Well, I said, better to wait for him on some peninsula of the spirit. Surely for one with patience he will happen by once in a while. It was the heart spoke. The mind, sceptical as always of the anthroporphisms of the fancy, knew he must be put together like a poem or a composition in music, that is what he conforms to is art. A promontory is a bare place; no God leans down out of the air to take the hand extended to him. The generations have watched there in vain. We are beginning to see now it is a matter of the scaffolding of spirit; that the poem emerges from morphemes and phonemes; that as form in sculpture is the prisoner of the hard rock, so in everyday life it is the plain facts and natural happenings that conceal God and reveal him to us little by little under the mind's tooling.
We have seen earlier how for Thomas the “un-born” is, in God’s eye, like the statue in the uncut marble which only the sculptor sees. We have seen, too, how the idea of the limitations imposed on us by words, which are also our only means of communicating to each other, exercises the poet. The theme that we find God in stillness, in waiting, in the silences, was shot through our first week’s poems. The meta-narrative, if you will, of the “absence” of God is part of this, as of so many other poems by Thomas. But here, in this later “Emerging” (the first was Week 2, day 5’s poem), the poet confounds our expectations.
Where we might expect a “promontory” to join the moor or the bright field as a place of epiphany, here Thomas turns inward. The heart may say “wait” and he “will happen by”, but the mind’s eye suggests our own resources may not be as limited as sometimes Thomas can imply. If (another major theme) body and spirit are not divided, then our words may be of some use to us after all. Not in prose, not in theological musings, but in art.
How often, listening for example to Tallis, can I hear something which my mind cannot grasp but which directs me toward God? How often, reading those smallest units of language, put together by a great poet like Eliot, George Herbert or Thomas himself, resonate with a sense of the divine which, though coming from words, I cannot render back into them? Tallis, Byrd, Bach, Handel, like the poets just mentioned, all seem to find the sculpture within the marble and then, in their art, reveal something of it to us. This is not a matter of intellectual reasoning, it is the revelation of great art.
We can lose him in the quotidian – another of Thomas’ themes – but find him “under the mind’s tooling” – as Tallis shows us here:
But to do that, we need to take that “narrow way”, away from the main road. We need to make ourselves open to the insights of those great artists, including Thomas himself, who can reveal God to us “little by little.”
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!