Philip Larkin’s poetry is often bleak in various ways, but his uniquely beautiful voice draws me. So I borrowed a fat collection of his work from the library to peruse; it was fascinating. In a few poems, even though I don’t claim to see halfway to their depths, I catch glimmers of our common humanity and perspective, and am prompted to pray for him.
This one was unpublished in his lifetime.
Come then to prayers
And kneel upon the stone,
For we have tried
All courages on these despairs,
And are required lastly to give up pride,
And the last difficult pride in being humble.
Draw down the window-frame
That we may be unparted from the darkness,
Inviting to this house
Air from a field,
air from a salt grave,
That questions if we have
Concealed no flaw in this confessional,
And, being satisfied,
Lingers, and troubles, and is lightless,
And so grows darker, as if clapped on a flame,
Whose great extinguishing still makes it tremble.
Only our hearts go beating towards the east.
Out of this darkness, let the unmeasured sword
Rising from sleep to execute or crown
Rest on our shoulders, as we then can rest
On the outdistancing, all-capable flood
Whose brim touches the morning. Down
The long shadows where undriven the dawn
Hunts light into nobility, arouse us noble.
“The theme of the Orthodox account of Christ’s suffering and death is that of bearing shame and mockery. You can search the texts of Holy Week for the word ‘pain,’ and come up with almost nothing. The mocking and the shame, however, color everything.
“The same is largely true of the New Testament as well. When St. Paul describes Christ’s self-emptying (kenosis) on the Cross, he says that Christ ‘became obedient to death,’ and adds, ‘even death on a Cross.’ The point of the ‘even’ is not that the Cross is painful above all pain, but that the Cross is shameful above all shame.”
In an article titled An Atonement of Shame Father Stephen discusses how our own shame and vulnerability before God are the key to our understanding what has been done for us on the Cross, and he points us to the parable of the Prodigal Son, whose father ran to embrace him while he was yet in shame.
“The first instinct of shame is to look down, to turn the face away and hide. Blood rushes to the face (it ‘burns with shame’). Shame is the very sacrament of broken communion, the most proper and natural expression of sin. When Christ enters our shame (and bears it), it is as though God Himself stands before us, takes our face in His hands, and turns our eyes back to Him.”
“It stinketh,” say the Jews trying to prevent Jesus from approaching the corpse, and this awful warning applies to the whole world, to all life. God is Life and the Giver of Life. He called man into the Divine reality of Life and behold “it stinketh”…The world was created to reflect and proclaim the glory of God and “it stinketh.”
At the grave of Lazarus God encounters Death, the reality of anti-life, of destruction and despair. He meets His Enemy, who has taken away from Him His World and become its prince. And we who follow Jesus, as He approaches the grave, enter with Him into that hour of His, which He announced so often as the climax and the fulfillment of his whole work. The Cross, its necessity and universal meaning are announced in the shortest verse of the Gospel: “and Jesus wept” …We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus, that Jesus had the power of calling him back to life.
The power of Resurrection is not a Divine “power in itself,” but power of love, or rather love as power. God is Love and Love is Life, Love creates Life…It is Love that weeps at the grave and it is Love that restores life. This is the meaning of the Divine tears of Jesus. In them love is at work again—recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: “Lazarus, come forth!…” And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the beginning of both: the Cross, as the Supreme sacrifice of love, the Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love.
From where I sit at my computer I can’t see the vast expanse of naked hard dirt that makes up most of my back yard now. All I can see is an unchanged view which includes the manzanita, and the conifer branches hanging above the fence.
The Landscape Ladies said that my manzanita is a nice shrub and worth keeping. That has been a very comforting word for me to play over in my mind, as I wait for something material (I wrote “concrete” first, but I have had quite enough of concrete for a while.) to be created in the yard. It means that I succeeded in pruning it in such a way that it kept its natural twisty shape.
The last few days I have been feeling unsettled more than my usual, excepting the splendid day when Soldier and Joy and the little boys came over and my capable and willing son did so many handyman things. He helped me prune the strawberry bush into a tree shape.
I read stories to Liam, and a visit to the world of Benjamin Bunny with him snuggled against my chest was the most nurturing activity – for the grandma! I actually cooked that day, too; I baked a frittata. Joy brought a peach pie, and I am heating the last slice in the oven as I type, for my dinner. Having friends J&C around for a couple of weeks has been good; C. is a professional nutritionist — how convenient, eh? — who cooks healthy things, and they have been modeling for me the kind of cooking-and-eating behavior I hope to learn again.
For several nights I haven’t been sleeping soundly. Today marks five months of widowhood, and I attended the funeral of a man in my parish, and felt that I was keeping a memorial to my husband at the same time, so that was good, but heavy.
