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C.S. Lewis described the human condition as a process of always becoming more of what we already are. These are cautionary words for me at this point in middle age, particularly as I consider the possibilities. In Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the Teacher speaks regretfully of a seemingly harmless woman who has come to the end of her life, not as a “grumbler,” but as “only a grumble.”
It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. . . You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine. (74, 75)
Thanks be to God, it seems that this tendency can work in positive ways as well, and the poet Hayden Carruth bears witness to this, declaring in his “Testament”: “Now I am almost entirely love.” Whatever sifting and sandpapering process brought him to that state, his words inspired Jennifer Wallace as she collected an offering of her own poems.
In Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry) the reader is treated to the process of a woman becoming. As one who is “predisposed by nature to question everything,” (17) Wallace reconciles her doubts with the presence of a God who is well able to take in hand her persistent wondering. In the process, God shows up in both surprising and ordinary ways within the pauses:
- In the foreordained turning of the head to view a crow in flight or a “squirrel passage, or a person with whom I share an ever-present reaching toward.” (20)
- In a poignant pondering of “life’s second half”:
“Tell me, someone:
with the spade of days remaining,
how to turn the soil
and where.” (34)
Finding Joy in the Cup of Shadow
Far-from-glib reflections excavate grief and plumb the depths of disappointment with God, borrowing words from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed to lament that faith can sometimes feel like “the rope that holds until we need it.” Wallace riffs on Psalm 23 when her “cup of shadow” (24) overflows, and she asks for grace to unbolt the door and walk into a season we’re so tempted to deny.
For most of us, by the time we reach middle age, the jarring truth has been well-established that “the world won’t behave, not even for me.” (39) We are ruefully accustomed to the phone call that describes the disappointing diagnosis of a parent, a friend, a spouse. These are the days when we awaken to an early dawn and begin to take attendance:
“Whose time will come next?
A tiny fracture in a cell.”
Even now, there is grace to find joy in a dusty yellow warbler who hops “in the autumn dogwood near the gate . . . on its way to Venezuela” (49) and to rejoice in the memory of a beautiful, normal day (77).
“In one is the message, ‘I am dust and ashes,’ and in the other, ‘for me the universe was made.'” Receiving the second in light of the first is the course of health and wholeness. This is enough. A simultaneous comprehension of these two truths will set us on a path that is almost entirely hope.Many thanks to Paraclete Press (here in beautiful New England!) for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.