Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Poetry Break: Preteritic Memories

Fresh off of reading Hans Blumenberg's Legitimacy of the Modern Age some twenty years ago, and with images from an even earlier reading of Thomas Pynchon's epic Gravity's Rainbow still shimmering in my memory, I found myself musing on how the preterite might feel about God.

Who are the "preterite"?

To oversimplify: the preterite are those "passed over" by God in his arbitrary decision on whom to save, according to predestinarian systems such as those worked out by St. Augustine or Jean Calvin.

Actually, the preterite's situation is far worse: God arbitrarily selected them, before the foundations of the world, for damnation. At least, the Calvinist God does. I'm less sure about Augustine since I've not read him in such a long time.

For my poem, I chose the preteritic voice of one acutely aware that he has been passed over, arbitrarily damned, and who consequently reflects upon both the personal and world-historical significance of such a deity.
Preteritic Memories

The risen lord has passed over me.
I have felt his shadow, like the cold, dark
shade of a vicious bird of prey, seeking
out those whom he elects, into whom he
can surely sink penetrating talons.

I am glad he has passed over, this
cruel angel of death, wings beating with
cool passion roused in that one
ancient of days, Yahweh, semitic god
before whose solemn name men trembled.

Was it the darkness I felt passed then,
when I shivered, or was it my fear;
and did I hesitate, to raise my eyes,
afraid of what it was might be above?
Look not upon the form of god, and live.

Pronoia has passed from the world,
never fully persuaded, anyway,
by the word -- and neither could the mighty
divine will work its mysterious way,
recusant matter refusing ideal form.

Utterly lost, but haunted by the past,
an illusion, a cosmos we could trust,
nostalgic for the order broken then,
we now construct unhidden purposes --
but find concrete transcendence has its cost.
Horace Jeffery Hodges
Copyright 1985


At 11:28 PM, Blogger James Brush said...

This is very haunting. I've read it several times since you posted it and I keep thinking about it. Thanks for sharing it.

At 12:55 AM, Blogger Macuquinas d' Oro said...

Nice poem, and thank you for reminding about the strange doctrine of preterition.
I think I share with your narrator a sense of utter incomprehension at the notion of a just and merciful God arbitrarily pre-selecting souls for damnation. That is for me a sure signature of a deity who is both cruel and incompetent. I think I could cope better with a doctrine of pretermission. At least a deity simply forget or fail to save could still be thought benevolent.

At 4:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome, James. I'm glad that you liked the poem.

Oudeis Oudamou, the first time that I heard the Calvinist doctrine of preterition, I was appalled. I find the views of Arminius (and Milton and Molina) much more palatable.

No doubt, I have Calvinist readers among those who visit this site, and I don't want to offend them, so let me add that I otherwise admire Calvin for his intellect, rigor, and discipline.

Jeffery Hodges

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