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.
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.
Within this mist we could be anywhere:
A grassy knoll sits where the freeway
Meets the the Bridge; the air is frozen today
And the smell of Vegemite hangs in the air.
Chimneys puff in protest or in vapour prayer;
The sky in its veil has nothing to say,
But my father’s taught me in his silent way
To see the spots where grace snaps through the snare –
And there are many. If my mind is still,
I can count in fingerprints of Light
These scattered signs that put the fear to flight.
Schedules muffle anguish. Let them stand until
The day declares: “Not you, not even you,
Can conquer us – we belong to the true.”
…as if He were a seed in our garden, or a small flash of light for our pupil, He shone forth and diffused and filled the earth.
(Saint Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns for the Nativity)
Days crack like soil.
In the parts of the world where summer parches
we wait like potholes for the rain.
December’s slow refrain is singing
songs that speak of joy. Repeat
the sound of joy, though it may cloy
against the tune of years. We see
the line of kings; the throne, the rings
disappoint. The crown is twisted;
what can grow between these thorns?
A king, smaller than a seed
and vaster than the spheres.
While my body silent lies, May Thy power keep vigil; Let my sleep in Thy presence Be like the rising incense.
(St Ephraim the Syrian).
What can we offer?
The day is proud in its confidence;
night is helpless.
If they come, our shelters are weak,
our bags packed, our feet ready –
yet the shadow shelters too, here and in exile,
and the silent vigil is constant.
From threats which stalk without, within, we are kept:
though we are as mud-drops in an ocean,
the ocean protects.
Unknown the direction, unseen the foes;
yet we drift – tonight, tomorrow – in You,
sea of mercy, protecting light,
everything when nothing.