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athgarvan

Missing God

I like this poem by Dennis O'Driscoll (1954-2012). I wonder if it really reflects the experience of those who have rejected God and religion.

His grace is no longer called for
Before meals: farmed fish multiply
without His intercession.
Bread production rises through
disease-resistant grains devised
scientifically to mitigate His faults.
Yet, though we rebelled against Miss Him
like adolescents, uplifted to see
an oppressive father banished -
a bearded hermit - to the desert,
we confess to missing Him at times.Dennis 2
Miss Him during the civil wedding
when, at the blossomy altar
of the registrar's desk, we wait in vain
to be fed a line containing words
like "everlasting" and "divine".
Miss Him when the TV scientist
explains the cosmos through equations,
leaving our planet to revolve on its axis
aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.
Miss Him when the radio catches a snatch
of plainchant from some echoey priory;
when the gospel choir raises its
collective voice
to ask Shall We Gather at the River?
or the forces of the oratorio converge
on I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
and our contracted hearts lose a beat.
Miss Him when a choked voice
at the crematorium recites the poem
about fearing no more the heat of the sun.
Miss Him when we stand in judgement
on a lank Crucifixion in an art museum,
its stripe-like ribs testifying to rank.
Miss Him when the gamma-rays
recorded on the satellite graph
seem arranged into a celestial score,
the music of the spheres,
the Ave Verum Corpus of the observatory lab.
Miss Him when we stumble on the breast lump
for the first time and an involuntary prayer
escapes our lips; when a shadow crosses
our bodies on an x-ray screen; when we receive
a transfusion of foaming blood
sacrificed anonymously to save life.
Miss Him when we call out His name
spontaneously in awe or anger
as a woman in the birth ward bawls
her long-dead mother's name.
Miss Him when the linen-covered
dining table holds warm bread rolls,
shiny glasses of red wine.
Miss Him when a dove swoops
from the orange grove in a tourist village
just as the monastery bell begins to take its toll.
Miss Him when our journey leads us
under leaves of Gothic tracery, an arch
of overlapping branches that meet
like hands in Michelangelo's creation.
Miss Him when, trudging past a church,
we catch a residual blast of incense,
a perfume on par with the fresh-baked loaf
which Milosz compared to happiness.
Miss Him when our newly-decorated kitchen
comes in Shaker-style and we order
a matching set of Mother Ann Lee chairs.
Miss Him when we listen to the prophecy
of astronomers that the visible galaxies
will recede as the universe expands.
Miss Him the way an uncoupled glider
riding the evening thermals
misses its tug.
Miss Him, as the lovers shrugging
shoulders outside the cheap hotel
ponder what their next move should be.
Even feel nostalgic, odd days,
for His Second Coming,
like standing in the brick
dome of a dovecote
after the birds have flown.

Comments

no. some of us found a loving Mother who we see in every living thing, even docks because they have a life. Who we find within ourselves when we call to Her. Who is never absent. Who is always available to our senses. Who has no interpreters or agents.
Who needs nothing but our attentive presence to be known.
No. Some of us are just relieved that we no longer have to try to believe several contradictory things at once. Also we find the universe and the earth and everything on it absolutely wonderful and fascinating, just as it is. If anything the idea that it was all magicked into being by a divine creator is less amazing that it creating itself, according to the laws of physics.
This is pretty much my take on it as well.

The universe, nature, physics, evolution are fantastic and amazing, far more so than something made.
That's about what I was going to say. To me, knowing the scientific explanations for the marvelous things I see just makes them even more marvelous. And the things that the minds of humans imagined, and the hands of humans created, are marvelous too. As a thoroughly agnostic Pagan, all I can say is "All that groks is God."
*laughs* umm, no, it is nothing like that at all.


this is a poem i wrote about something my personal experience is like:

the moon is my mistress, i shall not want
she makes me look up into her sky
she pulls the deep waters as she moves
she restores my soul
i follow the paths of righteousness by her light.

yea, though i walk in the city at midnight
i will fear no evil for she is with me
your light and your darkness comfort me
you fill my sight in the presence of my enemies
you anoint my face with shadows; my eyes spill over.

surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
and i will dwell in the house of the moon forever.
I would argue the fact you chose to write it in the form you did argues in favour of athgarvan/O'Driscoll, albeit at a deeper, more subtle, level than you were intending.

