The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Thank God for Strife

Sometimes, inundated as we are by all the craziness and violence, all the strife of the world, we can be tempted to question whether God is paying attention to His creation. But such thinking is deeply heretical and simply echoes the beliefs of the deists that God is a kind of eternal, cosmic watchmaker who makes the watch, winds it up, and then just sits back and watches it run for good or ill. God, of course, is nothing like that. He is the God who creates out of love, the God who enters into His creation and into the lives of those He loves, and does so to the extreme. No divine "watchmaker," no indifferent God would send His Son into the world to be killed by those He created in a divine act of redemption. No, indeed, our loving God does the unthinkable.

Anyway, this all crossed my mind this morning after Mass as I stood at the copying machine in the parish office waiting for some of my course materials to be copied. (I do some of my more serious thinking while standing around waiting for things.) As I waited my cellphone buzzed, alerting me to a news flash. Apparently a shooting in nearby Orlando had resulted in several fatalities. I said a quiet prayer for those who had died and then oddly found myself offering a prayer of thanksgiving.

Kilmer in Uniform
I wasn't sure why I was thanking God for strife and mayhem, but then recalled a poem I had read a few weeks ago. It was written by Joyce Kilmer, an American poet killed by a sniper's bullet during the Battle of the Marne in World War One. The father of five, he was only 31 years old.

Most people remember Kilmer because of his most famous poem, "Trees," which you might have been forced to memorize in 8th grade as I was. (Thanks to the late, great Sister Francis Jane, O.P. for that.)

In my library I have a two-volume edition of Kilmer's Poems, Essays and Letters that I occasionally open. My liking for him probably relates to the fact that he lived for a time in my hometown of Larchmont, NY and attended the same church my family attended -- St. Augustine Parish. The poem in question is appropriately titled, "Thanksgiving":

By Joyce Kilmer

The roar of the world in my ears.
                Thank God for the roar of the world!
          Thank God for the mighty tide of fears
  Against me always hurled!

                     Thank God for the bitter and ceaseless strife,
                    And the sting of His chastening rod!
                      Thank God for the stress and the pain of life,
        And Oh, thank God for God!

Yes, indeed, we, not God, are responsible for all the strife in the world, and it is only by His grace that we continue. And for this, and even for the "sting of His chastening rod," we can thank God.

The critics never cared much for Joyce Kilmer's work. Most considered his poetry too simple and far too religious. These, as you might imagine, are the very traits I find most enjoyable in his poems.

Apparently, however, the leadership at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority disagree with the critics and, like me, enjoy Kilmer's work. As you travel north on the turnpike, you will encounter the "Joyce Kilmer Service Area" where you can stop for high-priced gasoline and even higher-priced fast food. I consider it a mandatory stop, a waypoint on a minor pilgrimage of sorts, and buy milkshakes for Dear Diane and me.

One can only hope the poet would be amused, if not altogether pleased.

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