Dark Brightness

Bleak Theology: Hopeful Science

Stereotypes II.

Many people think of the religious as in some manner pure. We are not. As James K Baxter writes (about my town, and trust me the stones are cold in the Catholic Cathedral. It faces due South. Towards Antarctica)

If I kneel down like a stone at Mass

And wake my good wife with bad dreams,

And scribble verse on sordid themes,

At least I know man was not made

On the style of a slot-machine arcade –

Almost, it seems, the other day,

When Francis threw his coat away

And stood under the palace light

Naked in the Bishop’s sight

To marry Lady Poverty

In folly and virginity,

The angels laughed – do they then weep

Tears of blood if two should sleep

Together and keep the cradle warm?

Each night of earth , though the wind storm

Black land behind, white sea in front,

Leander swims the Hellespont;

To Hero’s bed he enters cold;

And he will drown; and she grow old –

But what they tell each other there

You’ll not find in a book anywhere.

There is a mystery within the marital bed. Something delicate, private and precious occurs there. Along with certain hydraulic reflexes, farts, snores…

For the poets have this nasty habit of being honest. Pope wrote this for his time was freer — and his description is still apt.

Why then declare good nature is her scorn,
When ’tis by that alone she can be borne?
Why pique all mortals, yet affect a name?
A fool to pleasure, yet a slave to fame:
Now deep in Taylor and the Book of Martyrs
Now drinking citron with his Grace and Chartres.
Now conscience chills her, and now passion burns;
And atheism and religion take their turns;
A very heathen in the carnal part,
Yet still a sad, good Christian at her heart.
         See Sin in State, majestically drunk;
Proud as a peeress, prouder as a punk;
Chaste to her husband, frank to all beside,
A teeming mistress, but a barren bride.
What then? let blood and body bear the fault,
Her head’s untouch’d, that noble seat of thought:
Such this day’s doctrine—in another fit
She sins with poets through pure love of wit.

Pope is a master of satire. He is offensive: Baxter was rude, scurrilous, and at times delighted in poverty. His comment about Francis stripping naked was prescient: Baxter was dead less than a decade after writing his blast against the Vice Chancellor of my university, in poverty, in a religious commune in Jerusalem, overlooking the Wanganui river.

And the poems he wrote there, in my view, are the best written by a New Zealander. This is just a sample, from a review: they are still copyright.

The bees that have been hiving above the church porch

Are some of them killed by the rain—


I see their dark bodies on the step

As I go in—but later on I hear


Plenty of them singing with what seems a virile joy

In the apple tree whose reddish blossoms fall


At the centre of the paddock—there’s an old springcart,

Or at least two wheels and the shafts, upended


Below the tree—Elijah’s chariot it could be, Colin,

Because my mind takes a little fire there

Anyone who considers that the Churchly have not felt passion, pain or experienced sensuality lacks imagination. And those who consider avoiding these things in some manner make you righteous need to consider their theology. For our worship is not merely with our mind, but our strength, our heart, and all our being.

3 thoughts on "Stereotypes II."

  • CL says:

    Good stuff, Chris. Poets keep it real! I’m pretty sure they have played a large role in my finding faith (I did one of my longer essays at Uni on T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”, among lots of other reading of course, including a compulsory course on the Biblical background of English literature, which wouldn’t have been necessary in past times).

    Remember the old Anglican wedding ceremony, which included “With my body I worship thee”.

    • chrisgale says:

      Love late Eliot. When I was young I could not understand Four Quartets… now I can.

      It’s interersting that all the poets I like (last century) were either catholic or anglo catholic.

      And the vow is

      .WIth my body I thee worship and all my worldly goods I thee endow.

      While we are on it, Katy Shadie has some pretty sharp words to say to Mrs Patreus… about not playing married girl game and leaving him vulernable to being seduced and reduced to a white knight.

      • CL says:

        Same here with the poets. As for the Petraeus thing, I think they all knew what was going on and it was just something that had to come out before the Benghazi testimony. A big pile of nothing really.

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