So here is a sweet word of poetry from one of the greats, Scott Cairns, who plays with words and wisdom in a way that rings true both to the testimony of Scripture and to the essence of God's grace. The poetry of Cairns in these later days has become ever so much more nuanced - he was always witty in a tender way - but now he depth includes both the holy and the human.
For instance, the first poems from 1985 include some of my favorites, including "On Slow Learning."
If you have ever owned
a tortoise, you already know
how terribly difficult
paper training can be
for some pets.
Eve if you get so far
as to instill in your tortoise
the value of achieving the paper,
there remains one obstacle -
your tortoise's intrinsic sloth.
Even a well-intentioned tortoise
may find himself, in his journeys,
to be painfully far from the mark.
Failing, your tortoise may shy away
for weeks within his shell, utterly
ashamed, or looking up with tiny,
wet eyes might offer an honest shrug.
Here the theme of deep grace is obvious in an ordinary way. What's more, you aren't sure that Cairns is being theological until the final two words: forgive him. Then, if you have any background in the faith at all, the whole meandering set-up falls into place as a reworking of the Lord's Prayer: forgive us our debts (sins/trespasses) as we forgive our debtors.
His later work, nourished as it is by deeper prayer as well as a sojourn into the Eastern Orthodox tradition, continues to be playful but with an even keener eye set upon the blessings of radical grace. In the poem, "Adventures in New Testament Greek: Apocatastasis" he writes:
Among obscurer heresies, this dearest rests
within a special class of gross immoderation,
the heart of which reveals what proves these days to be
a refreshing degree of filial regard.
Specifically, the word is how we apprehend
one giddy, largely Syriac belief that all
and everyone will be redeemed - or, more nearly,
have been redeemed, always, have only to notice.
You may have marked by now how late Semitic habits
are seldom quiet so neighborly, but this ancient one
looks so downright cordial I shouldn't be surprised
if it proved genesis for the numbing vision
Abba Isaac Luria glimpsed in his spinning
permutations of The Word: Namely, everything
we know as well as everything we don't in all
creation came to be in that brief, abysmal
vacuum The Holy One first opened in Himself.
So it's not so far a stretch from that Divine Excess
to advocate the sacred possibility
that in some final, graceful metonia He
will mend the ancient wound completely, and for all.
I chuckle with gratitude after both poems and enjoy the humble commitment to grace Cairns works to celebrate. What tickles me about the second is that here, although the core rests in forgiveness as in the first, the scope of this gift is cosmic. In the first, there is the implied hint of God's love as we feel for the turtle what the Lord feels for us; in the second we glimpse how grace illumines every created thing because we all flow forth from the sacred heart of Divine Excess. I enjoy the early poems but rejoice in the later.
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