Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

Abraham Heschel
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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

Conjuring Up the Eternal – Part 5 of 7

V.

Grace Builds on Nature


There's no sweetness these fruity molecules,
Packed tight as clay and strung like lights from
The graceful, arching branches of these trees,
There's nothing they will not undertake for you,

Filling your belly with the nectar of a ripe plum,
Or stuffing your satchel with choice pears, shaped
Like teardrops and tasting of a plenary indulgence
From purgatory's cleansing bubblebath of fire.

*

And then, each night as you sleep,
No far-flung vision, no oracle of wisdom,
Is denied you.  You're growing older
Each day, yet you know deep down, beneath
The soul's unbroken silence, that this weight
Of flesh enfolding you will become

Someday, inwardly, as invigorating as
That first thin thread of water let loose
By spring's long-awaited thaw; while,
Outwardly, it will shine as sharp and lucid
As a bed of irises popping into bloom.

*

It is then that he will appear to you, he who
Had appeared often before, though mostly
In unrecognizable guises, but who now
Has become the very exemplar of that life
You knew, again deep down, had been

Promised you.  He will step forth from hiding
To gaze with amazement on the likes of you,
Indeed, on the likes of everyone.  Here is
The birth he once enjoyed in a stable
Multiplied innumerably and become

A vast choir; and here is the grace

And energy he once freely imbibed, and
Happily called Abba, now spread out over
Land and sea, exceeding in extent even
The empire of Genghis Khan.  Yet it rests
Peacefully, impartially, lying everywhere

Like sunlight on grass, or seed freely sown.
Yes, he had once dreamt it would be this way,
Where all will finally have become themselves,
Singly and together.  "Behold, friend," he says,
"See how very wondrous and radiant it is."

***

Very simply, this poem enacts what the title suggests.  Grace emerges from nature.  The fulfillment or perfection of all things is accomplished wondrously by God.  (By the way, the he in the third section is, of course, Jesus, although you knew that.  It's obvious.)
Jesus gave us parables to help us imagine God's Kingdom.  Here are a bunch of other images, from my own imagination.  For example, on that day our bodies "will shine as sharp and lucid / As a bed of irises popping into bloom."  Which of the images offered by this poem perhaps touches or speaks to you most?  Do you have an image of your own to suggest?


Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
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Conjuring Up the Eternal – Part 4 of 7


IV.

Otherworldliness

For long years, or so the Anchoress confessed,
The sooty black bricks of night encased her on
Every side.  And yellow smoke rose like incense

Each morning.  "One would think I lived
In a chimney," she sighed.  Yet the smell of peas
And carrots, of beans simmering in a pot,

Spiraled slowly upward on invisible wings,
While the pulp she squeezed from meaty apples
Merited the name she gave it, "earth's own chrism."

*

Barren mountains hovered in the distance,
And sharp winds, swirling about nearby,
Rattled the rickety slats of the door to

Her cell, or so the Hermitess remarked.
Fields and farms and dense woods fled
From view, far beyond all thought of

Turning back until spring should arrive.
There, far away, dressed in white, they became
The stuff of dreams.  At day's end an angel

Knelt beside her, bearing in his blood
The red embers of God's mercy.  "He's come
To stoke my tired heart into a flame."

*

The Beguine knew that she should live among
Her kind.  "Only then," she declared,  "can I
Rest well and rise early, do my chores with

Steady hand and keen eye."  "A carpet of tall grass
Rolls down the hillside and spreads out around,
Gracing the valley with its green waves," the

Foundress wrote in her diary.  "It's an ideal spot."
Thus, some years later her Spiritual Daughter
Realized that she could still smell the sea here,

Wrapped in its cloak of summer air.  "Our remedy
Is adoration," the Visitandine opined as the
Wee hours of the morning crept by silent as

A ghost, its veil of flickering shadows shielding
Her Lord's sad eyes from the stabbing candlelight.

***

The poem is straightforward enough.  It moves from one to another of various figures, each of whom leads a life "in the world, but not of the world."  Yet each remains very grounded in the feel and texture of life--in the taste of apple cider, in the sound of the winter wind, in rest and work, the beauty of green grass, the flicker of candlelight.  It is an earthy kind of otherworldliness.

How do you yourself strive to keep a certain distance from the world, practicing what Carmelites call detachment?  Yet how, through prayer and simplicity of life, do you remain immersed in the brute fact of God's creation?


Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
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Conjuring Up the Eternal – Part 3 of 7


III.

