The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Possibly the most famous of Thomas’ poems, capturing as it does those moments of epiphany when the numinous is ours, however fleetingly. Thomas often comments on how language, the only means we have to communicate, often fails us when it comes to capturing such moments; his language here does not fail.
He is simple. He is direct. Again he finds in nature the God who made it. The image of the sun at the start, the Light that lighteth the world, and that sense that having seen it, in its light you are transformed; the world cannot be seen in the same way again. Yet, our lives are what they are, and time presses, and being human, many, perhaps most of us, will press on. Yet, and yet, in some corner of our mind we do not quite forget, even if like the poet we think we have. At that moment of recollection, the hustle and bustle of the everyday recedes – and we turn aside.
The pearl of great price costs all we have. Can we pay that price? Are we willing to? Do we even know what it means? Nearly a decade ago I tested my vocation. It was a conscious reaction to local stimuli, but also to the sense Thomas captures here of something seen and intuited. The infidelity and the departure to pastures greener of my husband created a natural caesura in my life. The promptings that I had known from my girlhood of wanting to devote myself to God, no longer encountered the the currents of a busy life and the vocation of wife and mother. I was not a mother, and suddenly I had no chance of being one; nor was I a wife. As I withdrew into a welcome silence in a community of prayer, I felt that this was where I could be forever, and I would pay the price willingly. It was not to be. The Novice Mistress knew, and I knew, that despite the joys I encountered there, despite the prayer and the silences, this was not my “Bright Field”.
And yet that hiraeth, as my fellow Welsh people put it, that sense of longing for a home which was and may be again, remained with me. Which Bright Field contained the pearl? How would I find it? This is where Mthr. Carys’ commentary on the poem chimes powerfully with me. She writes:
Thomas suggests that more is required than a plaintive hope, a wistful back-glance, a passive awareness of a sunlit landscape, or a vague hope, if God is to be revealed. He suggested that we are called to accept that we are living lives caught between the past, with its ‘transitory’ brightness, and the ‘eternity that awaits [us]’Frequencies of God, p. 54
Yesterday I was taken by my other half to an ancient forest near to where were live. In the mist and the steady rain I stood, and I listened to the trees and the sounds of the forest. I stepped out of everyday life and time – and there was that “Bright Field”. There was him who was, who is, and will be, and there was the Jess who was, and is and will be. And all was well, and all manner of things were – finally well.
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!