Canopy of Blessing

There are two books and one song I want to write about in introducing the poems I have chosen for this post: The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club 1988) by theologian Thomas Berry, Climbing Mount Improbable (Viking 1996) by evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins.

My copy of The Dream of the Earth is dog-eared and heavily annotated as a result of my readings in the 1990’s. Berry points out that the behaviour of all living creatures is controlled wholly or in part by genetic “codes” evolved by trial and error over very long periods of time. Of all living creatures, humans are the least constrained by their genetic codes, having developed through the faculty of consciousness, “cultural” codes of behaviour communicated across generations, codes that can accommodate incremental learning appropriate to the climate, terrain or other external conditions people find themselves in. Our cultural codes also include religious and or philosophical beliefs. Although it is assumed that cultural codes are widely shared within societies, they can also be highly individualistic. Because, until recently, our planet seemed vast and essentially unlimited, human cultural codes seem more devoted towards exploitation of the earth as a resource than to living in a harmonious relationship with the non-human parts of the planet.

Berry, as a theologian, believes in a numinous dimension to the Universe and he asks, if this is true, what contributions do conscious creatures like humans make towards confirming or acknowledging this numinous/spiritual quality? The essence of his answer, admittedly dumbed down, is that conscious creatures bearing witness to all they perceive are the Creator’s audience.

One of the defenses of “creationists” against evolutionary science was that the technical elegance of eyes was highly unlikely to have been achieved through a series of random mutations of DNA. The intervention of an intelligent designed was required, that of the Creator.

Richard Dawkins in his splendid book on evolution, Climbing Mount Improbable, shows that no deliberate intervention of an intelligent Creator is needed to build an eye and further, that eyes may have evolved independently more than once in the long passage of time. Because no deliberate designer other than carbon-based organic molecules and time is required to engineer complicated structures Dawkins is convinced that there is no numinous dimension to the Universe, no overseeing god etc. and he has not hesitated to say so.

Enter the contemporary singer-songwriter Iris Dement with a song about religious beliefs entitled “I Think I’ll Just Let the Mystery Be” that I find both funny and wise. One could wave off Dement’s insight as a lazy dismissal of the contrasts exposed by Thomas Berry and Richard Dawkins or one could accept these contrasts as deep, enduring and humbling mysteries.

With regard to my poems, and with particularly the ones I have included in this post, I realize that what inspired me to write them could be a whiff of the numinous that Thomas Berry refers to, an embracing of the possibility that I am, in that instant, part of the Creator’s audience. Feeble as my efforts may be, sometimes a visceral feeling tells me I have landed right, that I am momentarily in tune.

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Canopy of Blessing

Near noon and the sun full high,
though hid by opalescent cloud,
a hole is formed, the disc breaks through,
light and shadow shower down.
The rocks, the sea, forest hills,
the frail boat bearing me above dark water,
all sheltered in a canopy of blessing.

My worn hands upon the oars –
let them fashion praise of all I see.
My fading voice in clumsy song
honour all while listening still.
Protected, might I dare believe
These callings manifest your will?

(September 2012)

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Comet over Burlington

Harry, the neighbour, banged on the door
as we were pouring the last of the wine.
The conversation had slid into ribaldry.

“It’s the comet!” he said, in the tones of a prophet.
and chastened, we stumbled out into the yard.

The cold night air was a plunge in an ocean,
and all treading water we looked to the north.

Over
the roof-line of the house,
the supplicating arms of trees,
hung the comet.
Feathery fingers
streamed through the stars,
The Left Hand of God
raised slowly, slowly
to command silence.

Stupefied, we gazed,
Shivering illiterates.

(December 1996)

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The New Jerusalem

I am looking for Bernadette
in the church common-room, after service,
a banal errand of keys and thermostats.
A wool-capped kid confronts me,
with a smile that is a question.
He is reaching in his shirt pocket for a folded paper.
“Can I give you these prayers?”.

I take his paper and say “Thanks,
“I’ll read them later when it’s quiet.”
And a woman at my elbow says,
“Don’t mind Paul, he’s just a little –
“you know – intense.”

It is later now, and quiet.
The page of prayers lies on my desk.
A “Jesus Christ to Heart” prayer,
a prayer for Remorse and Resolve,
and one for Mercy and Forgiveness,
all calling for the New Jerusalem.

A schizoid boy or an urgent messenger from Value Village?
Saying that had you the Resolve and the Mercy
and the Accepting Heart so open to the Universe
that you could no longer tell inside from out
that the New Jerusalem might unfold at your feet
as you walked out to West Saanich Road,
as the cars sailed by,
on this November morning.

(November 2005)

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6 thoughts on “Canopy of Blessing

  1. Your prelude and these poems are deeply moving. I don’t know whether it is the day and the mood I am in, but these writings have touched me deeply. We still haven’t had your birthday call ‘ear to ear’. I will remedy this next week. Love Jo

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  2. Again thanks Farrell! Lovely stuff and my special poem was the New Jerusalem. You have a lot of talent and using it this way is great. Our best friend is not an atheist but now claims she’s living without any Hope. I tell her I could’nt live that way, then she thinks again and says she does have one hope – that she is wrong about her ideas. Mind you she’s also someone who claims that she has no wish to live beyond the age of 80 and she’ll be 76 next b’day so we’ll see what unfolds. Our grandkids were horrified when she declared this intention at a shared meal yet I think they need to know there are people around who think like that. And that’s why your Hopeful writing, drawing and poetry is so refreshing, I really appreciate all of it, Pauline

    >

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  3. Really enjoyed this writing and the drawings. I remember drawing the poppies that grew in the front garden and observing their phases of growth. I liked how the seed pods formed and how you can hear the seeds when you shake them once the seeds have matured. One time when I lived in Peterborough I knocked on someone’s door and asked if I could draw the poppies in their gardens. The woman who answered the door launched into a lecture about the dangers of drugs. She thought I wanted to gather them for a DIY opium project or something! I showed her my sketchbook and explained I just wanted to draw the flowers. She was very welcoming then and even brought me a cup of tea after I had been drawing for a while.

    That Iris Dement song is one of my favourites of hers. It reminds me a bit of Steve Earle’s song “The seeker”
    Your writing about Thomas Berry’s “Dream of Earth” got me thinking of Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac”

    Remember how you loaned me a copy when I went to camp during a summer there was a Canada Post strike? It was the summer I was 14 and was going to the two week long swim and canoe skills focused session at Doe Lake. I liked going to camp but at the same time got very homesick when away from home. It was a situation of feeling both things at once – missing family and enjoying where I was.
    On the first day there I remember unpacking my duffel bag after putting up the tent with my group and finding an envelope from you. Inside the envelope were smaller envelopes with a date on each one – something to open each day. The first one was for that day and contained your copy of “A Sand County Almanac” and a note about why the book was important to you. I still have the letters. Some of the envelopes contained photos – which I gave back when I got home again.

    I got up extra early every morning at camp to read “A Sand County Almanac” and to do some writing. And to enjoy some quiet time before the busy day. I loved opening the envelopes early in the mornings you had prepared for me in advance so I would have letters during the postal strike – that was so thoughtful.
    Love from Lyse

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