His Area Occupied by the Unhaloed Presences

I don't know how much you pondered the poem "Suddenly" by R.S. Thomas I posted last week. I've been mulling over an image in the poem and wanted to share that. First, the entire poem once again:
"Suddenly" by R.S. Thomas

As I had always known
he would come, unannounced,
remarkable merely for the absence
of clamour. So truth must appear
to the thinker; so, at a stage
of the experiment, the answer
must quietly emerge. I looked
at him, not with the eye
only, but with the whole
of my being, overflowing with
him as a chalice would
with the sea. Yet was he
no more there than before,
his area occupied
by the unhaloed presences.
You could put your hand
in him without consciousness
of his wounds. The gamblers
at the foot of the unnoticed
cross went on with
their dicing; yet the invisible
garment for which they played
was no longer at stake, but worn
by him in this risen existence.
Before getting to the image I want to share, there is so much worth contemplating in the opening lines. Christ comes to us "unannounced," without a big blast of fanfare, "remarkable merely for the absence of clamour." The image from Isaiah 53 comes to mind: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." 

And then how the truth of Christ "must quietly emerge" like a scientist doing an experiment, a dawning of realization, clarity, and insight. 

And then seeing Christ not with "the eye only," but "the whole of my being." The image of Christ filling us to overflowing "as a chalice would with the sea."

Then the imagery turns to the crucifixion scene, to the lines I've been mulling over:
Yet was he
no more there than before,
his area occupied
by the unhaloed presences.
What might these lines suggest?

My mind went to those many posts I've shared on this blog about God's "non-competitive" relation to creation. Specifically, because God is so radically transcendent, ontologically different from created existence, God can come radically close to creation. God doesn't compete for space, pushing and shoving to find a location for Himself among the furniture of the world. 

In light of that, back to Thomas' poem. Creation is a "chalice," a container that Christ fills to "overflowing." And yet, when Christ fills creation he is "no more there than before." I take this to mean that Christ's "filling" does not make him supersized or superdense. Because if Christ's filling were a filling of space, we'd all be pushed aside as Christ occupied more and more territory. So, Christ "fills" but is "no more there" than before. 

Instead what we find is that the "area" of Christ is "occupied." Christ's "filling" isn't displacing but incorporating and including. Christ's filling doesn't nudge us aside. Rather, we are included in his own space. And most radically of all, Christ's space is occupied by "unhaloed presences." Christ's space includes and encompasses sinners. 

And isn't that a beautiful image of grace? His area occupied by the unhaloed presences.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply