This week we are with the poetry of Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

Today’s Bible reading

Wisdom has built her house;
    she has set up its seven pillars.
She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servants, and she calls
    from the highest point of the city,
    “Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
    “Come, eat my food
    and drink the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways and you will live;
    walk in the way of insight.” — Proverbs 9:1-6

More thoughts for meditation

Art allows us to look at our own destructive potential without despair.

‘I learned her name was Proverb.’

And the secret names
of all we meet who lead us deeper 
into our labyrinth
of valleys and mountains, twisting valleys
and steeper mountains –
their hidden names are always,
like Proverb, promises:
Rune, Omen, Fable, Parable,
those we meet for only 
one crucial moment, gaze to gaze,
or for years know and don’t recognize

but of whom later a word
sings back to us
as if from high among leaves,
still near but beyond sight

drawing us from tree to tree
towards the time and the unknown place
where we shall know 
what it is to arrive.

Denise Levertov met Thomas Merton, the famous Catholic Mystic author, only once. He died in Thailand before they could continue their friendship, but she was a big admirer of his writing. This poem references a Merton deep cut in the title, ‘I learned her name was Proverb’.

In a letter to Boris Pasternak, Thomas Merton wrote: “One night I dreamt I was sitting with a very young Jewish girl of fourteen or fifteen, and that she suddenly manifested a very deep and pure affection for me and embraced me so that I was moved to the depths of my soul. I learned that her name was “Proverb” which I though very simple and beautiful… A few days later when I happened to be in a nearby city [Louisville]… I was walking alone in the crowded street and suddenly saw that everybody was Proverb and that in all of them shone her extraordinary beauty and purity and shyness, even though they did not know who they were and were perhaps ashamed of their names – because they were mocked on account of them. And they did not know their real identity as the Child so dear to God, from before the beginning, was playing in His sight all days, playing in the world” (from Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine by Susan McCaslin and J.S Porter).

Merton’s dream has the same promise in it that Levertov sees in “Rune, Omen, Fable, Parable” named in her poem. The something more that was always there – the real identity – the true name. Poetry avoids the solidity that would make these stories trite and simplistic. Merton’s dream brushes the border of cute and almost loses me (as he often does), but Levertov’s reverence for him provides the grace I need to see what he is after and receive it for myself.

Belovedness is the gaze we always remember. If we were united with God in the beginning and have been given the promise that we will be with him in our ending, might we now, whether starting from the beginning or the end, accept our true name and be one with God, at least deep down? Like the bird whose song we know but cannot see there are these flashes of knowing when we see again what we had only glimpsed before. This is Presence. This is God with us. And once it happens several times, we can begin to expect it.

Suggestions for action

Can you recall the last time you felt that sudden recognition? That realization that you have been here before – here on this holy ground – here in your holy feet? Like spiritual déjà vu or a sacred understanding that cannot be well explained. Yes, that. Bring it to mind and gaze. If you haven’t had an experience like this or you’re not really sure what I mean. Trust the Spirit, and meditate on Proverbs 9:1-6 again. Pray for insight.