Prayer, Jesus & Denise Levertov’s “Avowal”

Written by on September 4, 2012

One saint from the early church, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-211), defined prayer as “keeping company with God.”  In this sense, Jesus invites his listeners to a prayer-ful life—life in the company of his divine community. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me…  (Matthew 11) “Come to meLearn from me…” Jesus says. He stresses that this prayer-ful life must be learned.   We cannot simply reach out and grab such a faithful and wise life. It is not a life that can be purchased or picked off the shelf. We cannot read it in a manual and then simply follow the directions.  Rather this sort of life demands that we immerse ourselves in a relationship of learning with the mentor. Jesus uses the metaphor of two animals yoked together.  The younger animal will learn the way from the older one. The image suggests a type of apprenticeship in which the student places herself in a relationship of trust with the master and learns the craft from the master.  Jesus is inviting his audience into such a relationship with himself.  He is the master and mentor. We often need images or metaphors that shed light on the mystery of Jesus’ way with us. The poet Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997) has always been one who has provided me fruitful ways to look at things. She was a British born American poet. Her mother was Welsh, her father who emigrated to Britain from Germany was a Russian Hassidic Jew who became an Anglican priest.  She would move to the US in the late 1940’s and then become a naturalized citizen in the 50’s. She would write poetry throughout her life, becoming very politically conscious and active in the 1960’s & 70’s. Her poetry always reflected a religious sensitivity. In 1989 she would convert to Roman Catholicism. Her poem “Avowal”, which you can find in a collection of her religious poems entitled The Stream & The Sapphire, has been particularly helpful as I have thought through Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11. Find some quiet space and time with Matthew 11: 28-30 and this poem. She writes,

As swimmers dare to lie face to the sky and water bears them, as hawks rest upon the air and air sustains them, so would I learn to attain freefall, and float into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace, knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace. [1]

 • How might Levertov’s images in this poem shed light upon Jesus invitation to “come” and “learn”? • Levertov draws the comparison between a swimmer floating on water and her life of faith, a believer trusting in grace?  In what ways does this comparison resonate with you? How does a swimmer floating and a hawk soaring shed light on learning to trust…”so I would learn”?  

[1] The Stream & the Sapphire, New Directions Books, 1997, 6

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  1. Pamela Edwards   On   September 5, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Reading your blog posts cuts into my productivity! I want to stop and reflect and think and talk and share and pray.

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