By Melodious Monk
I met a new friend this week, Welsh poet R. S. Thomas. While recently feeling a little lost and tired of looking for God with seemingly no answer back, I went to a shelf of poetry books in hopes that someone else’s words might open my eyes a bit differently.
Perhaps it was Paul Powis’ colorful illustration on the front cover of the R. S. Thomas collection that caught my attention, but every poem of R. S. Thomas that I read I find compelling, thought-provoking, and profoundly mysterious.
One such poem is titled, “the empty church. “ I spend a significant amount of time in an empty church here at the Community of Jesus– either cleaning, doing maintenance work, or praying alone–so, in quickly glancing through the index, this poem’s title leaped out at me as one to read.
The Empty Church
They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more
to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illumined walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?
In the short time I’ve spent with this Anglican priest’s poetry, I have found a strong sense of the knowledge of God’s presence when, and perhaps especially when, He is not tangible to us. I often ask God why this road through life has so many components that often feel pointless or at cross-purposes with one another. I think Thomas might say that our inability to understand God in our lives is not something to be afraid of. At the end of his poem Emerging, Thomas reminds us that God has destined us for good.
There are questions we are the solution
to, others whose echoes we must expand
to contain. Circular as our way is,
it leads not back to that snake-haunted
garden, but onward to the tall city
of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.
Poetry by R. S. Thomas. Artwork by Paul Powis