Good Friday and ‘what is truth?’

I read The Passion from the Book of Common Prayer yesterday, and I was struck when Pilate replied to Jesus, ‘what is truth?’

I certainly have asked that question in varying forms of expression and varying degrees of intensity, and I think I’m not alone, for my little part in the journey, in often feeling like Pilate did: afraid and under competing pressures and exasperated in the middle of it. I too often let those feelings and those things push me around instead of focusing on the presence of the Lord. Pilate was overwhelmed by those feelings and those things to the point that he didn’t ask the question honestly or he didn’t wait in the presence of the Lord for an answer. He quickly and repeatedly turned to the mob. When you don’t wait and work for love to cast out fear that is what happens: you anxiously allow yourself to become a victim of circumstance and allow worldly pressures to sway.

My maternal grandfather died on Good Friday a decade before I was born. I think about him often, and it’s one of the many reasons this poem by John Donne is so moving:

Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward

Donne, John (1572 – 1631)

Original Text: 

J. D., Poems (London: M. F. for John Marriot, 1633).

1Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,

2The intelligence that moves, devotion is,

3And as the other Spheares, by being growne

4Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,

5And being by others hurried every day,

6Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:

7Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit

8For their first mover, and are whirld by it.

9Hence is’t, that I am carryed towards the West

10This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.

11There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,

12And by that setting endlesse day beget;

13But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,

14Sinne had eternally benighted all.

15Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see

16That spectacle of too much weight for mee.

17Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;

18What a death were it then to see God dye?

19It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,

20It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.

21Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,

22And tune all spheares at once peirc’d with those holes?

23Could I behold that endlesse height which is

24Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,

25Humbled below us? or that blood which is

26The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,

27Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne

28By God, for his apparell, rag’d, and torne?

29If on these things I durst not looke, durst I

30Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,

31Who was Gods partner here, and furnish’d thus

32Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom’d us?

33Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,

34They’are present yet unto my memory,

35For that looks towards them; and thou look’st towards mee,

36O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;

37I turne my backe to thee, but to receive

38Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.

39O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,

40Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,

41Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,

42That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.


Featured posts from the archives: a yarn and a couple visual poems

“There was an eagle’s nest on a hydro tower we passed on our way south on the highway. What is it that drove me away from the physical comforts of my modern life, while that wild, majestic bird chose a manmade structure in the middle of all those wild, majestic pines?

The Flagging Tape Disorientation

When you pull up Google Earth and start zooming in on North America, then onto the Northeast, then central Ontario and onto that park that’s about the size of Vermont and, if the satellite image was taken in early Spring of that year and you can zoom in enough through the trees, you’ll see me and my brother—lost.

We were up shit creek without a paddle, so to speak; or put another way, we were lost in the bush in twilight on an overcast day without a landmark, map, compass, light, match, tarp, bottle of water, or even a knife.

I teach outdoor education, and when I teach shelter building and orienteering I always start by describing a scenario like that one and then ask them what they need to avoid. The kids invariably start with bears or wolves and never put a finger on the thing they need to avoid most—panic. I wasn’t avoiding panic at that moment, though. I was fully, keenly seized by it. I was in its mouth. I also teach the kids what to pack, even if it’s just a short hike. Well, I sure wasn’t a prudent boy scout that day, and I confirmed that silly saying about those who teach.

We had gotten out of bed before the sun was up to drive four hours north, then paddled for most of the daylight against the wind and current on the biggest river in the park. The trip to the cabin was made even harder because our aluminum and foam canoe was flat and wide—slow as molasses to paddle and quick as a wink to get pushed back or sideways by waves. The other two people in our party had a narrow Kevlar canoe, ideal for tripping. The map didn’t show all the contours and little points, so after hours of hope deferred—having seemingly spent all our energy feverishly paddling towards what we thought would be the final point and expecting to see the cabin as we turned only to see more conifers and yet another point far in the windswept distance over and over again—my brother and I did finally see that blessed cabin in a field beside a big marsh.

