Ash Wednesday – Denise Levertov for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday,   March 6,  2019   – – >  “Lent”  =  “Spring”

Mardi Gras has come and gone, opening the Christian tradition to the season of prayer called “Lent.”  That word has Anglo Saxon roots and means “Spring,” the season when, in northern parts of the planet, what had looked dead — frozen earth, leafless trees — shows new life.  But gradually, re-birth takes its time.   The 40 day Lenten prayer season is less about giving things up (e.g., sweets, beer, other fancy things) and more about coming close to growing things to watch for new life.   You might try this during the 40 days.   Choose a little tree that you pass most days,  one where you can stand close to one of its branches, say 6 inches away from your nose.  Stand still and breathe;  look closely.  Look again.   Try not to hurry.  The tree’s buds will not storm into fresh growth like a brass band.  You hardly notice any change from day to day; but if you wait, new life will show up.  The Prophet Habakkuk teaches   – –  “For the vision has its own time, presses on toward fulfillment.  If it delays, wait for it, for come it will, without fail.” (Hab 2:3).  At a university committed to learning in our students, staff, and faculty, standing near a tree that begins this season looking dead makes a good short prayer, alive with surprises.

Denise Levertov wrote a poem I call one of my “top 5 lifetime,” though there are many more than 5 of these.   Dedicated this morning at the dawn of Lent, to everyone who stake her/his hopes on the labors of love that thrive in a university – –  learning and teaching and mentoring and challenging.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses,  twice.

Blessings in this Lenten season.

john st sj


Today’s Post – “The Poem Rising By Its Own Weight”
“The poet is at the disposal of his own night”    Jean Cocteau

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,
holds you,
holds you
close and tenderly before he vanishes.

The Freeing of the Dust

Denise Levertov  (1923-1997)

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