snow white wings of a seagull.  But I often failed my duty; too often my prayers were dragged back to earth, heavy as a wagon on its way to market, loaded down with stones ground smooth and shiny as ballbearings by years of regret.

The ridge of sand, I surmised, was all that remainder of the many prayers I’d failed to say.  Or at least that's what was indicated by the voice of the dream’s emcee.  Yes, I had through the years, along with my prayers, burned piles of incense, letting it burn down to gritty ash as the fragrant smoke rose.  In this way I summoned up to consciousness my heart’s innermost whisper babbling continuously in a voice that mystics inform me ultimately has no mouth.  Its words approach and linger inside my soul, becoming silent, unheard, until they burst forth and float on the wind, awash with the outside of things, wrestling  the branches of an old oak.  

In the dream I next found myself sitting near an open window keeping a nightlong vigil, prayers snoring noisily from my throat, when all of a sudden the milky white surface of a moonlit lake shook with the barely perceptible splashing of oars and overwhelmed the sleepiness that had been gathering all around me.  Night became as clear as day, as the psalmist says, and I stood in reverence to its light.

*

My third dream was not a mindless escapade,
Easily dismissed; no, by simply plucking up
The three egret feathers—as the dream’s emcee

Informed me, his eyes glistening with a coal
Black fire—there was already in play a post-
Impressionist work of art.  My dream had

Lifted me up into the upper atmosphere,
And I was soaring.  From far below fields 
Reached up for me with their thin fingers of

Tall grass tugging at my heart strings.
Beauty, indeed, lies everywhere, I realized;
Who can walk in this dream-laden world

Without tears streaming down his cheeks?
Life has, I said as I awoke, strung blue
And yellow ribbons from the air, announcing

A boy born today; willingly, through all
These years, they inhabited my shadow
Unbeknownst, while the mystery of it

Held fast.  Now I’ve come to possess, with
The divine assistance, a deep inkling of Eden
Such as vegetarians, say, retain some faint

Racial memory of.  There, huddled in a nest
Of rich black soil, dandelions, their faces lifted
Skyward, pleading for any scrap of rain, soon
Will poke free like fledglings ready to fly.
They have come to trumpet forth a blizzard

Of seed puffs that float and hover a moment
On white wings, then hurried away.  Spring
Is toppling down all around me, my head,

My face, my eyes; each hour gathers its own
Sunlight easily.  And my spirit reborn, this time
Without blindness, pursues a new aura over all.


Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD

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The Hours ~ 4 Poems - Part 4


IV.

Nightfall:  Compline

~The Dark Presence of the Divine

You will light my candle, Lord, my God;
You will enlighten my darkness.
With your help I can run the race;
With your help, my God, I can leap over a wall.
            (Ps 18:29-30)


    1.

A sudden gust of blackbirds awakens,
Rising as one thing, a sphere, and rolling off across
The cornfields to the far horizon; somewhere

A bell is pounding, fist against palm, insistent as
The unwearied heart of the sea surging against rock.
Nature's mood, alas, has darkened suddenly,

From joy to sorrow, then on to a restless,
Anxious melancholy fed on thoughts of lost love,
Of love lost long, long ago.  As night descends

You come looking for me.  You want to exalt
My heart, You say, by throwing it far away
To where the smooth path of the arching sky topples

In a really bad fall, hard against the skin of night’s
Diamond-encrusted fruit.  Meanwhile,
With its usual tenderness the moon steps forth

From its penthouse of thin clouds and begins
Slowly lowering its wispy armor to us
On long silvery wires.  Tonight, with its civilities

On full display, I see how it's trying to imitate for us
The descent to street level of those who normally
Inhabit the high boardrooms of the Seraphim.

It’s their duty to visit this human scene, and tonight
We watch as they settle in among the poplars
Bunched together in the form of a distant grove.


    2.

Yours is a simple plenitude of being,
Pulling the stars along in Your wake and drawing
From me an admission that, when I first

Saw You, I knew nothing of why You had
Stooped down to me; I lowered my head
At the time, staring down at my feet,

And let my body slump into itself,
Holding on to my bones as if for dear life.
Thus did I survive the encounter while, later,

Seated on a park bench, knowing how You had
Leaped trees and tall buildings to reach me—
Riding the ripples of the Spirit's far-swimming

Roar—I heard You nearby miming the gong
Of a truly thunderous silence.  Long ago,
Echoing endlessly everywhere, the Spirit had

Likewise heralded the Messiah’s birth.
“But it was easier for you then," I mused;
“With but one stride, You were there beside her."

Yet still tonight the brisk air offers no resistance,
Its heart, like mine, having little substance
Of its own to oppose You with.  What strength

It does have will, in due time, be displaced
By a flurry of unremembered dreams.



Written by Fr. Bonaventure, OCD
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The Hours ~ 4 Poems – Part 3


III.

