Unforgiveness [let’s talk about it]

Another title for this blog could be “Let’s talk about it – a way to foster forgiveness” but I didn’t think about it before publishing.

Recently, I came across a poem titled “A Poison Tree” written by William Blake, and I was both intrigued and amused by it.  It’s theme seemed worthwhile considering and I’m writing this little blog as a kind of thinking out loud – very casual, rendering of my thoughts.  I’m using the poem is a tool – not a perfect one – for my thought process about interpersonal dynamics that could lead to a spirit of unforgiveness.  Here’s the poem as written:

A POISON TREE
by William Blake

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole,
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

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For me, this poem speaks clearly in how it captures the result of unforgiveness; the very real and sometimes not well attended to (on the conscious level) behaviours of our fallen human nature. Behaviours that feed what is essentially destructive to relationships between people that can lead to a sort of “death.”

Most of us will of course deny we wish to cause the death of anyone, as the poem portrays, even the death of an enemy. Yet for me, the first stanza declares where the problem starts, takes root and that there is a solution. But the choice made was according to the labels of Friend or Foe. No doubt, my view will be naïve, simple and lacking in a robust investigation of the how’s and why’s of getting into these fixes. But please do follow along if you don’t mind going down rabbit warrens…

We belong to all sorts of communities: family, school, church, work, to name a few. And so we live in relationship with other people in our various communities. And depending on how closely we interact find that disagreements and misunderstandings are simply a reality of life.  I would even venture to say that we try to avoid those things that separate or cause disharmony; yet it does happen. And depending on our emotional makeup will from time to time find ourselves either faced with, or harbouring strong/passionate feelings in need of reconciliation.

So, using the poem as my backdrop for how badly things can end when there is a lack of reconciliation,  I will ask some questions without getting too down in the weeds heavy.

Blake’s poem begins with how wrath is diffused by the telling of it. The distinction here of course being that it is between friends.  My first question is this:  In our relationships, why would we choose to have a foe?  Then when something displeases us, hide our “wrath”?

Are we perhaps afraid of sharing ourselves for what we are? Maybe what we are angry at is somehow little; even petty? That could be (of course). Or might we simply fear the unpleasantness of facing whatever the issue could be? (The combination of these two things is a sad commentary, because what I’m displeased about is petty and I don’t want to voice my “wrath,” that’s how the rest of the poem comes into play.)

Then with a very slight twist – maybe, we are afraid of being honest? Of calling-out an action over which we only have some slight reason to be concerned. Sort of a “why do I have to be the one to bring this up?” when it could (possibly should) be addressed by someone else. And yet, this thing we’ve seen needs attention and if unchecked, will in time grow into something hateful, harmful.

This reminds me of a much encouraged course that was offered at my workplace.  The course was called “Having difficult conversations.”  It’s been several years since I took it, but I remember getting nervous that I might have to actually use the skills the course taught.  It wasn’t an appealing thought at the time.

Which – funny enough – leads me to think about the virtue of courage. Do we lack courage? And is this what is actually necessary to bridge the gap between anger and peace? Between destruction and health/life?  Does it take courage to reach reconciliation?

Conversely, why is it easy to “tell wrath” to a friend? For it is quickly done and all the negative fallout simply never occurs.  Is it because we feel a certain safety in stating our cause…with a friend?  That we are on equal footing with a friend and so suffer none of the qualms of exposing ourselves; of making ourselves vulnerable?  Ah ha!  There’s that condition we all try to shy away from; vulnerability.  As if it is at all possible for a human being to be invulnerable….

Anyway, these aren’t particularly deep, soul shaking questions but I liked that the poem had such a stark and graphic continuum resulting from un-checked hatred; or unforgiveness.

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On a side note:  The poem uses two familiar images: Apple and Tree.  I believe these images snagged my imagination; and caused me pore over the poem.  I know next to nothing about William Blake and while the poem itself is placed inside a collection called “Songs of Experience” the images felt right for me to take the poem seriously.  I’m not a scholar but I liked that the images spoke to me, and seemed to point to [for me] the Christian realities of sin, unforgiveness, mercy and reconciliation.

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Desert Prophet

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I returned to the desert canyon and
listened to the breeze chime its
silver psalms that speak of life in
the Spirit. A life that teeters
on the edge of my fingertips.

Here, the sky casts wide its blue
mantle over the hills, letting them
be both fringe and border. Words are
not spoken. I ask for nothing. Yet,
in the ebb and flow of a wordless
tide, received instruction

“Surrender.  All that a prophet needs is here,
packed into the parched earth, carried on the
backs of scratching insects, drifting from
aromatic leaves and twisty trees.”

