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God as Poem and the Poem of God

Enda McDonagh
From the Marrow-Bone: The Religion of Poetry: The Poetry of Religion, by John F Deane, Columba Press, 250 pp, £15.99, ISBN: 978-1856076142

 

The Christian God is not a prosaic God. Whatever relation the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ has with the God of (some) philosophers or scientists, it is not one of the conclusion to a syllogism in logic or the result of an experiment in a laboratory. The philosophical analysis of the possible relation between the empirical world and transcendent Being, the preoccupation of millennia of thinkers, is still a valid and reasonable intellectual pursuit as partly vindicated in another essay of mine, (The Furrow, March 2009). However some of the questions posed there suggest a wider framework of cosmic reference and human creativity. Such reference and creativity have long been a theological concern of the author and form the focus of this article in tribute to Irish poet John F Deane, who has proved in his poetry and criticism an acute analyst and outspoken advocate of the poetry of our God. He is not alone among his Irish contemporaries in this work. Aidan Matthews is another notable example in poetry and prose, while such priest-poets and writers as Jerome Kiely, Paul Murray, Pat O’Brien and Padraic Daly in English, and Breandan O’Doibhlin and Reamonn O’Muiri in Irish, continue the poetic exploration of God and religion. Deane’s published work embraces a much broader range of themes of faith and religion. In Ireland he is perhaps the most prolific, consistent and convincing of the poets who handle religious themes. Much of what I write here is prompted by or even borrowed from his recent book, From the Marrow-Bone, with accumulating debts to many other poets and theologians. There is a much larger literature on this topic which I could not even consult.

Anselm’s classic definition of theology, “faith seeking understanding” still retains its validity, although it may be helpful to extend or better paraphrase it for certain purposes. In this and some other contexts it might be expressed as faith, hope and charity, including therefore elements of uncertainty in hope and of practice in charity, seeking intellectual, imaginative and practical understanding. Such an approach would make explicit the role of praxis emphasised by liberation theologians and theology’s relation to the arts, a frequent concern of so many theologians today. Besides it expands the idea of understanding beyond the traditional and restrictive western concept of philosophical reasoning or the even more restrictive recent concept of instrumental reasoning. Introducing the engagement of (political) praxis and the insight of poetry and the other arts into the theological project is not to undermine the necessity and integrity of intellectual analysis but at once to transform and confirm it. For Christians a critical reading of the life and teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as recounted in the New Testament reveals his engagement with the poor and excluded, the artistic insight of the parables and of the Sermon on the Mount, and the intellectual depth and coherence of so much in the writings of John and Paul. The theologian, or more correctly the theological community, must seek to explore this whole biblical complex in the light of subsequent tradition and in the contemporary context. One short review by one limited theologian, however much he attends to his peers and predecessors, can essay no more than a slight sketch of one aspect, in this instance the imaginative or poetic aspect, of the grand panorama of Christian faith and theology.

In the frequently polarised discussions in media and academe the scientist, of the hard or soft variety, may be too easily pitted against the poet and either or both set up in opposition to the theologian. While major differences in method and content between the work of the three practitioners undoubtedly exist, they have more in common in internal resources of reason, imagination and sense of vocation, and in committed (loving?) engagement with the world about them, than is usually admitted. For the purposes of this article at least their sometimes real or contrived quarrels may be set aside, while the differences are respected and the commonalities cherished. The search for a scientific understanding of the physical world through observation and calculating reason demands, in hypothesis, experimentation and verification, exercise of the imagination and of the judicial reason in assessing the truth of the results achieved. All this is often motivated or accompanied by the beauty of the object studied and the usefulness or better or goodness of the whole enterprise to the human community. Such beauty, truth and goodness are the values sought and exemplified by serious poetry although the process may differ, and the balance of the internal resources of imagination and reason be quite different. Imagination dominates, but reason still plays a significant role. Theology as the interrogation of religious faith with its essential companions of hope and charity (in practical engagement) is bound to the traditional transcendentals of truth, beauty and goodness also, although beauty may often be the poor relation in this context. Imagination also has been frequently ignored as in some other human disciplines in favour of a futile imitation of an inferior form of “scientific” reasoning. It is for such deficiencies that theology needs the spiritual nourishment of poetry in word and metaphor, image and music, without neglecting the challenge and truths of science

