Roger Housden is the author of 17 books including the Ten Poem series. He is also featured as one of our Living Spiritual Teachers. In this rich and enlightening collection of 98 poems, he taps into the splendid work of Christian mystics stretching from the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of ancient times through the present-day wonder-filled verse of Mary Oliver.
Housden is a connoisseur of spiritual poetry, and he offers his erudite commentary on each poem in the collection. In the introduction, he notes that these mystics share "the language of silence beyond thought, of longing and ecstasy, of a wisdom that sees beyond the limitation of forms and beyond language itself." As one the signs of this interspiritual age, Housden points out that the popularity of two Sufi poets, Rumi and Hafez, has opened the door for the re-emergence and re-discovery of the many great mystic poets in the Christian tradition.
Saint John of the Cross is mystical Christian poet who was able to handle mystery:
"If a man
wishes to be sure
of the road he travels on,
he must close his eyes
and walk in the dark."
Housden remarks there is no certainty or knowing what is going to happen next: faith is a walk in the dark without any security. No wonder the mystics were considered outside of Christian orthodoxy for so long.
Love turns everything upside down as the 13th century Hadewijch of Antwerp puts it in "The Madness of Love":
"The madness of love
Is a blessed fate;
And if we understand this
We would seek no other:
It brings into unity
What was divided,
And this is the truth:
Bitterness it makes sweet,
It makes the stranger a neighbor,
And what was lowly it raises on high."
The image of light is prevalent in the Christian tradition and in the following verse by St. Francis of Assisi, "Wring Out My Clothes," it is given a stark and memorable image:
"Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get
And given the popularity of the subject, we were very impressed with Saint Catherine of Siena's "This Place of Abundance,"
"We know nothing until we know everything.
I have no object to defend
for all is of equal value
I cannot lose anything in this
place of abundance
If something my heart cherishes
is taken away,
I just say, 'Lord, what happened?'
And a hundred more appear."
There are many other poems in this collection to savor again and again Jean Pierre de Caussade on the glory of the present moment, Saint Paul on the bounty of love, Denise Levertov on true communion, W. H. Auden on the ways of the Christian adventure, Saint Symeon the New Theologian on forgetting oneself, Saint Teresa on acceptance of what happens to us, Saint Augustine on yearning for God, Saint Theophan the Recluse on attention of the heart as the starting point in prayer, Gerard Manley Hopkins on the blessings and beauties of nature, R. S. Thomas on the meaning of sacred stillness, Mechtild of Magdeburg on the Holy Spirit and love, and Mary Oliver on praying. Brief biographies of the poets are included in the index.