Monday, May 26, 2008

Out of the Vermillioned Nothingness

I’m trying to expand the horizons of my education this summer to include twentieth century American poets. With one week out of five down, they are meeting my expectations: I liked Frost a good deal, Stevens a great deal less, and Williams not at all. It’s not looking good for the twentieth century.

But as I’m writing this second entry to my listening-blog in a month that is almost over, God’s silence is on my mind, and Wallace Stevens has a thing or two to say on the matter in his poem “Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit”:
If there must be a god in the house, must be…
He must dwell quietly.

He must be incapable of speaking, closed…

If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,

A vermillioned nothingness…
The Job in me—with her long list of complaints against the God whom she will not rebel against but from whom she had demanded answers—is less inclined to interpret Stevens as laying out a list of rules for God to follow (“Deities must be seen and not heard”) than as deducing his best assessment of how God must function, based on his observation of the silence. But the mysterious Elihu had once asked Job, as he might have asked Stevens or me,
Why do you contend against him,
saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?
For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.
I once suggested in another entry that God seems deaf to my questions because I ask the wrong ones, and that humility comes in allowing the questions to be rewritten. But if Scripture is any precedent (isn’t that a great conditional statement?), maybe half the time God answers with a question. Maybe God surprises the interrogator with questions of his own, and while I maintain my status as the interrogator I will not hear him. Throughout Scripture, God emerges from silences and confusions and pain with questions:
To Adam: “Where are you?”
To Cain: “Why are you angry, and why is your face downcast?”
To Hagar: “Where have you come from and where are you going?”
To Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
To Andrew: “What are you seeking?
To the paralytic: “Do you want to be healed?”
To the crowds: “Does this offend you?”
To the blind man: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
To Simon: “Do you love me?”
To me? I don’t know. Hearing God’s questions would require a different kind of listening than I have done, a listening without the stipulations of my own questions. To quote my very favorite twentieth century American poet, it would be “Wait without thought”:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.
T. S. Eliot


Wonders for Oyarsa said...

Hey Em,

If you are interested in compiling a list of all the questions God asks in the Bible, I'd sure like to read it. ;-)

Em the luddite said...

Wow... that would be quite a project, especially if I were to include all the questions God asks through the prophets. I have been known to tackle a large project or two before though....

Kate said...

Or along similar lines, though not American, RS Thomas:

Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.

I love both poems - and particularly that part of East Coker. Great post. As usual.