As always, none of my God-questions were answered during Lent, but I did find it possible to nail some of them “one by one to an untenanted cross,” and then to look into my mind and see them “folded and in a place / by themselves, like the piled graveclothes of love’s risen body.”
Echoes of R. S. Thomas? Yes.
Before amplifying the echoes, let me invite you to listen to me speaking about RS on Ron Way’s Author Talk. Dropping modesty like RS’s tree undressing, I’ll quote what Way says: “This interview was one of the most delightful in memory. What a joy to meet R. S. Thomas for the first time through the eyes of John McEllhenney and his book, A Masterwork of Doubting-Belief.
Now, back to Thomas and Easter.
RS looks at the cross from the empty tomb. So it is a cross without a tenant. A cross to which to nail our unanswered God-questions. Questions like the one that Jesus asked while he was tenanting the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
Referring to the silences of an empty church, RS asks: “Is this where God hides / From my searching?” Continuing to listen, he concludes:
…. . . . There is no other sound
In the darkness but the sound of a man
Breathing, testing his faith
On emptiness, nailing his questions
One by one to an untenanted cross.
In a poem titled “The Answer,” published twelve years later, RS writes:
…. . . . There have been times
when, after long on my knees
in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
from my mind, and I have looked
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the piled
graveclothes of love’s risen body.
RS’s placement of lie at the end of the line causes our eye, our voice, our mind, to stop short and consider: Is there something not honest about Why?-God questions?
Then we drop down to the next line and discover our God-questions lying inside our tomb-like minds, “folded and in a place / by themselves, like the piled / graveclothes of love’s risen body.”
Finally, on this Easter Day, after a winter that that was an increasingly unwelcome tenant in my part of the world, these lines:
…. …. . . . Now
in the small hours
of belief the one eloquence
to master is that
of the bowed head, the bent
knee, waiting, as at the end
of a hard winter
for one flower to open
on the mind’s tree of thorns.
Poems of R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:
“Is this where God hides . . . . There is no other sound” – “In Church,” Pietà (1966), 44.
“There have been times” – “The Answer,” Frequencies (1978), 46.
“Now / in the small hours” – “Waiting,” Between Here and Now (1981), 83.