Wednesday, May 23, 2007

holy rocks

The more I read the poetry and writings of Bob Lax, the more I am pulled into the magic of a mysterious and joyful storyteller. Lax is always cued into the underlying song of the world, the light behind the sky, the peculiarity and specificity of the details.

This is one of my favorite passages from Lax’s “Patmos Diary”. It is St. Thomas day (October 6, 1969 – the year after Merton’s death) and Lax is telling of the happenings on the island (a woman had missed the boat and was crying) when he runs into his old friend “siderako”, an 88 year old farmer who is going to the small church (St. Thomas) on the other side of the bay to celebrate St. Thomas Day (would Merton be there?) Lax has a hard time keeping up with him as they walk along …

sometimes a scene, like the (sea-scape) from the road, is more alive and speaks more clearly than the imagination.

it speaks of amazing order and purpose.

islands set out with care & grace (as though for a tea ceremony).

rocks scattered helter-skelter on the hillside, as though after an explosion, as though after an apocalypse: yet each one “perfect” in its place.

a road that leads and bends, bends and runs straight in “just the right places.”

(in just the right places.)

on days when nothing seems right in the world, the island landscape does. patmos does for patmos (& kalymonos for itself).

but patmos rocks are magical, mystical, holy.

the only ones like them I’ve ever seen, and they are only related in spirit, are those around avila.

they are rocks that stand and speak like elders.

some that rise from the sea are clenched like fists.

the rocks look like a person who has “suffered” a great revelation

like a prophet
after the spirit
has set him

even the brambles that grow from them, seem to be part, an essential part, of their visage

when I am alone on the road with the rocks, the whole world falls away, and I am alone & “contained” in a familiar place.

the color of the rocks is the color of fire (the color of pomegranates)

if a rock by the roadside is shaped for sitting, it is well-shaped for sitting (& well-placed, too, for meditation)

the rocks at patmos are vertical rocks; and the hill at patmos rises high

the holiness of patmos is priestly, prophetic, ecclesiastical holiness

the “holiness” of kalymnos is the holiness of life, of a city that is willing to live and willing to die: of one that praises its creator much as a fire does (by consuming itself in flame).

-Robert Lax, "Love Had A Compass", from the Patmos Diary, pp. 232, 233


  1. Talk of fire consuming itself in flame took me back to Don Cupitt who writes ‘The sun sees no reason at all to apologise for making such an exhibition of itself all the time; it simply is its own outpouring self-expression.’ The sun also perfectly exemplifies the integrated state of both life and death. In its giving to our solar system it is at the same time dying and this activity, ‘is purely and only affirmative’. The sun is pure act!

  2. yep :-) Thanks for the Cupitt quote.

  3. I read that poem and thought of John the Evangelist, who, late in life, had the visions he translated into the Apocalypse on the isle of Patmos. He, too, was struck with fire and was consumed. I recall a homily once in which the priest commented on John's Epistles, how he (John) in his old age wasd "reduced" to babbling on and on about love.

  4. Someone (you?) said somewhere that when they went to Patmos they went to the cave where John supposedly wrote the apocalypse, and that there were indentations in the rock where john had slept, and where he had written. Or perhaps that was the tourist guide's spin on things.

    Regardless, I don't necessarily think that spiritual enlightenment/ecstacy (whatever) is synonymous with incoherence (though it could be). But John must've been an interesting disciple - "the one Jesus loved". To me that sounds like a sensitive soul.

    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Barbara.


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