Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: January, 2019

For Mary Oliver

Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear
                        —Mary Oliver, “Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard”
Where you walk, I only look through windows. 
Not because I fear the woods, or the wind 
that ever brushes clean the window sill
and sends the dry leaves roiling in the clouds, 
but because there are the words to read
before they too roil away, and the time
to put on coat and hat seems like a treason.
And so your owl with unfurled fernlike wings
becomes in mind a strange transcendent angel—
oh, not a jovial, chubby, red-faced cherub, 
but as you said, oblivion’s memorandum.
Rilke knew: every angel is terrifying. 
The darkened cottage opens to us all,
and all of us in time approach its door. 
Yesterday you stepped across the threshold.
I peer through the window in my coat and hat. 

The Magi Recall the Star

Matthew 2

Epiphanies always have consequences.
Apocalypses always require assembly.
A star. A distant pin-prick—maybe
            light from an ancient orb gone supernova—
portends the end of something, and the birth
            of something new. But what? And why?
What difference should this faint illumination
            make to those in shadow on the journey?
The journey. Set your foot to paths uncharted
            impelled to some uncertain destination,
ask inconvenient questions of those whose power
            disinclines them to acknowledge answers,
barter time from old, bloodthirsty fools
            who sit on queasy thrones and dread the star. 
The star. It moves, yet night to night the same 
            point of light in the aching windswept darkness,
the cold black emptiness of space.
            Like you, it makes its own strange journey,
setting sail to catch the breath of God.
            It finds its destination in those eyes.
Those eyes. The child sees you, and calls your name—
            a name you had forgot, or did not know
you knew, a name whose riches, undeserved,
            will cost you everything you have, and more.
He looks at you, and in his eyes you see
            the rising and the setting of your hopes.
Your hopes. Leave them behind, these selves you carry 
            the journey long, like treasures of the heart;
return, then, empty-handed, knowing nothing
            but the light behind the dark eyes of the child.
Be haunted by that light. It does not fade
            even as the dark absorbs the star. 
Darkness falls. You are night-blind, and groping. 
Go home a different way, if home at all.