Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: March, 2018

An Arête

is a knife-like ridge at the mountain’s crest, slicing
the atmosphere; clouds teeter at the precipice
before plunging—which way?—down
slopes past boulders bleeding out
into deep brown gullies on
the desert floor: either
before or afterward
east- or westward
hope-ward or
to despair.

is creation’s monument to its own excellence.
At its apogee earth sublimates into sky.
In this rarefied realm there are
only ends, not middles,
truth and falsehood
right and wrong
good and evil
yes and

But stand beneath the ridge and watch
the cost of absolutes chip away at
the arete’s fragile, faultless edge.
Sharp perfection refuses any
hint of negotiation with
rain and storm. So
the rock, friable,

to come to rest in
wadis where torrents
buck and boil and bear,
grain by grain, excellence’s
final testament away, toil and
tumble until virtue, purity are at last
washed away, and rock and water come
to terms of compromise in the maybe of mud.

Note: The word “arête,” is derived through old French from the Latin arista,”ear,” and which, in the Middle Ages, described the jagged backbone of a fish. The same letters arranged in the same order denote the Greek philosophical notion of nobility, moral virtue, and excellence.

Worship: A Pantoum

Ps. 19:1-4

The night’s as silent as the shrouded dead.
We mime our parts in plays we did not write.
Stars applaud the empty stage instead.
The curtain falls. We bid you all goodnight.

We mime our parts in plays we did not write.
The cast bows low and utters not a sound
as the curtain falls. We bid you all goodnight;
ushers, pass the offering plates around.

The cast bows low. Is uttered not a sound
in praise or parody of our feeble play,
while ushers pass the offering plates. Around
you are the words; no one will say

if praise or parody. Our feeble interplay
is all the rage in fashionable conversation.
But you are the words. How can one say
what’s written on the day before creation?

And so we rage in fashionable conversation.
But still no match for chaos, storm, and spark.
What’s written? On the day before creation
we meet no gods awaiting in the dark.

We’re no match for the chaos, storm, or spark
the stars applaud. On the empty stage, instead,
we meet no gods. But, waiting in the dark,
the nights are silent as the shrouded dead.

Note: I’ve been exploring apophatic theology lately: building a theology not from what we can say about God, but from what we cannot; not from what we supposedly know, but from that which is veiled in mystery and darkness; not from what is revealed, but from what hides from revelation. It seems to me the pantoum is a nearly perfect form for such explorations. Its repeated lines circle back on themselves, exposing unexpected nuances in their stair-step repetition. Its rigid structure requires the poet to stay within strict limits and not run loose in flights of metaphorical fancy. The result is a series of stanzas fairly bursting with possibilities for meaning, while never quite tipping their hand.