Wojtyla’s Poetry, Shores of Silence

A Continued Meditation on the by Karol Wojtyla
by Mitchell Thomas, member Forum advisory board

Love explained all for me
all was resolved by love,
So this love I adore
wherever it may be.

I am an open space for a placid tide
Where no wave roars, clutching at rainbow branches
now a soothing wave uncovers light in the deep
and breathes light onto unsilvered leaves.

In such silence I hide,
A leaf released from the wind,
no longer anxious for days that fall.
They must all fall, I know.

In our last reflection it was noted that Wojtyla had begun a deepening in his relationship with God through his interior life of prayer.  Through the prayerful opening of his heart to this Someone, he had begun to find his true self.  And he was simultaneously finding that this Someone is even more than Rudolf Otto’s impersonal “mysterium, tremendum, et fascinans (the fearful and fascinating mystery)”.  Indeed he says earlier in the same poem

Look into yourself: here is your Friend .  .  .  .

He is learning in a real way what the Lord said in His Last Supper discourses about is His friendship with us (cf. 15:15).  This Friendship is offered in sacrificial love. 

Love explained all for me
all was resolved by love
so this love I adore
wherever it may be. 

Because Wojtyla has this Friendship, what could be seen as meaningless or absurdly tragic events of life are “explained” and “resolved”.  And they are so because this Love no longer calls him a “servant” but a “friend” who knows what his Friend is doing.   Let us remember the background of the poem’s composition: the Holy Father as a young man studying clandestinely for the priesthood in Nazi occupied Poland.  Here is a person who in the face of personified evil is saying that Love is explaining all things…it is resolving the seemingly incoherent events that are surrounding him.  As always it is helpful to remember that John Paul II like all great men and women of faith (known and unknown) are not what Thomas Merton once called “plaster saints.”  They are as flesh and blood as we and have the struggles that are common to all persons (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13a).  Another poem, Song of the Inexhaustible Sun, written at the same time of this present one (1944) shows that he was well acquainted with suffering:

When sorrow and evening mingle…
colors turn to a strange drink
which I lift to my lips in fear…
You heard me weep from afar
and since the beginning knew why. 

Young Wojtyla knew suffering and this knowledge never left him as the subsequent events of his life shows.  Yet, he finds Wisdom which is able to see beyond real suffering of evil (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17; Ps. 30:5b; Rom. 8:18; 1 Pet. 1:6-7) to be able to say

so this love I adore
wherever it may be.

Having this Wisdom he is led to adore this Friend where He may be and whatever He may be doing. 

Yet, we can here the retort, “I can tell you what his Friend is doing!  He is allowing a band of thugs to rape, murder, and exterminate whole cultures and peoples. Love “explains” nothing other than revealing it is either pathetically impotent or callously ambivalent to the sufferings of humanity!”  Such a statement, if we are honest, is understandable.  recognized the argument against God from evil as being a very serious one.  How can one see this Love this love amidst systematic degradation and violence?  How is one able to maintain that sort of interior disposition in the midst of evil personified?  Our interlocutor might continue by saying, “Maybe God does exist but if His arrangement of things are such, then I cannot go along with them.  There is too much suffering for this, however sincere, sort of life to be tolerable.  I cannot go along with it.  Indeed, I will not go along with it.”  This sentiment echoes a character in Dostoevsky’s in the famous novel, The Brothers Karamazov.  Ivan Karamazov, who after listing a serious of gut wrenching atrocities suffered by children to his devout Russian Orthodox brother Alyosha, says that if God has so ordered the universe to allow this suffering even if he consents to suffer from it and therefore redeem it, Ivan says, “It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return the ticket.”

It is here that we should notice that two possible stances toward life are held before us: a walling of self from life or openness to the whole of life, suffering included.  Remember in the last post we saw that this life is the site where one confirms his “Yes” or “No” to God.  Let us see how each plays out.

