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“The human soul is still the image of God, and no matter how far it travels away from Him into the regions of unreality, it never becomes so completely unreal that its original destiny can cease to torment it with a need to return to itself in God, and become, once again, real.”

           

From The New Man by Thomas Merton  (Ferrar, Straus, Giroux Publishers,
New York 196), page 112

One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we do not receive human acclamation, admiration, support, or encouragement. In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.

In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be seen and acknowledged. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. Hiddenness is the place of purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves.

Although Kirby Olson and I see Christianity differently, the references are the same.  His allusions are familiar.  But his images are fresh and meaningful.

Olson begins his chapbook with Hebrews 13:14, “For we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.”  Scripture is hardly a point of contention among believers, although its interpretation often is.  Olson sets up a certain tension even between the title and the verse.

His first poem, “Evening,” begins with the question, “Is it true I like to confess?”  The answer does not come easily, “the days lingering like shadows . . ./ [until He comes] like shadows in the evening.”  “Cities of Miraculous Stone”  offers a “foretaste of the city to come,” when the “white bird hover[s] over the waters,” leaving “black-shawl widows weeping.”

There is much for Olson to confess.  “Ambivalence/ toward roses,/ [a preference for] bean blossoms/ and Brown Susan”  is contrasted to “the marvelous/ . . in/ the Crucifix.” And Olson’s dualism shows as he “make[s]/ line drawing/ definitions/ of all creation.”   Notice he is making definition, not just drawing.  This is about thought as well as art.

The “service [of Protestants] fails Olson, “since the Sixties,” which is oddly when civil rights came alive.  We are “disappear[ing]/ in a sand clock”:  “Subtraction/ is the melody of God.”  There is much to confess:  “[Has] Euclid [has] traced/ angels/ upon your/ iced/ window?”  A woman, whose son has died in a car wreck, has made “spirit boxes.”  Must she confess them?  They are “strange.”

The priest said, “the Nativity Scene is illegal/ because it is too powerful.”  To that even I could confess.  Yet Olson “dislikes [Christmas],/ . . . [when the] genuine” startles him. 

Most of the beautiful images in Kirby Olson’s Waiting for the Rapture are Christian  ones, perhaps because “the church will remain [his] sanctuary.”  Perhaps they are Christian because Olson is a Christian, clinging to “the blue light on the stones outside the church window” thirty years after his confirmation.  There is a dove flying in the blue light.  Here, for once, Olson abandons his dualism and blurs confession with memory. Is it in the “blue light” that peace can be found in this world, even when a building is gone? 

August 2006
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