(I have more to say in response to this post, but it's going to have to wait until I have a little more time, probably this evening.)
*raises an eyebrow* how so? i was never remotely christian; i didn't even have christian family until i married a catholic in my thirties. i just like the poetic form, though from the first time i heard the original content "the lord is my shepherd" freaked me the fuck out, as the shepherd's job is nurturing little lambies along for slaughter.
*raises an eyebrow* how so?

Well, the fact you chose to base it on Psalm 23. You might never have been Christian yourself, but Christian ideas and its worldview are ingrained into anyone raised in a Christian culture. I noticed this when I attended rysmiel's wedding, for example: a civil wedding it might have been, but the wording strongly reflected the Christian wedding ceremony in a way that my culture's wedding ceremony does not. The point I'm making is that as the product, presumably, of a surrounding Christian culture, you were influenced to model your poem on Psalm 23 rather than ignore it altogether. And the corresponding implication is that you relate to the moon in a similar way to how Christians relate to the Christian God.

from the first time i heard the original content "the lord is my shepherd" freaked me the fuck out, as the shepherd's job is nurturing little lambies along for slaughter.

True, though in the context in which the psalm was written, the shepherds could also be raising goats for their milk and fleece (though I'll admit a scenario with no slaughter involved at all is unlikely). I think the idea is that the shepherd looks after the flock until their time has come, i.e. that not only are we in God's hands, but the time of our death is too.
. er. i know psalm 23 because i attended yeshiva, so i know it as a jewish text, not a christian one. i particularly picked it to show athgarvan because i thought the familiar structure might seem resonant for him. it is the only religious poem i have ever written that way, though. please lower your presumption levels about my culture. i never set foot in a christian church until i was sixteen, and then i was there to sing philip glass; that year i also got my first exposure to christmas in a christian home. (it was fun, and i fucked up the ritual some at midnight candle mass but it was okay, but it was not a religiously salient experience in any way.)

. if they raise goats, they're called goatherds, not shepherds.

. both sheep and goats are meat (by which i specifically mean kosher), though kashrut being as it is, it is likely the fact that they're also useful while alive that is an element of the cultural acceptability of eating them.

. i in no way intend my poem to imply that the moon has the least relevance to people's deaths; i do not believe in astrology.

. i do have a sacred feeling upon viewing the moon, which is why i wrote a psalm about it. i imagine athgarvan feels similarly when contemplating his deity. i do not, however, feel similarly about the deity described in the poem he quoted. i have never missed the christian god. to provide some specific parallels between my experience and the poem athgarvan posted:

.. at yeshiva we washed our hands and said the blessing over handwashing before lunch, but i can't say i've ever missed that over any other lunches or handwashing occasions.

.. my heart rejoices when i hear scientists explaining astronomy. it is not an occasion upon which i miss god; god doesn't occur to me in terms of astronomy. i do often think about my mom, who loves astronomy, but that's different. the equations are anything but aimless; they are beautiful to me.

. my wedding was a religious ceremony, not a civil one, but it did not include "god" or references thereunto, nor did i miss them or feel like i was waiting for something else to happen.

.. i don't know either "shall we gather at the river" or "i know that my redeemer liveth". "hatikva" kind of freaks me out as an adult; it's not a pleasant sensation and i'm more squicked than sentimental.

.. i think crucifix sculptures are frankly grotesque.

.. when i think of "the second coming", i think not of christianity at all, but simply of yeats: "turning and turning in the widening gyre / the falcon cannot hear the falconer / things fall apart, the center cannot hold / mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...." i set that to music in my late teens and performed it many times. i have no idea if it reminded yeats of the christian god, though yeats was of course passionate about traditional pre-christian irish religion; i was inspired by the yeats' words, but i don't pretend i know what he was feeling or talking about.

tl;dr: i think you and athgarvan and of course mr o'driscoll presuppose some sort of pre-existing christianity that frankly i (and i am sure the vast majority of humankind) never felt in the first place. never had it, don't miss it, still not buying any, thanks.
Thank you for your long discussion on the subject in hand.
thank you for providing the context :)
i think you and athgarvan and of course mr o'driscoll presuppose some sort of pre-existing christianity that frankly i (and i am sure the vast majority of humankind) never felt in the first place.