Speaking of Death

Into the box of the black-eyed menace I go,
Its coffin lid, like heaven itself, slammed shut.
Steep cliffs loom large at each of its four walls
Where vultures wait their turn in silence.

I nod off.  Who knows whether, if I say
I've come here seeking life and wisdom,
With these gifts, or with neither, or with some
Kind of hellish madness, I will return?  No
Matter.  I follow the rolling edge of nightfall.

*

"We've waited an hour to hear your footsteps
Approaching on the wet grass; and now
Look at you," exclaimed the guardians at
Heaven's gate, "showing up like this, downtrodden
And dirty, traipsing in with mud on your boots,

Trailing it across the lawn."  It's a choice spot,
This patch of St. Augustine grass, like a foam pillow
From which to wander off into dream and fill
The mind with its own clink-clank of loose change,
As if it were a tin cup.  Above me leaves rattle

While the dream begins to inch out onto the
White surface of my soul.  Amazing, everywhere
I see unbroken blue sky as I sail along home,
No longer feeling like a marooned, motherless soul.
It was my hope all along to go to a place where

Longing's become both joy and love joined as one,
A great bell unfurling its most resonant tone
In a wide echo that's everywhere overhung
With the Spirit's gently prodding, protective care.

*

It doesn't matter that my body is now made
Of straw, my torso packed tight into a flannel shirt,
As if I'd donned an outer skin of fur.  But
With the Spirit so near, I have no need

To surrender myself to the wind, letting it
Scatter me across the landscape, off into
The realm of nature's brute noises, its grunts
And growls and nervously lowing cattle.

Emptiness of body is no longer entertained,
Not anymore, for there is, in the steady,
Breath-like rhythm of my soul, an inner weight
Upholding me.  Death is now wakefulness, in which
I see that I'm not alone, that I never have been.

***


The movements of this poem are perhaps straightforward enough, although the imagery is a bit whimsical.  I guess the two questions I would ask are:  Do you find the poem's images for death, and for what awaits us after death, expressive, playful, simply different, peculiar, or unusual?  Which image especially stands out to you, works for you, or seems potentially memorable?


Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
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Conjuring Up the Eternal – Part 2 of 7

New Day

II.

New Day, New Life

It was in the sky that the event occurred.  A sound
Like that of buffalo stampeding over stone pavement
Was shaken into life by the steady hammering
Of a wet wind pressing in over stormy seas.  Behemoth

Clouds crawled forward on their bellies, smearing
Gray shadows along the ground in shapes resembling
That of a mittened hand, its one, fat finger pointing west
To where the sun retreats daily, crouched down
Behind the dark hour of our Lord's Last Supper.

*

The storm has set, night has fallen; I see him,
The Son of Man, riding his white horse across
A moonlit sky, bearing in his hand the white flag
That announces a soft-spoken nature.  Surely

He's come to offer us his gentlest greeting, his
Supernatural radiance mingling blues, yellows, and
Reds, the three primary colors that huddle like daylight
Beneath the lingering darkness of this early hour, yet
Are ready even now to leap into view once dawn appears.

They have insinuated themselves into everything
And so will rise together, leading out thousands of souls
Into a burst of joy.  "Grass grows straight and tall, only
To be mowed down by the blade's sharp edge. So, what's
The point?"  Today such sentiments will be rejected.

*

How I wanted the whole world to share with me
In this Sabbath peace, this light breeze blowing in
Through the window, eager to bestow, as if with a
Kiss, its perfect quietude.  Let it expand forever, I

Declare, spreading out like the light of creation
Surfing a wave of the divine word.  I lose nothing
By it, for it was to the whole of humanity that God
Promised his undying kindness and mercy.  From

Behind unflinching patience saints peer out, capped
With halos and looking every bit like children, so full
Of love they hardly dare to move.  Still they offer us
The very Heart of Christ, a red planet if ever there

Was one, its atmosphere worn thin by sin and the
Lassitude sin brings; yet it prospers, endlessly, orbiting
High above the earth.  "You each have a gold coin
Hung about the neck; it catches fire whenever night
Departs and, amazingly, morning reemerges."  Amen.

***

The event referred to at the start of this poem is, very simply, a movement in the sky going from storm to nightfall to dawn and new day.  This overarching imagery clearly and simply enough refers, therefore, to a spiritual movement from interior storm and darkness to rebirth and new life.  The title suggests as much.

The poet's final state, expressed in the last four stanzas, is effusive.  Has your spiritual life taken you, in God's grace, to a similar moment of joyful abundance?  Can you join in the Amen that ends the poem with heartfelt gratitude?


Written by Fr. Bonaventure, OCD
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