Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Poetry Tuesday: "Rainy Redemption"

In this post, I posited that reading more poetry could help our understanding of the Bible, and I promised that each Tuesday of each week of Lent, I'd post one of my poems, along with thoughts about the poem and Biblical interpretation.

This week, I'm going to post a poem that takes a more subtle approach to religious issues. It's also a poem that celebrates Spring, which seems appropriate for this week, the week where we've celebrated the vernal equinox. This poem comes from my first chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.

Rainy Redemption

She told us the X-ray showed a black
spot on her lung. We assumed the cancer harbored
in her breast had set on an odyssey
for new land, and when we didn’t see her
again, we assumed the worst.

Three years later, the flowers bloomed in their annual
tribute to spring, and I saw
her in a parking lot. At first, I thought
I saw a ghost, but I held her fleshly
form, still sapling-thin, and knew she had returned,
Lazarus-like, to live among us again.

Our culture focuses on the lost, the missing
in action, but we forget the world commits
to resurrection and reunion. The twig of a tree
sends sap to its tips, the crispy lawn returns
to a life filled with chlorophyll, muscles
wait for the mind to remember what they never forgot,
each generation resurrects the music of its elders,
babies look towards the sky for the familiar
face of the missing parent, history holds
us in its hands and offers rainy redemption.

Notice that in this poem, the religious references are somewhat veiled; one can understand this poem without a religious orientation. The only overtly religious words are Lazarus, resurrection, and redemption.

I've often thought that most of us are reading the Bible in a similar way; most of us don't fully understand the religious references in the Bible. We assume that parts of the Old Testament were prophecy, predicting the arrival of Jesus as we've come to know him. It never occurs to many of us that New Testament writers were steeped in these texts and would have put references to them into their Gospels and letters, an intentional linking of current events to a historical tradition. It's a historical tradition that many modern Christians know nothing about.

I like poems and texts where there's an undergirding waiting for me, if I go looking for it, but for those who don't know of the undergirding, the text still works.

I also like poems that use nature to inform the reader about the nature of God. If you enjoy this kind of work, you might check out the poetry of Mary Oliver. You might start with this poem, "The Summer Day," and work out from there.

1 comment:

Di said...

I like undergirding, too. (Although saying that, I think of T.S. Eliot, and how overwhelming it can be.)