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Posts Tagged ‘Welsh poetry’

Learning to Think

August 14, 2008 Leave a comment

This probably deserves more space, but I was talking with our group last night about the need to learn the habit of thinking. We live in times when we are bombarded with information, bits of data. From blogs like this to rss feeds to non-stop entertainment and 24 news cycles, we know lots and lots about little bits of stuff. But instead of helping us to think, this immersion into data seems to make everyone talk and act like robots that repeat the latest cliche.

We need time to pause and wait and think. A.W. Tozer once suggested that books should starting the thinking process but reading is not a replacement for thinking.

As I was reflecting on the story of King David, I thought about how his time as a shepherd gave him time to think. From the psalms he composed, it is clear that he spent time thinking, reflecting and contemplating upon the law, the creation around him, relationships and even statecraft. We talk about David the warrior and David the psalmist but I would also think of him as David the thinker.

Thinking is not about using large words that exclude most people and only allow specialists to enter a dialogue. Nor is it about forming other kinds of exclusive clubs that exalt one set of ideas or one group over another. It is the habit of regular reflection. The habit of using our imagination and reason together. And in the Bible, it is about training the mind and heart to focus on the Word, soak in the Word, reflect on the Word and reflect upon the world around me through the lens of the Word. And thinking is not simply silent ideas swirling in my head. It is speaking and singing thought.

The Psalms and poetry (as well as Eugen Rosenstock Huessy) have taught me about speech-thinking. The poet focuses upon the particular, the common, the thing right in front of him. As he reflects and speaks about the “thingyness” of the thing before him, his ideas explode outward, opening the particular thing into a vision of the universal.

Here is a poem by the Welsh poet Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy). Imagine Bobi enjoying a warm home with his family. As he sits before the hearth and thinks about the heat circulating through the house, he sees the grace of God afresh. He redefines fire and heat and hearth for us as we live thorugh his eyes.

As I read this poem yet again, I pray for eyes to see the world around me, and the discipline to pause and think about all the great gifts that fill my world.

Hearth

Hell is fire; then there’s a fire that’s Heaven
In a grate amidst the children. We draw close around it
And listen to the beating of its orange wings
Against the breeze that’s gathered the invisible
Confidential cooking of the hearth.
The fire from the sky, it broke through the rain
And alighted like a bird upon the kitchen altar.
And the mother caught it like Noah’s dove
Between her two hands and offered it becomingly.

Which of us who listen to it can help but hear
The warm melody of the kettleful of family?
In bed, between mother and myself,
God is warm; and His place at the table’s filled.
He is the Musician we hear coming
From room to room in secret.
It is His music heats the house
Gurgling through feet and blood, to rise,
Smokeless, to our half drunk heads.

Only those who know the sunshine know the beauty
That breaks across the mat between door and cupboard.
It pierces to the marrow of all laughter patiently
Like a tune that lingers round the edges of the mind
Or a cat curling up. Our song’s purring, the love
That’s been composed so cunningly, that’s been performed
On the harpstrings of the family fires through Him.

by Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy)

In Praise of Pasture

July 6, 2008 Leave a comment

Notes on “To a Scrap of Pasture Pushing Itself Between the Slates of Pavement”

Bobi Jones sings a song a praise “To a Scrap of Pasture Pushing Itself Between the Slates of Pavement.” As he looks out upon the square in the middle of town, he sees a blade of grass growing up through the pavement. He hears God singing through this pasture, and revealing in image His wisdom in parables, His holy presence, His birth and death and resurrection.

Though we pave over the earth, His song cannot be stopped, and “His lightning will tongue-lash freely from the earth.” In this small blade, Jones sees a “deluge” and an “eloquent greenery” that “narrates His life and speaks in parables on all sides.”

Jones calls us to look with him,
“When we look, there are angels near the stage
And the mist at the back, its head in feathers.”

These words call to my mind the image of Isaiah’s encounter with the holiness of God in the temple. Isaiah sees the Lord “high and lifted up” and the “train of His robe filling the temple.” Around the throne he sees angels, covered in winged and hiding their face and feet before the holiness of God.

In the middle of a town square filled with people moving to and fro, God reveals His holy power and glory in a single blade of grass. This blade of grass becomes a “thin place” where the glory of God is revealed, shouting aloud the wisdom of God. But the simple pass by and miss the awesome display of God’s wonder.

The song that is sung is the song of the Word made Flesh. For in the blade of grass, Jones sees a mystery. He “watch(es) Him being born there.” This blade of grass speaks to Jones of the nativity and the irrepressible life of Christ, but the image of pasture also speaks of grain that is formed into bread.

As Jesus proclaimed, “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains a single grain.” Jones sees this grain springing up in bread that feeds the people of God with the bread of heaven, the Lord’s Supper. Jones writes,
An herb whose flesh’s heap of crops we taste
In the tasting it turns to wormwood like each scrap that grows
But I know beneath my ribs the coming of the hour’s astonishment.

The supper is bitter for in partaking of His body broken for us, we are entering into the communion of death. Jones writes that the bread is literally beneath his ribs being digested. In the meal of death, we partake of life anew.

The bread of heaven nourishes. Even as our body draws nourishment from the physical bread, our whole person draws life from the bread of Christ. In His death, we know life. For in His death, we can participate in the great mystery of life after death.

Each day we rise, we taste the sweetness of death in Christ and the hope of life after death. His irrepressible life is at work in us. So no matter what happens in our world. The fools of the world can try to extinguish God’s word and life and power from the earth, but they cannot, for it springs afresh in us, in a little blade of grass bursting through the pavement, and in all creation.

He’s performing. The foolish civilization of today can
Kill Him and bury Him deep. The inherent will frolic through the soil.
In the hand of the grassblade the creation trembles,
And it sows eternity itself: tender is the land.

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