May 2 – Denise Levertov – Agnus Dei

May’s 1st Wednesday   “What terror lies concealed
in strangest words, O lamb
of God that taketh away
the Sins of the World”

Once again, as so often now 4 years deep in poetry posts and c. 2500 readers strong, a reader and friend, living through a hard time, concluded a stark lamentation email with this timeless question:  “How is it that the Lamb of God bears the sins of the world?”   Whenever, it seems, this hard question comes into focus, adults find it hard to acknowledge it, find it hard to recognize that the time and circumstances can transform the words “Lamb of God” toward an unavoidable hard place.

When a soul friend placed the question,  here at mid-week in what begins to feel like spring, s/he brought poet Denise Levertov to mind.  Like every great poem, the poet transcends the boundaries of any single faith tradition, opens the imagination and takes the reader to a demanding place where some rebirth can happen.   Best to read “Agnus Dei” out loud, with pauses.
Have a blest mid-week,


john st sj

Today’s post – Denise Levertov & the words “lamb of God”

Given that lambs
are infant sheep,
that sheep are afraid and foolish, and lack
the means of self-protection, having
neither rage nor claws,
venom nor cunning,
what then
is this ‘Lamb of God’?

This pretty creature, vigorous
to nuzzle at milky dugs,
woolbearer, bleater,
leaper in air for delight of being, who finds in astonishment
four legs to land on, the grass
all it knows of the world?
With whom we would like to play,
whom we’d lead with ribbons, but may not bring
into our houses because
it would spoil the floor with its droppings?

What terror lies concealed
in strangest words, O lamb
of God that taketh away
the Sins of the World: an innocence
smelling of ignorance,
born in bloody snowdrifts,
licked by forebearing
dogs more intelligent than its entire flock put together?

God then,
encompassing all things, is
defenseless? Omnipotence
has been tossed away,
reduced to a wisp of damp wool?

And we
frightened, bored, wanting
only to sleep ‘til catastrophe
has raged, clashed, seethed and gone by without us,
wanting then
to awaken in quietude without remembrance of agony,

we who in shamefaced private hope
had looked to be plucked from fire and given
a bliss we deserved for having imagined it,

is it implied that we
must protect this perversely weak
animal, whose muzzle’s nudgings

suppose there is milk to be found in us?
Must hold in our icy hearts
a shivering God?

So be it.
Come, rag of pungent
dim star.
Let’s try
if something human still
can shield you,
of remote light.

Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

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