Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feasting in our Fast

As Lent approaches its climax in Holy Week, we are suddenly celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation (nine months before Christmas). For some reason, in this strange celebration at the height of fasting, this commemoration of the Incarnation right as we prepare to walk through the Passion, I am remembering a poem by Mark Jarman whom I discovered almost two years ago in a 20th century American poetry class. Here in the ancient cycle we imperfectly try to follow as Jarmen imperfectly follows the sonnet form, we celebrate feasting in our fast, Alleluias in our Lent.

I am not necessarily ready for a feast today, but I pray that as the cycle of the Church calendar forces some celebration in a time of sorrow, my spirit can receive joy that Christ has entered the world through the door of the human womb, even today as we near his entering of Jerusalem on Sunday.

I cannot actually explain what this post has to do with Jarman's poem, other than imperfection and cycles of the Church year, and perhaps the fact that it begins with the Incarnation that we celebrate today. At any rate, Happy feast day!


Everything around the central meaning,
Whatever grips that something in the womb
And, when a door slams, looks as if it’s leaning
From all the objects in a startled room;
Everything that passes through the puzzle
A spider glues together or is caught,
And bends the whisker back until the muzzle
Twitches, and tugs, then loosens the square knot;
Everything surrounding everything
That’s going to happen, even the manger’s planks,
The barn’s stone lintels, poised as if to sing,
The angel choir of matter giving thanks;
And all that made the world seem passing strange:
Everything is about to know a change.

Everything is about to know a change,
For someone will appear and say a word,
And someone else will hear and rearrange
His life as no one ever thought he would.
And something like an earthquake or a storm
Will happen somewhere like a little town,
And that place, although nothing but a stem,
Will snap off and the tree will tumble down.
And the about-to-be, a secret cache,
Will smoulder like a spark inside a couch,
And those who sat in darkness, dropping ash,
Will see a great light. Everyone will touch
And be touched by the change no one can stop.
A single leaf will speak. A voice will drop.

A voice will speak. A single leaf will drop.
And the whole tree will wither where it stands
And never bear again, though he could help,
As he has helped the withered bones of hands,
The corneas of clouded over eyes,
The blood and breath of loved ones, dead and dying,
And even water, calming frantic seas,
And even water, turning it to wine.
The poor world must have fallen with the fall
For him to curse a fruit tree, out of season,
For giving nothing, like an unborn apple,
And then to make up, for some obscure reason,
A lesson on the power of faith and prayer.
Perhaps to understand, you had to be there.

Perhaps to understand you had to be
Alone with the absent presence he called father,
Alone with the dysfunctional family
Of stars and darkness, deaf and dumb together,
And in that interaction see a sign,
The way a bedside watcher will believe
A twitch or flicker—almost anything—
Is proof the injured sleeper will revive.
Perhaps to understand, you had to die,
Having acknowledged with your body’s pain
That everything does, unmythically,
Knowing only that it won’t happen again,
And then to wake and find your death the proof
Of an abstraction that the world calls love.

The abstraction that the world calls love
Appeared to grieving friends and cooked them food
And walked with them a way and let one shove
Fingers into his wounds and take a good
Look. And then he turned to wind and fire
And pieces of his clothes and eyelashes
And thorns and rusty nails and locks of hair
And red letters on a few translucent pages.
He took on flesh and then he took it off,
Or else he kept it for a souvenir,
Or else—but why keep going back and forth?
He dwelt among us, then he disappeared.
And we are left to be and keep on being,
Like everything around a central meaning.

-from Mark Jarmen's Unholy Sonnets

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hadn't previously celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation, but this Lent it was marked on my calendar. Actually, what was marked on the calendar was "Fish + Wine + Oil", marking a relaxation of the fast for a feast. I decided I must learn of this feast to properly partake.

And, frankly, it's beautiful. We're coming through the darkness of Lent, the weight of our own sin, the evil that threatens to overwhelm us. Jesus enters Jerusalem on Sunday to tell parables where someone is always excluded or punished, to throw out sharp warnings against those who prefer the Messianic visions of the Sicarii and Zealots, Messiahs with swords, to the way of gentle humility. It comes crashing in on us, dark and glowering - and then there is light. The light of the Annunciation. The reminder of the Incarnation, the hope that this is all planned, and always has been. That God will win. Win strangely, terribly, in a manner beyond our comprehension, but win He will. Death will be broken. The same peasant girl who heard Gabriel announce her mysterious pregnancy will stand at the foot of her son's cross, a sword piercing her own heart, but even in that moment light is coming.