“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 ~ 4 Poems - Part 4
Mon, Oct 15 2018
~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.
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.
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
The Hours ~ 4 Poems – Part 3
Tue, Oct 2 2018
~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,
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.
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
The Hours ~ 4 Poems – Part 2
Fri, Sep 28 2018
The Lord watches over you,
like one who shades you from heat
He is right there, at your right hand.
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
The Hours ~ 4 Poems – Part 1
Fri, May 18 2018
~Night Lingers On
Among the watchers for the dawn,
Lord, I am yearning for Your Grace
to end my darkness.
I was, early in life, of two minds
About the sheer sweep of the night sky,
Something in the way the stars winked at me
Even as the looming emptiness around them
Took aim. The Divine Artist had let dribble
A drizzle of white paint across His
Otherwise limitless black canvas. Maybe I
Should have sought merely to admire
His work's unblemished beauty. Instead,
I looked for, but never found,
A higher meaning behind such breathlessness.
If only I had, from the first, been content
Simply to let myself look up in wonder
At the utter grandeur of it all—of this His
Creatio ex nihilo—as both the child and child-like
Among us so easily succeed in doing.
Early each morning the portly silhouette
Of the billowy beech tree out front
Presses itself flat against the first flush of dawn,
And a sketch of the tree, drawn with a No.1 pencil,
Lounges a moment on the lawn, torn
From a shadowy sketchbook. Soon everything
Starts to take shape, insisting on its right
To be. I look out the window; strangely my heart
Grows a tad uncertain about the emerging day.
Perhaps if I whistle a tune to myself in the half-light:
—"How sweet and sour my soul is today,” the
Mockingbird sings, mimicking my song.
“How mixed up I am amid all the delicate breezes
That stir within the world's great dream of day
Nudging me awake. Look, outside something’s
Tumbling down, something that resembles
Volcanic ash, or maybe a flurry of goose feathers
Tossed about on a gust of grumpy old air only just now
Awakened. Soon, fine-tuned to perfection,
This first sign of day will stretch from one end
Of the sky to the other, its wingspan vast
As the soul’s in flight." Yep, sure enough, of a sudden
Dawn leaps fully into view, the size
Of a giant flamingo standing straight and tall.
"Oh, what a burden its spindly legs must bear”—
I think referencing dawn's pinkish hue,
But also the lumbering, top-heavy weight
Of the flightless day that must surely follow.
From beneath earth’s wormy soil—raised to new life
And become a block of red-brick bungalows
Set back from the street—the green
Of morning’s ever verdant dew bubbles up,
Oozing forth like the Holy Ghost
And flooding each square inch of lawn.
Eying such a miracle I'm willing to surrender
Every wish I once may have had to feel something
Of the sap of a primal agelessness coursing
Through my soul. I'm ready to grow old,
I say to myself, though not yet ready to die.
"If I'd been present from the first day of our race,”
I fantasize, letting the idea of agelessness
Overwhelm this poem—“If I'd been present
To witness Lucifer's precipitous fall
And monitor through millennia his influence
Over us as his blackened soul cozies up to
Ours and wraps itself in a tight knot
About our morally more ambiguous exaltations;
Then I would, at the choicest of times, have seen fit
To journey forth across the wastes of, let us say,
The Mojave Desert, there where the need of mercy,
Like a savage thirst sipped at again and again
At each step, causes the lips, door
Of all speech, to crack and bleed and blister.
But nothing of the sort would ever stop me.
I'd struggle steadily on, prying open
My speechlessness so as to rail madly, like one lost
To fever, in the words of this or that favored
Psalm. All the while my eyes, clinched tight,
Would closely scan the dry-as-dust earth,
With its twisted trees and crumbled, chalky rocks
Huddled at their feet. Constantly I’d be combing
The landscape looking for any glint, large or small,
Of Lucifer’s fiery glass eye . . .”—Yes, it was thus
That I fantasized, pretending I was some sort
Of Elijah-like figure, my heart full of fire
And supremely confident in its inspirations.
But then, alas, the fantasy burst into flame
And, placing my hands before my eyes, I fashioned
An impromptu blindfold to shield my sight
From the assaults of the sun's blaring
Brass band bleating its harsher dissonances
At me, taunting me mercilessly—“The fact
That you live a half-baked life,” it sneered,
“Something you yourself freely admit—
Your life embedded as much in darkness
As in light—it puts the lie to this fantasy
Of heroic sanctity you so cherish. Indeed,
The present state of your lounging conscience
Fits you just fine, like an old pair of shoes.
There's no need to rethink the many mitigations
Of rule and norm you've adopted through the years.
In fact, you sort of prefer it this way, right?
It’d hobble you to the point of permanent paralysis
Were you to try to don a morally more constrained
Pair of slippers. And what, I ask you, would be
The point of that? One's got to live, right? So,
Be happy; enjoy yourself, presume on God’s mercy.”
I rise early. Dawn breaks in upon the brittle
Morning air, softening it, warming it up,
Reshaping it slightly. Consciousness
Struggles free from my heart like a boy scout
Wriggling out of his sleeping bag. My body,
For its part, carries me out to where
All can decipher in my stooped shoulders
The perfect posture of a knowledgeable soul.
Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD