The Parable


THE PARABLE

 

How sad the sower —
the thrower
of seed.
In bonding for ever
in life
is his need.
Yet the task
the Father asks
is to throw
Far from his heart
to death to part,
and perchance not grow.
It’s utter folly
to risk losing love
and throw life away.
Yet the melancholy
Jewish raconteur
enjoins you and me
to lose all,
and in the losing
not to know
if the prize is yours.

Ted Witham

 

 

 

Christ’s truth


The truth about Christ

 

They wanted a Christ to blaze out the Romans,
a warrior, a men amongst men, a giant.
A Christ to right all wrongs, to fight all omens,
To end all nightmares, ultimately defiant.

 

They wanted a Christ who was nice to people,
a yes-man, a crowd-pleaser, indiscriminately tolerant.
A Christ to suit the moment, a respectable sample,
To grace society, selectively competent.

 

They wanted a Christ who hated their foes,
on our side, a party man, with the vision of a tunnel.
A Christ to back our bias, who our way goes,
To be our justification, an upside-down funnel.

 

Jesus lives with an all-blazing love,
a heart saturated with God and endless understanding.
A cruel cross joining below with above,
To be our other side, our way to God’s landing.

 

© Ted Witham, 1998

 

 

Moshe at the Bush


***
Moshe squints as the feet
of the swirling mob raise ghosts of dust
in the desert heat.
He draws his kaffiyeh across his face.
The sheep continue to bleat,
and in the midst of their badinage
the horizon is shifting shape –
a shimmering blue mirage.

Moshe’s shaded eyes see the paradox.
The inside of everything is moving
in the dead still of the outside paddocks.
In the shifting shapes of ghosts, a bush burning:
its thermal motion outside, but within no turning –
just the Steady State. His Presence proving.

Sandals gone, veil on, Moshe hails the Shekinah:
for in the image of the shape-shifting Presence,
He is capable, even gifted, as you are,
of looking inward and outward. So Moshe assents
to being what he will be:
swirling ghost yet made of star.

***
Published in indigo:journal of west australian writing Spring 2009
***

Life After


Life after

I stand heart-still on bush-edge trail.
My height nothing next to bunched boughs
of sage green gums. The great wedge-tail
eagle soars: all before it stoops, bows.

The eye zooms: the bird has stalled:
gravity forgot; upheld by thermal.
All potential at rest, just the air mauled
by fierce talons; wings held formal.

Then, straight down from pin-head highs
the eagle drops, wings tucked, a grey stone-streak.
The lizard struck and killed, in cold eye’s
wink. Wings wide as Passion Week.
For all of us in God’s surprise
are taken alive in Christ’s dear beak.

Ted Witham 2010

Planks and Splinters


Wood shaving lodged in a man’s eye as he sawed.
It hurt, looked nasty, might be infected.
His mate drove him to the emergency ward
of the Royal Hospital to have it inspected.

The triage nurse made the doctor race.
He arrived – and obvious for all to spy –
A railway sleeper protruded from his face,
Embedded deeply in his left eye.

He stretched to help the patient – but in vain he tried.
The plank was longer than his reaching finger.
He had no binocular vision to guide
Tweezers and needles to the splinter.

The plank, buried deeply in his skull,
Had also caused massive brain haemorrhage.
The doctor was totally dull,
Not knowing his capacity to damage.

Grotesque metaphor, slapstick simile.
It rivals the Doug¯Anthony¯All¯Stars.
The Jewish clown claimed our refusal to see
Our plank in their splinters seriously mars.

Ted Witham 1996

Published in Studio: A Journal of Christians Writing

Intimacy


In our household
of bustling, bouncing, bumbling
boys,
we did not hug.
Like chicks and a nest, at six or eight
we were pushed
off the lap with its warmth and surrounding,
and we were told,
“Big boys don’t need cuddles.”

Returning from boarding school, I would see Dad from the train window
as the train slowed, Dad waiting to see his boy,
and he held out his hand for me to shake,
his huge farmer’s hand with warmth and surrounding,
yet
not enough.
I didn’t need to be told, “big boys don’t cuddle.”

I still long for Dad to hug me:
Dad who has died and can longer shake my hand.

I weep when I feel the embrace of God.

The Embrace of hte Father

Franciscans in ship-wreck


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
5. THE WRECK OF THE DEUTSCHLAND

The Deutshland foundered in a severe storm in the North Sea. All on board were drowned. Far away in Wales, Hopkins was deeply moved by this ship-wreck, and began to compose a long poem about it.