No smoke billows from rocks to mark a
threshold, over which to enter the sacred
abode. Yet the plaintive song of doves mingle
with the sound of a mighty restless torrent.

***
A flock of little birds arrive.  Their feathers
burn blue against the sagebrush. One of them
fixes me with his glassy gaze as if to speak…
Has he a question? A message?

Well, they’re gone now.  Leaving as
swiftly as they came. Yet the echoing
thunder of tiny wings beat upon
the door of my soul.

Orphans Memory

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What tipped the scale and made branches whip my neck?

The Farmers Almanac clearly states, this is
not the time of squalls. Them ones that blow in quick
from the West.  Carrying wooden baskets stuffed
with tears – and scattering them from tattered hands
against my neck and ears.

A robin holds court on her wind-torn throne.

She’s not knowing the scent of yesterdays aftershave;
nor Merry Melodies of the seventh morn. She simply
strains her breast; flexes her rust-stained throat;
scraping and stabbing at a lead-grey sky…
in absence to your voice.

Note: “Even after 4 decades, the orphan still grieves for the sound of her father’s voice.”

Pondering the Heart

“More tortuous than anything is the human heart,
beyond remedy; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Our heart’s a curious vane, fixed
seemingly inside the chest. Yet
in other boundaries it does not dwell
In say a foot, or in a hand
– ‘cept for writing of its love.

Stop then, consider
it’s source-less perimeter.
Where was it born?
When does it rest?
Where will it end?

For after days of endless rain,
When heavy clouds stamp out
all hope – does it not leap
for joy at a patch of blue?
Then soars above it too with
the glowing of the sun?

And in those times of trouble, deep,
– turn itself – outside in
to wrap you there, within
its shell of feelings. Forever
dim.

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Note: the quoted verse from Jeremiah has long enticed my mind; and
makes me wonder if melancholia is caused by troubles within the heart
instead of the mind.

A Discourse of Desire

A Discourse of Desire
“If I leave everything in your hands…”

If I leave everything in your hands…
What then would my life be?
No longer would my will prevail
Your dwelling within
Would begin to shine.

If I leave everything in your hands…
Does my value then decrease?
Becoming invisible to friend and
Foe alike, seen – and yet not seen, while
Human comforts depart from my life.

If I leave everything in your hands…
Against what shall I struggle?
Maybe all my doings and thinkings,
Will fall by the wayside, and I might
Be stripped and left bare.

If I leave everything in your hands…
Might not the stench of sin depart?
The odor of failures, the hashing out of
Words – opinions – mine versus theirs.
Leaving the pure fragrance of mountain air.

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If I leave everything in your hands…
What then would my life be?
Surely, it would transform into something
Not of this world; something simple, humble,
Pleasing not only to man, but to You, whom I love.

If I leave everything in your hands…
Then I would be free – I would
Become Your slave.
Help me…
Leave everything…
In your hands…

At Christmas Time

snowglobe

Once more dreamscapes of happy
childhood come to life inside the globe.
To enter isn’t hard when you remember how
to Slide – colliding with the grass,
careening through the snow – in laughter
and in sunshine, all wrapped in innocence
of the fresh clean air. It’s a crystal ball you
give a whirl, watching as confetti starts to
swirl – some rise and some fall lightly
against your up-curved palm.

Do you believe the Virgin birthed?
A baby boy named Jesus – whom
angels sang – and shepherds ran to see
laid in a manger bare. On that night
exposed to chill, rousing songs break forth
from hearts once trapped in slumber, still.
Oh yes! Believer! warms Mr. Belafonte.
“Never, have I not believed” that down
from heaven God’s son slipped into Mary’s arms
before his weary head did rest upon a straw laid bed.manger

O marvelous mystery, proclaimed this night.
Enveloping horizons in dazzling array all
baptized races and nations into one. Each
eager to stoke red hot or tinker on icy bells:
Noëls grand or Poems in the common tongue.
Something from the heart born in their
Winter’s land. Lyrics wrapped more warmly
than the naked Infant King – hurling praise
for a Gift they could not bring.

          Great Lord, O mighty king,
          dearest saviour, O how little
          you regard earthly splendour
          He who maintains the whole world
          and created its glory and adornment
          must sleep in a hard crib. [1]

With feather quills to pluck out notes from
ancient harps and chords, where polished
whistles breeze through reeds and scores of
silver trills rising – up in the wind as a
clamorous quivering noise –
         high above our greying heads,
a saintly hymn of praise is lead,
framed five times the length of forty pipes
streaming a Praise of Glory –

altar

[1]       Weihnachtsoratorium 1-8; J.S. Bach BWV 248/1-8