Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Power of Poetry #1 – Rilke’s “Neighbors”

Over the last year and a half I have begun to appreciate the power of poetry, the ability of words to create images, capture feelings, speak deep truths that go beyond the rational to the emotional and spiritual. Mostly I have been reading Ranier Marie Rilke, Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes and poems of former students. Here I share a poem that speaks to me about my relationship to God; it is called “Neighbors.”

You, God, who live next door:
If at times through the long night, I trouble you
with my urgent knocking ---
this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom
I know you’re all alone in that room.
If you should be thirsty, there’s no one
to get you a glass of water.
I wait listening, always. Just give me a sign!
I’m right here.

As it happens, the wall between us
is very thin. Why couldn’t a cry
from one of us
break it down? It would crumble
it would barely make a sound.
(Rilke, Book of Hours I, 6)

For a long time I have sensed that God is near but not talking to me. I am particularly taken by the thin wall the separates the neighbors, so much so that they can listen for each other’s breaths. Yet there is no sound, no communication, no acknowledgement of the One on the other side of the wall.

My faith has taught me God is near, God hears my cries and God cares for my deepest needs. God is my neighbor and in my neighbor, and yet like Rilke’s neighbor, God seems silent. Why don’t my cries break down the wall? I am listening for God, but hear only the faint sound of a breath. Is it God’s or is it mine?

I am not sure.

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