Matter Inanimate Must Now Relinquish Itself

Although the diocese in which I grew up still celebrates “Ascension Thursday,” today is the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord in much of the United States.

I’ve prayed many times with the various accounts of Jesus’ ascension, often using Ignatian Contemplation to do so. As a result, I perked up when I read Denise Levertov describe her poem Ascension as an Ignatian effort.

In an interview in which she was asked to explain what she meant, she said that although she wrote the poem before she did the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, she was struck by how much of what St. Ignatius recommended resembles what a poet does. In Ascension, “I try to imagine what such and such an experience was to that person I’m writing about: it’s a matter of getting inside the person and the experience. But in “Ascension” it’s not about any ordinary historical figure and so it is more of a religious exercise, to try to make clear to oneself what might have been going on inside Jesus Christ the individual.”

For your reflection on this Feast of the Ascension, here is Levertov’s poem:

Stretching Himself as if again,
through downpress of dust
upward, soil giving way
to the thread of white, that reaches
for daylight, to open as green
leaf that it is…
Can Ascension
not have been
arduous, almost,
as the return
from Sheol, and
back through the tomb
into breath?
Matter reanimate
now must relinquish
itself, its
human cells,
molecules, five
senses, linear
vision endured
as Man –
the sole
all-encompassing gaze.
Eye of Eternity.
relinquished, earth’s
broken Eden.
Expulsion,
liberation,
last
self-enjoined task
of Incarnation.
He again
Fathering Himself.
Seed-case
splitting.
He again
Mothering His birth:
torture and bliss.

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