The Norton Anthology of Poetry by Margaret Fergusson et al.

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The Divine Hours

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The Blessedness in Beauty

Written By Phyllis Tickle

The following reflection first appeared in February 2010 as part of  First Sundays with Phyllis Tickle, a series of monthly blogs written by Tickle and posted on explorefaith from 2008 to 2010.

Blooming roseSome several weeks ago now, an editor asked me to name the one book I thought should be laid alongside the Bible and read in conjunction with it. My answer was immediate: The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Because he seemed to be a bit taken aback, I decided not to make matters worse by suggesting that what I actually thought was that the Norton should be laid alongside the Hebrew Bible, while alongside the Christian New Testament should be The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. It seemed to me that the humor in that observation might be lost in the confusion of the moment.

Anyway, what my colleague wanted, of course, was not so much my choice of companion books but, rather, a few hundred words about the why and wherefore of my choice, whatever it might be. He wanted, in point of fact, a small essay for inclusion in a forthcoming book titled, aptly enough, Besides the Bible – 100 Books Every Christian Should Read.

Now I don’t know as I really think every Christian ... or every non-Christian, for that matter ...should read The Norton Anthology. In fact, I don’t think anybody should ever read a collection of poetry in the first place. Rather, poetry is to be known ... to be lived into, time and time again ... to be heard inside one’s head as the words become more and more a part of breathing and less and less a function of thinking. I didn’t say that, of course. Instead, I just wrote my essay as tribute to, and in grateful acknowledgement of, a grand and substantial book and sent it off to my editor-friend.

But in the course of fashioning those words, I discovered once again the thing I keep forgetting and then, mercifully, keep managing to stumble up against time and time again. That is, I stumbled into realizing all over again just how central beauty is to hope and, thereby, to faith. It may not be, as Keats said, that "beauty is truth, truth beauty." In fact, I rather doubt that it is. But it is true that without beauty, a people perish, whether that people be a polity or a communion of faith or a family of kin. It is only when we gift ourselves and one another with beauty that we escape, however briefly, into what we can be and are becoming...

….which seems to me to be an entirely fitting observation for this first Sunday in the month that, of all of them, most celebrates beauty between us and amongst us.

Postscript: As some of you may already know, this will be the last  First Sunday we will have together, at least in this way; and I, for one, am loathe to say adieu.

What started out eighteen months ago as a blog, rapidly turned into a spate of essays, probably because the essay is my writing form of choice. In any event, I am grateful that explorefaith has given me a means and outlet for exercising that predilection over this last year and a half. The measuring of my months and the assessing of them in terms of what struck me about an immediately passing month or filled me with anticipation about an approaching one have not only added a bit of zest to the past year or two. They have also allowed me a sense of contact and connection with many of you. I am grateful for those gifts as well.

The rest of this year, God willing, will see me on the lecture circuit a bit more intensely than has been the case in past years, and 2011 will, again God willing, see me holed up writing a couple of books that seem to want “out.” (Otherwise, I suspect they could and would drive me crazy.) In the midst of some of this, one of the great joys for me will be the production in June and again in August of The Doorway– A Spiritual Phantasmagoria, a liturgical drama commissioned by the Community of Jesus in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, MA. Since liturgical drama is the true “first love” of my writing life, I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to work again in that genre, and I covet your prayers, not just for the playwright, but for all of us ... the designers and musicians, dancers and actors, the director, the stage manager, and the technicians, in whose good hands the success of the productions now rests. They—all of them—are indeed dealers in beauty.

Copyright © 2010 Phyllis Tickle