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The Poet, the Spider, & God

I have long been a dedicated reader of Wendell Berry, both his poetry and his essays, and often turn to his work whenever I feel a struggle in my soul for a moment of peace and wilderness.

His poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” especially, has always held tremendous power for me:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water …

Poetry in general holds a great deal of the stuff of God for me, reminding me to be mindful, present, and appreciative as I move through a world filled with the Creator’s wonder and mystery.

The Bible itself—like many sacred texts from around the world—is packed with poetry, from the psalms to the Song of Solomon. I suspect that this is not simply because of poetry’s popularity at the time of the sacred texts’ inception nor because this was the only art form available to its authors. Rather, I suspect that the use of poetry points to the fact that there are some things, some ideas and inspirations, that simply cannot be accurately conveyed through purely literal and linear forms of storytelling. Knowing this, it makes perfect sense to me that so many authors have turned to poetry to help them better capture in words the rapturous sensations and experiences of God’s presence in the world.

Another poem that continuously arrests and inspires me is Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”:

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

 

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Returning to this poem, I’m struck with the sensation of some gossamer thread of my own soul finally catching somewhere. I’m struck with a moment of peace in the midst of my constant web-weaving and thread-throwing. I’m struck by the strange power of God to speak to me afresh through the work of poets long-dead, unknown, or faraway.

I’m struck with a newfound appreciation for not only the mysterious, wonderful works of God, but for the gift of poetry that so faithfully reminds me that these catching-places are wonders deserving of constant pause, recognition, and gratitude.

Where are your catching-places? Do you find that poetry helps bring you back to these spots and moments, or is it something else—some other art, exercise, or discipline—that grabs your attention and reminds you of the beautiful wilderness of God?

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K.C. Mead-Brewer

Grateful to God for Rain in West Africa

Reading Katherine’s post, “Experiencing the Presence of God through the Weather,” was very timely for me because I felt the presence of God in the weather this morning. I am currently in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso in West Africa, and the weather here is quite different from Baltimore’s. The hot season (108 degrees when I arrived on Saturday) is hanging on longer than normal, and the seasonal rains have been slow to begin.

Village of Saaba
Village of Saaba

As I looked out the hotel window this morning, I could see the storm clouds gathering in the distance. Very soon, high winds kicked in, bringing a swirl of dust and trash blowing through the streets. The clouds of dust in the sky, after months of no rain, suddenly made it look as if it was night again. The streets emptied as pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists (cars are less common here) all took cover. The raindrops started to fall, slowly at first, then began beating down on the dry clay soil and dusty pavement.

Rain is a precious commodity in this part of the world as the Sahara desert advances southward. There is less rainfall every year, not so much due to God, but rather because of our collective inability to care for the environment that God created for our well-being. When it does rain, people are so thankful—their lives and livelihoods depend on it in a country where many people still eke out a living through rain-fed, subsistence farming. (Remember this the next time someone claims that climate change is a hoax.)

By the time I left to go to work, the rain was already starting to taper off. It did not last long, but it is hopefully the start of another agricultural season for farmers here. When I reached the office, my Burkinabe colleagues were all extremely joyful and grateful for God’s answer to their prayers for rain. Thank you, God.

—Post & Photo by David Leege

David Leege works for Catholic Relief Services, which implements international relief and development programs in 100 countries around the world. He travels internationally from time to time to provide technical support to CRS programs.