I drove the grandfather of little Mary my god-daughter home after the reception, and that put me in the neighborhood of my favorite thrift store. I went in and tried on a few things, but it was too stressful somehow. I didn’t have the emotional energy. Trader Joe’s is also in that neighborhood so I stopped by there…buying food is more soothing, right? After loading my groceries into the car I sat in it and phoned some friends who want me to come for lunch soon, and I told them I can’t do it this week, because I am “in a slump.” They are people who want to love me, but they are too needy themselves and don’t know how they drain me instead.
On the recommendation of a blogging friend, I am reading Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss by Sameet M. Kumar, a book that tells me to pay attention to what is going on and not to try to escape it. A quote: “Like suffering and grief, resilience — which means having the elasticity and buoyancy to recover from the experience of enduring suffering and pain — may also be a part of the natural order.”
As long as the speed of resilience we are talking about is along the lines of a memory foam pillow, and not a foursquare ball, I think I can believe in it. And I trust it is a natural thing, or at least a supernatural thing….in any case, I can’t make myself “bounce back,” if I even wanted to, which I don’t. There is no getting back to Before, anyway.
Kumar writes, “Mindfulness can help you get reacquainted with the vast potential of each moment of your life — it is the antidote to the endless waiting for tomorrow.” This attitude is what I learn from Orthodoxy, to be present with God all the time, everywhere. Now that is potential! But for now, being present in the moment means accepting my grief, and accepting that my emotional resources are fairly used up by this kind of activity. As the author says, “…come in full contact with yourself and learn to ride the waves of grief.”
Working in my garden never drains me, even if it makes me physically tired. Last night I sawed and lopped the dead parts of the osmanthus, and trimmed back the Raphiolepis next to it. I’m running a soaker hose on the osmanthus (Sweet Olive) to encourage its recovery from drought, and the faucet is whining from the backed-up pressure. It’s not a nice noise, but most of the time, now that the yappers are gone, I live in a very quiet neighborhood. As I think back over the 25 years I’ve lived here, so many things have evolved and developed on and around the property.
Thirteen years ago we had to replace all the pool decking, and we took out the diving board to give us more room in our patch of ground at the end of the pool. We leveled out the raised bed and went outside our comfort zone to build some brick paths. We found lots of bricks from a previous patio or something, buried under the pool decking, and we added gray concrete bricks to tie into the colors of the patio.
The back yard design I am working on now includes a different sort of path, and we are going to remove this brick walkway so that the whole yard will be of a piece. I think the bricks from the Glad Paths might be used to expand the patio into the area where the plum tree was.
The homemade paths served a good purpose for quite a while, but they were never ideal, and I’m not sentimental about them. The manzanita — I should name that bush, perhaps something rhyming like “Juanita” — surprised us in growing steadily north and away from the midpoint between the paths. We came to understand that it was trying to grow out from under the canopy of conifers to the south.
That path that was slim at the outset soon became impossibly narrow on the side that the shrub — I will call her “Margarita” — was growing toward. The only reason I had ever thought of pruning a wild mountain bush like this was to make the pathway passable, but as Margarita grew and grew, there was no way I could both maintain her nice curves and keep the path open.
When Mr. Glad retired we expanded the path a bit on that side.
The book on mindfulness makes some very good points, but coming from a Buddhist foundation it is lacking an understanding of why we suffer, and of all the riches that are available to us humans. The author says that people “have a tendency to associate suffering and distress with something being wrong,” but that “Grief has always been part of the order of things, and always will be. As part of suffering, grief too is a natural law.”
I can’t mention this book without saying how sadly wrong he is about that. Death and suffering and grief came into the world through sin, but Christ died to put an end to death. Because it is wrong! It was not in His plan. When He comes again in glory He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor sighing, nor pain. For the former things are passed away.
We will do more than bounce back then; we will be given new bodies for our souls to be reunited with, and we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. Now things are cloudy and blurry, and we walk in faith, with His loving presence and grace always offered to us. He is constant and unchanging, a very present help in trouble.
In this world, on the other hand, we have constant change, often for the worse. Sometimes just the change itself is hard to bear, even if it is objectively an improvement. In the little realm of my garden I have lamented the lack of sunlight, but now that I have taken out one tree and thinned another, the area that was fairly shady will now be able to support more sun-loving plants, and I’m happy about that.
But I’ll be a little sad to see the rhododendron go, thought I didn’t care for its color. And the campanula, and sweet woodruff! They will probably be history. So just for memory’s sake — which of course is the purpose of all these pictures — here is a last view of the Woodland Garden patch of yard.
I’m looking forward to some new garden scenes to take pictures of, but glad to have Margarita Manzanita still in view. And come to think of it, I am waiting for tomorrow, waiting in Hope of the Resurrection. But as Martin Luther said, “If I knew that Christ were going to return tomorrow, I would plant a tree today.”