Actually, I was operating off the default assumption that a non-Christian who appears to be pagan came from an non-practising but probably Christian-several-generations back background. This was, as I now see, a mistake, and sloppy thinking.

if they raise goats, they're called goatherds, not shepherds.

In English. I think both are covered by רועה in Hebrew.

at yeshiva we washed our hands and said the blessing over handwashing before lunch, but i can't say i've ever missed that over any other lunches or handwashing occasions.

Some people talk about how organised religion is a very different thing, and can get in the way of, relating to God. I think נְטִילַת יָדַיִם epitomises this. As my previous comment should make clear, being thankful for food resonates strongly with me in a way that נְטִילַת יָדַיִם does not, so I can see where you're coming from, here. But I can also see how where, if you don't have the same take on benedictions over food as I do, such בְּרָכוֹת might not resonate at all for you too.

. my wedding was a religious ceremony, not a civil one, but it did not include "god" or references thereunto, nor did i miss them or feel like i was waiting for something else to happen.

Well, yes; that was the point I was trying to make in my comment (the one datestamped 14:52). Reread it as addressed to the person I thought it was addressed to, as described above.

i don't know either "shall we gather at the river" or "i know that my redeemer liveth".

Well, then mutatis mutandis whatever might have a similar effect (if anything, maybe nothing in your case) for you.

i think crucifix sculptures are frankly grotesque.

I was staying tactfully silent about that; I was trying to reply to the poem qua God rather than Jesus. (Likewise your next point.)

Edited at 2013-06-04 19:07 (UTC)
i think shepherd is רעה and goatherd would require at least some goateriffic modifier from גד or something related. but i admit my hebrew is early-acquisition but far from vast in vocabulary, and i know at least a few other words (i'm thinking esp of יעל but is that just girl-goats?) that might work to make it mean goats. i don't have a more fluent speaker handy, alas. regardless, both athgarvan's likeliest reference translation for psalm 23 and my own refer to sheep. i also think this is the silliest and least relevant tangent imaginable, but i'm running with it because i am a linguistics weenie and cannot help myself ;)

in either case, like i said, it's meat. the moon does not think of us as meat. this factoid is important to me in context -- i find the thought of worshipping one's predator icky. athgarvan's mileage, or yours, may vary. this sort of thinking reached maybe its pinnacle in the worship of xipe totec, which i also find personally uninspiring. (this is the only meaningful bit of this comment; the rest, like i said, is linguistic nattering :)

i am not pagan in any proper sense either, unless one is using the term to mean "non-christians" or "everybody sans old testament", which i think is a little semantically weak.
Subtly stirring the embers, I see. You sly creature, you! I love it.
It is one of the hardest things, getting rid of the ingrained idea that there is one god, one right way of worshiping that god, all that black and white thinking. All that western personalization of everything. Both of these are cognitive distortions that most depressed people have. (Cognitive therapy, Aaron Beck, MD)
I don't feel at all like that poem. I am an atheist in that the concept of god does not work for me. No creator, no plan, but I will not take that away from others. A lot of atheists are very rude about other peoples' beliefs. I think the wide variety of spiritual systems shows that we have a need and the multiplicity of Gods shows 1-that primitive men and women were more aware of what's out there than we are with our tv's and our exclusive god, and 2-that we get to have what we need.
In haste, must go, no time to poetize. (Poetise would be the intransitive.)

