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One of my all-time favorite poets agrees with me that poetry needs to be heard.
“…poetry is the darling child of speech. …it must be spoken: till it is spoken it is not performed, it does not perform, it is not itself.” Gerard Manley Hopkins
I’m doing my part by making recordings of my poems available here.
Meanwhile, it would be so great if, during National Poetry Month, you would take a poem and read it aloud. Any poem! I firmly believe that, unless we recover a taste for poetry, an ear for poetic speech, a soul in-formed by poems, we will greatly lack capacity for Christ. The Eucharist will be the same yesterday, today, and forever, but we must cultivate capacity to receive it.
Enter, poetry. Poems are one expression of poesis – the making of form, the realizing of ideas. Poems are one form that word takes when someone is trying to communicate more than words can say. As such, they have the potential of preparing our hearts to receive the meaning that lies within forms, within words, within the Eucharist and the Word of God.
My offer still stands: up to ten free copies of A Destiny to Burn for those who will give them away during National Poetry Month. Every day should be ‘poetry day’ for Christians, but while the world still has a poetry month, shouldn’t we people of the Word be its most enthusiastic supporters? In the month to come, I’ll be giving away volumes of poetry by Pavel Chichikov, Ruth Asch, Christopher Kelder, Malcolm Guite, Kathryn Mulderink, and other living Catholic poets, and subscriptions to some magazines that publish contemporary Catholic poetry. Will you help promote my promotion??
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For your copies of A Destiny to Burn, use the form below, or email me: Speaker@CharlotteOstermann.com.
The days of your power to act in your own behalf, to cultivate the self, are over. You’re here to be acted upon, to be purified, to be loved. As C.S. Lewis has pointed out, the “weight of glory” is not going to be easy to bear. That’s why he considered purgatory “a hopeful doctrine”.
The particular suffering of purgatory is God working to prepare you for that weight. At this point, you’ll have no doubt about your eternal destiny, no doubt about His perfect love, but also none about how far you fall short of capacity to bear it. Perhaps your Sabbath practice has helped prepare you for the complete powerlessness to effect change – the utter surrender of self into God’s hands – that is Purgatory.
How capable are you of non-action, of allowing yourself to be acted upon, turned, stopped, stomped, kneaded, exposed, wounded? Have you practiced letting go of your own goals, progress, will – your acting upon the world to control, manage, manipulate, change, improve it? How passive can you be to Love in the midst of life’s active dimension? These are all things you can practice on your Eucharistic Sabbath. (During the week, get out there and practice acting in freedom to cultivate yourself and rock the world around you!)
Sabbath-keeping will certainly help with all of the ‘purgatories’ you experience during life on earth – suffering, interference with self-will, humiliation, and the like – and will permeate your active week with the sweetness of surrender and rest. So, I think, this practice will help you through the bittersweet pangs of Purgatory itself.
Giotto’s painting, The Wedding Feast at Cana, (select link for large image in a new window) portrays the literal and spiritual senses of this story. From John 2:1-11, we have the story that is the basis for the painting. Its details are conveyed in a simple, straightforward way. At the table from which the bride and groom face their roomful of guests sit, among others, Jesus (signified by the cross-marked gold halo) and his mother, Mary (signified by her blue robe and gold halo). Mary has turned toward the servants who attend the wine jars. This would seem to be the moment when she says to them, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) Obligingly, the servant girl on the right fills the jars with water per Jesus’ instructions (John 2:7: “Fill the jars with water…”). The steward tastes red wine (“…the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine…” John 2:9). The servant beside him, clutching at his arm, is, perhaps, eager to try for himself a bit of the wine he hears praised by his surprised supervisor (“…you have kept the good wine until now.” John 2:10).
There seems to be a direct line of sight from the amazed steward back to Christ, seeming to contradict the fact that, in the story, the steward immediately credits the bridegroom with the provision of this fine wine. This would seem to be a redirection of the viewer’s understanding of the story ‘upward’, toward its spiritual meaning. On the literal level, the bridegroom – as is fitting at his wedding – is the central figure. On the spiritual level, the ‘bridegroom’ has become a type, or sign of Christ. Giotto has even robed them in similar garments to emphasize this unity of meaning.
The feast itself – noticeably lacking any foods but bread and wine – is now seen as an image of the Eucharistic feast. Both Christ and the bridegroom raise hands of blessing over the bread, and the servant girl in the center seems to bow before it reverently. The girl in pink, arms folded, gazing intently at Jesus, might have seemed idle as a servant, but now reminds us of the Mary who sat still in the presence of Jesus while her sister, Martha, bustled around, busily preparing a meal for Him. (Lk 10:38-42) Each, in her own (though outwardly opposite) way, gives Him reverent attention – as these two servant girls, back-to-back, clearly do.
