Happy New Year? Two poems to get you through 2018

The turning of the calendar from one year to the next always seems to me to be the most slender of reasons for celebration. Surely it is no more hopeful than the beginning of every new day?

Why in the world would the changing of a single digit in a date inspire hope for tired world weary of conflict, sorrow and loss. And yet it does. People go out and celebrate and so will I because, at the very least, I believe the love of God is new every morning,  so I might as well celebrate this night at midnight as much as any other. (Except I usually celebrate on waking instead of staying up to midnight, what was it that Danish theologian (Kierkegaard) said? Something along the lines of before I even remember to turn to God on waking, I find that God is fully delighted to see me – can’t find the quote exactly. Or as Psalm 139 reminds us

when-I-awake-I-am-still-with-you

In the last week two poems have summarised my reasons for hope, they contradict each other in such very helpful ways.

 

Here is the first:

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free

By Wendell Berry

I love the line about not ‘taxing our lives with forethought of grief‘ – in other words live in the blessings of today. Don’t spoil the gift of this moment, this experience, relationship, opportunity by fretting about the ‘what if’ worries of an uncertain future. Jesus said the same ‘Consider the birds of the air, they sow not neither do they reap, yet your heavenly Father feeds them’. The still waters remind me of Psalm 23 and the ‘day-blind stars’ remind me that light and guidance IS always present, and that actually being in the dark can make it easier to find your way. Of course the light of day is better, but even in the dark there is the promise of light. 

This poem might appear to be encouraging the worship of Nature. I don’t think so. I think it’s more about learning from Nature.

wendall-berry
Wendell Berry, poet, farmer and environmentalist

Why we shouldn’t worship nature is made clearer in this second poem by George Herbert. This poem also offers a rationale for our restlessness, a reason why life is not perfect and points us back to the presence of our Creator who waits to embrace us.

The Pulley

When God at first made man,

Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.
“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”
george herbert
George Herbert

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