This post first appeared on December 8,2017 on Christopher Page's blog In a Spacious Place. Used here by permission. Read more by Christopher here.
I was introduced on Wednesday to Sylvia Plath’s beautiful and holy poem, “Black Rook In Rainy Weather.” It is such a perfect Advent meditation, I could not resist posting it today.
This is a poem of incarnation; it is a poem of surprise, of startling encounter. For those of us who inhabit a rainy world of long dark days of steady drizzle, and, if not the “black rook” at least crows and ravens, Plath’s poem is the perfect doorway into a renewed awareness of the Divine presence that haunts every moment of the day.
Plath does not “expect a miracle/ Or an accident”, or even to discern “in the desultory weather some design.” She knows she cannot orchestrate the “miracle”, or summon at will an awareness of the “holy”. And yet, surprisingly even shockingly, “A certain minor light” glances off an ordinary familiar object and in that moment the things of life that are “Otherwise inconsequent” are suddenly seen to shine with light divine.
This is incarnation. This is the perception of divinity for which my heart longs; it comes unexpected in the midst of the routine ordinariness of daily life.
In such a moment, Plath experiences, “A brief respite from fear,” and perhaps curiously, “Of total neutrality.” “Neutrality” seems an odd word. But, perhaps she seeks to hint that, in this moment of transcendence, she finds that steady place within herself where she knows “respite” from the buffeting winds and storms of everyday life. She finds herself transported beyond the restless dualism of likes and dislikes into a land where it is possible to “Patch together a content/Of sorts.”
Then, as quickly as it came, the moment passes; and “The wait’s begun again,/The long wait for the angel.”
This is the human journey – finding and losing, being conscious and unconscious, the revolving door of blinding awareness, and then again of “Trekking stubborn through this season/Of fatigue.” This is the workout ground where I exercise what it means to be most deeply human. It is the “Trekking stubborn” that prepares me to open to that “largeese, honour,/ One might say love” that are my true and deepest nature, regardless of what may be occurring on the surface of life.
I cannot make happen the “radiance miracles;” they are “miracles” – by nature acts of grace that I do not control. The angels do not “flare” at my command; they do not appear in response to my arrogant summons. But I can be ready to receive them; I can join Sylvia Plath and “walk/Wary (for it could happen/Even in this dull, ruinous landscape).”
Advent invites me to stay awake, to pay attention, remain alert, open, responsive to the reality of this present moment. It is here that the faint sound of Divine Mystery announces itself. Messengers of presence whisper all about for those with ears to hear and hearts open to receive.
Here is Sylvia Plath’s beautiful poem:
Black Rook In Rainy
On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident
To set the sight on fire
in my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or potent.
Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then –
Thus hallowing an interval
By bestowing largesse, honour,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant
Of whatever angel may chose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content
Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.