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In a forest clearing near Fontainbleu, France, I sat waiting several hours for hardier hikers to return. There, I had such a profound experience of God’s presence, that I couldn’t find words to express it. I could recall it to memory, though, and remembered it with a vivid immediacy many times in the years that followed. I jotted down a few notes about the trees forming chapel-like arches around me, and the beautiful, flood-formed pattern of sand around huge boulders, but could not seem to form a poem (so strange for me!) without losing the lived experience of this holy encounter, in this sacred space.
So, the notes sat, empty, until I accepted the challenge from my Living Poems group to write a poem in Terza Rima. This seemingly impossible, interlocked rhyme scheme seemed to call for density of subject, for images that could be – had to be – woven together likewise. The forest chapel finally sang to me to be expressed in poetic form. Somehow, the strict form freed me to realize the wholeness of the lived experience. No poem ever is quite perfect, but this one, for me, is close!
I can feel, in the word “Hush,” the moment my mere-seeing of the beauty around me became an encounter with Reality. I can feel in the word “Still,” the awed and breathless expectancy that seemed to stop my heart beat. I can feel, in the word “Come,” my awareness that angels actually were there, ushering me into the Presence.
The fifth, central stanza is the poem’s peak, where I still relive the sense experience of being raised up among angels and birds in praise, toward Light’s embrace. I do not mean that I physically lifted off, like some of the saints, but that I might as well have. How long it was, as I bore the touch of the Word upon my soul, I do not know. And what He said, I am still discovering as the words reverberate through me to be poured out, spent, voiced. I knew a Love in those moments – or hours – that was all-sufficient to re-birth me whole.
And, gently restored to earthly reality, let down from the heights of holy convivium, I re-entered not an empty clearing, but the Church itself, raised up around me, for me, in organic strength and unity and majesty. The spiral growth of trees as a pattern for the amazing power of columns in a church had just recently thrilled me in Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, so I know why this image was so powerful.
I looked at my watch. It was 3:00 – the hour of His Passion, of His Mercy – and it seemed that all the ‘blood’ was draining out of this intense experience. I understood Him to be saying that such a beautiful agony (both the wound of His touch and the pain of having this time with Him come to an end) could be a form of suffering, united to His own, if I were willing. And, of course, I was. I have come to see, since then, that the poet does bear a particular kind of wounding in service to the world, and in worship of God. Everything I understand about myself as a poet stems from this sense that poetry itself, the work of poesis, of crafting, and the arts in general, is the work of carving capacity for Christ into the soul. I pray that it helps carve that capacity into the souls of my readers as well.
Chapelle a la Foret
Soft the forest chapel dawns upon my sight
Carved by streams suffused with grace from boulders stark
Rising to enclose me in delight
Gothic arch erected of the ancient bark
Sun and earth and air conspire within this room
Leaf-stained glass adorning nature’s ark
Goldened green woven through honeyed loom
Stretched from vault to vault twice-pierced by scarlet wings
Air incensed by humus-warmed perfume
Hush, a hymn soughs in to my imagining
Still, my soul abides in her sacrarium
Come, ye holy beings hovering
Flight, now ensouled space becomes an atrium
Winged, all creatures drawn toward this hallowed place
Light, collect, embrace, convivium
Stay, Thy own enchambered bride resounds faint praise
Down, creation’s seed entombed reverberates
Speak, a ravished soul only Thy voice can raise
Poured out from the chapel veiled to emanate
Spent be Thou ever renewed within my heart
Birthed from sacred branch regenerate
Trees like columns spiral grown to stand apart
Strength inhaled as living water through each pore
Joined the understory unified, an arch
Now the hour of Thy passion still implores
All Thy Body’s wounds prevail in heaven’s fight
Willing victim, Jesu je t’adore
All the poems are now in one volume, and I’d love for you to have a copy! Click on the cover to buy it, and click here for the recordings of all the poems.