Friday, May 29, 2009

Whitsunday, Anyone?

Should any of our clerical readers be casting about for something to say in a Pentecost sermon, we propose re-reading some favorite poems.  

Auden's "Whitsunday in Kirchstetten," which is apparently not available online because of copyright protection, contains the unforgettable tag, "if there when Grace dances, I should dance." 

Dana Gioa's "Pentecost," subtitled "after the death of our son," is as difficult to read as a short poem written in straightforward English can be.  It would take a preacher made of sterner stuff than we to use this homiletically without growing maudlin.  But think of it as a background reading, a reminder of why God's presence in the world matters.

Derek Walcott has a poem -- same title -- that we take to be a meditation upon the sense of foreignness one feels, sometimes, in a land different from one's own.  (Auden covers this more theologically).  Worth a look, especially for the thought that "nor can these tongues of snow / speak for the Holy Ghost."

There are many others, but the one that grabbed our attention (and which will feature in our own Sunday sermon) is George Herbert's "Whitsunday."  It is a plea directed toward the Spirit, to be present in the world now -- and a complaint that God's presence is not now as evident as in the age of miracles:  "Where is that fire which once descended / On thy Apostles?  thou didst then / keep open house ...."

The stanza that really grabbed us this time around, however, is one of three that Herbert wrote and then cut from his final version:

Show yt thy brests can not be dry,
But yt from them joyes purle for ever
Melt into blessings all the sky,
So wee may cease to suck: to praise thee, never.

The general idea of God as a nursing mother was not rare in Herbert's time (nor was it the least bit new).  But this particular image -- the fear of being weaned -- touches us deeply just now.  Perhaps because Baby Anonymous still takes such delight in nursing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. That is lovely. Thanks! web