A basic expression of faith (hope and charity) is prayer: a reaching of the mind and heart for the ultimate mystery of God. In many ways this may be better described as conscious acceptance by the person or community of God reaching for them. The initiative lies with God who created us, and both inhabits and transcends us. Prayer is our awakening in voice or in silence to this creative and sustaining power. Because our vocabulary labours and our mind falters before this mystery, we are driven to invoke some of the great traditional and oft-times poetry-style prayers from the tradition. The best-known example of this is the recitation or chanting of the psalms. Anyone with pastoral experience will recognise how often the bereaved will request Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd, at the funerals of family or friends. This is not simply because it is one, (the only one!) they are familiar with but because of the profound faith and trust or hope it expresses in poetic form, a form that lends itself readily to music. Music is itself often the supreme expression of faith, the highest form of prayer. The internal relations of music, song and poetry may be taken for granted. Great music in origin and destiny shadows prayer and may become a substitute for it as churches become increasingly concert venues and not just liturgical or prayer spaces. Concerts in churches can prove to be prayerful or near-prayerful occasions, depending on the music on offer and the response of the audience. Such music is often “sacred” music anyway, borrowed from its original liturgical setting. So music might be analysed as mediator between poetry and religion/theology by somebody more expert in the musical field.

As the first expression of faith (and hope and charity) is prayer, a reaction, personal or communal, of awe in the face of Creator and creation, of trust in their goodness and of engagement with their rich reality, so prayer is the beginning of theology for Christians and perhaps for all believers. Theology moves from the awe and wonder to unceasing exploration only to arrive back where it started and know the place, of Creation and Creator, for the first time. In its creation, poetry often starts in the same place of wonder and awe, although in our secular age it usually stops short at the visible creation or perceptible world. That is inevitably so for unbelievers although the poem itself may exceed the intent of the poet and carry some readers into a beyond or transcendent realm. The poet cannot simply control or restrict the range and impact of what he has written and released into the world. Of course the theologian cannot control the range and impact of his theology or prayer either, which may for some fall short of his intended move towards God and for others exceed the author’s conscious intention and his gifts.

That expression in prayer will be one of praise or pain and only later the more conventional petition. In their intellectual preoccupations theologians may have failed to pay sufficient attention to these originating forms of expression as ways into exploring human relations with God despite the role of both these ways in that scriptural book of prayer, the Psalms, as well as in so much of the rest of the Scriptures, Jewish and Christian.

Praise and pain have characterised so many of the great poets of Christian faith also. The most telling examples in English-language poetry may be George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins, who have had such widespread influence on contemporary poets, believing and unbelieving, as many of them acknowledge themselves. Almost all of their poetry is suffused by prayer but Herbert addresses the issue directly in his marvellous poem simply entitled “Prayer”.

Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’Almighty, sinners’ tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world-transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best;
Heaven in ordinary, man well-dressed.
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices, something understood.

The complex richness of image and metaphor in this poem gives the reader pause before the mystery, Indeed one is tempted to simply to pause at just one metaphor as mediating the mystery and pray with it. And of course it has proved a gold mine for authors in search of titles, from Kate O’Brien’s Land of Spices to Noel Dermot O’Donoghue’s Heaven in Ordinary.

From Herbert’s seventeenth century English delicacy to the by now at least more weather-beaten contemporary Australian poet Les Murray is not as eccentric a pilgrimage as it might seem. His early poem “An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow”, from the collection The Weatherboard Cathedral, focusing on “a fellow crying in Martin Place” and the city’s reaction, has always seemed to me a truly religious, even Christological poem. His later “Poetry and Religion” is more directly germane to my thesis.

Poetry and Religion

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture
into the only whole thinking: poetry.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned,

There will always be religion around while there is poetry
or lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent.
as the action of these birds – crested pigeon, rosella parrot –
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.

Patrick Kavanagh took his inherited Irish faith more obviously and effectively into his poetry than most of his contemporaries and successors, however much he influenced them. In poems of praise (and blame – he was by all accounts quite a cantankerous man), he found his way to the creating and beating heart of the world. “The One” is one among many of such poetic pilgrimages through the praised-be beauty of nature to a typical Kavanagh setting for the centre of the world.

