We live in a Googlesque world where facts are assumed to be the same thing as truth.
Don’t minute-by-minute updates on what’s going on in our world give us the truth? No. All they do is tell us what’s happening right now. Truth, on the other hand, is “the daughter of time.”
We must wait for the clouded waters of the present to clear . . . then truth, or some portion of truth, may be discerned.
For example, we glimpse the truth of what’s happening today in Iraq only when we take time to understand hundreds of years of that country’s history; only when we have become pilgrims of truth.
A number of R. S. Thomas’s poems introduce us to this pilgrimage. Here are two lines:
The truth is Pilate not
lingering for an answer.
RS is alluding to the biblical moment when Pilate asks Jesus, “So you are a king?” To which Jesus responds: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asks, “What is truth?” Then, without “lingering for an answer,” Pilate goes out to the crowd clamoring for him to deal . . . immediately . . . summarily . . . murderously . . . with Jesus (John 18:37-38)
Many people are like Pilate: They do not linger . . . for the truth of Jesus.
This lecturer on atheism tells them that Jesus is a charlatan miracle-worker, so they grab and run with that answer.
This pastor uses the Bible to pound home the doctrine that Jesus is half-human, half-divine, and they rush out to tell others that they know the whole truth of Jesus.
They don’t. For the truth of Jesus is too mysterious to be known with perfect clarity, with complete understanding, by anyone.
It is a mysterious truth that opens for us, perhaps once in a lifetime. Referring to an ancient Welsh pilgrimage island, RS says:
I would still go there
if only to await
opening of truth’s flower; . . .
We live in an information-cluttered world, and I have no inclination to opt out. I tune in to cable news, Google for facts. Whereas back in the day, I trolled my bookshelves or drove to a library to find the information fragments that today I obtain with a few mouse clicks.
But pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of God, pilgrims of Jesus, switch off their electronic devices. Pilgrims of truth pack light with regard to information, dwell deep in silence. “From bottomless fathoms they dredge up the truth.”
They tiptoe, as they seek what Wordsworth calls “central peace, subsisting at the heart / Of endless agitation.” They “whisper,” in RS’s words, “like one coming / on the truth asleep / and fearing to disturb it.”
Poems of R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:
“the daughter of time” – Francis Bacon (1561-1626).
“The truth is Pilate not” – “The Nativity? No.” Counterpoint (1990), 29.
“I would still go there” – “Island,” No Truce with the Furies (1995), 79.
“from bottomless fathoms” – “Fathoms,” No Truce with the Furies (1995), 10.
They “whisper” – “Pen Llŷn,” Mass for Hard Times (1992), 72.