Hopkins was particularly saddened by the loss of five Franciscan nuns on their way to mission. In the poem, Hopkins explores the issues of ‘theodicy‘, the problem of a loving God in a world where things goes wrong.

Hopkins asks why God lets bad things happen to people in general, and in particular, he asks why God would call the Franciscan sisters to a mission and then cut their lives off. He describes their death as an instance of the stigmata like their father Francis’.

In this poem, Hopkins has no answers to the questions raised in theodicy, but he affirms God’s huge power and the tragedy of the ship-wreck.

The whole poem is 280 lines long. I have chosen the three stanzas about the Franciscan sisters.

22
Five! the finding & sake
And cipher of suffering Christ.
Mark, the mark is of man’s make
And the word of it Sacrificed.
But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,
Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd & priced —
Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token
For lettering of the lamb’s fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.

23
Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
Lovescape crucified
And seal of his seraph-arrival! & these thy daughters
And five-livèd & leavèd favour & pride,
Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

24
Away in the loveable west,
On a pastoral forehead of Wales,
I was under a roof here, I was at rest,
And they the prey of the gales;
She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling “O Christ, Christ, come quickly”:
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wildworst Best.

Hopkins uses Duns Scotus’ treasure


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
5. The Franciscan idea of inscape

Hopkins liked Dun Scotus’ idea of haecceitas, but it was too abstract for him to use directly for his poetry. He took the idea of landscape, the way an artist arranges the exterior world and chooses colours, composition and frame to express herself.

Hopkins’ revolutionary idea of inscape was the interior verson of landscape. The poet asks a ‘thing’ to reveal its soul and then finds words to express that spirit.

On his daily walks, Hopkins filled his notebooks with sketches of inscape, phrases and words that described the essence at the heart of what he saw.

Concept of inscape
1. Based on knowing the haecceitas of a thing (“thing” was the word Hopkins used – again it means creature whether animate or inanimate, conscious or not.)
2. A thing’s inscape was firstly what is like within: its spirit or spirituality.
3. Inscape has secondly an aesthetic quality. What expresses the beauty of its inner spirit? How can its inner spirit be communicated artistically; in Hopkins’ case, in words?

Evelyn Wilson explores inscape in her article on Hopkins, “Self-Portrait: Reflection in Water.”

Hopkins captures the inscape of a kestrel in “The Windhover”, a poem which takes my breath away on every reading:

Windhover

Questions to ask to find the inscape of a thing
1. Notice the haecceitas of this creature. Ilia Delio told the story of Hopkins gazing at a tree for three days for its haecceitas to be revealed.
2. What is unique about this creature’s inner nature? What is its spirit/spirituality?
3. This creature praises God in the way appropriate to its inner nature. What is the song it sings, or the poem it makes, or the sculpture it carves, or the picture it paints to praise God?

Exercise:
Work with a thing, a similar creature to last night. Explore its haecceitas. As you gaze at it, let it reveal its inscape to you. Use the questions above. Write down words which express this inscape.

Inversnaid
Inversnaid

The life of Gerard Manley Hopkins


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
3. THE LIFE
Paul Mariani recounts Hopkins’ life in fascinating detail in his 2008 biography (reviewed here).

The main facts are listed below:

o Born in London in 1844 to loving parents, the eldest of seven siblings.
o His father was in a lucrative marine insurance business.
o Baptised at St John-the-Evangelist in Horsham.
o Studied classics at Oxford.
o As an undergraduate, decided to follow John Henry Newman (and others), and to “go over” to Rome: a ‘perversion’ in the eyes of his family.
o Decided to follow Newman into the Society of Jesus.
o His friendship with the poet Robert Bridges only just weathered his conversion to Rome. They discussed the craft of poetry (and their poems) until Hopkins’ death.
o Jesuit novitiate at Roehampton in Wales, which Hopkins loved. During this time he did Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises for the first time. 1868-70.
o Studied for the Jesuit priesthood at Stonyhurst 1870-73.
o Parish work and teaching – the Jesuits refuse to allow him to take final vows for two years. Hard to know what to do with this strange priest.
o Sent to Ireland with a mission of founding a Catholic University. Reality of marking every Irish child’s matriculation exams in Latin and Greek. Very lonely and depressed.
o Dies in 1889. On the day of his death, the priest looking after him walked past his room and on several occasions heard Hopkins whispering, “I am so happy.”
o Bridges publishes The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1913. 750 copies printed, and it takes 12 years to sell them. Now a first edition might cost $15,000.

In Ireland, Hopkins writes To Seem the Stranger Lies My Lot

To Seem the Stranger.

Screenshot showing first edition offered for $US15,000
Screenshot showing first edition offered for $US15,000