I flopped onto the beach like Ulysses after the shipwreck and my brother tripped over me. A phoebe bobbed its tail on a branch above us and a bur-reed rubbed my ankle. The fire roaring and the steaks sizzling and our friends with the Kevlar canoe sprawled out smoking and laughing, I opened up the cabin and perused the journal on the table by the stained woodstove. A few people wrote about a pristine spring just off the path behind the cabin. I didn’t expect a long hike. I was thirsty.

The well beaten path forked just past the thunderbox. The path turning along the lakeshore led my brother and I to the mouth of a feeder creek but no cold water spring. In the little plunge pool there were sculpins and leaves spinning around in the foam, red and green and glistening, and the water above it was the color of yellow stained glass. We doubled back to the fork and took the other path. There were pieces of orange flagging tape tied to trees every ten yards and the path was wide and clear. The promised cold water spring was still out of sight, though. As we walked the path thinned out and the pieces of flagging tape were farther apart and we followed the base of a hill to the burnt cornflakes of the bark on a big cherry tree. I considered turning back but pressed on without giving it much thought.

Eventually we heard the creek but didn’t see any more flagging tape. I rush toward the siren sound of the babbling brook and my brother followed me to the unspoiled fern lined banks. I didn’t notice the beauty of the park when I was relentlessly paddling and it all hit me looking at that serene brook, the beauty consuming, without any trails around and miles from the nearest road. Then it hit me that we lost sight of the last piece of flagging tape. The thrum of panic was deafening. I tried to sound calm and asked my brother if we should walk the creek back to the lake where we know it empties or do we try to find the flagging tape to follow the path straight back to the cabin. I don’t think I gave him a chance to answer and rushed back in the direction of the flagging tape—or so I thought it was that direction.

I had led my brother astray and then we were out of earshot of the brook and we couldn’t see flagging tape. I almost broke down in despair and I didn’t even try to hide it. My brother was poised, though, and told me one of us should stay put while the other looks for the flagging tape in order to prevent wandering even farther away from the lake and the cabin.

I saw flagging tape and yelled out to my brother, but my elation was crushed when I got closer and saw that it was purple. I cursed that this flagging tape must be a cruel joke when my brother caught up to me, and we laughed nervously. We used my brother’s bright idea of the searching and holding pattern and eventually found that cherry tree. It looked and felt like night in the bush, but as soon as we saw the light of the lake we heard our friends at the thunderbox call our names.

The steak and beans were cold. I was starving and almost too exhausted to eat, the fork shaking in my hand. I’ll never taste a better steak, though, and I hope I’ll never have to learn my own lessons the hard way again. We ended up finding the lid over the spring the next day, just by the mouth of the feeder creek. I still dream about following that brook to the source—this time prepared like a good boy scout—and catching trout that have never seen an artificial fly. There was an eagle’s nest on a hydro tower we passed on our way south on the highway. What is it that drove me away from the physical comforts of my modern life, while that wild, majestic bird chose a manmade structure in the middle of all those wild, majestic pines?

I think we should use strong metaphorical language

I think there is far too much Latinate academic jargon, which is often a kind of phoney precision, in common cosmopolitan English speech. I want a stronger, more metaphorical use of language that leans more heavily on fusion, pressure, and story-telling to say what is good, show beauty in life, and do hard things.

English is a mongrel language- and that’s its strength: it can draw on all the strengths of the cultures that have influenced it and temper the foibles. I just think we’re missing that early spark when English speakers didn’t have as many conceptual and technical terms to work with, so they had to use metaphor and story with intense effects.

I say LIFE is the best word in our language- and it ain’t Latinate

I’m also fond of these words with Celtic origin: bannock, shindig, spunk, whisky, bog, clock, nook, drum, hooligan, phoney

I read ‘Recuerdo’ for the first time

A wise man introduced me to Edna St Vincent Millay’s wonderful poem. . The opening line and refrain is the best comma splice I’ve read: we were very tired, we were very merry. With the pressure and mystery of poetry I can’t say for sure if it’s tired and merry or tired but merry or something else- I can say, though, the fusion of tiredness and merriment is very moving for me. That’s a worthy goal- to be tired and merry and, like the narrator does in the final lines of the poem, keep only what I need to get back home and give away everything else. I’ll keep working on that goal