Did you see Jane Campion’s beautiful film Bright Star last year about the romance between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne? It is now out on DVD and well worth a watch. I particularly enjoyed a short exchange between the couple as they were getting to know each other. Fanny decides to take lessons in poetry from the young poet, and a wonderful exchange ensues:
‘I still don’t know how to work out a poem’, she muses.
Keats responds, ‘A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake, is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.
Excitedly Fanny replies, ‘I love mystery…’
I’m sure many contemplatives love poetry for this very reason. The mind desires, very often, to work everything out – it has to know. But can we know this awesome God with our minds alone? Isaiah wrote “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8) I suggest we can know God more fully through silence. This requires gaining control of the mind and our senses, in fact all our faculties, and bringing them in submission to our will, so we can surrender ourselves to the silence. Q: how do we develop a submissive mind?