Sunset:  Vespers
~For St. John of the Cross

       
Soaring on the wings of the dawn
to find shelter in the setting sun,
it would be Your hand that would carry me,
Your right hand holding me safe,
            (Ps 139:9-10)


    1.

He didn’t have to wait here long.  Sunset
Soon came, sliding down the distant alder trees
Like firemen dressed in their red and yellow jackets.

Away they went, hurrying to put out
The sudden conflagration that had exploded
From the sun's dropped hot potato, tossed

From hand to hand along the whole long arc of
Its flight.  “A taste for life once kissed me
On the cheek”—or so the sun’s now calm canticle,

Coaxing forth night’s darkness, reminded him.
“And in that moment,” he added, “life
Tugged at me, rapturously, just as a shoreline tugs

At the sea, until, in my mouth, a hint of
Sun-hewn, honeyed cider appeared,
All of its own, swishing about ever so sweetly.”

Of course, there was no helping such things,
He knew; indeed, everybody knew as much,
That there was nothing one could do about it.

But for him, what was more, there was nothing
He would ever even want to do about it.
“Oh, who can speak intelligibly,” he once said

To friendly ears alone, “of what self-forgetfulness

Has taught him?”—a topic discretely passed over
In polite company these days, among citizens

Of our more scientific age.  Yet daily it filled
His stomach; daily he quenched his thirst at its dark,
Soft-murmuring stream.  Often his eyes

Wandered upward to where eagles soar
High, high above, the sight leaving him speechless.
Yet, to this day, his words persist as if inscribed

On a piece of wooly, nut-brown cloth, cut
To the size of a single square inch, no more,
And hung from a string about his neck.

    2.

Now we have the sharp sliver of ice that is
The moon tonight, left from the fires of sunset;
We have this lolling haze, legacy of the day's

Last light, abiding as a milky balm
Distilled directly from nature's gentler ways
And come to offer us its consolations.

Thus God's word lingers on in the darkness,
Inserting images of love into our poems.
We have, for example, the Spirit, Who watches

Over us constantly, His kindly eyes like pearls
Fashioned from an unimagined brilliance
That’s been softened for us by wisdom

And great age.  He shows Himself tonight
In night’s many-stringed, starry necklace
Draping its satiny beads—each a pearl of

Great price—across the boundless black
Of the firmament.  Here below, though, I inhale
Exultation as I peer up at the marvel,


These numberless instances of a thing that glitters
Yet is not gold—a thing beautifully incarnate,
Genie-like, and full of luster.  If I could

Pick just one, chosen from among them all—
As if from a child's plastic pail, filled with
Sparkling white sand, I could choose

That single grain perfect in my imperfect
Estimation; or maybe if I scooped out by the
Shovelful the whole pail of sand till its contents

Lay piled before me—“Which of the two
Best suits You?” I wonder.  Neither would
Or even could show the world what it

Most longs to see, the very thing that has
Caught him up and whisked him away, off to where
Life endures in untangled sun and shade forever.



Written by Fr. Bonaventure, OCD
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The Hours ~ 4 Poems – Part 2


II.

Noontime:  Sext
~The Angelus

   
The Lord watches over you,
like one who shades you from heat
He is right there, at your right hand.
            (Ps 121:5)


The pealing bell, each chime shaped into a ball,
Rides the air like soap bubbles.  "It's a splendid gesture,
Overlaid with the colors of the rainbow, as if a flock

Of butterflies spread their wings, rose up, and flew away.
How magnificent!"  These are the words I whispered,
Breathlessly, as the sound alighted twelve times

In the palm of my hand.  Ding.  Dong.  Ding.
Dong.  Well, I guess the time’s up!  Thus the bell pleads,
Its lowliness stirring my heart which, in its own shy

Way, tries imitating the bell, carrying
Its rhythm forward in a slow march of its own.
Remarkably the attempt manages to pull off a poor,

Yet recognizable echo of the chiming bell's airy,
Vacuous syrup since, in the end, the sound fits perfectly
Nowhere else than in the muddy puddle of the daydream

That's sloshing about in my brain.  In the same way,
The bell, for its part, embraces its own unbridled essence
By repeatedly muscling its soul out into the air and, one

By one, saving each separate chime from the savage fate
Of being left out on its own, a lone, frail tone
Shoved in under the jagged silence of sunny noon.

Yes, above me a bell tower has begun its noonday
Majesty, and the street that's stretched out before me
Is thoroughly steeped in the sound’s swelling rapture,

The feel of it engulfing me tone by tone, chime by chime.
Although a billion years from now oblivion awaits us all,
The Spirit from the very start took up that tedious,

Yet immeasurably loving task of widely sounding out
Our names, each in its turn.  "When We Three
Open the book, there it will be, your very name, first

On the list”—So the Spirit once informed me.  “And,”
It said further, “The words I Am shall slip free from Us,
Riding the rush of wind that rings out far and wide,

O’er hill and dale, clamoring like struck thunder,
Demanding the fulfillment of Our love.  Thus,
On that day, I Am shall be your name forever.”



Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
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