The One

Green, blue, yellow and red—
God is down in the swamps and marshes
Sensational as April and almost incredible the flowering of our catharsis.
A humble scene in a backward place
Where no one important ever looked
The raving flowers; looked up on the face
Of the One and the Endless, the Mind that has baulked
The profoundest of mortals. A primrose, a violet,
A violent wild iris – but mostly anonymous performers
Yet an important occasion as the Muse at her toilet
Prepared to inform the local farmers
That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God
Was breathing His love by a cut-away bog.

If Kavanagh did not carry the mark of Hopkins, John F Deane by his own admission did. In his, “From the Marrow Bone”, a Yeats phrase, he attributes his discovery of his poetic vocation to acquiring and reading a collection of Hopkins at the age of thirty. Herbert has also been a notable influence. The first time I heard John Deane speak he included a reading of Herbert’s poem “Love”. It enters very clearly into the form of his recent peace poem “The Poem of the Goldfinch”, which also includes his sense of prayer-praise, of beauty and of divine presence’

The .Poem of the Goldfinch

Write, came the persistent whisperings, a poem,
on the mendacities of war. So I found shade
under the eucalyptus, and sat,
patienting. Thistle- seeds blew about on a soft breeze,
a brown-gold butterfly was shivering on a fallen
ripe-flesh plum. Write your dream, said Love, of the total
abolition of war, Vivaldi, I wrote, the four
seasons. Silence, a while, save for the goldfinch
swittering in the higher branches, sweet, they sounded,
sweet-wit, wit-wit, wit-sweet. I breathed
scarcely, listening. Love bade me write but my hand
held over the paper; tell them you. I said,
they will not hear me. A goldfinch swooped,
sifting for seeds; I revelled in its colouring, such
scarlets and yellows, such tawny, a patterning
the creator himself must have envisioned, doodling
that gold-flash and Hopkins-feathered loveliness. Please
write, Love said, though less insistently. Spirit. I answered,
that moved out once on chaos ... No, said Love,
and I said Michelangelo, Van Gogh. No, write
for them the poem of the goldfinch and the whole
earth singing, so I set myself down to the task.

What mixture of praise or joy and pain is involved in the making of an individual poem only the individual poet can say. And not all of them do. Indeed the cost is seldom directly acknowledged but may be sometimes discerned by the sensitive reader of the poem or even observed in the poet’s voice or face as he offers the work to the public. For all that this may seldom happen, there is no doubt that the final version of the most praise-filled, joyful and true poem has involved inevitable birth-pangs. The much labouring which Yeats insists the beautiful demands is for him directly related to making poetry. And the labour-pains of a mother in giving birth, while later yielding to the joy that a child is born into the world, as the Gospel reminds us, is taken as an apt analogy for the work of the poet ( and other artists). Poets speak metaphorically but appropriately of their poems as their children. They sometimes speak of the birth-pangs also as Deane delicately indicates in “The Poem of the Goldfish”. Yeats seeking a theme and seeking it in vain and his self-questioning over whether his work sent certain men out to be shot, convey something of the tragic labouring to be beautiful.

More clamorously, many of the great psalms are poems of pain. So is Isaiah’s Song of the Suffering Servant. They receive their bitter fulfilment in the Jesus story. His “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” on the Cross reveals the ultimate depth of Psalm 22 and of the poem as not just born in pain but expressing the profound experience of pain itself. This is the model for Hopkins’s late dark sonnets and for one early, perhaps first serious poem of Deane; “On a Dark Night”, which also appears in this latest book. One of the most searingly painful of modern religious poems is the prison-poem of Jerome Kiely, “The Leper Mass” in his 2006 collection A Swallow in December. It is also one of the most explicitly faith-filled.

The making of a poem or particularly of a collection of poems involves the creation of a world. The worlds of Yeats or Heaney or in this context of Hopkins or Deane are of course complex, too complex and compact for detailed prose description, even by the poets themselves. They might fairly tell us to go and just read the poems. Major critics can occasionally be of help, but can also be a distraction from allowing the poems to inhabit the reader and so enable her/his world to be enriched and expanded by the world of the poet to the extent to which s/he is capable.

