Friday, April 10, 2009

breathing underwater



A frantically busy week at work meant that I didn't get the time to make my 'egg' post for Theme Thursday. So, here I am on Good Friday, wondering what to blog about.


I went to church today. That's not unusual for me, but today was different. I took the train up to London and went to Southwark Cathedral. The altar had been stripped bare. Statues and pictures were veiled. Candles stood unlit and the lights had been extinguished. (The heating was off, too.) The normally bright, colourful space was dull and grey. Even the stained glass seemed muted. People gathered in silence.


There was no robed procession, no choir. There were hymns, a sermon, a simple prayer, Bach on the organ and silence. The Canon Pastor spoke about death.


And as he spoke, grief both old and new welled up in me.

And it was painful. And the tears came.


And then he read this poem


I built my house by the sea

Not on the sands, mind you,

Not on the shifting sand.

And I built it of rock.

A strong house by a strong sea.

And we got well acquainted,

The sea and I.

Good neighbours.

Not that we spoke much.

We met in silences,

Respectful, keeping our distance

But looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.

Always the fence of sand our barrier,

Always the sand between.

And then one day

(And I still don’t know how it happened)

the sea came.

Without warning.

Without welcome, even.

Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine.

Less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.

Slow, but flowing like an open wound.

And I thought of flight, and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.

But while I thought the sea crept higher until it reached my door.

And I knew there was neither flight, nor death nor drowning.

That when the sea comes calling you stop being good neighbours

Well acquainted, friendly from a distance neighbours.

And you give your house for a coral castle

And you learn to breathe underwater.

Carol Bialock, Chile, 1975.


And I smiled. Because I think I am learning to breathe underwater too.

8 comments:

tut-tut said...

Betty, lots to mull over here. A wonderfully deep poem.

I didn't go to Good Friday service, but now I wish I had.

Steve said...

Chile in the mid-'70s: That makes perfect sense and gives the poem a whole new angle. Interesting!

I'm glad your church service was so moving.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

what a powerful poem....thanks for sharing it.....

hugs....hope there was much joy for you over the easter weekend....good friday is such a deep and reflective day for many of us.....


underwater breathing, very helpful....

Anonymous said...

I liked that poem. It makes you think.

lettuce said...

i wish i'd been there with you

I'm learning too, but keep having to re-learn

xx

Betty said...

It's an amazing poem, isn't it? One of those that needs reading a few times, so it 'sinks in.'

It's published in a book by Sheila Cassidy, called Sharing the Darkness: the spirituality of caring. In it she writes:

Now the curious thing is that all the time I was in Chile I understood the sea in this poem as an image of the presence of God - the way he takes over our lives. When I showed it to a monk friend, however, he saw the slow advance of the sea as the gradual encroachment of the agony of the world upon one's consciousness. It is only now, ten years on, that I begin to understand what he meant when he said that the great mystery is that the two are really the same.

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Eric Muhr said...

The poem above comes from an unpublished collection of poems from Carol Bialock. Fernwood Press is bringing out the new book on Carol's 90th birthday this next June. Email me ericmuhr at gmail dot com for a pdf of the manuscript. I'd love to have you read it and write about it / share it with others if you like what you find there. Her poems are powerful!