I probably should have posted this for Easter, but this is a theme worth thinking about any day.
Here’s an understatement: I’ve had a complicated a relationship with my faith. I have trouble reconciling the private nature of spiritual choices with the public nature of proselytizing. In other words: I hate being preached at, especially by people who have no business judging other people’s life choices. One of the loudest arguments against political poetry is an argument away from “preaching” a particular political message. Literally, the word “preaching” is used to describe a bad poem. So what do you do with a book that has specifically spiritual, specifically Christian themes? The urge is to cringe against preachiness, and to be skeptical.
You shouldn’t be, not when the book is in the hands of a true poet, an empath who has lived practically around the world. The book AMERICAN PSALM, WORLD PSALM, by Nicholas Samaras, is a modern retelling of the book of Psalms. All one hundred and fifty of them. I am reminded of the difference between spirit and religion. The message of this sacred poetry is a private voice bending toward humility, imperfection, and service. The language is one of submission to God, a recognition of being tiny, yet sacred, in the face of the universe.
In the book, the poems are numbered. This happens to be the 23rd poem, analogous to the famous 23rd Psalm in the Bible. Compare the two if you really want to be blown away.
Psalm of the Smallest Annunciation
- 23rd Psalm
Father, what words do I ever own?
What words may I possess enough
to give back to you? All I may say
of myself is: Lord, I am here.
Others have said the same to you
and, though I am no prophet,
no saint, no chosen, I say it still:
Here I am, Lord. I am here.
Covered in a breathing darkness,
I am here and calling back to you.
Covered in my sinful self, I am here.
Diminished as I am by sin, here
I am, despite myself, I am here–
take me in my small annunciation,
in the breathing of my darkness,
in the fane of my folded hands.