Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project.
as incense rises to heaven I watch
smoke drift past my lips and become
as it were, air, and for a moment
I imagine a burning coal placed
among my gums, for the effect of holiness;
how sweet I would burn.
Censer of God, maxilla and mandible,
beloved fastened with a copper chain
of which the thurifer swings three times
three, a most blessed sacrament
over my bedsit, tabernacle, cuticles,
still warm and eking from the centre.
One of the things I am finding myself reflect on during this Lent season is the conflicting pressures to perform holiness. I began lent by adding one daily repeating task to my calendar, to pray three times a day – once by reading a psalm, once by reciting the Lord’s prayer, and once by meditating the Examen. By week 2 I wake up and look at this particular task with fear.
I’m not scared of doing this. I know I am perfectly capable. Rather, I have transformed prayer into a goal, put in the same bracket as my goal to write poetry, or go to the gym, or buy groceries. And while I believe that prayer should not be separated from those things, there is a peculiar mental roping that happens when holiness is made ‘completable.’
And now I have somewhat put myself into an emotional corner. Either I reassess my process, and amend it, or I give up. For me, both feel equally bad, because I have ‘failed’ to complete the task I set out to do. In this thinking though, I find myself in the position of the Pharisees, someone who makes holiness an achievable goal.
I don’t often agree with Paul, but his description of being ‘saved by faith alone’ is helpful here. This is not to say that these practices have no value. Rather, they must be tempered with a gentle heart that acknowledges human failing and perceives holiness as an elusive state, tended towards but rarely inhabited.
In this way I enjoy writing poetry as a meditative practice. I use words and images to suggest the direction of my soul, what I am yearning towards, while simultaneously drawing away from it into the realm of language and form. Artwork is a powerful indicator of God, because it immediately removes itself from the realm of apologetics and theology. Instead, it carves out a liminal space, to be held quietly for a moment before dissipating.
Continuing in Lent, and coming upon National Poetry Writing Month in April, I hope to take on these practices more, inhabiting them as oppose to completing them.