Of Poets & Saints & All Waking to Glory
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every moment?”
It’s a haunting, probing question, one asked in Thornton Wilder’s play, “Our Town.”
And so comes the incisive answer offered by one of the characters, “No…. the saints and poets, maybe. They do, some.”
No, no one ever realizes life while they live it. Except, maybe, the poets and saints.
Poets and Saints. Don’t we rather dismiss both? Roll our eyes. Poets and Saints. The flighty ones, with their saccharine rose-colored glasses. Out of touch with the grit that chafes hard between the toes of those who walk this orbiting clump of sod. Poets and Saints. As if there are many of either, most being relegated to dissection on austere chalkboards, or musty manuscripts of the uneducated and superstitious.
And then I wonder even if they, those poets and saints, if they ever realize life while living it—every, every moment? Or is life something that can only be realized when you are losing it, it slipping through fingers like water. Can life only be realized for what it is—its glory and grandeur and unspeakable beauty—only when it is gone, a memory, like catching a glimpse of earth’s magnificence only from a rocket’s portal, the perspective of distance.
Perhaps mothers, those women related to poets and saints, grasp the import of breathing and living, for they look intimately into the faces of babies, new life losing life endlessly, shedding now and seeking larger and larger skins. Does watching this daily death of who once was, this quotidian emerging of children into someone who just now is, does this enlighten mothers? Aren’t the faces of our children, ever changing, mirrors of our own mortality? Yes, maybe, in that way, mothers realize the wondrous stuff of life. And, there are days, not so much.
Why only the poets and saints who realize the amazement of life? (And why don’t the rest of us want to? That is, why don’t we all want to be poets or saints, if that is what it takes to comprehend the daily miracle we inhale?) I wonder if it is because poets and saints attend. That they live awake. And not only to what they can physically touch and inventory, but they live conscious of that which transcends, the invisible threads that connect and web the worlds seen and unseen.
Maybe the rest of us don’t want to realize the immensity of this extraordinary common thing called life because it is hard to keep alert, to live with our eyes always wide open, our ears attentive. Drowsing is more natural, common sleepwalking through our days more comfortable. Realizing takes effort, proactive intent. Poets and saints live thinking, live praying, live engaged. The work of really seeing, really hearing, really feeling, it seems more demanding than the pseudo- work we deem vital, that of amassing, consuming, attaining. And yet, though arguably more challenging, isn’t the work of waking worth it?
Yes, Poets and Saints, maybe–they do some. The Psalmist David was both. His words, millennia later, resonate with the tenor of a soul deeply attuned to the spectacle of life.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hand. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech of language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world…
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the might waters…the voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory.” (Ps. 19:1-4,29:2-5,9)
All cry, “Glory.” Poets and saints… and all of us too? Do we hear it reverberating throughout the heights, the voice of God over the waters, pouring forth from the heavens that surround us? And so our response spills voluntary, spontaneously, echoing through the temple of earth, all crying, “Glory, Glory, Glory.”
And then I think: does it sound trite? True, some rather disdain any talk of wonder and beauty, regard such domains as not as edgy, as provocative, as stimulating as the echelons of politics, the tangle of global economics, the finer, critical aspects of theological debate. But, I wonder, is the mocking dismissal just semantics to mask the truth: that we begrudge those poets and saints living awake to something, SomeOne, to Whom we are frustratingly oblivious?
Perhaps, I wonder, instead of scorning the poets and saints, we should forsake this maniacal race we call normalcy and wake up to the richness of real living. Maybe I could try thinking on a different plane… the reality of the transcendental.
The poets have invited us to, with this month of April christened National Poetry Month. They call us to carry a poem a day around in the pocket, sharing it, thinking on it, letting it rub off and penetrate skin and soul.
Maybe for this month of April, I’ll rouse, startled by life, like not only the poets, but, ultimately the saints. So not merely a poem a day, but a psalm a day, not in the pocket, but etched on the heart.
Such do us lay poets and saints realize life every, every moment, all crying: “Glory, glory, glory.”
Lord, maybe the poets and saints live alive because they are doing what we were made for: Worship. Today, cause me to.