Poem: Dining in the Desert

In this special post, the three of us come together in a collaborative effort to weave our individual searches for Jesus together into a poem.

A/N: Blessed Wednesday everyone! To round off Odes to October month, Chris, Greg and I thought we would try writing a poem together. After giving it some thought, I struck upon the idea of modeling the poem after a Japanese collaborative style of poetry called “renga”. 

You may notice that Greg’s first three lines take the form of the famous “haiku” – the three line, 17-syllable Japanese poem. A renga consists of a series of haikus linked together by a couplet – two lines of 7 syllables each. I thought the structured form of this poem would both impose healthy creative limitations (the challenge was to sum up the state of our current spiritual lives in a haiku), and aid some of us who had grave (and unfounded) doubts about our poetic abilities (*cough*Greg*cough*).

So over a long video call across various time zones, the three of us spent a light-hearted three hours listening to each others journeys and trying to fit our spiritual lives into 17 syllables, as well as finding ways to express where our spiritual lives overlapped, mainly in our combined desire to search for Jesus. Do let us know your thoughts on social media or if you ever wish to try a similar exercise with your community or loved ones. We hope you enjoy the read!

– Garrett

Greg:

I walk the desert 

Relishing in a mirage 

More real than the rain 

Garrett:

Truth reveals reality 

Turning desert to summer; 

Lazy summer’s day 

Seeker puts his satchel down 

To hear the Lord’s words: 

Chris:

“Why search for answers outside? 

Can you find rest in me, child?” 

New yet familiar 

I cook a meal for Jesus 

I am loved; He smiles. 

Greg:

My meal and His Eucharist 

We dine together and live 

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Christopher Chok

Poem Dialogue: Dag Hammarskjold

Chris writes a response poem-prayer to Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings.

Dag Hammarskjold, Markings

Give us

A pure heart

That we may see Thee,

A humble heart

That we may hear Thee

A heart of Love

That we may serve Thee,

A heart of faith

That we may live Thee,

 

Thou

Whom I do not know

But Whose I am.

Thou

Whom I do not comprehend

But Who hast dedicated to me

To my fate.

Thou –

 

Christopher Chok, Imprints

Grant us

A still soul

That we may touch You,

A contrite soul

That we may feel You,

A soul of Peace

That we may see You,

A soul of Truth

That we may know You,

 

Jesus

Whom I long to know

And Whose I’m loved.

Jesus

Whom I search all day and night

Yet Who has loved me into being
To this world.

Jesus –

 

Poem Dialogue: “Thermopylae” by C.P. Cavafy

Garrett attempts a response to the poem ‘Thermopylae’

A/N: Continuing on from Chris’ post last week, I’ve also tried my hand at writing a response poem. The poem I’ve chosen is C.P. Cavafy’s poem ‘Thermopylae’. Thermopylae is the place where the 300 Spartans held their ground against an invading Persian force until they were slaughtered to a man. As you can imagine, it’s a poem about heroism and sacrifice, the best of humanity. I thought it would be interesting to try (badly) to emulate that style while talking about another place – Gethsemane, where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus was praying before the Passion. Oftentimes, we’re a lot less noble or amazing than we think we are, but we are still loved nonetheless. Hope you enjoy it! 

Thermopylae
Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they’re rich, and when they’re poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtis will turn up in the end,
that the Medes will break through after all.
Constantine P. Cavafy

Gethsemane

Have mercy on we who for an hour
fall asleep on their watch at Gethsemane.
Blissfully unaware of the trials of our Lord,
the dripping of his blood upon the ground
but still trying to serve Him, despite it all;
despite the petty failures, trusting in His grace,
to break through our weakness,
and bring the Gospel to others;
with awareness of our sins,
showing mercy to others as well.
And have mercy on especially,
when we realise (as we have already been told),
that the cock had crowed three times,
but our betrayal is already forgiven.

Garrett Ng

“Ash-Wednesday” and Lenten Resolutions

Reflecting on T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘Ash-Wednesday’ Garrett shares his Lenten resolutions.

So, what are you giving up this Lent?

