Alan Jones, in his book Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home (1989), displays an amazing depth of reading! Often we pass over quotes as if they did not come from anywhere. So I thought it would be interesting to peel back the cover of Jones’ work and shine a light on seven people he references. As you will see, he thinks all his listening to authors and artists is listening to the Spirit at work in them. As he keeps saying: “God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home.” Let’s see how far we get with that.
Today’s Bible reading
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise [them] up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in [them]. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” – John 6:53-8 NET
More thoughts for meditation about Anne Sexton (1928-1974)
Anne Sexton was an American poet known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die.
Sexton never got to a comfortable faith, but she wrote about it a lot. And she had a long correspondence with a monk, right up to the point when she sent off her last work The Awful Rowing toward God, then put on her mother’s old mink coat, went to the garage, started the car and made the exhaust that killed her at age 45. One poem in her last self-collected book was titled after one of Soren Kierkegaard’s works:
The Sickness Unto Death
God went out of me
as if the sea dried up like sandpaper,
as if the sun became a latrine.
God went out of my fingers.
They became stone.
My body became a side of mutton
and despair roamed the slaughterhouse.
Someone brought me oranges in my despair
but I could not eat a one
for God was in that orange.
I could not touch what did not belong to me.
The priest came,
he said God was even in Hitler.
I did not believe him
for if God were in Hitler
then God would be in me.
I did not hear the bird sounds.
They had left.
I did not see the speechless clouds,
I saw only the little white dish of my faith
breaking in the crater.
I kept saying:
I’ve got to have something to hold on to.
People gave me Bibles, crucifixes,
a yellow daisy,
but I could not touch them,
I who was a house full of bowel movement,
I who was a defaced altar,
I who wanted to crawl toward God
could not move nor eat bread.
So I ate myself,
bite by bite,
and the tears washed me,
wave after cowardly wave,
swallowing canker after canker
and Jesus stood over me looking down
and He laughed to find me gone,
and put His mouth to mine
and gave me His air.
My kindred, my brother, I saidand gave the yellow daisy
to the crazy woman in the next bed.
Her last book was dedicated to the monk. Sexton drafted her final book in two and half weeks during January 1973. Two of those days were spent in a mental hospital, where she spoke with a priest. She told him that she wasn’t sure if she believed in God. “I can’t go to church,” she said. “I can’t pray.” She wished to take communion but knew that she could not. She feared formal conversion: “It would ruin, it would formulate, my thinking: I’d want Him to be my God, anyway. I don’t want to be taught about Him; I want to make him up.”
The priest read Sexton’s drafts aloud to her. “Your typewriter is your altar,” he said.
Suggestions for action from Alan Jones
“Ironically, the Virgin Birth was insisted upon in the early years because there were those who said that Jesus wasn’t really human. He was some heavenly being. Mary was the guarantee that Jesus was really one of us. This crude insistence on the material is emphasized in the Gospel [as in today’s reading]…
Think for a moment of Mary. She has just said Yes! To the baby, to the longed-for unknown. She contemplates the future stretching from her belly, and her own stretching by the child that will be born. It is a common experience for mothers. It is a metaphor that others in our culture need to appropriate – both men and women. Giving birth is an ordeal, and we, pregnant with God, are to give birth to a new understanding of ourselves. We are called to assist at our own birth. I know of no greater adventure. I know of no other way to describe it but as an ongoing drama of resurrection. The love letters never cease to amaze me.
George Emery, an old friend and expert in Christian mythology, sent us a Christmas poem not long ago about Mary as a sign and promise of new life breaking out in us.
To understand ordeals underground
Following the footsteps of the Lord
Into our own identity
Is difficult. As a new baby
Finds his mother to be another,
And she is a new person,
Mary saw God in her son,
Beholds him still for us
Both there and on the cross.
This describes our inner pilgrimage. It is an underground ordeal into the mystery of who we are. Through the agency of others we become new persons. Anne Sexton contributed to the bundle of love letters when she wrote,
open the door and let me in.
A bee has stung your belly with faith.
Let me float in it like a fish.
Let me in! Let me in!
I have been born many times, a false Messiah;
but let me be born again
into something true. (from The Awful Rowing Toward God)
…We follow the footsteps of our Lord into our own identity…to be born again and again and again. What freedom there is in my not having to be my own messiah!”
Poor Anne! Standing on the outside of Mary’s belly trying to get in. One reason we like her poetry is because she describes our reactions and says what we would not dare. Alan Jones has drawn us into all sorts of interesting conversations with a whole new community of people he loves. I wonder what part of you is still saying “Let me in!” What answer comes back?