THROUGH A GAP
In The Great Hunger the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh described the intense limitation and misery of the lives of small farmers in Co. Monaghan in the 1940s. It is a picture of almost total darkness; they were enchained by narrow custom, by fear, ignorance and despair. Kavanagh himself is one of them, and nothing escapes him:
Watch him, watch him, that man on a hill whose spirit
Is a wet sack flapping about the knees of time.
Their life is dark and terrible, full of unspoken desolation… and yet:
Yet sometimes when the sun comes through a gap
These men know God the Father in a tree:
The Holy Spirit is the rising sap,
And Christ will be the green leaves that will come
At Easter from the sealed and guarded tomb.
Through a gap. Not panoramic vision, then. Not total exposure – nothing so bland. Not religion that stands in the way of religion – not the ready answer. Not textbooks of spirituality, “complete and definitive” (as one author wrote in his Introduction). But through a gap: a glimpse, a flicker of that second sight that is hope.
A gap in what? A gap in the usual arrangements. A gap in the polished surface of routine. A gap between carefully fitted thoughts. And he means a narrow gap, I think, because elsewhere he wrote, “Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.” Through a gap… when the defences are in ruins. Through a gap in the plans to build one’s life into a sealed and guarded tomb…. God grant us the uncommon gift of allowing gaps; through them can burst the surprise of Easter-faith. The sun shines briefly through, but we have no claim on it, no purchase; it is an unaccountable gift. Many have reprimanded us about ‘the god of the gaps’: when we want to use God to fill the gaps in our lives. But God, we know, doesn’t fill gaps; on the contrary, God shines through them. The light doesn’t fill in the window; you can build nothing on light. We always want to turn our God into a rock: Rock of Ages. Likewise when Jesus played on Peter’s name, promising to build on this “Rock”, we missed the joke. Peter, who spoke at one moment with the voice of God and the next moment with the voice of Satan (Mt 16), was the least rocklike of all the disciples; his virtue was not that. When we begin to take ourselves too heavily and seriously in the Church we should remember him. It is our insecurity that calls God a Rock. But God is light, a light that appears through the gaps, a light that is never trapped in our “complete and definitive” commentaries, “a light,” St Augustine said, “that no place can contain.”
From “Gaps and Glimpses,” Donagh O’Shea
Spirituality, July/August 1995
(Dominican Publications, Dublin)