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 MartyrsNow 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 fitShe 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.