Lovesongs and Reproaches: Passionate conversations with God
L. William Countryman
Church Times Bookshop £9
WILLIAM COUNTRYMAN dares to fail as he tracks parallels of human and divine love through this collection of 50 poetic meditations. Seeking and communicating love through such “passionate conversations with God” invites risk.
Countryman acknowledges that we work through an inadequate vocabulary — humanity phrasing perceptions of the divine, balancing research with revelation. Halfway through his exploration he asks: “How can we speak of you at all In human language?”
Even his chosen medium threatens failure:
Poetry is least adequate
to the task because its weaknesses are so palpable.
So he renegotiates through the given: “the closest thing to your mystery Is our own.”
The natural world awards metaphors of identity, such as the “fires of leaf-fall”; yet “we know you Above all in one another.” And there are persistent disclosures by
the author of those love notes
that keep coming to us with no return address.
Such intimacy awards a balance to the ambition of this book, which reflects the biblical journey. Themes include creation, the emergence of monotheism, prophecy and discern-ment, and God’s initiatives:
Or perhaps you reached towards us.
Who can ever tell
how a friendship began?
Who first saw whom and loved?
Countryman writes with a novelist’s disclosure and a poet’s insight to illustrate the development of a majestic redeemer from a “two-bit desert god”. His poetic agenda is comprehensive, including Hebraic concepts of a “chosen people”, free will, and the person of Christ, in this rich and absorbing collection.
Above all, there is the constant refrain of divine friendship: “you do not compel But you keep offering the hand.”
This book would prove a stimulating retreat companion, and a poetic prayer resource. It ends in elegy, mourning our abused world, yet still holding out the hand of hope:
What if it’s autumn? You
don’t stop working.
Dr Halsall is communications adviser to the Blackburn diocese, and poetry editor of Third Way magazine.