I recently came across this line by the Australian poet Les Murray-
‘God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned’
This, I think, speaks to the image of God fostered by the nineteenth century Romantics. He is that which is nearly but not quite seen, almost grasped but never touched. The elusive, transcendent light that somehow inspires us to grow and to seek despite the dreariness of all else.
He is those things certainly but He is more than that. God also ensures by His laws that toothpaste comes out of the tube (most of the time,) by His grace He enables mothers to cope kindly, even humorously, with fretful two year olds. He sends rain on to the new-mown grass and causes its scent to rise towards heaven. That is, He is the God of small things, the prose God as well as the poetry which we can catch at.
And for Christians He is in particular the Incarnate One, fully present in the world as the Son of Mary, Jesus Christ. He is the God who takes naps on boats, who feels hunger and thirst, who gets out of breath climbing steep hills, who feels love for His mother, who experiences the loneliness of abandonment, the pain of death. More than this of course He thinks sublime thoughts and gives us teachings of great beauty, healing is in His hands and on His tongue. He is poetry and prose and He walks among us.
So, if religion is that which catches the poetry that is God it is the religion of Christ which is uniquely able to catch and hold both the transcendent and the immanent One, the poetical God and the prosaic God who is one Divinity in three persons. This is, perhaps, especially clearly seen in the Catholic communion of Saints. If we honour the mystical saints like John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen who soared on the wings of love to the highest heights we honour no less the Vincent de Paul’s, Jeanne de Chantal’s, the Damien’s of Molokai and the Dorothy Day’s who immersed themselves in the dreary daily round of seemingly mundane tasks and through love transmuted their base metal into the pure gold of divine grace and divine gift.
We honour too those like Thérèse of Lisieux who though she lived a little life in a small world focussed on tiny details nonetheless by her death aged twenty-four had become a spiritual giant and a teacher of the universal Church. This was not despite her concentrated attention on the prosaic but because of it. She saw that poetry and prose are two things in Man (male and female) but one thing in God and through God. It is love which dissolves the barriers between the two. With her Little Way Thérèse saw that the tiniest of actions done with love becomes the greatest of symphonies. She synthesised what many knew in part so that now, through her by the grace of God, we can know it in full.
At the head of the communion of saints and our great exemplar in all this, as in so much else, is Mary the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven. She is the one who sang for us the great canticle of the Church the Magnificat and she is the one who fled into the night as a refugee with our Saviour, her Son, in her arms. She it was who pondered the deep things of God in her heart and she it was who saw the nails driven into the hands and feet of that same God, her Beloved One, her Jesus. If the religion of the Old Testament and the religion of Rome between them did really and truly imprison the One God it was the religion of Mary that shows us how to set Him free again, with faith, hope, love and the grace-filled promise that each Christian must offer up through every prose or poetry filled moment of their lives- Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.
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