This to do
I have this that I must do One day: overdraw on my balance Of air, and breaking the surface Of water go down into the green Darkness to search for the door To myself in dumbness and blindness And uproar of scared blood At the eardrums. There are no signposts There but bones of the dead Conger, no light but the pale Phosphorous, where the slow corpses Swag. I must go down with the poor Purse of my body and buy courage, Paying for it with the coins of my breath.
We read about dying to the old Adam (and Eve) and about being reborn, and some of the ways in which this is talked about makes it sound as though this will happen as a Damascene moment. Bosco, who has written here, always describes his experience of being born again in such a manner. I cannot say, though I can say it has never happened to me. What I have experienced is what the poet talks about here.
I have in me a myriad, a legion. There is still the little girl whose father used to wait outside church every Sunday, refusing to go in because he did not believe in God, but fulfilling his dead wife’s last wish that their daughter (me) should go to church. There is still the gawky pre-teen grieving for her father and wondering what would become of her. There are even more traces of the teenager who retreated into her books because the world there was better. Then there are the strangers I was. The young (too young) virgin bride who looked forward to living happily ever after; if only Pride and Prejudice had not stopped with Lizzie and Mr Darcy getting wed. The confused ex-wife wondering where her life was going. The patient, awaiting, patiently, the results of the cancer tests and operation (successful). All of these were me, they are layers, deep waters, and as part of my life as a Christian I have to do what the poet describes here. If I am going to be ‘made new’ I need to dive deep.
Salvation is a process. I was saved in baptism, I will, I hope, be saved at the Last, and in between times the blessed sacraments renew my life in him. But there is nothing automatic in this life-long process. And when I sin, or when I break down (as I did not long ago) I have to do something hard. In the first place accept these things and not deny or hide from them. And then this I have to do – dive deep, down to where the picked bones of my pasts remain. It costs. It hurts. If it doesn’t, I have not dived deep enough.
What I find there is not easily put into words, and as Thomas remarked in an earlier poem, the very act of putting it into words denudes it of much of its meaning, diminishing it. It involves a death, a death to a part of me which I don’t like and doesn’t like me diving deep, a death to sin, of sin. But to dive that deep means you lose control and yes, there is that rush of blood to the eardrums you get if you dive too deep. You have to accept that if you want to die to sin. But it is not a one-off process. The process, the dive, and the pain, is repeated. And if you wait, if you accept, then when the moment comes round again, you breathe in deeply and head down, right down to where but the rocks remain.
There is an #adventbookclub using “Frequencies of God” by Carys Walsh and you can support the publisher by buying it here: https://canterburypress.hymnsam.co.uk/books/9781786220882/frequencies-of-god. We’ll be running this club on Twitter and Facebook, and you are welcome to join in with thoughts and comments. Other folk doing this are https://grahart.wordpress.com/, and https://becausegodislove.wordpress.com/ so please pop over and read their thoughts too!