It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.
One of the joys of this collection of Thomas’s poems has been Mthr. Cary’s commentaries. For the first time, I did not find the opening parts (pp. 137-8), useful as she centres of something called “magic eye pictures” which she assures us “were all the rage” a few years ago. Maybe you will reassure me that I am not alone in being utterly nonplussed by the reference? Or perhaps you will confirm that I really do live in a cave somewhere and am out of touch with everyday realities? Do use the comment box!
Fortunately, unlike the two previous poems, this one is not difficult – at one level. We know from the Gospels what God’s kingdom is like. We have to look only at what Jesus did and to listen to what he says to grasp its dimensions – which is where the difficulty begins. If we look at the Beatitudes, we get a radically different world-view: it is the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for his sake who are blessed. These are not, in the main, the qualities valued by this world or which lead to worldy success. It is not quite a reversal of the values of this world, because the qualities mentioned are paid lip-service to, but it is a reminder that God’s kingdom, which is always near at hand, is one where lip-service is not enough.
Admission is “free”, and yet, paradoxical as ever, Thomas tells us the price:
if you will purge yourself / Of desire, and present yourself with / Your need only and the simple offering / Of your faith
There is the challenge. How often are we like the rich young man who talks to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel? You can almost sense the happiness in Jesus as the young man tells him he has obeyed the commandments, and then the sadness as that man cannot to the final thing – sell his possessions and give to the poor. There was something he valued more than the Kingdom of God. So in our own time, we have our own idols, the things we put before God – even if it is only all that busyiness which prevents us stopping for a while and seeking that narrow way and the silence of prayer.
As we enter the final week of our Advent journey, we pass to the final stage. Until now we have been following a Carthusian pattern: waiting; accepting; journeying; and birthing. Now we are at a final stage which Mthr. Carys calls “seeing”. What did we learn from what we saw on our journey?
That takes us back to Week 3, day 1 and the poem “Wrong”, when we saw that, as Cavafy puts it in Ithaka, it is the journey which makes you rich, it is what you gather as you go through and not the destination which really matters. And here, Mthr. Cary’s reflections point us in the right way:
Thomas has been telling us that God is everywhere, from nature to the very molecules which make up the world and in the building blocks of langauge itself, and here, if we would but stop to see it, his kingdom is at hand. In the kingdom of God it is Love who rules. That Love who lay in the manger, who preached, who died on the Cross and rose from the dead, he did it because he loved us first. And us? Do we return that love, and if so how? So often he has told us that the expectations we have need to be set aside – and the simple love and faith of the child – are our best guide. As we embark on this last week of reflections, may each of us know the joy of the Christ-child and echo Mary’s obedience at the Annunciation: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
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!