Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Denise Levertov (Page 2 of 2)

July 8, 2020 — Not yet, not yet

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

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Romans 5:1-11

We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (3b-5)

More thoughts for meditation


Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,
…..hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river 
…..winds somewhere to the sea -”

But we have only begun 
to love the earth.

We have only begun
to imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
–so much is in the bud.

How can desire fail?
— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet – 
there is too much broken 
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of the struggle.

So much is unfolding that must 
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

This poem is in response to a poem written by Algernon Charles Swineburne in 1866, called the Garden of Porserpine in which Swineburne seems to welcome the nonexistence of death as an abstract counterbalance to the wearisome losing that comes with living and loving the beauty of life. Porserpine is a character from mythology who spends half the year on earth and half the year with her husband, Pluto, in the underworld among the dead. Her presence on Earth brings the life of spring and summer and, according to Swineburne (and maybe Elvis Costello) all this useless beauty. 

Don’t we need a response to this kind of never fading fatalism? Here in 2020, more than 40 years since Levertov wrote this poem and more than 150 years since Swineburne wrote his, don’t we need a hopeful response to the hopelessness that comes all too easily? Levertov looks brokenness and hurt in the face and hopes right at them. The absence of what could be is a source of hope for what is to come. Resignation is easy, and completely understandable. But if we have seen the beginning of something does not our longing for how it ends bring something more powerful than the grim face of death?

Karen Silkwood, one of the people to whom this poem is dedicated, was a whistleblower in Oklahoma. She was a chemical technician and labor union activist known for raising concerns about corporate practices related to health and safety in a nuclear facility. She died “under mysterious circumstances” in 1974. Shall we be crushed when the powers crush us? Shall we bravely accept our fate and the nature of things in Pluto’s frigid halls? Or shall we “join our solitudes in the communion of struggle”? There is something in the “we’s” and “our’s” of this poem that firm me up from my despair. The defiance of hope is a communal project. Hope is what WE do. Hope is something that is OURS.  

Suggestions for action

Spend some time continuing to imagine the fullness of life. What has begun – in you, in the world, in your relationships or in someone you love? What do you see unfolding that must (it just must) not end (not yet, not yet)? Write down the beginnings of things and imagine where they might go. Our map draft is one place to look. God’s love has been poured out into our hearts, where might THAT river flow next?

July 7, 2020 – Door after door

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

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Acts 12:6-19 Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison

So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him.

Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” 

More thoughts for meditation

St. Peter and the Angel

Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of others
to whom he was chained –

unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening – 
       And along a long street’s
majestic emptiness under the moon:

one hand on the angel’s shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed . . .

And not till he saw the angel had left him,
alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he still had to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel’s feet
made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy.

Thank you, Denise Levertov, for capturing the eerie awesomeness of this scene. Can you imagine awaking to being awake and suddenly free? Levertov can, and with imagined details like the sudden recollection of silent angel steps she opens us up to the shared reality of Peter’s calling. We too hold the key to the terrors of freedom and joy. In art, Peter is often pictured as holding a key. Isaiah 22:20-23 and Matthew 16:18-19 are often cited to explain this. But Levertov sees that it is also this encounter with the the angel which gave him the power to bind and loose, and which enabled him to lead so many as he was enabled to the freedom of Christ. Eventually the authorities killed him, but not before he opened as many doors for others and more as the ones that opened before him on that night. 

Suggestions for action

Ask yourself and reflect in your journal: “To what am I awaking? For what and whom am I free? How has God rescued me already? What lived reality of what Jesus said of me can I bring to those near me today?” Ask God to help with one or two answers to these questions.

July 6, 2020 – When is daybreak?

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

Today’s Bible reading

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you. — Philippians 4:4-9

More thoughts for meditation

… That Passeth All Understanding

An Awe so quiet
I don’t know when it began.

A gratitude
had begun
to sing in me.

Was there
some moment
Song from no song?

When does dewfall begin?

When does night
Fold its arms over our hearts
to cherish them?

When is daybreak?

In these questions Denise Levertov is focusing her thoughts on what is excellent, admirable, true, all that is holy, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise. Poetry’s best function is to do so in my opinion. As poetry transcends the cognitive and speaks on another level it helps us to practice a deeper sense of knowing. Reading this poem’s wonder about when peace began to enfold the author, we realize that the quiet awe must always be there. There is no end to it. There is no beginning of day or night, they just happen. They slide into our knowing like the peace that exceeds or passeth understanding. Asking the questions makes it clear that the answer is “I don’t know” and yet the peace happens. The Lord is near and the God of peace is with us.

Suggestions for action

Ask a few questions that don’t have answers. Write them in your journal. Even if they are a bit worrisome they can work themselves into wonder rather than fear. Don’t look up the science of dew points as I am tempted to do even still. For even the answers will yield more questions, and tomorrow’s daybreak will come when you are likely still asleep. Hold the wonder of your not knowing and wait for some quiet awe to creep into your awareness. Be still long enough to settle on the other side of not knowing. Practice focusing your thoughts on these things.

Today is Jan Hus Day! Admire this martyr to conviction at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

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