People often ask me about my fixation with poetry the same way they ask why I remain Catholic.
Even as they shrink from both, there is an appreciation of the mysteries and the challenge both represent. Not my cup of tea, say many.
For me it is less a choice than an irresistible, deeply abiding attraction.
Both poetry and Catholicism defy full and definitive understanding. They invite all kinds of possible interpretations, from the literal to the inscrutably symbolic. They offer access to other worlds through the alchemy of words, their associations and what it stirs in our imaginations. They demand discipline and faith.
Faith in the imagination.
Faith in our ability to unlock hidden meaning.
Faith in our capacity for intuition, for understanding, for action.
Thomas Merton has said of poetry that it “produces in the reader an experience that enriches the depths of his spirit in a manner quite unique.” (Poetry, Symbolism, and Typology, 1953.)
The same might be said of the Eucharist. Bad homilies and institutional hardening of the arteries cannot eclipse the light of the Eucharist anymore than our sometimes sluggish imaginations can eclipse the meaning that resides inert in every poem. It just waits to be read into life.
Again, Merton has said that “the reason for a poem is not discovered until the poem itself exists. The reason for a living act is realized only in the act itself.” (“Message to Poets,” 1964)
With the largely peaceful explosion of hope and change in Eqypt still unfolding with all its reverberations, we are once again reminded that there always are the people Merton believed in: “new people, new poets who are not in tutelage to established political systems or cultural structures . . . but who dare to hope in their own vision of reality and of the future.”
This week in Hawaii those people who believe in a future that provides equal justice for all families saw that vision take one sure step towards reality with the passage of landmark legislation providing for civil unions in the aloha state.
We have good reason to respond to Merton’s invitation:”come, dervishes: here is the water of life. Dance in it.”