Bare Abundance

12 Jul


Bare Abundance

            I’m letting three images carry the idea in this installment, with a minimum of commentary.

Image One:  “So great is my hunger for you [God] that I seem to see you in the bare abundance of a winter tree whose every limb is lit and fraught with snow”—so writes Christian Wiman.

Image Two–from a sermon by Kim Beckmann:  “There’s a birch tree, felled by spring winds over our ski trail.  We stepped over its branches the first day.  The second day, it was budding.  So I looked again, and yes, it was clean cut off.  The third day, it started gaily leafing out.  I looked again.  The tree didn’t even know it was dead, so full of sap it was, so full of the desire to continue its life-giving rhythms that it flowered anyway.”

Image Three–a poem of mine:

Youth beyond Its Prime

What’s it

worth to create

when life’s door

is closing

Poems emerge whole

from my head

where before the muse

was mostly dumb

Why should this be?

Why does the new hold such allure

why not rest in what is

familiar known old

Can I be reborn

come to life again

when so many years have flowed away

and so few remain in view

Jesus’ answer does not

lock on to my question

The spirit blows where it will

Jesus said

I ask why it blows at all

In youth it blows

toward what is to come

what is the worth

of youth beyond

its prime

What is the worth

of old age

gone young

Is young/old

not the proper gauge

not a younger juice that flows

but age’s very own

Not a youth transposed

but the old come

into its truly

proper flow

These images—the bare tree in winter that brings abundance, the dead tree that won’t die, the creativity of old age—emerged in their own contexts.  Wiman is reflecting in the aftermath of devastating cancer that is now in remission; Beckmann is preaching on the Easter resurrection; I am responding to the poetic urge of creativity that has only recently blossomed in my own octogenarian life.  In each context, the image points to larger meaning.

Each image is in fact a double image, each processing a shadow image, and this double-image-character is what carries the impact.  Wiman is able to shape the impact in just two words—whose coupling is stunning: “bare abundance.”  Each word by itself is a vivid picture; together they provoke and shock our imagination, because we are confused by the notion that abundance and bareness can belong together.  This challenge of images that are vivid and yet incongruous happens when we think of a branch cut off and yet blossoming as well as the coexistence of youth and old age in a single person.  These apparent contradictions set up an inner tension that is essential to the experience and the meaning of these images.

In, with, and under these images lies an insistence that our moments contain eternity, but eternity that we access only through the concrete contradictory materiality in which we live, with all its consternation.

Eternity is beyond us, not ours to control.  The material concreteness of our lives crying out: “There is more to us than appears on the surface.”  Beneath the contradictions and consternation.

How does eternity surface in your life?

Phil Hefner—11 July 2013

4 Responses to “Bare Abundance”

  1. Gary Pederson July 12, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Well stated, Phil. I especially liked your poem. Keep creating with language and thought (possibly a redundancy there).

  2. philnevahefner July 12, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    I think you’re not being redundant–sometimes, I find, thought leads language, but at other times the relation is reversed. Enjoy Yellowstone, et al.

  3. Joe Gaston July 14, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    I can relate to this posting. Eternity hits me in a whole other way. It’s an image of my return to the cosmos in the form of ashes.

  4. philnevahefner July 15, 2013 at 12:31 am #

    Uniting with cosmos appeals to me. But not a “return”–the ashes aren’t where they used to be. More like a flash-forward.

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