“The Answer” by R.S. Thomas

 

WS-resale-Castell-Caernarfon

William Selwyn’s “Caernarfon Castle”

 

“The Answer” by R.S. Thomas

Not darkness but twilight
In which even the best
of minds must make its way
now. And slowly the questions
occur, vague but formidable
for all that. We pass our hands
over their surface like blind
men feeling for the mechanism
that will swing them aside. They
yield, but only to reform
as new problems; and one
does not even do that
but towers immovable
before us

Is there no way
of other thought of answering
its challenge? There is an anticipation
of it to the point of
dying. There have been times
when, after long on my knees
in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
from my mind, and I have looked
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the piled
graveclothes of love’s risen body.

— R. S. Thomas

Read more about R.S. Thomas here: “Poet of the Cross”

Malick’s Modern Job: “The Tree of Life”

TREEBEST (2)

 The river of temporal things hurries one along: but like a tree sprung up beside the river is our Lord Jesus Christ. He assumed flesh, died, rose again, ascended into heaven. It was His will to plant Himself, in a manner, beside the river of the things of time. Are you rushing down the stream to the headlong deep? Hold fast the tree. Is love of the world whirling you on? Hold fast Christ. For you He became temporal, that you might become eternal; because He also in such sort became temporal, that He remained still eternal.[1]

~ Saint Augustine, Homily 2 on the First Epistle of John

More than any previous era, modern Man feels small. As astronomy presses further the boundaries of the known universe, one could say that we shrink in proportion. As our cities grow larger and our buildings seem to defy gravity, this conquest of nature leaves us estranged from it. “What is Man that you are mindful of him?” asked the ancient Psalmist under the star-studded sky that greeted him each night. “What is Man?” the modern asks, as astonishing images from Hubble reveal millions of luminaries that lie forever beyond his vision’s capacity. Only silence seems to answer us from this infinite beyond. “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me,” wrote the 17th-century mathematician Blaise Pascal.[2] Ours is an age when mankind has been put in his place, one could say. What we are learning screams “Where were you when the universe began?” Our existence appears so unnecessary, so insignificant in comparison to the vastness of time and space. Pain and suffering accentuate the sense of isolation all the more.

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life addresses this alienation. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” The Tree of Life begins, quoting the Book of Job as its epigraph.[3] Director Terrence Malick’s experimental film is not unlike the Book of Job in that it sets this cosmic question within the context of an individual family’s loss. God answers Job with a riddle, but he was comforted, nonetheless.  As an artistic exploration of the problem of evil and unjust suffering, Malick’s The Tree of Life is as complex and puzzling as Job’s mysteries, with meaning that encompasses and transcends every camera movement. This film provides a modern retelling of Job with stunning cinematic lyricism, one in which the wonder of existence “shines through everything.”[4]

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The Riddle of Suffering

The Body of Christ Borne to the Tomb c.1799-1800 by William Blake 1757-1827

“The Body of Christ Borne to the Tomb” by William Blake, watercolor

“Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
(Psalm 10:1)

If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why does He allow so much suffering?  Arguably, this question lies at the core of human existence.  The silence that seems to greet it pierces our hearts.  Who will comfort us?

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Introduction to the Book of Job by G.K. Chesterton

“The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, The Odyssey because all life is a journey, The Book of Job because all life is a riddle.” ~ G.K. Chesterton, “The Everlasting Man”

The Book of Job is perhaps one of the most difficult books in the Bible to read, both intellectually and emotionally.  In many ways, it presents us with a disconcerting riddle.  G.K. Chesterton agreed that it is a riddle, but that it is disconcerting to us is where the problem really begins.

In his book, The Everlasting Man, Chesterton had this to say, calling Job a literary, “colossal cornerstone” of the ancient world:

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