Sunday, October 07, 2007

Further on Communion

I included Levertov poem in the UUCF communion (previous post) for a reason: because it speaks to the skeptic in all of us who questions the morality of God who allows the innocent to suffer etc.

I think that this is an important question for many UU's. The poem is about the necessity of confronting the reality of suffering before it can be moved beyond, or redeemed. For over 10 years, I have reading and re-reading this poem because it shows, but does not explain, the redemption of suffering without explaining it.

The reality of the world is that there is much unjust suffering, some at the hands of human beings and some at the hands of fate.

Somehow, that suffering can, in some situations, be redeemed: creating compassion in others, gratitude. Witness the many nurses who deal with death and suffering all the time, but become even more compassionate as a result, and not more callous, which might well be a more probable result. The fact is that some suffering is redeemed -- Mandela comes out of prison not seeking vengeance -- people forgive their parents' shortcomings and even cruelty and are better parents to their children. Why does this happen some of the time and not all of the time? There is no adequate explanation for it, but that is the reality we are dealing with.

The communion story is one that says that God is present in the redemption of suffering.

I don't think (nor do I think I have ever preached) that God is in the suffering.
I don't think (not do I think I have ever preached) that believing that God is present in the redemption of suffering causes more suffering; that would be like thinking that ambulances cause heart attacks and life-threatening accidents.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Denise Levertov's Poem about Thomas

There has been some discussion on blogs and email lists about this poem that I read at the UUCF communion service in Portland, OR this spring. Much has been said about its content and tone. Read it for yourself.

Denise Levertov

St. Thomas Didymus

In the hot street at noon I saw him
a small man
gray but vivid, standing forth
beyond the crowd's buzzing
holding in desperate grip his shaking
teethgnashing son,

and thought him my brother.

I heard him cry out, weeping and speak
those words,
Lord, I believe, help thou
mine unbelief,

and knew him
my twin:

a man whose entire being
had knotted itself
into the one tightdrawn question,
why has this child lost his childhood in suffering,
why is this child who will soon be a man
tormented, torn, twisted?
Why is he cruelly punished
who has done nothing except be born?

The twin of my birth
was not so close
as that man I heard
say what my heart
sighed with each beat, my breath silently
cried in and out,
in and out.

After the healing,
he, with his wondering
newly peaceful boy, receded;
no one
dwells on the gratitude, the astonished joy,
the swift
acceptance and forgetting.
I did not follow
to see their changed lives.
What I retained
was the flash of kinship.
all that I witnessed,
his question remained
my question, throbbed like a stealthy cancer,
only to doctor and patient. To others
I seemed well enough.

So it was
that after Golgotha
my spirit in secret
lurched in the same convulsed writhings
that tore that child
before he was healed.
And after the empty tomb
when they told me that He lived, had spoken to Magdalen,
told me
that though He had passed through the door like a ghost
He had breathed on them
the breath of a living man --
even then
when hope tried with a flutter of wings
to lift me --
still, alone with myself,
my heavy cry was the same: Lord
I believe,
help thou mine unbelief.

I needed
blood to tell me the truth,
the touch
of blood. Even
my sight of the dark crust of it
round the nailholes
didn't thrust its meaning all the way through
to that manifold knot in me
that willed to possess all knowledge,
refusing to loosen
unless that insistence won
the battle I fought with life

But when my hand
led by His hand's firm clasp
entered the unhealed wound,
my fingers encountering
rib-bone and pulsing heat,
what I felt was not
scalding pain, shame for my
obstinate need,
but light, light streaming
into me, over me, filling the room
as I had lived till then
in a cold cave, and now
coming forth for the first time,
the knot that bound me unravelling,
I witnessed
all things quicken to color, to form,
my question
not answered but given
its part
in a vast unfolding design lit
by a risen sun.