I once saw a YouTube video (now taken down), where the speaker suggested that rather than giving up an arbitrary minor inconvenience to us during this season, we should instead follow a 3-step process: 1) Figure out where God wants us to be. 2) Think of something that will help us reach that goal. 3) Carry it out throughout Lent and be sure to think of what will happen once the season ends. I found this process helpful as it helps us to construct a sustainable framework of spiritual self-improvement as we enter the season of Lent.

So how does this influence me, personally, this Lent? I admit that in the present moment, I find myself in a complicated position. I find myself growing in my love for God, and also my desire to defend Him and His Church on campus, both in the classroom and by serving him through my friends. “When I was a child” said Saint Paul, “I used to talk like a child, and think like a child, and argue as a child, but now that I am a man, all childish ways are put behind me” (1 Cor 13:11). Never have these words held so much meaning for me. I strongly feel that the call for me this Lent is to take a good hard look at my life and leave behind the ‘childish’ things in my life so that I can become more mature in my faith, ready to share it and pass it on.

And yet, through prayer I also realize the need to be patient, to allow God’s plan to unfold in my life and purify me as I become more aware of my flaws and foibles. If undertaken in a prideful manner, my Lenten resolution can very easily become self-serving, a form of self-improvement rather than a drawing nearer to God. So how am I to negotiate this tension between self-seeking glory and the greater glory of God? I believe this question was also considered by T.S. Eliot in his conversion poem, ‘Ash-Wednesday’.

I’ve written elsewhere on this site about Elliot, introducing him and his poetry in preparation for this article. This was because despite his complexity, Elliot’s poetry really spoke to me throughout the last year in some of my darkest moments, and I’d like to share it with as many people as possible. From the first part of ‘Ash-Wednesday’, which we will be looking at in this article, it is obvious that Elliot could grasp the issue I’m struggling with now – the ease of which we can use holy language to mask selfish motives.

“Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?”

Eliot begins by turning our usual expectations of ‘church-y’ language on its head, much like how I mention he often does in my previous article. He said that he does not ‘hope to turn again’, when hope is a word of such significance to a Christian (e.g. Faith, Hope and Love). Likewise, we often use ‘turn’ in a positive sense – metanoia, a turning towards the Lord. ‘Turning’ has connotations of repentance and salvation.

But remember the context here: if this is Eliot’s conversion poem, then he is already on the side of Christ, or at least striving to be. To hope to turn, in that case, would be to turn away from Jesus and back to the world. Describing himself as an ‘aged eagle’ (remember also that Eliot was born an American), he portrays himself as tired of the ‘usual reign’ of sin in his life, where he would compete with and be envious of others (this man’s gift and that man’s scope).

Returning to the eagle, one famous biblical image is the promise of Isaiah 40:31 – “but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength, they put out wings like eagles. They run and do not grow weary, walk and never tire.” Perhaps this Lent, one call for me is to recognize that I too am an ‘aged eagle’, grown old with pride and sin. It is only by turning –truly turning!- to the Lord can my strength be renewed.

“Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.”

Skipping a little ahead in the poem, Eliot goes back to this theme of eagles. Well, wings, at least. In keeping with the idea of turning to the Lord in our weariness to be renewed, the poet describes an inhospitable environment around him. Eliot describes the air as ‘thoroughly small and dry/ Smaller and dryer than the will’, the air seeming to represent the things beyond our control, or rather, the things in God’s control. I may have lofty Lenten ambitions, but it is also important for me to remember that it is God that sets the stage for me to grow – the wings of an old eagle are ‘no longer wings to fly’ after all!

I love also the last two lines, ‘Teach us to care and not to care/ Teach us to sit still.’ I think these lines reveal to us something about detachment, that it isn’t necessarily something that you can force by supressing your attachments and putting up the façade that you have it all under control. Rather, detachment comes when you allow God to be at the center of your life, allowing Him to put everything in its proper place, to be a teacher to us.

This first part then ends with these two line:

“Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”

Sound familiar? Those lines are taken straight from the famous Hail Mary prayer, where we ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for us. I think that this is a nice way to end the first part of the poem, and a nice way to end my Lenten reflection as well. As Lent dawns upon us, let us keep each other in prayer, and ask for the intercession of the Saints in heaven as well, so that we can all look forward to Easter with our lives renewed!

I hope you enjoyed my Lenten sharing, and also along the way found Eliot less confusing and somewhat informative as we went through his poem. All the best with your Lenten resolutions and God bless!