This partial entry into the world of any poet offers a share of his vision, which will retain the mysterious and unfinished character of all such visions. With reflection, a further labour of love and life, the vision may enable the reader to share even more partially in the poet’s process of creating this vision, of making this world. That such a process may be painful has been made clear. That the poet may enjoy the process from first hint in mind or sight or sound is no less true. The mixture of pain and pleasure in the making may continue into completing the poem and finally letting it go. For its readers, particularly its sympathetic yet critical readers, the poem may have equally mixed results. The process of poetic creation, the end product of the poem and its world, the release to readers and their reaction, all have particular interest for the Christian theologian as student of the divine Creator and the world of divine creation. The theologian works with the human tools of words and images, intellectual and imaginative processes in discussing the divine. What occurs in human creation then by poets and other artists offers, theology argues, an analogy to understanding divine creation. In crude terms there is at once an affirmation and a negation of the likeness of the human activity to the divine, which issues in a transcendence and a transformation of human concepts and processes at the level of the Ultimate Reality we call God. Divine creation as spelled out in the poetic accounts of Genesis and Job and other scriptural passages finds a certain resonance and similitude in the work of some of the great artists. There are however enormous differences in free creation of a world ex nihilo, out of nothing, and the production from already existing verbal, visual and other resources of a poem or a painting. And the world of such a poem or painting is scarcely to be compared with the immense, complex and finally mysterious cosmos. The artist’s process and product still bear resemblance to divine creation, derive from its resources and are dependent on the continued creative sustaining by the creator God. Without that creative sustaining the cosmos would lapse into nothingness, whereas the human artistic object once completed is no longer dependent on its human maker.

Questions remain about how far the analogy between divine and human creativity illuminates either. The continuing and active involvement of the divine creator with his creation as recorded in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures is a critical one. Creation, as many theologians and scripture students agree, is not a single once for all action by God who then left the world to its own devices. This was the view of the Deists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although it has reduced for many of their successors to agnosticism or sheer atheism. God’s continuing involvement is first of all in a continuing act of creation without which the whole project would again lapse into nothingness. Beyond that it includes God’s involvement in human and cosmic history which is called providence. As the spokespeople of the creation, the human community, created in God’s image and endowed with the gifts of freedom and knowledge, respond or fail to respond to the loving initiatives of God, God is exposed to rejection and suffering. This idea of a suffering God is highly disputed among Christian theologians. As frequently presented in the scriptures and regarded as less threatening to God’s transcendence, God is a compassionate God. God suffers in companionship with humanity. This reaches its climax in God becoming human and accepting rejection and betrayal, suffering unto death as the way of overcoming human rejection, suffering and death. That victory established in the risen Christ is to be shared by all in the New Creation, which the Christ event inaugurated. The move from Creation and its Covenant through the call of Israel and the coming of Christ confirms the creative and providential work of God as our past, present and future empowerment in history and the cosmos, and as we are drawn to the final fulfilment with God beyond history.

Human creativity cannot match in process or product such creative and compassionate power. Yet at their best, poems and other art objects do enable us to share in new worlds and continue to nourish successive generations. There is a continuity of the object’s creating and compassionate companionship beyond its first completion and the lifetime of the artist. The artist, as noted earlier, suffers the pains of creation and these may be continued in his own awareness of the limitations of his finished work and still more in the negative reactions of his audience. Yet the scope and duration of his suffering is limited not least by his death and the future celebration or denigration of his work, unlike that of the Creator God, will be lost on him.

Although the authors be long dead, their work and its influence will not be lost on future generations in the grand tradition of poetry in their and other languages. Such presence and power of human creation in the arts and architecture as in the sciences and technology reflects at its own creaturely level the unbroken creative presence and sustaining power of the divine Creator, the Living God. In recent times there has been an important expansion of the human creative community and its influence in a cultural and artistic globalisation. In poetry this occurs through the closer interaction of poets from very different language and cultural traditions, and the appearance of excellent translations. These enable the reading public in one tradition to enter the world of another, while retaining the vision and strength of their own. In the perspective of the one Creator God this reflects the unity of his Creation and of his universal creative presence as manifest in the particular and temporal.

