Can I sit
attentive to the voice of many waters
move, serve, respond?
Can I act,
responsive to a world of burning rubble
listen, stop and breathe?
Full of many things,
to choose the better part.
Caught in mindless bustle,
eternity in the friction that grinds
to a hault.
O bless the failure
that drives me kneeward.
Bless the gravel that stirs up
my knees to stretch and rise.
The fact that a work of such unperturbed objectivity and such deep, radiating peace could grow from a life which, far from being untroubled, consumed itself in strife, gives us an insight into the special quality of the man.
(Josef Pieper, The Silence of St Thomas)
The branch is not the root system.
When you see the grandness of the oak,
the stateur of the pine, the fir, do you
also know the deep
tangling that grows beneath?
And rhizomes too
defy our linear longings
to simply be a trunk, a branch.
They entwine, enfold, arise in grace, out of abyss,
Aquinas, it is said, was never
led by spirit but by thought.
“He contemplates…with pen in hand”*,
as though the pen were like a fence-post
constraining the grace of higher thought.
When, twenty-three, I took graceless aim
at shots fired over tea against my faith,
my sparring partner only said,
You know what you remind me of?
The scholastic period. The scholastics, man.
An insult? Perhaps. I did not speak
of the nights I’d spent in faithless fear.
All I am, and was, is straw. Yet pen
takes roots beneath the page,
and rhizomes grow within the nib.
Only grace that minds can ever take wings;
grace that pens can gather thought.
All grace that straw can speak.
*Adrienne von Speyr, The Book of All Saints
Too fidgety the mind’s compass
(R.S. Thomas, “Adam Tempted”)
I pile books on books and
thought on thought. I pile
obligation onto guilt, and duty
onto resignation. This
is panic in my breath and limbs
tingling with the pace of things.
There is no end, the wise teacher said,
to all flesh-weariness of thought.
I must find instead a small
pocket of my father’s grace;
I must breathe and breathe and breathe
in pinpoints where His kindness rests.
Not absent, Lord – You have never been
on holiday; You, O God, don’t sleep.
Yet in Your weekly scheme is space;
all Your bookshelves mouth Your peace.
Not absent, Lord. It is I who have been
too busy with my piles and piles
of nothing. You are everything.