Monday, December 10, 2012

The Sunrise Liturgy: A Poem Sequence By Mia Anderson

The Sunrise Liturgy

A Poem Sequence

By Mia Anderson

WIPF and STOCK Publishers

Eugene, Oregon

ISBN: 13:978-1-62032-016-7

92 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

A river runs through this book, a river of voices summoning the son of Man, and singing the sunrise into being over and over again. Every iteration occurs as a unique phenomenon and confirms one last time the grandeur of God. The concept of resurrection is never far from the text. The author/poet, Mia Anderson, is an Anglican priest based in Quebec Canada, her river is the St. Lawrence and her poetry reflects a liturgical performance. Her mission appears to be nothing less than the uniting of pagan natural rituals with the sacerdotal rites practiced in her Christian religion. The cadences of these virtual psalms soar lovingly and perceptively over her heretical images. Yes pantheism does harken back to Francis of Assisi and his Canticle to the Sun—but he, being a saint, gets away with heresy. Well, apparently so does Anderson. In fact one of her blurbs is signed by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. So I guess that seals the deal. I’m glad of it! Besides, saints and poets alone can merge symbols and reconstruct moldy religious doctrines into an inspiring faith-based reality, which not only renews the religion but taps its very essence. Again religion becomes a force for good (for a change) and, dare I say, godliness. And Anderson is certainly that type of poet that can pull it off. What Anderson says of Charles Wesley could easily apply to her,

… Brother Sun leaping like a Lord

the sun of righteousness arising


that Charles Wesley could sing!

As part of her poetic liturgy Anderson puzzles over and praises the trait of altruism embedded into human psychology. She chooses Darwinian imagery to make her point. In the poem Mixed Message Anderson says,

As a race, we have a pretty clear notion of where

one skin stops and another begins. We’re good at boundaries.

We could push the chick from the nest—we’re

the favoured chick.

My pain is not yours, and vice versa.

At least we live as if that’s what we thought.

But the pelican of Christology and legend, that’s

a horse of another feather

Someone called it

‘absolute donation.’

The poem Riverbreath transforms the St. Lawrence into a Cloud of Unknowing (the name refers to a fourteenth century mystical prayer of meditation) by giving a riveting description of an early morning fog bank over the river and its mystical implications. Here is one section of the poem,

The riverbreath had begun to precipitate out at first on the

topmost branches

the fingers in this still dance

fitting the tips before lightfall with gloves as light as breath

divinable if doubtable;

but now

while the sun’s own foghorn oooood its retinal signal of potential

to our intimations of sunrise and

the Imminence

began to burnish the backside of the grey,

the mist


feathered the fingers further with fur, rime no longer doubtable

no less than

visible and risible now…

You get the idea. The mist is a Baptism of sorts and out of it comes rebirth—another sunrise. These sunrises become the focus of the poet’s liturgy. Like anything else, too much of one thing can be destructive, but even self-destruction can steel the soul in preparation for eternity. Anderson in her poem entitled People Who Live puts it this way,

…the skin

begins its melanomic countdown.

Our days are numbered in suns and spots. Its’s skin and sun

all the way, till death us do part.

This light we die of

it offers us a dying into more light.

Is that the Way, the Truth and by the way the Death?

In a strange but interesting piece called Aubades Anderson lauds the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell for his obsessive devotional observations (for lack of a better word). She says,


I read

Bertrand Russell

never didn’t see a sunrise

so he said.

He lived long.

Aubades are health in song.

What about you,

what about me?

How many did we miss, did we see

on this short span we ran…

In an earlier poem Anderson explains the allure of these momentary dawns that reoccur—each time a little different to touch our chords with wonder and awe. Here are the opening stanzas of Lent I: In The Blink,

It’s a secret, sunrise.

You thought it was self-evident. You stood before it

seeing the light break, what’s to wonder?

But broken!—how?

‘In the twinkling of an eye’ he’d said

stammering the mystery

that will out.

Here’s for all beginnings.

Again. Do we suffer to see change?—even

‘something rich and strange.’ Och! Shreds of runes.

Was that you who winked?

Teasing lines like those above may seem a bit un-priestly, but to me they are playfully infectious. Perhaps that is what religion needs these days to get us inside that Cloud of Unknowing, that central mystery that many of our species long to understand. Amen.

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