The thistle is part of Adam's curse. "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." A terrible curse: But does the goldfinch eat thorny sorrow with the thistle, or do I? If this furling air is fallen, then the fall was happy indeed. If this creekside garden is sorrow, then I seek martyrdom. This crown of thorns sits light on my skull, like wings. The Venetian Baroque painter Tiepolo painted Christ as a red-lipped infant clutching a goldfinch; the goldfinch seems to be looking around in search of thorns. Creation itself was the fall, a burst into the thorny beauty of the real.
Annie Dillard's little reflection on Creation and the fall is so typical of the poet/writer. In the thorns and sorrow of the world, she sees beauty. In fact, she seeks out the thistles, wears them like a crown. She walks the cursed ground, seeing in everything, I think, reflections of God's goodness. Dillard relishes the martyrdom of the fall.
That's pretty heady stuff for a Saturday morning, but I kind of find comfort in these thoughts. I've spent most of my life listening to sermons and homilies about the fallen world, original sin, penance, and redemption. I'm sure Dillard has, too. The difference is that Dillard finds much to celebrate in the difficulties of the world, because it is through adversity that evolution/transformation happens. After a forest fire, Nature rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. Through ash and smolder, green appears. Then gold and purple and red. Destruction can be a prelude to creation.
I think I focus too much on the destruction. It's an easy trap to fall into. Sort of like the days following the 9-11 attacks, when all the television stations replayed the images: the planes striking the Towers; the Towers collapsing; people stumbling out of the clouds of white dust. Destruction for weeks, months. It's comfortable to focus on sorrow, dwell in that place of pain.
It's harder to be the goldfinch, looking for thistles and thistledown. Fluttering golden wings through the thorns. In the last few weeks, I've found myself focused on the absences in my life. Being unhappy because I don't have the perfect job or perfect home or perfect life. I don't recommend this practice. It leads to sleepless night and exhausting days, filled with anger and unhappiness.
Today, I'm going to try to break this thorny cycle. Say "thank You" to God when I feel challenged instead of "why me?". I'm going to celebrate the ashes of Lent because I know Easter morning is coming. I have to believe that. That's what being a Christian is all about.
In the stillness of the storm, Saint Marty finds hope.
by: Quincy Troupe
underneath a midnight sky, fresh snow rests still & white
as a summer cloud formation, stretching there, soft as a bed
of just-picked cotton, beneath tailfire of a streaking jet
& soon the wind will stir up again the murmuring dead voices
lying there, beneath that blanket of chilled glittering crystals
reminding of light refracting jewels covering the earth's hard floor
the tongue-lashing speech of god's sawblading breath is quiet now
so soon, again, after the cold shattering cacophony of language
an avalanche brings, the sound deafening in its power
& louder than the scream of god inside the voice of a shattering
tornado, louder than roaring screams sudsing in the curling finger
at the top of a swelling epiphany, above the wall of water
howling in a tidal wave, drowning everything within the blink
of an instant, the frenzy suddenly leveling off flat as quick as it came
& now lies there a dark still pool mirroring as in a dead duck's eye
wide open there, as if it were a midnight sky holding a full moon
above a whispering chilled landscape sculptured by hands of winter
the snow swept up into heaps & shapes by god's tongue there
reminds of sleeping polar bears huddled together when seen
from above: scattered around still lifes, the wind picking up snow
swirling it like confetti--voices as if torn away from history.
Confessions of Saint Marty