Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Who Am I?

Recently I have been pondering the many-faceted posts and responses to posts in this blog, trying to think of a way to speak about the mystery in which we are all engaged. I have also been pondering Ian’s question about essential books.

Then came an invitation to read at the Bath Literary Festival, which celebrated International Women’s day with a marathon reading of passages from 100 women authors. For me there was only one possibility, and it follows below.

This quotation is stitched together from two sections of Annie Dillard’s 'Holy the Firm', her least-known and, in my view, her best book. She uses the language of artists, but it is clear that she means that we are all artists, every one of us; our lives in all their complexity offered on the altar of the heart, the divine fire using us, to light the world, out of our sight and utterly unknown to us.

She wrote this long prose-poem while living in a one-room cabin on an island in Puget Sound off the northwest coast of Washington State, USA.



One night a moth flew into the candle, was caught, burnt dry, and held.... All that was left was the glowing horn shell of her abdomen and thorax—a fraying, partially collapsed gold tube, jammed upright in the candle's round pool.

And then this moth-essence, this spectacular skeleton, began to act as a wick. She kept burning. The wax rose in the moths' body from her soaking abdomen to her thorax to the jabbed hole where her head should be, and widened into flame, a saffron-yellow flame that robed her to the ground like any immolating monk...

She burned for two hours without changing, without bending or leaning—only glowing within, like a building fire glimpsed through silhouetted walls, like a hollow saint, like a flame-faced virgin gone to God, while I read by her light, kindled...while night pooled wetly at my feet....

How can people think that artists seek a name? A name, like a face, is something you have when you're not alone. There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit, as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.

What can any artist set on fire but his world? What can any people bring to the altar but all it has ever owned in the thin towns or over the desolate plains? What can an artist use but materials, such as they are? What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that's burnt out, any muck ready to hand?

His face is flame like a seraph's, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt. He is holy and he is firm, spanning all the long gap with the length of his love, in flawed imitation of Christ on the cross stretched both ways unbroken and thorned. So must the work be also, in touch with, in touch with, in touch with; spanning the gap, from here to eternity, home.

2 Comments:

Anonymous AM said...

Lovely. Not dissimilar from the "redness of the bull; leaves on fire - fruit trees and squalid old poison oak become burning bushes; joyousness of bird song at rosy dawn and russet dusk; ruddiness in aged women and men; red-and-gold silk vestments; the blood of martyrs become bread for us in the fire of Love; fire of the Trinity; dancing wheel of love flaming in our Center." The Fire of Your Life

This and the closing evening prayer, I have been...

11:15 am, March 13, 2012  
Blogger cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown said...

Glory. Amen.

7:31 pm, March 20, 2012  

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