Streams in dry land

Out of the argument we have with others we make rhetoric; out of the argument we have with ourselves we make poetry. These are the words of Ireland’s most famous poet W. B. Yeats. Poetry is the art of expressing in words some kind of approximation to what we feel or sense about the reality we all live in.

We cannot always describe exactly what we feel. But in poetry we can give pointers and suggestions which give some idea of our experience and which at the same time open up unexplored possibilities for us.

Much of the language of Isaiah is poetic. He says something we can all understand; ‘the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed’ (Is 34:5). But he is actually saying far more than these words immediately mean. He makes this clear in his next sentence which makes no immediate sense, ‘for water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland.’ He is linking the opening of eyes and ears to water gushing and we may think immediately of Jesus’ cry in the temple, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me … from his heart shall flow streams of living water’ (Jn. 7:37).

Isaiah is, at first glance, making a prophesy about the coming Messiah who will literally ‘open the eyes of the blind and unseal the ears of the deaf’ with a word (Mk 7:34). But the ‘opening’ Jesus is promising is more than simply seeing and hearing. When the man who was born blind in John (Ch. 9) was cured, it was simply the beginning of a journey for him that would involve standing up to the leaders of the Jews and being thrown out of the synagogue. The man pays this price and yet still has a further journey to make when he sees Jesus, who asks him, ‘do you believe in the Son of man?’ and the man replies ‘who is he?’ (Jn. 9:36).

Poetry is the argument we have with ourselves in the sense that we can never say ‘I see’ fully. There is always more and this ‘more’ is indescribable. It is best left in the language of poetry about ‘gushing water’ and ‘streams in dry land’ for which ‘the deer is longing’ (Ps 42:1).

We must never ‘tame’ our faith and have it as part of our friendly furniture that we use from time to time. I heard a preacher recently quote the saying of Jesus, ‘how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven,’ and he commented, ‘yes, and maybe it is hard too for those who have all the answers.’ They are ‘rich’ too because they are not open. Our faith is a ‘wild lion’ as someone, I forget who, said. Once you tame it you are no longer alert to it. You may have settled the argument, but you have dried up the streams.

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