Could Philip Larkin have intuited something that he did not personally encounter, about faith and life? The images he presents in the poem below evoke the reality of the ancient and present sacramental church I know, which doesn’t need to be constructed, because it was born at Pentecost by a sousing of the Holy Spirit Himself.
I’ve kept Larkin’s poem in my drafts for months, hoping to collect a few thoughts and sentences that would properly introduce it on the occasion of Theophany, that wonderful commemoration of water and light and the Incarnation. Here we are at the feast, so let’s just go to the poem:
If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.
Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;
My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,
And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.
Today we commemorate St. Michael and all the Bodiless Powers. This feast day was established at the beginning of the fourth century, even before the First Ecumenical Council. This page on the Orthodox Church in America website explains the nine ranks of angels and much about St. Michael, the Chief Commander of angels.
When I arrived at church I saw a rose gracing the damp and grey day,
so I memorialized it, too.
Father Stephen reminded us of a prayer that came from his son at about four years old:
Dear St. Michael,
Guard my room.
Don’t let anything
eat me or kill me.
Kill it with your sword.
Kill it with your sword.
He shared other stories on his blog about children especially, who have seen their guardian angels. Our rector in his homily noted that many of us have our physical senses finely tuned so that we can know, when we taste wine, where the grapes were grown; and when we hear music we often know if it’s off-key, or even who composed it. But our spiritual senses are usually so dull that we not only can’t see our angels, but we mostly ignore them. In any case, they are there, guiding and protecting us! Let’s try to pay more attention.
The Monday after Pentecost Sunday, we Orthodox celebrate Holy Spirit Day.
When He came down and confused the tongues,
the Most High divided the nations;
but when He distributed the tongues of fire,
He called all people to unity.
Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the most-Holy Spirit.
(Hymn of the Feast)
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:
“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
(From the epistle for the day, Ephesians 5)
Anglican priest Fr. Malcolm Guite has written a cycle of sonnets for the church year, several of which I have posted in the past. You can read and listen to this one for Pentecost on his site. I like the theme of the four elements which he weaves into his poem. From the blog:
“Throughout the cycle, and more widely, I have been reflecting on the traditional ‘four elements’ of earth, air, water and fire. I have been considering how each of them expresses and embodies different aspects of the Gospel and of God’s goodness, as though the four elements were, in their own way, another four evangelists.
“In that context I was very struck by the way Scripture expresses the presence of the Holy Spirit through the three most dynamic of the four elements, the air, ( a mighty rushing wind, but also the breath of the spirit) water, (the waters of baptism, the river of life, the fountain springing up to eternal life promised by Jesus) and of course fire, the tongues of flame at Pentecost. Three out of four ain’t bad, but I was wondering, where is the fourth? Where is earth? And then I realised that we ourselves are earth, the ‘Adam’ made of the red clay, and we become living beings, fully alive, when the Holy Spirit, clothed in the three other elements comes upon us and becomes a part of who we are.”
Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire, air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.