On Christ’s left sits a young man who seems to be listening to the narrator, St. John, who tells this story in his gospel account. Their oblique perspective on the scene suggests again that the literal events are meant to be seen and understood on another, spiritual, level. The young man sits, hands folded, more like a student/disciple than an active participant in a festive meal. He represents, perhaps, all those who would later be instructed through St. John’s retelling of the story of this feast.
The bride looking toward her husband mirrors Mary’s gaze at the miraculous wine – a direction of our gaze toward the moral sense that reverberates all through this painting. “Listen to Him,” says the girl on the left. “Learn of Him,” says St. John. “Bow to Him,” says the girl in green. “Follow His mother’s example,” says the bride. “Do as He tells you,” says Mary. “Take, and drink!” says the steward. The moral instructions conveyed by these events and by the artist’s careful rendering could not be clearer. Eventually, the viewer’s eye is drawn upward, past these ‘lower levels’ to a much higher plane.
Though the blue of the heaven-like ceiling is only a few feet above the seated guests, its distance is amplified by a three-part horizontal band. The colorful wall stops abruptly at the plastered white wall, where a decorative molding further accentuates the separation of the upper level. Finally, an almost crown-like balcony, carved with three rows of crosses and topped with six small urn-shaped finials lifts our eyes to what must be the highest meaning – the eternal significance – of this story. A seventh urn, much larger than the six, is centered precisely over the bridegroom, raising our understanding of the sign of ‘new wine’ to the sense in which a wedding feast prefigures the eventual fulfillment of the new covenant in the Wedding Supper wherein Christ will receive His Bride, the Church. “At Cana, the mother of Jesus asks her son for the needs of a wedding feast; this is the sign of another feast – that of the wedding of the Lamb where he gives his body and blood at the request of the Church, his Bride.” (CCC 2618)
Also directing our gaze fully upward is a vertical line of bright white paint at the left margin that seems to indicate quite a bright light shining from that direction, which also brightens the left side of the ‘crown balcony’ and flows across the white table cloth, over the white water jars, and even over the obedient servant girl in white. The dual movement of this light suggests the vertical-and-horizontal of the Cross, and also highlights the three gestures of blessing as it moves through Christ, man (the bridegroom) and Mary toward the fulfillment of the promise of finest wine.
The anagogical level leads us to the covenantal significance of this (and of every) wedding and of the Eucharistic feast. The literal wedding – like the natural elements of bread and wine, or the temporal covenant of natural marriage, is overshadowed and suffused with new life and meaning by what must be the Holy Spirit – shown as light, movement, and power. Because this wedding feast prefigures the Last Supper, at which Christ instituted the Eucharist, it also directs our attention “toward the fulfillment of the Passover in the kingdom of God” (CCC 1403). The Eucharist is the sign of the marriage covenant of Redemption between Christ and His Church (Mt 26:28, Mk 14:24, Lk 22:20, CCC 1405). The Old and New Covenants are joined together definitively in the feasts of Passover, Cana, and Eucharist, where all eyes are directed toward the coming kingdom, where the sign of Marriage, the signs of Bread and Wine, the signs of blood and water,and the sign of the Cross will be fulfilled in glory. (CCC 1359-1363, CCC 1334, 1335)
What’s your favorite movie? When I’m asked, the kids answer for me: Babette’s Feast! Well, that’s one of my all time favorites, and I do think everyone should see it. [Read more…]
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to the, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. John 21: 4-7
The fishermen had been going through all the motions, and were drained of strength and disappointed and hungry. In obedience to Him, they rehearsed those motions one last time: gather the heavy, sodden net just so; heave together to lift and throw it; pull against the enormous drag of deep water and haul it back in to the boat with calloused hands and aching muscles.
What they had been doing all night in their own strength finally brought an abundant reward when the motions became acts of obedience. If you have been going through the motions at Mass, and bringing up an ’empty net’ over and over, you can revitalize your experience and start to take home a full catch!
In this talk I gave practical helps for the common experience of dryness, dullness, emptiness in the lives of Mass-goers. I created it for an evening of reflection led by the Apostles of the Interior Life, when they invited members of their Collaborator Family to contribute to their parish mission work. The Apostles, my Family, are something of a ‘sending community’ for me – rooting my speaking and writing in the practice of their charism and the sharing of their goal to lead people deeper into the interior life of union with Christ.