Thursday, December 07, 2006

Baptism

Since the cold sea first learned to speak in tongues
and howled aghast at its madman's chains,
since the Eden break, since the winterspring,
since the star-aspired spires rained
back to earth with stone disdain,
who's thanked the Lord for broken things?

Down the babbled days that brook no praise
or blame - no everlast, no stay -
the brutal waters waste to bless:
the transubstantial stones decay,
the solid monstrance wears away.
Nothing is its inwardness.

The greenhill blood the green heart beats,
even this at last must cease.
From the sudden shade, from the owl light,
a sparrow falls and falling, dies.
The blood tide dims. Dark waters rise
till lowered sky and lakeshore meet

and all things fade: this pine, this tree,
this life, this scene, this this - now not.
And yet, not not. In dark, we see:
nothing's found where nothing's sought,
in silence is the silence caught,
and still breath moves the unmoving sea.

- Joseph Bottum

My good friend and colleague (another Matthew) gave me this poem this morning. There are many echoes in these words, of philosophy, and perhaps even of good ole' Eliot going on about the "still point." To me it has shades of Pseudo-Dionysius, and of Abbot Suger, in its emphasis on the particularity of what is experienced. The specificity and irreduceableness of humanity's suffering and glory, and also the strange possibility of hope. Since Bottum is a doctor of medieval philosophy, I have no doubt he knows Duns Scotus, who would have called it haecceitas - "thisness." What is unassumed is unhealed. Perhaps the meaning is this: Water was chaos, but the chaotic waters were calmed one night on stormy Galilee. All has been assumed, and in the waters of baptism we become totally immersed in that assuming.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Simply Victoria said...

this reminds me so much of Perelandra, and the world that 'might have been'.
(why does everything come back to Lewis for me?)

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GLORY be to God for dappled things,
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow,
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls, finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced, fold, fallow and plough,
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange,
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

3:40 AM  

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