The manifestation of the transcendent Creator God in the particular and temporal reaches its climax in Jesus of Nazareth. God’s engagement with the world from its creation through the beginnings of human failure, the call of Israel and the coming, as Christians believe, of the promised Messiah and Redeemer in Jesus Christ, involved divine fidelity to the covenant of Creation and to the promise of God’s “doing a new thing”, or as St Paul called it, “a new creation”. The labour pains of the New Creation were the birth, the life and ministry, and the suffering and death of his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. The risen Christ was the witness and expression of that newness which Jesus had preached and inaugurated in his lifetime as the Kingdom or Reign of God and which John in his Gospel had frequently described as eternal life. In the new divine project, the old was maintained, healed or redeemed and transformed. The divine creative power had issued in the radical healing of the older broken and divided world. The tower of Babel, symbolising human pride and issuing in the breakdown of human communication, was overthrown by the gift of tongues at Pentecost. People with languages disparate all understood, each in their own language, the Spirit-inspired preaching of the disciples. One of the most potentially divisive ills of humanity had been in principle healed. The New Israel or the New Community established in the New Adam was the foretaste and symbol of the New Heavens and the New Earth for which the whole cosmos had been groaning (Roms 8).The Redemption in Christ, in whom as Word of God, all things had been created, was also Creation-wide.

The poet and the poem exercise their own limited saving and healing powers, first of all in regard to language and communication, but also in regard to people and community, and indeed the cosmos. A good poem renews the language in restoring its truthfulness, its honesty of expression, avoiding the false and honeyed words of the courtier and the exploitation of the advertiser or lobbyist. He restores it further in re-exposing its beauty in combinations, vibrant and fresh, at times reviving words too long ignored or inventing new and true words. All of this work enriches the attentive and sensitive reader in self, in relationships with others and in perception of and delight in the world. The redress of poetry, to borrow Heaney’s phrase, can affect reader, community and cosmos as reader and community are awakened anew to the beauty and fragility of that cosmos. So poets and poetry play a serious, if subordinate, and for those with eyes to see, a revealing and redemptive role in the divine economy of Creation-Redemption.

According to English poet and critic Elizabeth Jennings, “mystical” is one of the most abused words in the English language. She asserts this in the opening sentence of her introduction to her substantial study of “Mystical Experience and the Making of Poems”, entitled Every Changing Shape, (pb 1996), a phrase borrowed from TS Eliot’s “A Portrait of a Lady”. She wishes to confine and define mysticism in her work by following the usage of Dom Cuthbert Butler in his authoritative Western Mysticism. As she interprets him, “Put quite simply, mysticism is the study of direct union with God, a union which reaches beyond the senses and beyond reason.” (op.cit, 14)

In this volume she examines a series of writers and poets from St Augustine in his “poetic” prose through the great English and Spanish mystics to major English mystical poets like George Herbert to moderns such as TS Eliot, Edward Muir and David Gascoyne and including explicitly non-believing poets such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Wallace Stevens. It is an astonishingly rich work and marvellously complements Deane’s From the Marrow Bone. In the study of individuals the two writers share only one poet in common, the seventeenth century Englishman Thomas Traherne. Even there they go their separate ways as Jennings concentrates on his poetic prose work, Centuries of Meditations, while Deane stays with his poetry. Their conclusions are somewhat different also as Jennings has little hesitation in describing Traherne’s work as mystical and Deane opts for mildly mystical in regard to the poetry. It is however in their analysis of the relation between poetry and mysticism in general and within their individually chosen writers that they largely agree. In fact Deane makes explicit this agreement in his own introduction. I will therefore adopt some of Jennings’s direct comments in her introduction and her use of Eliot’s Four Quartets in describing some features of the overall relationship between poetry and mysticism, before reflecting on a particular poet selected by each.

