Unless I See: After Caravaggio’s “Incredulity of Saint Thomas”

No need to touch the scars;
Caravaggio got that detail wrong.
The sheer force of His presence made Thomas crumple,
doubt ceasing where belief gained life,
the parched taste, hesitant like salt, exultant like wine,
as loosened lips croaked,
My Lord and my God.

Yet I am comforted to see
both the outstretched hand and
the companions’ fingers lifting his.
I cannot tell if, like Thomas,
I could simply stop doubting and believe at such a sight,
but, held up by the weathered,
briny hands of those who’ve seen with me,
I, like him, can lift a wrinkled brow in faith.

Resurrection Day

Nothing should compare to this:
our singularity that, with earthquake force,
shakes stones, baffles Rome, turns
the mourners from the tomb with lightning conviction.

And day on day this truth remains,
though I have dishes to wash
and the ever-turning of the present
makes me more a sullen Peter returning to his net

than a Mary, fleeing the dead, for dear life –
yes, for Life
had said her name and was here.

Silent Day

“So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”
(John 19:42)

This in-between space is our home ground:
the time after glories and horrors alike,
the time before or after sleep –
and sometimes, sometimes it is a stretch,

sometimes a quest, or a rest.
Yet the tomb is cracking open. The ground
is trembling, if you keep your ear close.
And life is at work even as death is at work,
the silent whisper, ever, ever.

Damascus 1

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)
Caravaggio, “Conversion on the way to Damascus” (c.1600-1601

Something ends here:
paused mid-threat, flung groundward,
the man called Saul can breathe no more murder
while the horse kicks up its hooves and he points
his arms half-desperate at heaven.

Something begins here
yet it looks altogether like dying:
the fall, the pervasive dark,
the eyes failing to see, and yet
the spirit cognisant like never before.

I will show him how much he must suffer.
All this awaits, after the falling of scales;
now is the dying; the blindness preceding sight.
Must resurrection look like this?
With groans of creation, Saul will rise,
and Paul will live anew.

Chiaroscuro

unnamed
Caravaggio, “The Supper at Emmaus”, c.1606

To Cleopas and his friend,
the revelation and its impact no doubt stuck.
Their paradigm, irremediably shifted, could hardly go back.
Such things as resurrections we don’t
forget in any hurry.

Yet for those serving at table, I wonder:
did the light dawn so quickly, so decisively?
More or less a normal night’s work,
and that constant attempt not to eavesdrop
or at least not be seen doing so.

And then, some vague but growing sense
that here was a light altogether different in quality,
such that everything else was jet in the background,
that here was a customer who transformed the meals he ate
and left behind more than he took.

Perhaps, on the table,
after he left, as though spirited away,
in place of the customary tip a piece
of bread leftover, and a cup of wine,
and with the skeleton of the fish course lingering on the plate,
a parchment asking silently,
“Shall these dry bones live?”

Open

And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.
(Luke 1:64)

No good unless used for you:
only death, only a swallowing tomb.
No sweet grapes from a rotten vine;
no figs budding from a cursed tree.
When speaking, we curse; when silent, bones waste…
Until the words, He is risen. Why seek
the living among these yawning tombs?
Run. Tell the mourners.
Doubt has died.
This tongue has life to speak.

Catechism 50

image

What does Christ’s resurrection mean for us?
Christ triumphed over sin and death by being physically resurrected, so that all who trust in him are raised to new life in this world and to everlasting life in the world to come. Just as we will one day be resurrected, so this world will one day be restored. But those who do not trust in Christ will be raised to everlasting death.
(New City Catechism)

And so, like the first fruits, He shows us what will be,
like the early fig I saw when winter had ravaged the tree:
hopeful, I return every day, expectant of the taste.
So it is for the spirit.

Sometimes its workings are invisible
yet it is firm, this life which grabs you, arrests you.
Step out and see. Today is not like that first garden.
That day we clutched onto life that was not ours
This will not end. Though it linger, wait.

First you ate the fruit of death; now life’s fruit is on the tree.
You sow each day; tomorrow, reap
what life or death may bring.