Mark Greene, Director of LICC, enjoys fresh perspectives on Christmas.
She made me laugh, she made me wonder, she made me pause, lament, think again… She helped me see afresh what it all might have been like… a girl, (with ‘a reasonable query’) an angel (‘one of the specials’), a fiancé (‘on the edge of trust’). Indeed, Rosemary Hector’s effervescent collection about the Christmas story brings to this much-pondered theme, a diversity of approach and form and length that continues to surprise and engage from first poem to last.
Compellingly she makes the connections between this historic event and its abiding significance for us today, and for those who follow us. In this, she does not only succeed in bringing the personal perspective – the puzzling and wondering and responses of the people caught up in the original events – but pulls the lens back to the state of the nation in our own times.. She cries for her country, taking up Isaiah’s lament, and finding in the fulfilment of his prophecy continuing hope not just for herself, or for individuals but for ‘us’.
Part of Hector’s skill is to blend psychological and theological astuteness with an imagination that digs deep into the very physicality of the people in the story. She gives us ‘whiskery’ prophets and Elizabeth’s morning sickness ‘dry retch at the well’. She’s imagining how it all happened, not questioning if it did. This determined pursuit to bring the story to life leads her to seek to strip away the images that have perhaps had too strong a hold on our imaginations. So, in The Annunciation she takes us past the rich, symbolic details of Fra Angelico and Leonardo’s paintings, discarding them one by one, to get to the core of Mary’s encounter with Gabriel.
The same capacity to take us inside the story is the hallmark of the character monologues that pepper the collection – a shepherd, Anna, Simeon. Here we see how they seek to grasp what they have witnessed through the particularity of the kind of lives thye might have lived in first century Israel. So, A Shepherd Reflects begins:
“We were scorned: for our rough dry bread,
The fact that we didn’t know what to do with fish,
For the cloaks that spoke our business – sheep.”
And the old prophet Anna, who had spent her life dealing with small things, wonders at the privilege given her to know ‘the largest vision ever’.
Alongside the character monologues, there are also reflections from her own point of view, quiet, matter of fact, but rich with the fruit of her reading of biblical scholars, and, in the end, leading us to discover, as if at the same time the insight she has uncovered. In Art, she wonders:
‘Did He come down to be mocked up
in plaster of Paris, or pale wood
painted with vermilion wounds
paraded through streets each fiesta?
The questions continue expecting the answer ‘No’. But Hector gives us a ‘Yes’, a resounding affirmation of all our ‘poor attempts to represent what we sense’, and implicitly a resounding ‘yes’ to all our attempts, whether we are artists or not, to offer our lives in gratitude for all He has done. Hector concludes:
‘He came down and has compassion
on our worst art, and our best.’
It’s a glorious grasp of the kindness of Jesus. And just how astonishing it is, and how quickening of heart and mind and spirit that it should be so.
And that is where Hector’s collection left me – quickened.
And then I read it again. And again.
I suspect you’ll want to as well.
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