The truly mystical poets, according to Jennings and quoted by Deane, “were concerned with making direct contact with reality or God”. One of the aims of her book is “to demonstrate that mystical experience comes from a source similar to, if not identical with, that of poetry, but is also itself suitable subject-matter for poetry”(17-18). In her later comments on Eliot, in a chapter entitled tellingly “Articulate Music”, she says: “The Four Quartets are four movements in a poem which attempts to depict the way to an experience of loss of self and union with God.” (176) This seems to be the nub of the matter. All serious poems reflect a loss of self in the process and the poem, but only the mystical reach union with God. Poetry may be the most appropriate way to express this experience of union with God, to express the inexpressible. Natural ecstatic experiences provide only “hints and guesses” although poets may often express more than they are consciously aware of or believe in. Hence her studies of Rilke, Stevens and Crane. However her study of the poetry of twentieth century English poet David Gascoyne and Deane’s study of twentieth century Englishborn but American by adoption Denise Levertov offer critical insight into the contemporary challenge of mystical poetry to poet and reader.

At the time of writing Jennings considered David Gascoyne “the only living English poet, apart from Eliot, in the true mystical tradition”(190). His identification with Christ in his suffering and his reach towards the whole of suffering humankind inform many of his poems, and particularly his sequence “Miserere”, (Collected Poems, 89-94; OUP, 1988).

Tenebrae

… God’s wounds are numbered
All is now withdrawn: void yawns
The rock-hewn tomb. There is no more
Regeneration in the stricken sun…

Thus may it be: and worse.
And may we know Thy perfect darkness
And may we into hell descend with thee.

This darkness which is part of the mystic’s experience leads to a cry for faith as the third poem articulates:

Because the depths
Are clear with only death’s
Marsh-light, because the rock of grief
Is clearly too extreme for us to breach:
Deepen our depths,
And aid our unbelief.

Jennings here is reminded of Vaughan’s lines:

There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness.

It is that dazzling light-darkness of God in Christ which Gascoyne inhabits, with and for his inattentive contemporaries, and which he articulates in so many of his poems.

The “Shy Believer”, as Deane labels Denise Levertov, shares in some of that doubt and darkness. However she has many more assured and hopeful poems of mystical moment, as Deane’s choices illustrate.

On the Mystery of the Incarnation

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

In “The Prayer Plant” Levertov charts her faith-journey in the image of a small Brazilian plant, “with broad leaves that fold upwards at night into the shape of hands at prayer” (Deane, 234).

The prayer plant must long
for darkness, that it may fold and raise
its many pairs of green hands
to speak at last, in that gesture,

the way a shy believer,
at last in solitude, at last,
with what relief
kneels down to praise You.

Like “The Prayer Plant” itself these reflections are endeavouring to move through the darkness to hands up-folded towards the hidden God. The poets and mystics with their religious and secular relations, the prophets and visionaries, may discern the poetry of God in nature and neighbour, in scriptural, personal and world history and so affirm in some analogous sense God as poet. Indeed their own human articulation of God’s poetic self-expression in Creation, Incarnation and Redemption becomes for believers the ultimate source and goal of their poetry. Beyond that lies a further mystery, the internal mystery of God and whether He might be thought analogously again as a poem itself. In the recent past I have thought of friends as being in their own way human poems. Persons considered as unique poems have helped me to explore and appreciate their mystery more deeply. Much of what we call revelation of God in the official scriptural sense is expressed in poetic form, in narrative as well as in vision, prophecy and song. That may merely confirm God as poet but when we relate to the tri-personal God as Creator, Word and Spirit a certain poetic structure seems intrinsic to God-self. Some Eastern Fathers of the early Church spoke of the Trinity and its internal relations in terms of dance, perichoresis. Dance may well be understood as a form of poetry not in language but in equally gracious and graceful personal movement. Given the transcendent nature of God in three persons as The Creator God, the Second Person as Word of God, and the third as Spirit and inspirer, perhaps the unity of that God might be compared to the dynamic unity of a transcendent, mysterious poem. To elaborate on that one would need a mystical poet such as John of the Cross. (5887)


Enda McDonagh was Professor of Moral Theology and Canon Law at the Pontifical University at Maynooth until his retirement in 1995. He is the author of sixteen books, including, most recently, Immersed in Mystery and An Irish Reader in Moral Theology. In 2007 he was appointed an Ecumenical Canon at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

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