An Angry God
02-14-2011, 10:14 AM
An Angry God
I had many companions to guide me on my path out of fundamentalism. Chief among them were Luther and Augustine, but also Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemman (his For the Life of the World is a life-changing book) and others. But there were poets as well, including Edwin Muir, from Scotland's Orkney Islands. Perhaps most famous for being, with his wife, the translators who introduced Kafka to the English-speaking world, he is to my mind the best poet nobody's ever heard of.
I've never been able to determine with any certainty what his religious views were, but his religious poetry is some of the most moving I have ever read. I still choke up every time I read The Transfiguration or The Annunciation. The Killing probably captures the scene of the crucifixion as well as any passage in English literature: Some/ Who came to stare grew silent as they looked,/ Indignant or sorry. But the hardened old/ And the hard-hearted young, although at odds/ From the first morning, cursed him with one curse,/ Having prayed for a Rabbi or an armed Messiah/ And found the Son of God. What use to them/ Was a God or a Son of God? Of what avail/
For purposes such as theirs?
But reading through this site and these boards the past couple days has put me in mind of another poem he wrote, "The Incarnate One". Muir had grown up among strict Scottish Presbyterians in the late-19th century, and his description of what he felt they did to the truth of the incarnation resonated deeply with me:
The windless northern surge, the sea-gull's scream,
And Calvin's kirk crowning the barren brae.
I think of Giotto the Tuscan shepherd's dream,
Christ, man and creature in their inner day.
How could our race betray
The Image, and the Incarnate One unmake
Who chose this form and fashion for our sake?
The Word made flesh here is made word again
A word made word in flourish and arrogant crook.
See there King Calvin with his iron pen,
And God three angry letters in a book,
And there the logical hook
On which the Mystery is impaled and bent
Into an ideological argument.
There's better gospel in man's natural tongue,
And truer sight was theirs outside the Law
Who saw the far side of the Cross among
The archaic peoples in their ancient awe,
In ignorant wonder saw
The wooden cross-tree on the bare hillside,
Not knowing that there a God suffered and died.
The fleshless word, growing, will bring us down,
Pagan and Christian man alike will fall,
The auguries say, the white and black and brown,
The merry and the sad, theorist, lover, all
Invisibly will fall:
Abstract calamity, save for those who can
Build their cold empire on the abstract man.
A soft breeze stirs and all my thoughts are blown
Far out to sea and lost. Yet I know well
The bloodless word will battle for its own
Invisibly in brain and nerve and cell.
The generations tell
Their personal tale: the One has far to go
Past the mirages and the murdering snow.
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