A Christmas Poem

From the film The Nativity Story (2006), rated PG

Cave of Wonder

Wrapped in secret, underground
Sleeping infant makes no sound
Bed of straw and stench of beast
Greatest born to family least
Rapt in secret, working man
Virgin mother, shepherd band
Wise men from a country far
Worship Him by light of star
Wrapped in secret, hunted one
Earthly might fears Godly son
He has come to seek and save
Born below to rise from grave
Rapt in secret, angels sing
Glory to the King of kings
Strength made helpless; selfless love
Here below shows God above
Wrapped in secret, greatest gift
By our hands of swaddling stripped
Hung upon a lifeless tree
Sacrifice for you and me
Rapt in secret, we the poor
Kneel in before Him evermore:
Blest be home and blest be feast
And blest are we, His servants least
J. Thorp
December 2015

Book Break: Impact of God

This spring, Fr. Richards tasked the parish staff with reading Fr. Iain Matthew’s book, The Impact of God: Soundings From St. John of the Cross. This request was a blessing in disguise. It’s a blessing, because the book, ultimately, is a beautiful and thought-provoking exploration of the Spanish mystic’s theology of nada and todo (nothing and all), his approach to prayer, his call to love and union with God. It was in disguise, because by most accounts, St. John of the Cross is not an easy read:

  • first, because he begins with poetry — in particular, achingly breathless love poetry — to God;
  • second, because his unpacking of these poems exposes layer upon layer of latent meaning — like God Himself, hidden within;
  • and third, because his message of detachment and relinquishing control to a God whom we cannot hope to see clearly is a hard teaching.
It’s a difficult book to review, given the challenge of the topic, so instead I will share three key concepts that stuck out to me and to which my thoughts have returned many times in the weeks since I started it. If these entice you, pick up the book and savor it, a bit at a time.
  • St. John writes of a hidden, but active God. Too often we think of God as “out there” — we set out to seek Him, and feel as though the effort is ours. According to St. John of the Cross, this is not the case: God is actively seeking us and inviting us to Himself. The first move is His, and when we respond, the reason He is difficult to perceive is not because He is far away, but because He is infinitely vast and incredibly close. God is not eclipsed by things closer at hand; He is all-eclipsing.
  • God desires union, but needs space to achieve this — and complete union with the infinite God requires lots of space! This is why detachment is important: we must empty ourselves of the things of this world in order to receive the things of the next. When St. John speaks of nada (“nothing” in Spanish), he is talking about creating this space for God, who then makes of Himself a gift in Christ, which by its nature is todo (“all”). Put simply, the only space big enough for todo is nada. While we can work toward this goal of nada ourselves, remember that God is active: He seeks to make room. St. John says that those times of bewildering suffering in life, when God seems so hard to find, quite often are the times in which God is making room for Himself, in you — not forcibly, but by invitation, inviting you to let go and take His hand.
  • Finally, St. John insists that spiritual advisors, teachers, and other guides exercise great care that they not become hindrances to the work of our seeking God. He writes, “God carries each person along a different road, so that you will scarcely find two people following the same route in even half of their journey to God.” This sensitivity to the individual reflects our nature and dignity as unique images of God.

The flexibility is fundamental because it alone does justice to the dignity of each person, a ‘most beautiful and finely wrought image of God’. It does justice too to the laws of growth. … John says that humanity, and each person, was wedded to Christ when he died on the cross, a wedding made ours at our baptism. But all that happens ‘at God’s pace, and so all at once’. It has to become ours at our pace, ‘ and so, little by little’ (Matthews, p. 15).

I will admit that I also found Fr. Matthew’s writing challenging, at first. He weaves quotes from the saint’s poetry, prose, and letters in freely with his interpretations and explanations, creating a poetic account that does not read like literary or theological analysis. Ultimately, this too is a blessing, because a book that could have been an academic exercise turns into a personal invitation to explore the mystic’s works further and to strive for a deeper prayer life. Once you trust that the author knows St. John of the Cross well enough to write with authority, the book reads like a mini-retreat — and I’m sure I will read it again.

For Jodi: An Anniversary Poem

The two of us.

Seventeen years ago today, I promised my life to my bride. I do not say I married my best friend, though I may have thought so at the time and though it is certainly true today. We were young and barely knew ourselves, let alone each other.

In truth, I married my greatest challenge — as I have said before, “the rock, the glue, and the guide.” What we glimpsed during those first three summers in South Dakota was an unseen hand and an unimagined plan for us. Thank you, Jodi, for trusting Him, and teaching me to trust.

genesis

you were the word unspoken, love

the gift yet to bequeath

when light first pierced my darkness and

revealed the void beneath

 

i was an unformed wastrel then

a breath of dust, alone

you were a shaping vision, love

and carved from solid bone

 

you were a moving stillness, love

my unknown missing peace

a heartstring tug that drew me near

my bond and my release

 

i was a crash of water then

and you the softest stone

i broke myself upon you, love

and you returned me home