Praise, by R.S. Thomas

Today is Palm Sunday, the start of what Christians call “Holy Week”, which culiminates in Easter. It’s also the birthday of the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, who was born on this day in 1913. Thomas spent much of his life as an Anglican priest. I’m not a Christian but I am drawn to the religious verse of R.S. Thomas not only for its directness and lack of artifice but also the honesty with which he addresses the problems his faith sets him. There are many atheists who think religion is some kind of soft option for those who can’t cope with life in an unfriendly universe, but reading R.S. Thomas, whose faith was neither cosy nor comfortable, led me to realise that is very far from the case. I recommend him as an antidote to the simple-minded antagonism of people like Richard Dawkins. There are questions that science alone will never answer, so we should respect people who search for a truth we ourselves cannot understand.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

I will be offline for the Easter holiday so I thought I’d post a poem that I find appropriate to the time of yea. You can read it as Praise for God, or for Nature, or for both. I don’t think it matters.

I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off your scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.

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