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A Poem for Pentecost

May 18, 2013 – This poem was originally written several years ago, as part of a cycle of poems celebrating the birth of our first daughter, but it seems appropriate to publish it here in the spirit of celebration occasioned by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon his church.


Theology Militant


Late in the morning of our souls’ rebirth I stood
with splintered shield and notchèd sword and all ‘round me blood
of fallen comrades on the field of battle. Rife
with thoughts of weariness and pain, despair of life
and bitter disillusionment, my heart was turned
at last to full surrender. (In truth, we’ve so far earned
our service to those lesser gods, our foes, that ‘t would
thwart justice to deny them; nor is it meet that mankind should
defy them, who are their rightful lords –
idols though they be. Our royal father’s sworn words
of faith to their serpentine sire’s majesty
bind us too.) Born thus under his dread regency
we late rebelled. But this bright hope has too soon turned tragedy.


I said, “By God, it was a noble fight, but dear.
For look: What with the dead and maimed we’ve lost near
a thousand thousand earnest souls. Ought we persevere
when the means are thus uncertain and the end is nowise clear?
These idols, though our foes of late, at least won’t disappear
like the fleeting presence of God. Surely they will cheer
our ever-longing souls and tickle our ever-itching ear!
(I admit, my heart misgives me . . .) Still, I long for someone to hear
the cryings of my soul, the echoings of my fear!
For sure, though beholding the wicked slaughter here
of His saints, the Godhead deigns not to shed a tear.
Such divine silence, indeed, I cannot bear,
so to those weaker, paler gods I’ll willingly adhere.”


Thus spoke I and throwing down my sword and gazing round
at the dead and the maimed on the blood-soaked ground
I saw a light fall on them. From the east it came
and turning there I saw a Maid of slender frame
though stern of countenance. She was clothed in an ancient gown
of wool and armed with sword and spear and shield. A crown
of iron and rubies adorned her regal head,
and in the place of silken gloves, wore gauntlet steel instead.
Her face of deadly beauty sore provoked my infidelity
and brought to my mind the august femininity
of our first mother, who must have looked so before
the Fall. She moved fast towards me and the arms she bore
o’er-awed me and I knelt, her martial glory to adore.


“You do well to kneel to me. Art not then so far gone
as not to recognize a right stalwart friend and your lone
advocate,” she said. “Your soul’s worship, though I freely own
belongs by divine right to the Monarch whose iron crown
I wear. Whether, though, thou dost own him too must still be shown.”
She paused and northward, to th’ enemy host she gazed
and frowned and with a much disdainful gesture raised
her mighty spear and thrust it then into the ground
beside her. Then with quiet step she came around
and planted her heavy shield ‘twixt my enemies and me,
and stood proudly there herself. Thus guarded, I made free
to ask that question, had overturned my mind,
and reason to articulation wholly disinclined:


“Who art thou, dread Protectorix? And whence came thou
to this bloody place? Your face I so vaguely know
as to misdoubt our acquaintance, though I duly bow
for the likeness to both Eve and Mary that thou show.”
“Art sad, indeed, old friend, and piteous,” she frowned at me.
“Hast forgot, Boethius-like, how we once quietly
discoursed ‘bout earth and heaven and th’ triune Deity?
Dost not recall the battles that, devoid of enmity,
we sweetly fought on the higher points of protology,
Tom Paine’s epistemology, the mystery of God’s sovereignty
and that other ancient, deep and awful mystery
of the freedom of the will? Remember then your ruined City
of Mansoul which I once governed without a shred of doubt or pity!


“Hast forgot how you and I together once routed mighty
armies? And forded many deadly rivers and lofty
mountains climbed? You’ve a diabolic disregard for safety
to have wandered so.” She refrained from speaking
and looked at me. Then I replied with a voice full breaking,
“Those memories are faint, O War-like Maid, and your name
I don’t recall though it redounds to my shame.”
Sighing then, and laying her marble hand on my shoulder
she said, “My name I share in common with our holy mother,
Eve and with her holy daughter, Mary, the blessèd God-bearer.
I conceived by Saint Paul and I gave birth by Saint Peter
to Athanasius, Tertullian, to Augustine and Luther,
to Calvin, to Owen, to Aquinas and Hooker –
I gave birth to them all and of each am their daughter.”


