Friday, 22 January 2010

O Simplicitas

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An angel came to me
And I was unprepared
To be what God was using.
Mother I was to be.
A moment I despaired,
Thought briefly of refusing.
The angel knew I heard.
According to God's Word
I bowed to this strange choosing.

A palace should have been
The birthplace of a king
(I had no way of knowing).
We went to Bethlehem;
It was so strange a thing.
The wind was cold, and blowing,
My coat was old, and thin.
They turned us from the inn;
The town was overflowing.

God's Word, a child so small,
Who still must learn to speak,
Lay in humiliation.
Joseph stood strong and tall.
The beasts were warm and meek
And moved with hesitation.
The Child born in a stall?
I understood it: all.
Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd:
A stable set apart,
The sleepy cattle lowing;
And the incarnate Word
Resting against my heart.
My joy was overflowing.
The shepherds came, adored
The folly of the Lord,
Wiser than all men's knowing.
22nd January and five poems learned!  I think I might spend the last week of January consolidating and start again in February.

I wanted something different again - so I chose a poem by a woman - and more recent than the others - and something with a more direct and up-front religious theme: O Simplicitas by Madeleine L'Engle.
 
I am drawn to the strange simplicity of this - and I think it is primarily in the metre - the slightly odd 667 pattern that forces an economy of words - not easy to do, as those who have tried to write alternative words to Bunessan (Morning has Broken) have found!

The economy of words makes for simplicity - but the skill is in squeezing mystery out of such pausity - and I think L'Engle does this well.

She also wrote this - about death - which I think is quite stunningly perceptive...

"How long your closet held a whiff of you,
Long after hangers hung austere and bare.
I would walk in and suddenly the true
Sharp sweet sweat scent controlled the air
And life was in that small still living breath.
Where are you? since so much of you is here,
Your unique odour quite ignoring death.
My hands reach out to touch, to hold what's dear
And vital in my longing empty arms.
But other clothes fill up the space, your space,
And scent on scent send out strange false alarms.
Not of your odour there is not a trace.
But something unexpected still breaks through
The goneness to the presentness of you."


L'Engle was an Episcopalian and believed in universal salvation, writing that "All will be redeemed in God's fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones." As a result of her promotion of Christian universalism, many Christian bookstores refused to carry her books, which were also frequently banned from Christian schools and libraries. However, some of her most secular critics attacked her work for being too religious.

Her views on divine punishment were similar to those of George MacDonald, who also had a large influence on her fictional work. She said "I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love."

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