Sue Schmidt, occasional contributor to this blog and one of the most spiritual people I know, alerted me to this Jeanne Murray Walker poem about wrestling with doubt. Although it’s not explicitly an Easter poem, it describes God blazing up when everything seems empty—as God did on that Resurrection Sunday two millennia ago.
God, the poet points out, shows up in the language we use when encountering a friend in trouble. The instant we decide that there is no God, our words “toddle right into the godfire again.” Greater forces are at work.
The poem reminds me of George Herbert’s “The Collar,” where the poet fights against God’s pull, only to surrender to God’s loving embrace in the end. I think also of Lucille Clifton’s “the light that came to lucille clifton,” which concludes, “you might as well answer the door, my child,/ the truth is furiously knocking.”
In this case, the telephone is furiously ringing.
By Jeanne Murray Walker
In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the
International Convention of Atheists, 1929
Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts
outside to the yard and question the sky,
longing to have the fight settled, thinking
I can't go on like this, and finally I say
all right, it is improbable, all right, there
is no God. And then as if I'm focusing
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.
It's the attention, maybe, to what isn't there
that makes the emptiness flare like a forest fire
until I have to spend the afternoon dragging
the hose to put the smoldering thing out.
Even on an ordinary day when a friend calls,
tells me they've found melanoma,
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,
wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire
again, which—though they say it doesn't
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.
Oh, we have only so many words to think with.
Say God's not fire, say anything, say God's
a phone, maybe. You know you didn't order a phone,
but there it is. It rings. You don't know who it could be.
You don't want to talk, so you pull out
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbery
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up
and a voice you love whispers hello.