Sunday, August 28, 2011

Window Poem No. 10

Every morning, the friars gather in the chapel for silent meditation before singing and reciting morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Some brothers quietly read the prescribed texts from the office of readings, or matins, customarily spoken or chanted by clergy and religious in the vigil before sunrise, when morning prayer traditionally begins. I have been reading one poem every morning from "Window Poems" by Wendell Berry, the well known farmer and author. This, to me, is appropriate because the gravitational pull of morning prayer is toward praise of God for creation and redemption. As, with the dawning light, we recall the resurrection, we call on God to sanctify all time and space, and we consecrate ourselves to love and serve one another. Reading this volume of Berry's poems, a cycle of observations on the Kentucky River and its environs from the window of his cabin, well disposes me for the contemplative attitude of morning prayer.

This is the poem I read in the manner of lectio divina this morning under the blindly advancing, blindly watching eye of Hurricane Irene before saying morning prayer. The intertextual comments are mine.

Rising, the river
is wild. There is no end
to what one may imagine
whose lands and buildings
lie in its reach. To one
who has felt his little boat
taken this way and that
in the braided currents
it is beyond speech.

You have carried me, God, upon the windy waves. I have dared to walk upon the water. Now I am here in a far place among lands and buildings I never imagined I would know. I have prayed to be taken beyond what I knew, and beyond what I could express. You have responded. Amen, and God help me. These waters are very high, very deep. The wind breaks the boughs and it turns my head. Be with me when I pass through the waters; do not let me be swept away through the rivers.

'What's the river doing?'
'Coming up.'
In Port Royal, that begins
a submergence of minds.
Heads are darkened.
To the man at work
through the mornings
in the long-legged cabin
above the water, there is
an influence of the rise
that he feels in his footsoles
and in his belly
even while he thinks
of something else.

Be careful what you pray for. You will always receive it.

There is something fearful in the rising we have longed for with half-hearted sentimentality. Do you mean that there really is a rising, and it is going to sweep me up, too? How do I let myself get swept up without being swept away? Do I truly desire to be taken up and beyond myself? No, surely it will not come like this, not like a storm. Keep away from my weakly curious mind, and do not trouble my heart. Keep still the ground beneath my feet. Leave the lesser lights on, lest the tremendous darkness overshadow my senses. I am not ready for that.

It does not matter. You are never ready for the happening that never ends. You have got yourself into the boat, and now you must ride the rising river anyhow. It does not matter what you think or what you let yourself feel.

                             The window
looks out, like a word,
upon the wordless, fact
dissolving into mystery, darkness
overtaking light.

This poet is no fool. Surely he knows the spirit of the Psalms. He is not writing of the lesser darkness that overcomes natural light. He is writing of the greater darkness that is in truth Light overtaking our lesser light. Such is this Light that we cannot apprehend it by our senses; it is of a wavelength beyond our detection; it is therefore only as darkness to us. It is, for the moment, inattainable to us. And yet we "darkly" sense it at times when creation is in tumult and when our world is distressed. Something or someone shakes our sleepy selves into a higher state of perception. And the darkness becomes as light, or at least less dim. We can see a little more of the Light. At these moments, like Berry, we can look out upon it from the window, the "wind's eye," as he called it, or the "word." Be thou my vision and my true word in a world whose facts have falsified  my sight.

Praise God, even for hurricanes.

And the water reaches a height
it can only fall from, leaving
the tree trunks wet.
It has made a roof
to its rising, and become
a domestic thing.
It lies down in its place
like a horse in his stall.
Facts emerge from it:
drift it has hung in the trees,
stranded cans and bottles,
new carving in the banks
--a place of change, changed.

This storm is now receding. Another rising has passed. Gone is the dread and the delight. We had a glimpse of glory, a glance at grandeur, and then the moment passed. For an hour, the blind and unblinking eye shone upon us. A moment of truth has slipped away, and we are left with a mire of facts once again. It is Sunday afternoon.

Here we remain. Didn't we fantasize we would be cast away in the surge? That the water would catch us from every direction and carry us on a crazy careless course before burying us?

Here we remain. We are safe at home, cozing in our chairs, curling in our beds. We cannot say we survived the storm because we did not ride the storm. We are so poor in our riches. Did our boats leave the port, after all?

Here we remain. Some things have changed. Has anyone changed?

It leaves a mystic plane
in the air, a membrane
of history stretched between
the silt-lines on the banks,
a depth that for months
the man will go from his window
down into, knowing
he goes within the reach
of a dark power: where
the birds are, fish

We can only follow so far so soon. I am not yet ready to follow the storm all the way. But I want to.

I want to follow the air as it goes up and down. I want to cross the membrane of history where the rapid waters cut through. I want to sink deep into the depths where the river runs quietly for now. I want to rise with the fish to the unimaginable heights of the birds. I ought to be caught up, like a fish out of unseasonal waters.

I want to renew my baptism and feel the rising, rising within me.

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