So it’s like, really rare that I find poetry (or psalms or written prayers, for that matter) that are compelling and actually make me feel some sort of emotion. For a while, I thought I was some sort of emotional mute, incapable of feeling the emotions that normal people could in response to various art forms. I eventually made my peace with the fact that maybe I’m just a head person. Maybe I just get more out of things that make my head say “shit, really?” I’ve learned to live with it, and even appreciate it.
Roughly a year ago I started really getting into C.S. Lewis, because I was dealing with my “How do I deal with the theological quandary of predestination and free will” breakdown (which I did get out of, and if you are curious about how the hell I managed to make peace with that situation, I’d be happy to write about it) and C.S. Lewis had calming things to say on the matter (see the last few chapters of The Great Divorce). And my aunt thought “oh, you might like these books too” and sent me home with a couple of them after a visit.
The books have sat on my bookshelf, unread and kind of unwanted, since that day.
But the holidays are coming up, and since we’ll be seeing her, I thought “You know, I really should return them to her, they are her property” and picked up the slimmer book, thinking it might be a quick read.
And it was. I finished the thing in a little over an hour.
To be fair to the book, it was only 100 pages or so, and it was poetry. It’s called A Symphony in Sand, and it’s by Calvin Miller.
I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but it appears that the whole thing is a poetic re-write of the Christmas story. The actual “Jesus turning into a baby” story. (Not the stupid movie where the kid wants a BB gun. I hate that movie.)
There are only like 8 characters, and their names are different in the book, but most people know them as Jesus, Gabriel, Satan, Wise Man 1, Wise Man 2, Joseph, and Mary. Oh, and Adam and Eve make a guest appearance in there too.
The poetry is beautiful and written in a style that kind of feels foreign– like it was written by someone from an eastern culture. It also fleshes out the characters a lot compared to the story that we get in the Bible, so while we can’t take it as fact, it provides us with another lens through which to view Mary and Joseph and the wise men.
These things alone would normally do little to stir up emotion in me- I’d normally enjoy the extra detail presented in the personality of Mary, but feel little more than an intellectual fondness for the new information.
But there is something in A Symphony in Sand that is more. It is extraordinary It is marvelous.
Take this section:
“He is love- The only love which matters.
If I blot Him out, then madness rules.
But when I open up my window
Just a crack at midnight
The light of His celestial presence
Fills my room with majesty.
It’s then I crave the whole of Him,
Not part or half a plate.
I must devour His love entire.”
Granted– it’s a bit flowery. All poetry, I suppose, has to be a little floral.
But it’s not so flowery that it’s sappy. And it’s not straightforward and preachy, like so much Christian poetry tends to be.
Instead, it is honest. It uses primal words, such as crave and devour in conjunction with ethereal, untouchable words, such as celestial and madness. I like the juxtaposition, as it combines two facets of our reality into one art form.
I also like that it doesn’t rhyme. It helps it feel more genuine. It may still be theatrical, but it doesn’t feel like Shakespeare. It feels like an impassioned Spoken Word poet.
Awake, ten thousand galaxies! Polaris, bow your head! And Vega! Betelgeuse! The vast Earthmaker, cosmic in His Grace, has locked Himself within a little space. Behold, he whimpers weakly in a world He made in strength. He who owns all lands is now reduced to poverty. He cannot walk who once strode the galaxies. His tiny hands once light years wide, are chubby fingered now. He would not let it languish without light! You sluggish quasars cease your cosmic flight and listen! Here is a symphony of worth.
You can hear a passion in that monologue and easily envision it in audible form.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not very well practiced in reading poetry. I haven’t actually paid any attention to it since my sophomore year in college, which is now almost 4 years ago. So for all I know, all poetry translates to monologue form when read properly.
I don’t really care though. I care about this particular section of poetry, because damn it, that’s what’s in front of me right now.
I can totally see why my aunt thought of this poetry when she heard I was interested in C.S. Lewis. Lewis is known for his allegories, for his metaphors that span pages and pages and contain plot and character development and still somehow explain something deep and hidden about the human condition.
Miller’s work is not necessarily so much an explanation of the patterns found in people, but a celebration of these patterns. He fleshes out the emotions we feel with words and imagery.
If you think you’re a head person too, it might be worth reading. Perhaps having some flowery words for what your head understands but rarely expresses would be helpful. I personally intend to memorize a few sections so I can use them for when I want to express an emotion even when it isn’t felt.
And if you’re a heart person and normally get emotional about things, well, it drove my heart-person friend to tears within minutes. Literally. I’d have timed it if I’d been able to anticipate it.