Thursday, August 2, 2018 — “then it is that the miracle walks in, on his swift feet . . .”
Is it harder to stand still in a place of grief or a place of joy? A year ago as August began, a friend described a moment of liberating joy that took her/his breath away that would s/he thought require weeks of revisiting the joy, learning not to be afraid of its depth of hope. My friend and I agreed, as it turned out, that learning to be still with grief, hard as that is, usually comes more readily than learning to be still with joy.
St. Ignatius has a teaching about contemplation that suggests that grief and joy are equally important. “Attention should be paid to some more important places (i.e., in my memory) in which I have experienced understanding, consolation or desolation.” (Sp. Exercises par # 118). Ignatius suggests that when I notice any of these three such memories wanting my attention, I try to experience the specific memory with as much sensual recollection as possible (e.g., what time of day was it? who was there? what were you saying to each other? what was the weather like? what did the place smell like? . . . etc.” ) The teaching is that finding my way into a memory that wants my attention is best understood as a sensual journey that helps me get there, and stay there for a while.
Both of us were surprised that we had encountered this invitation to deep presence in a moment of shocking joy. The memory will take some living into, perhaps for months and years.
All of which reminded me of one of Denise Levertov’s deepest poems. Try it out, reading aloud with pauses. N.B., the poem’s core metaphor is a Houdini-like supple risk-taker on a high wire above a deep pit.
For readers of this list, today is a New Year’s beginning. Have a blest year.
Beginning the year fills me with joy. Have a blest August.
john st sj
The Poem Rising By Its Own Weight
The poet is at the disposal of his own night.
The singing robes fly onto your body and cling there silkily,
You step out on the rope and move unfalteringly across it,
And seize the fiery knives unscathed and
Keep them spinning above you, a fountain
Of rhythmic rising, falling, rising
And proudly let the chains
Be wound about you, ready
To shed them, link by steel link,
padlock by padlock–
but when your graceful
confident shrug and twist drives the metal
into your flesh and the python grip of it tightens
and you see rust on the chains and blood in your pores
and you roll
over and down a steepness into a dark hole
and there is not even the sound of mockery in the distant air
somewhere above you where the sky was,
no sound but your own breath panting:
then it is that the miracle
walks in, on his swift feet,
down the precipice straight into the cave,
opens the locks,
knots of chain fall open,
twists of chain unwind themselves,
links fall asunder,
in seconds there is a heap of scrap-
metal at your ankles, you step free and at once
he turns to go —
but as you catch at him with a cry,
clasping his knees, sobbing your gratitude,
with what radiant joy he turns to you,
and raises you to your feet,
and strokes your disheveled hair,
and holds you,
close and tenderly before he vanishes.
b. October 1923 d. December 1997