original response

counter love

“Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.”

My most recent reading of the book of Jonah yielded this gem, from Jonah’s fish-belly prayer. I’d never thought much about it before. But it comes to me now in the context of teaching Modern poetry, so much of which seems to be a cry for a love which — in the Modernist perspective — probably doesn’t exist.

There’s this, from Robert Frost’s poem “The Most of It”:
He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy-speech,
But counter-love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried . . . .

What [life] wants is not its own love back . . . but counter-love, original response. 

Steadfast love. Isn’t hunger for it born into us, part of the thing for which we, newborn, blindly wail? Isn’t it the thing for which we beg in a million ways all the days that we live?

In T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men,” he says that,
Waking alone
At the hour when we are

Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss 
Form prayers to broken stone.

Bereft of steadfast love, the lonely ones pay regard to idols: crying out to a stony cliff, praying to a broken stone.

We’re created to hope for steadfast love, and that hope is designed to be realized. The God who created us is “abounding in steadfast love,” and “he fulfills the desire of those who fear him.” With his own love he satisfies us and makes us able to love him. To turn from him to idols is to turn from all hope of the love we’re born to crave.

But those who fear him have no lack: fear the Lord, you his saints.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

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