Her tone of triumph, like gold-gilt steel, was both strong
and beautiful at once. I gazed at her for long
and long ‘ere I gained the courage to respond.
Still, the more I gazed, the greater grew my despond
and my despair, for her beauty and my ugliness
smote my soul. In her I saw the holiness,
the joy, (that joy!) that gravity of joyfulness
for which I longed. I knew her then and knew her well
as she in whom all truths about the Godhead dwell
and at her feet I nearly fell again, but stayed
while a fresh perversity freshly preyed
upon my soul. A subtle sarcasm and doubt
o’er-whelmed me and my growing faith was near cast out.


I said, “Why come you just now to this bloody field?
Had’st come before with your strong sword and mighty shield
thou might’st have savèd lives. Only now, when I’m prepared to yield
you appear and your fearsome arms you vainly wield
against my foes. And even now, after I’ve appealed
for aid, these dead remain un-raised and these wounds remain unhealed!”
My lovely Adversary’s fury was tempered only by her pain
and her bright eyes swept ‘round upon the maimed and the slain
and one tear ran down her ancient cheek. Then somberly she said,
“Your suit, my friend, is an old one. Still, it runs exceeding deep
and I would answer as I can. First, these dead merely sleep
and dream of better worlds than these. And though, indeed, you weep,
your wounds are neither very grievous nor are they very deep.


“Your real complaint is deeper though, than just this surface thing.
You question God’s affection and you doubt the timing
of His actions. But He who is earth’s Lord and Heaven’s King
is not constrained by such a paltry, pale and petty striving
as that which concerns you, small one. His whole business is what will bring
Him greatest praise. Long ago it was decreed that your failing
here today would be the cause of His greater conquering
of your heart. What glory would there be for Him in triumphing
beside a mighty army? David took just stone and sling
against the pagan giant and God takes sinful, erring
mortals singly (or at most, two or three) so men will sing
His praises only and myriad angels on the wing
will shout for joy at God’s unaided and unlooked-for triumphing.


“Indeed, your deepest longings for these lesser gods, your foes,
were once but minor pleasures, upon which your sin bestows
a heavier weight of satisfaction as your taste for them grows
and grows beyond their ability to bear (which only shows
they were not meant for worship). Your duty to them only flows
through them to a greater Lord, and wise is he who wisely throws
them over, to possess the One he cannot see, Whom yet he knows.”
By reply, I bowed my ungrateful head and wept;
and then that stately, calm and regal Lady swept
me up into her warrior’s arms and embraced me
as a mother would her prodigal, lovingly.
Then looking northward to the host of our enemies once more
with one accord we armed ourselves for slaughter and for war.


My battered arms were a sad spectacle to see
when compared to my Lady’s valiant weaponry,
but her confidence and her wisdom lent me a power
divine in origin, which, putting forth first bud, then flower
served to route our enemies. She struck them first and
struck them hardest; I followed close at her right hand
slaying my foes around me, gorging the hungry land
with the dead. The battle-lust came on me then
and I remember nothing else until the moment when
we stood alone upon the field, surveying our victory.
I looked now at my Companion, but she seems to me
to be in wool no longer but in soft satin and in gold
though her sword is bloody still and her glance is still full bold.


So stands she still, shimmering in light unnatural,
nor moon, nor star, nor other sphere corporeal
upon her casts its light. Reason and Devotion
(twin daughters of triune Deity’s volition)
in sacred compact mirror each other’s image
and mirror hers. The light of Revelation sage
and awful fills her face, shows her form, her innocence;
softly then retires to be brightened by her radiance . . .
divine condescension! Acts of God by humans’
art illumined: The kingdom seized by saints and fools and catechumens.
“Sweet – art of all arts most blessèd! Blessèd thou,
here Pallas-Athena, here Aphrodite, overcome, bow
to thee, divine Archetype, with joy upon thy brow.”


Come then, Maid, and save! Rescue our weak’ning passions
and ravish the lovely idols which sin fashions
for our souls’ delight. Lovely? Yes, lovely and vain
and treacherous. Purge from us their else immortal stain,
reforming them as servants; return them then again.
Sharpen thy blade to the slaughter of our lesser gods!
Grant them, Lady, no quarter; lave thy feet in their blood!
Gravely joyful Maiden, Idea of God spoke
clear by human mouth and mind precisely to evoke
the image of your God and ours. Bear us nigh now,
Thou who bore us – Mother, and born of us – Child. Thou
who art born in us, lest thou cut us, sheath thy sword
and withdraw; illumining only thus the fairer countenance of our Lord.

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