The Moon in Llyen
The last quarter of the moon of Jesus gives way to the dark; the serpent digests the egg. Here on my knees in this stone church, that is full only of the silent congregation of shadows and the sea's sound, it is easy to believe Yeats was right. Just as though choirs had not sung, shells have swallowed them; the tide laps at the Bible; the bell fetches no people to the brittle miracle of bread. The sand is waiting for the running back of the grains in the wall into its blond glass. Religion is over, and what will emerge from the body of the new moon, no one can say. But a voice sounds in my ear. Why so fast, mortal? These very seas are baptized. The parish has a saint's name time cannot unfrock. In cities that have outgrown their promise people are becoming pilgrims again, if not to this place, then to the recreation of it in their own spirits. You must remain kneeling. Even as this moon making its way through the earth's cumbersome shadow, prayer, too, has its phases.
I had to pause with the title, as I tend to write Llyn, which is the way you do in Wales if you were brought up to speak Welsh. But Thomas was of that generation which wasn’t; I am of that generation which forgot most of it as I moved away at the age of ten; but old habits die hard.
At first it seems as though this is a poem about an old habit dying hard. Mthr Carys makes the link via “Yeats” to the latter’s “The Second Coming”. It is a dystopian vision of a world in which:
Out there, on the Llyn, the furthest point west in mainland Britain, surrounded on three sides by the sea, I have felt a sense of being at the end of all things. Somewhere there is a photograph of me at the furthest edge of the promintory – two steps on and I would be falling through space to the rocks below. In such a liminal space it is easy to imagine endings; the place lends itself to that mode of thought.
We are back, here, to the sense of the absence of God. It is, in that old stone church that thoughts turn to endings – “religion is over”. That “sea of faith” of which Arnold wrote in Dover Beach, seems not so much to have ebbed away as to have eaten away at the foundations, leaving – who knows? A revival of pre-Christian practices? Mankind is a worshipping animal, and will always find idols to replace God – as we read through Isaiah and the Pslams in the Advent lectionary, we are constantly reminded of that.
And yet … as ever with Thomas, the break ion the poem marks a change of direction. He takes us to that edge on which I stood, looking out into the moonlit sea, thinking “it is over”. Then comes another of those small epiphanies that God is in everything: the very seas which seem to eat away at the pre-cambrian rock; the very stones of that church; the name of the ancient saint after whom it is named (St Hywell, illustrated), a figure from legend, hallowed by the people before any church ever canonised him; these things stand.
The point about a “sea of faith” is one which applies from the similie. Tides wax and wane with the moon. However much, historically, we want to think in terms of teleology – things tending towards and end – thinking in terms of theology (literally God-language) suggests another pattern. What can wane can wax.
We are on this Advent journey, and the new Church year has barely begun. So as we step out of the shadow of the old and into the new, what do we take with us? We take our baptism in Christ. We take part in that cycle of rebirth characteristic of nature. New birth is a feature of our lives as Christians – and as we await, with confidence, his coming again in glory, may he come to our hearts this Advent, and may our journey be our schooling.
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!