“Ash Wednesday” by Malcolm Guite
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross;
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands,
The very stones themselves would shout and sing,
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognize in Christ their lord and king.
He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.
If I told you that we—that you—need more poetry in our lives, would you be offended? Or think I’m kind of crazy (“What good is poetry?”)? If I asked you what the world needs more of, what would come to mind: more STEM-based innovation? Better governments and laws? More justice? More environmental awareness?
Or more poetry? Would poetry make anyone’s list of what the world needs more of?
But what if all the degradations and predations of modern life are sourced in our degraded and predatory use of words, of language? We use language—we need words—so that we can explain, describe and define; so that we can, as we say, exercise “command and control” of life; so that we can make plans, assemble resources and move toward the fulfillment of our dreams and goals. These are good and proper uses of language.
But not the most important. The most important use of language is to express love and build relationship. From a mother’s wordless cooings in response to her baby’s wordless fussings, to the companionable silences enjoyed by good friends following a rich conversation about shared interests, to the secret whispers of lovers, to the vows made at a wedding – language makes us human because language brings us into relationship: prayer, promises, encouragement, instruction, rebuke, praise, worship.
Poetry is language at its best, words helping us to see and hear and say what would otherwise be impossible to communicate.
Communicate: not primarily to download information, distribute content, or to command and control; not to reduce LIFE to mere explanations and definitions. Communicate: to bring into communion.