Re-Incarnational Logic

 Major Premise

In the first post on The Kindling, Anthony DiStefano wrote that “the Incarnation provides a light to see all the world by, even the world of the kitchen counter, living room sofa, and front porch.” That is the sort of thing I find deeply comforting, especially because it has somehow happened—through no fault of my own, certainly—that I am now the sort of person most readily to be found on precisely that “living room sofa.” (No matter how lazy, no matter how many hours of Netflix, still I bathe in incarnational light!) Upon being thus comforted—and put in a light enough mood to rise up from said sofa and ask my wife whether anything needs doing—however, it never fails but that I am suddenly paralyzed by one or other of those unexpectedly dark sayings of Jesus. Matthew 22:30, for example: “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” I sit back down, wrest the mouse-remote from the hand of my toddler son (I just read that Stranger Things is good), and wonder: “Is the ‘incarnational logic of our faith’ truly so limited? Does it extend to our domestic things for only so long, and then no longer? What of the prohibitively weedy front yard, the lukewarm cup of Folgers, the inexplicable still-here-ness of my wife—what of these in the resurrection? I fear the clarity of God’s love.”

Minor Premise

Richard Wilbur’s “The House” would extend an “incarnational logic” “beyond the verge of sight” and into the “sleep of death.”

The House
Richard Wilbur
 
Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.
What did she tell me of that house of hers?
White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door;
A widow’s walk above the bouldered shore;
Salt winds that ruffle the surrounding firs.
Is she now there, wherever there may be?
Only a foolish man would hope to find
That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.
Night after night, my love, I put to sea.

A husband and wife have already said to each other, “until death do us part.” But they did not thereby fully describe the limits of their knowing.
 
There had been other confinements—things about her that he had not known, did not know. He recalled the nightly sundering, in sleep, of the intimacy that ought to belong to that which had—purportedly—become “one flesh.” He remembered that *sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes*. What had he thought then, half-awake? “She woke up, seemed to see me, and then closed her eyes again!—as if to go back! Doesn’t she remember her vow?” And he would wonder whether she wanted to wake up at all. What, in those moments, did she close her eyes to see? He thought of Milton’s Eve, who woke from her original sleep, saw Adam, and fled back to gaze upon her own “smooth watery image.” And “till death” offered no comfort.
 
Did she tell him what she saw?
 
If she didn’t, well, there would have been no comfort in knowing what she saw—“White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door; / A widow’s walk above the bouldered shore; / Salt winds that ruffle the surrounding firs”—a dream home, nothing more. As they grew older, however, he learned not to begrudge her these waking moments. He began to recognize in them a likeness of a life after death. Like a memory expert placing the names of party guests in drawers and on tables, he gathered up these separate moments of sometimes in the design of this white house. Once she was gone, he would, night after night, going to sleep, build the house and find her again.
 
Or she did tell him, hoping to be found, the white house a metaphor for her confinement.

Conclusion

The irreducibly figurative speech that is poetry . . . hands over to us its promising but non-self-explicating weight to carry in our musing memory. In a fuller sense of “remember,” it asks us to undertake the adventure which allows the figures of poetry to begin to find literal and embodied reality in the transformation of our lives. And (if we may be permitted to take it in this way) in the word’s fullest sense, the figures of poetry instill in us a sense of the strange promised grace bound up in what I know no other name for than “the resurrection of the body.” – Adam Cooper

 

Tony Sifert