Category Archives: poetry

As with marrow and fatness.

The Psalms of the Bible are the poetry that I am focusing on this year in National Poetry Month. They are helping me to also keep a Lenten focus. I’ve had my eye on two Psalms in particular that I wanted to memorize, but deliberately working at memorizing  seems to “not be happening.” Maybe if I at least read them (a little) more frequently some of the lines and verses will start to stick. I love this green pocket Psalter so much. It is from Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

For years I’ve also made heavy use of a recording of the Ancient Faith Psalter, available from Audible. Before John Oliver begins the actual reading, there is this encouraging introduction from Fr. Michael Gillis, which I have transcribed:

Introduction to the Ancient Faith Psalter

The Psalter is a prayer book for the church. It has been so before there was a Christian church. There is an ancient saying attributed to St. Athanasius the Great that the Psalms are different from the rest of Scripture in that while the rest of Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us. When we pray the Psalms we are praying the words God has given us to pray.

It has also said that the whole story of God’s dealing with Israel is an allegory of each person’s spiritual journey, the story of God’s dealing with every human soul. Therefore, inasmuch as the Psalms sum up and interpret the story of Israel, the Psalms also sum up and interpret the spiritual journey of every human being. The Psalms touch every experience of human life in our fallen world; every joy and every terror, every fear and every hope are found expressed in the Psalms. Some Psalms are beautiful, to the point of seeming sentimental. Other Psalms are bloody and apparently vindictive.

Such a range of emotion and experience is offered to us in prayer because in some inner or outer way, at some time in our life we will all experience this full range of thoughts and feelings. In fact, because some of these thoughts and feelings are so extreme, so evidently horrible, it is only through praying the Psalms that we come to realize and then confess both to ourselves and to God in prayer that yes, even such terrible things as these at one time or another have passed through our minds and perhaps even our hands.

This literal reading of the Psalms however is only the beginning. As one prays the Psalms one soon begins to realize that the enemy, the Amalekite or the Philistine, the nations that rage against God, are not people or situations outside myself, but are most poignantly referring to the wicked impulses and evil thoughts that I must battle within myself. The psalmist’s cry for deliverance becomes my own as I see within my own heart and mind the struggle between good and evil; the betraying thought, the accusing word, or the mocking laugh.

The Psalms give us words, images and metaphors by which we can cry out to God for help in the midst of our inner struggles. What the psalmist describes as external speaks to our internal struggles, because all outer conflict is a reflection of an inward struggle. Is this not what Jesus told us when he said it is out of the heart that murders and adultery flow?

The Psalter is a prophetic book; it is prophetic of Christ but it also speaks prophetically of all who are in Christ. Just as “strong bulls” surround Christ on the Cross, so too all who pick up their cross and follow Christ experience in one form or another this attack of the strong, and come to know their own weakness in resisting it, their own need to be delivered from the “power of the dog,” “the mouth of the lion” and “the horns of the wild bulls.” Similarly, the prophetic declaration of the Resurrection of Christ, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered;” this also is our declaration as we experience moments of deliverance and help over our inner enemies.

The Psalms speak of God and man, Christ and Christian, inner and outer conflict, victory and defeat, heaven and earth, wisdom and foolishness. With few words and much meaning, the Psalms provide the images and words for every prayer, every need, every celebration on our journey through this world.

-Fr. Michael Gillis

Listening in Poetry Month and beyond.

April is National Poetry Month, but also the whole month is full with Lent and Holy Week for us Orthodox. I have plans to combine poetry with repentance, but before I get into that here I want to share this podcast I recently became acquainted with, which might be a blessing to some of my readers. It comes from the CiRCE Institute, and David Kern reads the poems.

In the first few episodes I listened to, one of them was less than two minutes, during which time the selected poem was read three times. And two of the ones I heard were perfect for young children, if you have any of those around, or if you are a child at heart.

The Daily Poem

No bread pudding was involved.

Peter Hitchens, in a recent interview about why he is still a “traditional Anglican” Christian,
on the Prayer Book:

“The Prayer Book is written in a language which repeatedly acknowledges the existence of the eternal, as not just a rival to the temporal, but as a superior and more important thing. I’d go further. Music, as we know, expresses what is inexpressible through words alone. Poetry, which much of the Prayer Book aims at, allows words to say more than prose does. By poetry here I don’t mean rhyming and scanning verse, but language consciously crafted to be as beautiful an expression of its meaning as possible.

“Our forebears were simply better at this than we are, because of the age they lived in. This has much to do with the fact that it was written to be spoken aloud and I do not doubt that its authors did speak it aloud many times as they perfected it. This is something few writers of modern prose do, which is why the result so often looks and sounds as if it has been created by using the blunt end of a bread pudding.”

Above: Book of Common Prayer open to the selection for
“The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Himself at last.

I would like to read more of Søren Kierkegaard’s writings. My intent is on display in the form of four titles by him that I have had sitting on the mobile bookshelf here in my kitchen/family room, for a year at least. I guess if I could decide which to read that would be a good start. A biography of him I am not likely to get to, but who knows…? In the meantime, I am reading this homage by Dana Gioia in the form of a poem. Seems like after this I owe it to Kierkegaard to read at least one more of his own works, though not in hopes of explaining any “riddles.” Only God can do that, and we know that He will — all of them, all of us.

HOMAGE TO SOREN KIERKEGAARD

Work out your own salvation
with fear and trembling.
—St. Paul

I was already an old man when I was born.
Small with a curved back, he dragged his leg when walking
the streets of Copenhagen. “Little Kierkegaard,”
they called him. Some meant it kindly. The more one suffers
the more one acquires a sense of the comic.
His hair rose in waves six inches above his head.
Save me, O God, from ever becoming sure.
What good is faith if it is not irrational?

Christianity requires a conviction of sin.
As a boy tending sheep on the frozen heath,
his starving father cursed God for his cruelty.
His fortunes changed. He grew rich and married well.
His father knew these blessings were God’s punishment.
All would be stripped away. His beautiful wife died,
then five of his children. Crippled Soren survived.
The self-consuming sickness unto death is despair.

What the age needs is not a genius but a martyr.
Soren fell in love, proposed, then broke the engagement.
No one, he thought, could bear his presence daily.
My sorrow is my castle. His books were read
but ridiculed. Cartoons mocked his deformities.
His private journals fill seven thousand pages.
You could read them all, he claimed, and still not know him.
He who explains this riddle explains my life.

When everyone is Christian, Christianity
does not exist. The crowd is untruth. Remember
we stand alone before God in fear and trembling.
At forty-two he collapsed on his daily walk.
Dying he seemed radiant. His skin had become
almost transparent. He refused communion
from the established church. His grave has no headstone.
Now with God’s help I shall at last become myself.

-Dana Gioia, 99 Poems