Sometime in the mid-70’s, out on the Llyn Peninsula in northwestern Wales, looking out on the Irish Sea, an old Anglican priest, a fervid Welshman, sat quietly at his desk, pen in hand. The wind whistled loudly outside his heated cottage, and racing clouds threw moving shadows across its walls. R. S. Thomas, a well-known poet by that time, leaned over his page and wrote, “Are your heart’s coals kindled for God? . . . Who put that crease in your soul?”
We all have to answer that question. What is it, who is it that burns my heart?
As Macy’s now rings with the notes of “Santa, Baby,” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” it occurs to me to turn to Luke’s Gospel and purify my ears by reading aloud his account of the birth of Jesus. The act of reading is itself a commitment: a commitment to remind myself of who has, indeed, put a crease in my soul. It is this child. He will grow and speak wisdom and teach us how to love. And he will gain my lifelong allegiance. But as I read, I wonder about that first day in Bethlehem. A human child who had, somehow, known a bright eternity. What happened when earth’s minutes began for him?
THE FIRST DAY
In that moment
when You stepped onto our earth
was sound something new:
the bleating of sheep,
the soft swish of wind, a voice
that blanketed You with whispers
And did You see, for the first time, the sparkles
and colors of the night?
Did her face fill Your eyes?
When You felt the strength
that kept Your body warm,
did You turn in wonder?
Were You pleased
with the freshness of a word,
how shadows moved,
the sure ground they all stood on,
(the dense texture of wood)?
Did You smell the shepherds’ wool
and could You taste the evening?
Did You see a toy in a winging dove?
Was it all a great surprise?
You stretched Your hand to touch
and You found it good.
I think back to that scene in a blustery Wales. The Reverend R. S. Thomas, our old Anglican priest-poet, is sitting there in his cold cottage, and with cold fingers writes carefully his constant, unsettling question: “Who has put the crease in your soul?” Unsettling, because the answer will determine everything.