December 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.
O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.
A friend once told me that it’s the waiting while you wait that gets you. And with the waiting, in between the impatience and the silent peace in the pause of slow-paced truth, is the longing. The longing for things hoped for, for hope to pierce through the doubt, for a cup of kindness yet.
In Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, he longs for “the luxury of a child’s soul” in the midst of Advent, hoping that the penitential rites, formerly associated with Advent in Roman Catholic Ireland, can cleanse out that which has been “tested and tasted too much”. Kavanagh draws us into the disconnect between new wonder and experienced apathy, apathy won through the “knowledge we stole but could not use. While he waits, he longs for the “spirit-shocking wonder” found in the “ordinary plenty”, and he vows not to “analyse God’s breath in common statement.” He desires to put aside knowledge and the material pleasures for the fulfillment of his Advent longing, which is in the coming of Christ.
December can be jingle-bell trite with slick Christmas pop songs about love, if only we can approach the critical purchasing mass. Kavanagh reminds us, however, that in the bleary-eyed midst of emptiness comes grace, grace which did not enter with blaring trumpets or loud cheers or probably even angels singing on high. God became human, like us, not in the midst of the sentiment of that there is “no place like home for the holidays”, but precisely in realities of rootlessness, poverty, social stigma, and of shame. Curious choice for an all-powerful, all-knowing God – and yet therein lies the strength, the grace in the broken cry of an infant. We begin to realize why “God we shall not ask for reason’s payment”, because this God who lowers himself in poverty and shame does so that we may be raised to newness, to “prophetic astonishment”, and to the love which is as simple yet powerful as the assent of that January flower.