From time to time there are some who write letters to the editor of Crosslight with a measure of certainty about what they have to say. Indeed that can also be the case with the spoken word at meetings and councils of the church. I often come away from a meeting chastising myself for my spoken contribution.
Each of us can have a tendency to polarise the alternatives as we see them. All forms of media seem to thrive on this. Yet, in the heat of the moment, we are sometimes unable to see how much this can affect and harm others.
Poetry can contain the potential to draw us beyond our certainties. Thomas Merton maintained the importance of keeping our ‘Daily appointment with mystery’. Poets can help us with this by focusing our attention, posing questions, and revealing our hidden thoughts and emotions.
Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai wrote:
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never bloom in the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard, and trampled like a yard.
But doubts and loves dig up the world
Like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined house once stood.
There are several lines in this poem that speak to me as I begin to prepare for the challenging task of chairing another Synod meeting of 300 or so people, many of whom will have a range of diverse views. This meeting will be held in spring, where ‘flowers will never bloom’ from ‘the place where we are right’.
As I ponder the ‘hard and trampled’ line in this poem, my mind wanders to the track to the yard we built for our pet border terrier. The reason there is a track at all is because it has been much used, never deviated from and, therefore, hard and trampled. Each of our family has used it over and over to secure Jess for the night and let her out again in the morning. This time of the year, cape weeds appear in profusion all along the track. As for the yard, it too is trampled and fenced in. Weeds abound in the hard soil.
Why, I wonder, is the poet’s ‘right’ place so hard and barren? Flowering weeds seem to be able to grow anywhere. What if there is no ‘one right way’? What if there is a ‘right’ just for now..? A path, for the time being, that will also lead or need to change.
St Teresa of Avila said: “Untilled soil, however fertile it may be, will bear thistles and thorns and so it is with [our] mind.”
“Doubts and loves dig up the world,” says Amichai. Members of Synod will need to be like that mole and plough, breaking up the earth, letting in fresh air, rain and sunshine and encouraging the organisms in the soil that make it rich. An instrument to do that will be the yellow card. The one that says, “I want to share out-loud my ‘doubts and loves’.”
But we will need to be attentive to our thoughts before they become words. Attentive in particular when we are rehearsing a defense of an argument that seeks to make us look good, look ‘right’. For we are fearful when we are defensive and we are defensive when we are afraid.
For me, when I open myself up to uncertainty, to questioning and to love, with all of its risks, I feel most fully alive. My uncertainties can yield tolerance and compassion, because I know that others too are doubtful and uncertain.
“Be helpless, dumbfounded, unable to say yes or no,” Rumi, the 13th century poet, said … “Then a stretcher will come from grace to gather us up.” That stretcher will not only come from a place of grace, it will take us to a place of grace.
And (finally) “a whisper will be heard in the place where the ruined house once stood.” My mind has lingered a little on that last line. Surely our ‘ruined house’ can only be a house of ‘rightness’ and we will only hear God’s whisper when that house lies ruined.
God seems to be lurking and working in the margins of UCA uncertainty … whispering new creation. All we can do in our uncertainty is pay attention to that whisper then hesitatingly indicate warmth or coolness with our ‘oranges and blues’.