Wednesday, November 13, 2019

November Elegy

Contrails, oil on panel, 12 x 16,  private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2012

     The last of the leaves are falling. Yellows and oranges recently splashed the hillsides; now they have smoldered into deeper reds, the embers of last decline, and many-fisted winter advances, promising blows. Tall grasses turn wan and fade. Their seeds fall.  Lord, You cover them over and number every resting place in the decomposing soil, the spirit abiding and awaiting water, light and osmotic warmth, when after months have passed, Advent and waiting, the Earth turns toward the sun again.
      O Lord, summer is ended, and You keep it hidden, but You will raise it up again when its time comes. Insects in their billions have withdrawn into burrows and hives, cocoons and piles of leaf litter, in places unknown to us. They crawl under the bark of a billion trees, into every crevice and knot, into the joints between the boards on the sides of a hundred million houses times twenty, between the sashes and the glass where putty has dried and crumbled, into warm interiors; You know them all, every single place there is. You traverse every pitched and fallen bit of debris, every crevice unseen, every gallery of space under the arc of a fallen, withered leaf. You can distinguish, in the mold and litter of the soil, where worms burrow deep to avoid the frost, what is the dry fragment of a disintegrated flower and what is the particle of a leaf stem broken multiple times under plodding feet, and whose feet they were, and where they were going, and what good or no-good they were up to.
     You sent the birds on their way, they are gone. Some will return, some never will. You know which will mate and nest, which nests will be robbed by crows or knocked down in target practice by boys, eggs shattered, hatchlings stranded on the ground, sport for cats. You know which will be food for hawks, which brought up short by exploding shot, which diving swallows will be smashed against windshields and which will pirouette aside just in time, pursuing the food You send them; you know which songbirds will end stuck with skewed feathers in the plastic grill going before some person rushing in pursuit of vanity, inches from a near-boiling radiator. You alone grieve completely and with full knowledge all of nature groaning under the consequences of the fall; our human will, our puny self-assertion, our highways and proud bridges, broken arches, roofless abbeys, bombed out cities and buried ruins. You know my seeking after the love and approval of other fallen creatures, my seeking to appear fit and capable before them, my secret approval of that falsity, my pride in despising the pride of others, my vanity in opposing their vanity. (For man it is impossible, but for You all things are possible.) You offer Yourself to us, but we prefer ourselves, the favor and consideration and glances of others. When such is withheld by us from each other – for often the heart of the lover is most beloved to itself – you remain faithful, for you cannot be otherwise. You are above and below, north and south, left and right; I squeeze my eyes shut, You are behind my eyelids, Your thumbprint is glowing.
Blaze, oil on panel, 11 x 14, private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2007
     I am at Your feet; I do not dare to raise my eyes. I hang between heaven and earth, on the cross of all the nothing which I dread, of every false aspiration and hope; everything I desired other than You blown away like fat cruising clouds on a summer afternoon, or the dissipating contrails of swift jets speeding high above the earth to…somewhere else, where I hope I will somehow no longer be what I am. You are complete and have already given me everything I could possibly offer back to You, none of which You need, in any case. You offer me yourself and I wail, “Not now (I am no saint)! Leave me Lord; you are I AM, but I am sinful.” I would rather have things go my way. I would rather possess vainly for a little while that home, that brief fortunate time, those loved ones, that embrace that was the sun of desire around which my life revolved but which is now extinguished. You know where that went too; You are the God of the living and not of the dead, and You are present to all, be they present to You, or not.
     You love me, whether I love you, or not. I am at Your feet; I do not dare to raise my eyes. “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!”
     You reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
     “Lord” I say, “I want to see.”
     You answer, “Do you want to see? Can you bear to see what I see? The millions and billions surging and groping; murder and fornication hand in hand, - every single incident of it, hurried, hidden and lied about. Children prostituted, every one of them and every moment of their lives. Lies propagated as if there will be no accounting for it. Whited sepulchers and the tombs of the prophets. ‘Where is God’ you say, as you stack abominations, ‘why doesn’t He stop me?’ Abandoned children, abandoned women, abandoned men. Ruined, raped and brutalized – whole families, communities, nations. You see just one or two by the roadside begging, and you avert your eyes because the sight makes you squirm. You continue along your way, following after your thief, while the Son of Man walks the road to Jerusalem. Can you bear to see what I see? Can you bear to love as I love?”
     Lord, the slave of all, You attend me; You lead me, Your cross goes before me; I am ashamed. You teach me by thorough ways. Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother. You discipline me and You bind my wounds. You leave silver for me with the innkeeper, and pledge to return and make good any debt. You give me viaticum. “Peter, son of Jerome, do you love Me?” You ask. “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.”

Repose, 12 x 16, oil on panel, private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2011

Some of the scripture passages referenced:
Psalm 139; Romans 8:22; Matthew 10:29; Matthew 19:26; Luke 20:28;  2 Timothy 2:13; Mark 12:27; Mark 10:47; Matthew 20:22; Luke 22:34; Psalm 42; Psalm 50:18; John 15:13; Hebrews 12:11; Luke 5:8; Matthew 20:18;  Psalm 136:25; Luke 10:25-37; John 21:15; 1 Kings 19:7; Matthew 15:14; Matthew 23: 27.