It was loss of resonance that made me adopt the workiing theory of no Grand Composer. It's yoga finally bringing the resonance back; but Shiva, Buddha, et al aren't composers. And I don't know enough languages to deal with "/Top god/ is a very good chap, reallly; very tolerant".
No, I mean the working plan of "Passengers should not jump to conclusion while the wheel of the dharma is in motion."
It seems to me certain of the commenters are missing athgarvan's point. He talked about "the experience of those who have rejected God and religion"; however responders include people who were never Christian in the first place, and people who have rejected the Christian god but found another. I think it might be different for people who grew up Christian but did not find anything to replace Christianity; but, as the poem points out, it might take trying circumstances to make them aware of any spiritual lack. It's not true that there are no atheists in a foxhole, but I suspect there are few who can take being in such a foxhole with spiritual equanimity.

But I do not speak from proper experience as an atheist, or a survivor of a foxhole her. I speak from experience as someone who grew up a theist and believer in an interventionist God, who would now describe himself as a meta-agnostic deist. (Meta-agnostic as in: I don't know whether I'm agnostic or not.) Hence my reaction to lines like:
His grace is no longer called for
Before meals: farmed fish multiply
without His intercession.
is that fish multiply anyway, but gratefulness for harvests not having failed is still called for, whether it's God (or a god, call it Dagon or Ceres or whatever) who is responsible. John Christopher's novel The Death of Grass, about a virus that wipes out cereals, seriously freaked me out, and started me on the long road back towards reciting blessings over my food. So, in a sense the poem is half right for me, but still half misses it; and I never rejected God and religion in the way that athgarvan describes. And if I came back to God, it was through ratiocination, and the subtle seduction of theist prayer language (having decided, if I was going to bless food, I would do so through the words my ancestors had been using for centuries, after a very brief spell trying out otherwise), rather than through any emotional missing of God.
Miss Him when the TV scientist
explains the cosmos through equations,
leaving our planet to revolve on its axis
aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.
This too was wrong for me, because (a) deism supports finding God through the workings of nature, whilst rejecting an interventionist theist God, and (b) even without God, contemplation of the workings of the universe can inspire awe and a sense of the numinous, which is what I think the poet was seeking to evoke here. (And then of course there's panentheism.)
Thank you for your considered and detailed sharing in the matter in question here.
I think it is an accurate depiction of many people's experience. I have known many people to reject A CERTAIN religion (myself included) because the "bad things" attached to it overwhelmed the "good things". For me, I rejected Christianity in 1981 because of the racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia of the people in my church. I also, it turns out, rejected it because my pastor was just not very well educated (I didn't realize this at the time, but since, I have figured this out). However, I joined a New Religious Movement that I believed, at the time, was devoid of all of those "bad things". It turned out to not be true. People will always be people, and, as such, there will ALWAYS be a fear of The Other, no matter what group you belong to.

Not having been raised Christian, I do not feel the comforting presence of Jesus very easily. My experience with Christianity growing up was mostly as being judged as inferior by Christians. However, the image that inspires me is the image of a loving Mother Goddess. My emotional experience is exactly the same as people of other faiths who find that same feeling associated with other images, whether that be Jesus, YHVH, Allah, Buddha, or Shiva.

I have known so many people over the years who have "fallen away" from their religions because their religions did not really serve them. This is why I do what I do now. Many, many people do much better in the world with a religious/spiritual grounding... it's just that this grounding can LOOK quite different from one person to the next.

I am very glad you have found your spiritual center. How you feel about Him is EXACTLY how I feel about Her.
Thank you for your contribution and sharing.
Although I was raised in a nominally Christian (Protestant) home, and attended Sunday school until I was old enough to be exempt, I don't feel any nostalgia for the Christian God. I feel nostalgia for family and personal rituals from the past, some of which were vaguely anchored to Christian celebrations. (I miss singing the loudly joyful hymns at Christmas and Easter, but I now feel vaguely guilty about missing them, because I disagree so vehemently with the theology they express. Basically, I just miss singing loud familiar songs in large groups.) There are also a lot of secular things I miss just as much, or even more. (My aunt taking me to a specific ice cream parlor when I visited her in the summer - an ice cream parlor that no longer exists. My father teaching me how things work, and how to fix them when they don't.)

But I don't miss Blake's "Old Nobodaddy" at all.