FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
1. SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN POETRY?
• St Francis was influenced by the troubadours. His interest in troubadours probably started on journeys to France as a child.
o Sang in Italian or Provençal (French) and not Latin.
o Broke convention by singing love songs to ladies beyond their status.
o Used popular harmonies and rhythms.
St Francis wanted to be able to sing love songs to God with the same language of intimacy. He liked the fact that ordinary people could enjoy popular song styles and understand both words and music. Churchy Latin was remote. Brother William SSF (Can it be True) was a modern Franciscan troubadour. In the late 60s and early 70s in Queensland William wrote ballads and songs and performed them at rallies with thousands of young people.
• Saint Francis was influenced by Sufi poetry. He wanted to travel to Morocco, Spain, and he succeeded in travelling to Damietta, all centres of Sufi poetry.
o Wrote love poetry to God.
o The “whirling dervishes” got themselves into an ecstatic meditative state.
o Lived in covenanted communities.
Saint Francis asked Leo to whirl to determine which way to proceed at a crossroads. He was intrigued by ecstatic prayer, and he wanted to know more. Some scholars like Idres Shah believe that he came away from his meeting with the Sultan in Damietta having quizzed the sufis there.
Poetry expresses deep insights about God. The best theology is poetry. Good poetry is theology.
It is often difficult to discern the boundary between hymns and poetry. The poet-priest, George Herbert wrote Let All the World in Every Corner Sing, as a poem, but it makes a great hymn.
I wake on Easter morning with my wife’s kiss. “Christ is Risen!” she smiles. I hesitate before responding, “He is risen indeed.” it is a great day, but I feel just pain behind and in front. The Psalmist’s words were louder in my mind than Easter’s liturgical cry: ” Fat bulls of Bashan surround me on every side.” Back pain behind and gastritis before fill my consciousness. in the same breath, I pray, “You are behind me and before: such knowledge is too wonderful for me,”, and I feel the truth of Psalm 139 deep within.
But it is not enough to get me to celebrate the Great Feast in the company of fellow-Christians. I deal with disappointment by turning to the gospel account of the first Easter morning.
I have been reading Brendan Byrne’s “theological reading of Mark’s Gospel” – A Costly Freedom, and it being in the Year of Mark, I turn to Mark 16. It is exciting to re-read the Greek: so much new is there!
Three women leave for the tomb “very early in the morning” (verse 2), between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. This, according to my hospice nurse wife, is the low time, the time when death often creeps through the house of the dying and claims those who are ready. It is a time of intense dark, and for most, the deepest sleep. Yet in Mark’s Easter story, they arrive “just as the sun was rising.” Easter is a dawn that arrives before expected, the good news that tears away the deepest darkness! The first Easter, and all those that follow, are extraordinary dawns.
The story moves on. I smile at the colloquial translation of verse 4(c) that springs to mind. The women are amazed that the stone is rolled away: it was a “bloody great boondie”! This whole business with the stone is amazing. The women discover that it has been moved by “lifting up their eyes and gazing” – the word theoriein calls to mind both wonder and the deep seeing of meditation.” its removal is literally “apocalyptic”, a heavenly revelation.
And then verse 5: “they enter into, into” – the preposition is repeated – the tomb, the realm of death. This detail sets Mark’s resurrection narrative apart from Matthew’s and Luke’s. The three women here enter deeply into the experience of death (“baptised into his death ” (Rom.3.6 perhaps?)) This is more than grief, although the grief is profound, like Jacob’s at the supposed death of Joseph.
This is a mythical experience of the profundity of death; Orpheus going into the place of the dead to retrieve Eurydice, and the lost possibility of new life with her. This is the place where many of Mark’s original readers may have been – in the hell of persecution or martyrdom. This is the place where true disciples must take shelter before they can shout the joy of Easter.
In my pain and disappointment this morning, I can identify some way with the women going into, right into, the place of death.
This also means I can identify with the hope put into the angel’s mouth: I too am looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, the Risen One. Any emptiness I experience is because “he is not here” (verse 6). I too can experience the thrill of being called again to discipleship and mission, “go and tell the disciples that they will see him again.”
Best of all Mark’s “shorter ending” with its abruptness restores to me the sense of being included in this ongoing mission of God. The other Gospels describe many Appearances of the Risen Jesus. Mark doesn’t crowd me out with the experiences of others. Mark trusts that my experience will be authentic on its own terms.
Even though I struggle with pain that takes my breath away, I can feel his breath filling me with new life. He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!