597 inexhaustible Grace wells up and unveils real green, real sunshine, real forest.
Day 597, Tuesday, November 2, 2021
inexhaustible Grace that wells up from within and beyond all things un-conceals, reveals, unveils that actual green of real green real sunshine, real forest.
Like St. Paul: henceforth I die daily
To those of you who did not know our parishioner at St. Leo's parish, Jean Simons, it would be difficult for me to describe her – for she was an absolute saint. A former nun, later married, she taught philosophy at Santa Rosa Junior College for many years. I think she actually had a halo; she was so close to canonization even prior to her death – although too modest to be noticed from the heights of the Roman Curia.
I had coffee with her one day shortly after my twenty-three-year-old son Philip died and she gave me a poem written by Rainer Maria Rilke titled Death Experienced. It literally opened up a world – the real world that we are too busy to recognize, being “alive” as we are in so hectic a way. Here it is:
We know nothing of this going away, that
shares nothing with us. We have no reason,
whether astonishment and love or hate,
to display Death, whom a fantastic mask
of tragic lament astonishingly disfigures.
Now the world is still full of roles which we play
as long as we make sure, that, like it or not,
Death plays, too, although he does not please us.
But when you left, a strip of reality broke
upon the stage through the very opening
through which you vanished: Green, true green,
true sunshine, true forest.
We continue our play. Picking up gestures
now and then, and anxiously reciting
that which was difficult to learn; but your far away,
removed out of our performance existence,
sometimes overcomes us, as an awareness
descending upon us of this very reality,
so that for a while we play Life
rapturously, not thinking of any applause.
Rainer Maria Rilke
(tr. Cliff Crego)
When I first read it I could only think of Philip transferred to that world of green of real green real sunshine, real forest beyond the stage upon which we live our everyday lives. The poem’s only reference to this everyday world was to a kind of movie set, a theatrical production within whose script we act our various roles, recite prescribed lines, prescribed prayers, engage in dialogues that grow tempestuous . . . and then Philip dies and all the action on this stage comes to a pause.
One realizes it is almost puppetry; that it is we who have been left behind – while it is Philip who has somehow arrived!
But as time has gone by since Jean presented me with that poem applied to Phil, I have begun to read it differently.
I have become convinced that we need not wait for death to see our “theater” and its theatrics dissolve.
I have come to hope, to trust that the carpentry, the partitions (as St. Paul somewhere suggests) will fall one after another as the inexhaustible Grace that wells up from within and beyond all things un-conceals, reveals, unveils that actual green of real green real sunshine, real forest.
I begin to renew my trust that within such a graceful and gracious world – even now - we might cease to be always seeking “applause” and live our lives thinking of and thanking for what Cleopas and his friend once experienced in a roadside tavern by Emmaus.
It also makes for a new reading of those sayings of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel:
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it (Matt. 10:39) or Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life . . . will find it (Matt. 16:25) –
as if to say if you cling to an ever unauthentic way of life – to playing a “part”, wearing a mask – you will never quite live the life that has been given you – making the most of your time and your world.
- Geoff Wood