Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Here’s my typical formula for quiet time:  Read through the passage of scripture (wherever I am in my OT or NT readings), write a short precis of it in journal, pray over it and let the Holy Spirit speak, record discoveries and questions, and then ask God to make that day’s chunk of his word take root in my life and heart.  Then lots more prayer.

But sometimes, when I need a little change, I pull out a short book I picked up at a used bookstore one time called Praying with CS Lewis.  It’s a collection of meditations by Charles C. Taliaferro that combine biographical information, excerpts from CS Lewis’ writings, a reflection by Taliaferro, a related scripture passage, and then some challenges for meditation or writing or activity in response to the theme.

I did the first one (again) the other day and have been thinking about it ever since.  It is called “Awakened Desire.”  It explores the usefulness of wonder to our life of faith.  This sounds obvious, but what it led me to is a great thankfulness for my childhood:  that I was secure and free to wade creeks and lie on my back in the grass at night gazing at stars.  That I had an aunt who could weave tales that would set my imagination spinning.  That I had parents who took me trout fishing and camping, and who thought I was amazing when I asked weird questions like “if we can have a dream and in the dream we’re really sure it’s real life, how do we know we’re not dreaming now?” In short, I am grateful that I was taught to wonder, to be aware, to enjoy the moment.  Not all children are given this gift.

And it also made me thankful that I never fully outgrew that wide-eyed amazement at life and thoughts and story.  I still have, thank God, a tendency to have heart-surge moments.  By this I mean a sudden awareness of something I can only describe as eternal and inutterable that completely takes my breath away, makes my eyes tear up, and makes my heart pound.

Now, I am NOT talking about the cloying “gardens just make me feel so close to God” moments that so-called inspirational poets put into so-called inspirational poetry, or even those moments of amazement such as most of us would have at a mountaintop panorama that bursts unexpectedly into view, though those are cool (the amazement moments, not the Hallmark verses).  The Romantics’ concept of the “sublime” might come closer, but their association of this concept to death and terror do not ring true to what I’m trying to describe.  In fact, the moments don’t even have to involve nature.  I’ve had them in the bathtub, in traffic, in church.  For me, they require a complete loss of self-consciousness and time-consciousness (which is dangerous in traffic, by the way).  It’s like I have suddenly tuned my dial to a radio signal coming out of … Mars?  Heaven?

Here’s how Lewis puts it:

What is universal is not the particular picture, but the arrival of some message, not perfectly intelligible, which wakes this desire and sets men longing for something East or West of the world; something possessed, if at all, only in the act of desiring it, and lost so quickly that the craving itself becomes craved.  (The Pilgrim’s Regress, qtd. in Taliaferro p. 33)

Yes.  That’s it.  A message.  A craving.

The words that came to mind when I read that were “deep calls to deep,” which I knew to be a biblical phrase but couldn’t remember the context.  So, I looked it up, of course.  It’s in verse 7 of Psalm 42, where David is having one of his slightly schizophrenic conversations with his momentarily tortured soul.  In the chapter he is hounded by his enemies and a sense of abandonment, so he inventories what he knows to be true about God (wise man that he is), and he begins down at the Jordan and ends up in the mountains, like a geographical survey of the creator.

I have to insert here that commentators mostly explain his phrase “deep calls to deep” as meaning that his suffering is coming in deep waves, like the waterfall he mentions.

Well, maybe.  But sometimes I have to wonder about commentaries on Biblical poetry.  Can someone really decide conclusively what a poem means, universally?  (And perhaps not a very poetic someone, at that.)  I mean, it’s poetry!  You can’t parse poetry!  You have to swim around in it and see where the current takes you…this time.  Maybe next time it will roll a different way.  Poetry as a form is often somewhat ambiguous (if it’s any good), and always the reader brings his own imagination to the reading.  This seems quite safe to me, when we approach religious poetry with a sanctified imagination.  Don’t treat it like a doctrinal creed or historical narrative.  Do not murder to dissect.

So in that poetic interpretive freedom, couldn’t “deep calls to deep” (also?) suggest that as he surveys glorious creation, with the acute awareness that all poets have, he has one of those rare Lewis moments of extreme longing, when the deepest parts of him are quickened to life by a sudden awareness of the deep mystery of God’s immanence, when God whispers right into his ear “I’m here!” 

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6 my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”

10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

11 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

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