Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Denise Levertov (Page 1 of 2)

July 12, 2020 – Foolish with desire

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

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read 1 Corinthians 3:12-19

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? …

If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. 

More thoughts for meditation

July 1968

Topmost leaves of young oak,
     young maple,
               are red—a delicate red
almost maroon.

I am not young,
    and not yet old. Young enough to be able
               to imagine my own old age. Something in me

puts out new leaves that are red also,
     delicate, fantastic, in June,
               early summer, late spring in the north.

A dark time we live in. one would think
     there would be no summer. No red leaves.
               One would think there would be

no drawings-up of the blind at morning
     to a field awake with flowers.
               Yet my tuft of new leaves

It is that field I wake to,
     A woman foolish with desire.

We live in dark times too. One would think that 2020 would not have a summer either. Where is the green tuft to which we might open up our blinds? 

In July 1968, the United States was waste deep in an endless war in Vietnam. Martin Luther King had been assassinated that April, Bobby Kennedy that June. King’s death precipitated the Holy Week Uprising. All across the country Black people spilled into the streets. The cyclical nature of such uprisings has not ceased to this day, because the situation has not yet changed enough. Maybe it would have been different if Bobby Kennedy would have been elected, but I don’t know. Denise Levertov was a radical peacemaker and participated heavily in efforts to address systemic racism and end the war. Summer 1968, was a good year to give up. But she did not. She stands at her window noticing what is new and green and reflecting on what more she has to offer. She stands in the foolishness of her desire and sees clearly through the haze.

We too can be foolish with desire because the wisdom of the world is foolishness in God’s sight. It is in moments like July 1968 and July 2020 that this is easier to see and there is some opportunity to bless God in that. Despair in the world! Go ahead and let it go. For ‘whether life or death or the present or the future—all is yours and you are in Christ and Christ is in God.

Suggestions for action

Look for the tuft of new leaves and fluff it in the breeze. Name a few of your foolish desires and write them in your journal. They do not all have to be so sanctioned as “world peace”, “all twelve fruits of the Spirit” and “union with God” (though, I expect you do want those things); this is an exercise in foolishness, in laughter though you have considered all the facts, in hope for things unseen, as Levertov has led us all week.

July 11, 2020 – In the beam of vision

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

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Mark 9:14-29

Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”

The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” 

More thoughts for meditation


I believe the earth
exists, and 
in each minim mote
of its dust the holy
glow of thy candle.
unknown I know,
thou spirit,
lover of making, of the
wrought letter,
wrought flower,
iron, deed, dream.
Dust of the earth,
help thou my
unbelief. Drift,
gray become gold, in the beam of
vision. I believe and
interrupt my belief with
doubt. I doubt and
interrupt my doubt with belief. Be,
beloved, threatened world.
                    Each minum
                    Not the poisonous
luminescence forced 
out of its privacy,
the sacred lock of its cell
broken. No,
the ordinary glow
of common dust in ancient sunlight.
Be, that I may believe. Amen.

A poem is a bit like the beam of light that turns the gray mote into gold. The poet’s joy is shining light on the common dust of our existence and capturing the perfect moment of shafted light and dancing swirls of motes. I seemed to see those more when I was a child. Was it that I lived in a different state with different light and different dust, or does the quiet mind of a child have more to do with my fantastic vision? 

The man in Mark’s story understands how to be gray and gold at the same time. Recognizing the potential of his ordinary life in the presence of Jesus, and not really knowing how to believe more than asking. There probably isn’t more to it. Here in the poem, Levertov names what she knows, names what she knows about God and asks to believe. This seems like a worthy pattern for prayer, especially if doubt is a big part of your thought-scape. 

Suggestions for action

Name your doubts in your journal and ask God to help you believe. Get to the bottom of it quickly – where are you struggling to believe? Where are you bothered by your unbelief? There are not right answers, only true ones. If you can do this you might also write a credo as Levertov has. Name what you know about the world and about God. Then venture into those things that need that perfect moment of mote suspended in sunlight shaft in order for them to become gold in your eyes. Jesus is the light. Anything is possible if a person believes. And many things can only happen by prayer. 

Today is Benedict of Nursia Day. Honor the man who made monasticism from the Egyptian desert a practice fit for his tumultuous era in Europe at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

July 10, 2020 – Discrete at least

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

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read 1 John 1:1-10

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 

More thoughts for meditation

To Speak

To speak of sorrow
works upon it
         ……………..moves it from its
crouched place barring
the way to and from the soul’s hall –

out in the light it shows clear, whether
shrunken or known as
a giant wrath—
at least, where before

its great shadow joined 
the walls and roof and seemed
to uphold the hall like a beam.

This poem is a perfect anthem for the ways of grief – for observing the motions of your mind – for taking your thoughts captive for Christ – for observing your fearsome insides from the safety of God’s lap. Getting words like these into our memories would serve us well when we are tempted to abandon the whole house because it seems so completely filled with grief. If memorization is something you do or would like to try, this would be a good one to memorize.

Suggestions for action

Speak some sorrow in your journal. This might be your daily practice and Levertov here is “preaching to the choir.” But I can’t imagine that daily sharing of your sorrow with Jesus would make you anything but a choir member indeed, and choir members love to sing. How will you receive the light shining on your darkness today? Hopefully Levertov’s words infuse you with courage to shine bright.

July 9, 2020 – Know and don’t recognize

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.

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