We know that “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). All of it—and that includes a wide range of literary forms and genres. A great deal of Scripture is written in poetry—most notably, the entire book of Psalms—and poetic language is woven into the very fabric of the entire Bible, from Genesis to the Gospels to Revelation. What are we to make of all the metaphor and imagery?
It can be tempting to approach the imaginative imagery in the Bible as if it were a nut to be cracked: to peel off and discard the imaginative shell, so as to extract the “real” meaning—that is, a moral or theological point. However, the imagery and metaphors are part of the meaning, not merely pointers to it. The Psalmist exclaims, “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps. 34:8). It is worth taking time to slow down, to taste the rich images of Scripture and savor the meaning they offer to the reader.
This poem is my own attempt to do just that, with regard to chapters 2 and 3 of the Revelation to St. John. It became a prayer, as I responded to the vivid images offered to us in the sevenfold exhortation, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
He who has an ear, let him hear.
To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life.
Bare winter boughs above the muddy snow,
Trodden, icy, mixed with rotten leaves,
The detritus of thoughts from years ago.
All things decay. So why am I aggrieved
To face that fading fate, that long defeat?
Youthful savoir-faire would not believe
That death could come, but it will not retreat.
It comes. For me, for all whom I hold dear,
Lord, turn the bleak, the bare, the bitter sweet.
He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.
And though I know no final cause for fear
I still sustain a weight of growing pain,
A wondering wait as daily death draws near.
“For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
If thus I’ve died to self, the beckoning clay
Is rich with hope; in purgatory’s flame
What’s base in me and mean will burn away,
I’ll be at last as I was made to be.
Lord, help me endure to that enduring day.
To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna.
If there’s a road, it’s more than I can see;
My way’s a desert and an empty sky.
Each hill implies new views – deceivingly.
I have to carry on, but how, and why?
Within me as without is barren space,
A hollowness I cannot satisfy.
Where could I find some way-bread in this place?
My pace has slowed. I fear that I’ve lost heart.
O Lord, I’m starving: feed me with your grace.
To him who conquers and keeps my works till the end I will give the morning star.
I look up at the heavens: the morning star,
Half-hidden in the glare of man-made light,
Still shivers bright: its daybreak isn’t far,
Soon dawn will come and bring the joyful sight
Of all the saints – please God, with even me –
Rejoicing in the One who conquered night.
Lord, be my lamp and guide, and let me see
Above the flashing neon of my fear,
Your high Light shining eternally.
He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments.
There’s much to do before that dawn is near.
Each day till then dressed down in desolation,
And held with threadbare patches. It is sheer
Impoverishment of spirit. Fresh frustrations
Bind my prayers, cruel swaddling bands.
I shut my eyes. Even hopes feel like temptations.
I risk a look ahead. An open hand
Is offering me a garment, soft and pale.
Lord, cover me till I can understand.
He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.
I try to pray with a fixed heart, and fail;
My prayers arise like incense, so it seems,
But cloudily they hover, haver, sail
Away. They’re no more lasting than my dreams,
Mere mental images, faint, undefined,
And swiftly swept away by endless streams
Of my distractions. Shall I ever find
A solid ground, and not dissolve away?
Lord, make me strong in you, my peace of mind.
He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne.
O Heart of Love, I trust in you today,
For you have conquered; you alone are King.
Honeyed, golden, feasting, strong, arrayed
In light, and glorious as the Sun circling
Down, small, into a priest’s own hands,
Then further still, deep, down: raining
In my heart as I receive. The land
Long promised, pure and fresh as snow
Upon the tongue. Enthroned, my Heart, my friend.
A literary note: this poem is written in iambic pentameter, which is my favored poetic meter; it approximates the rhythm of natural speech in English, so it helps to generate a feeling of pleasing order and regularity without artificial conformity. Like my poem Spiritual Communion, this poem uses the form of terza rima, an interlocking rhyme pattern with three lines per stanza. It is also a ‘corona’ or crown, as the last stanza of part VII provides the rhyme of the first stanza of part I. This structure was, I felt, most suitable for a meditative topic in which all the sections of the poem were, though distinct, part of an organic whole.
I hope that readers will find this poem to be an aid to prayer.