 Admittedly there is much in this life that hurts us.  The “tears of humanity with which the earth is soaked from its crust to its center” (Dostoevsky) seems to be our inescapable experience.  And yet, if anyone even wishes to love at all in this created world, suffering is unavoidable.  For some this seems to high a price to pay. The pain of losing the beloved moves them close there hearts from fear of suffering loss.  As Thomas Aquinas says, all fear is based in the love of something.  Is not the walling of self from reality our age’s preferred stance?  Or are not we endeavoring to go beyond even the flight from reality to manipulating it and bending to our wills?  We will become masters and possessors of nature.  We eagerly embrace any formula or technique that promises to tidy up life, searching frantically for some existential calculator through which to enter the variables of daily living for easy answers.  To a certain extent all ideologies are just that sort of undertaking. To free ourselves from the inherent risk of human living, life’s stance becomes one of mastery and domination. Yet to do this is to have accepted the Devil’s bargain.  Yes, you can be freed from the immediate pain of loss but this bargain operates on the law of diminishing returns. The longer one avoids the immediate pain of loss refusing to open the heart, the greater the darkness the person enters into.   Choice is held up before us: the way of life and the way of death (cf. Dt. 30:19). The stakes of this choice and the commitment it brings are real and serious.  In the great novel Les Misrables, Victor Hugo captures powerfully, the struggle of the soul’s decision for life or death saying that it is the, “the choice between the terrible haven and the smiling ambush.” The smiling ambush is ever before us.  One needs only to various forms of media to see it. The smiling ambush is the way of our world (cf. 1 Jn. 2:16).

The young Wojtyla, like us all, was offered the smiling ambush but chose rather the terrible haven.  And this haven may indeed be terrible or hard or cause loss.  The terrible haven is the Cross and it is the only way to salvation (cf. Mt. 10:38; Lk: 14:27; 1 Pet. 2:21). Wojtyla was learning how to answer the earlier question of how can one say there is love in the face of such evil.  He knew that it will not come from any rational formula or technique but a way of seeing that can only come through a relationship.  By openness to Christ he deepens his relationship with Him and is able to say in the second stanza: 

I am an open space for a placid tide
where no wave roars, clutching at rainbow branches
now a soothing wave uncovers light in the deep
and breathes light onto unsilvered leaves.

Again that open space is the heart’s interior where God may enter and converse with us.  And through His indwelling we experience that,

placid tide 
where no wave roars, clutching at rainbow branches.

The roaring of anxiety that beat against his heart is stilled by the Voice within (Mark 4:38-39).  Had his heart not been opened, this anxiety could have settled for the Cartesian option of forcing reality into our schemes.  Here is the germ of all the deadening ideologies of modernity frantically clutching at rainbow branches…clutching for the illusory promise of a utopia.  Wojtyla shows the way of escaping the vain promises of the world that always seem just over the horizon.  Since he has friendship with the Lord

            Now a soothing wave uncovers light in the deep
            and breathes light onto silvered leaves.

His poem shows that the Light of Christ illuminates in two ways.  First, He, Who is the Light of the World, was illuminates the deep recesses of the heart, revealing to us our true selves.  Once we see who we are in Christ the second illumination follows whereby we see proper ordering of ourselves in the world around us (cf. Mt. 6:22-23; Lk. 11:34). Through the Light within we now see all things as they really are and should be.

This seeing is nothing less than having the mind of Christ (cf. Phil 2:5; Eph. 4:23; Rom. 12:2).  And having the mind of Christ is no small matter. Wojtyla is showing that it is our contact with reality.  Consider the story of Jesus dining at the Pharisee Simon’s house when Jesus is anointed by the sinful woman (Lk. 7:36-50). Simon is scandalized by such an act but knowing his heart, Jesus tells him a parable about forgiveness and then asks Simon, “Do you see this woman?”(Lk.7:44).  The tragedy is up to this point Simon cannot see her because his eye is bad (Lk. 11:34).  Jesus knows as well as Simon what sort of woman she is.  But a meditative reading of the passage reveals a spiritually lethal danger: so bound by pride, mere social convention, and hardness of heart he is unable to see a pure and explicit act of repentance being answered in return by Merciful Love. Love is right before his eyes and he is blind to it because Simon’s heart has yet to become an “open space” for Love and Truth. For a contemporary example, we need only to think of Christopher Hitchens and his deranged assessment of Mother Theresa.

continued . . .


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