The sophomore poetry notebook was a thing of legend in my high school. It required that students collect and analyze a plethora of works from various different traditions. I’d I entirely forgotten about the affair. Until I found my notebook a couple weeks ago.
In addition to studying canonical works, we were also required to write several pieces of poetry ourselves. Dear God, was that a painful read. I can’t remember writing most of mine, but they all must have been crafted sometime in the twilight of hormonal despair, perhaps after my parents had grounded me or unjustly revoked driving privileges (damn mailbox was too close to the road anyway). Turning the page from Frost to a sheet of my pimpled angst was like being taking a bite of sensuous cheesecake right before being jolted with a cattle prod.
Thus, and understandably, I went to tear out the pages with the mind to burn them. But then I paused and reconsidered. I think I understood, somewhat at least, how a parent might enshrine childhood photos of their kid looking- by all standards- ridiculous.
“Mom, not the fat, pre-braces picture. Really?”
“Oh, but don’t you look so cute?”
The act of begetting- it seems- is coupled with forgiveness for pudgy doofuscity.
Andrew Elphinstone was an obscure individual, even for a theologian. He was born Armistice Day of 1918 into the margins of royalty. He was educated in theology at New College, Oxford and ordained to serve as a curate. He wrote one book, which went through one printing after he died relatively young of from an ailing heart condition. I found a copy of his work in my school’s library. It’s not been checked out in several years.
Said Elphinstone: “Perhaps God stands…not only as the bestower of forgiveness, but as the Father who even stoops to invite the forgiveness he cannot deserve in order to make it one degree easier for man to be drawn into (his) love.”
I’ve been doing a lot of running lately. Luther once remarked that baptism was the drowning of the old self during which one quickly discovers that the bastard can swim. In my case, the bastard is a dual athlete. Which is to say that when I’m out running, as of late, I feel as though I’m trying to outrun my demons. That sounds (overly) dramatic. But sometimes I feel as though I spend all day in the libraries of my mind, and by the end the stacks of comprehension are closing in on me. And so I run. Which is nice, because I enjoy it. But I do wish my brain wasn’t claustrophobic.
Because when I look at my notebook – at the scraps of near unintelligible chicken scratch that I once submitted as ‘poetry’- I see nothing wonderful. I see angst, and self-righteousness; emotionally vague terms bathed in gruesome attempts at iambic pentameter.
And yet, I can’t throw it away.
I want to say the world is beautiful and I want to say that all poetry- even my own- is good. But sometimes I wonder if the world is the demon God is attempting to outrun, and the race leads to the cross. Elphinstone’s words haunt me, almost as much as my crappy poetry.
But maybe God is in the poetry, together gasping for breath over the miles of good earth we run to escape the bad demons we cannot leave behind. Maybe God is not the author of injustice, as we’ve struggled to presume, but is in fact the perpetrator. In every discrepancy He is the judge and the judged. And the demons I’m trying to outrun are God himself in my heart, begging me forgiveness so that he might then save me. It’s startlingly humble of him; a paradoxical of humility only God could attain. Such lunacy might even be called ‘grace.’
And even still I struggle to believe it.
I want to say that the world is beautiful. But sometimes all that can escape my lips is “I forgive you.” I forgive with the fear that I will also be struck down, for I know I am asking first to be forgiven. But the love that brings me in is the love that allows me to be judge, allows me to be angry, allows me to run and yell and scream and write poetry that makes Billie Joe Armstrong sound like goddamned Shakespeare.
If I can forgive myself for such poetry, if I can withhold my hand from its destruction, then maybe, just maybe, I might also forgive God for forgiving me. Forgiveness is eternity dripping from mortal lips; just come down from the cross- you’ve made your point! I want to believe it’s possible. I hope it’s possible.
But if not, then I’ll burn the damn thing. Trust me, its good riddance anyway.