Amen by R.S. Thomas
And God said: How do you know?
And I went out into the fields
At morning and it was true.
Nothing denied it, neither the bowed man
On his knees, nor the animals,
Nor the birds notched on the sky’s
Surface. His heart was broken
Far back, and the beasts yawned
Their boredom. Under the song
Of the larks, I heard the wheels turn
Rustily. But the scene held;
The cold landscape returned my stare;
There was no answer. Accept; accept.
And under the green capitals,
The molecules and the blood’s virus.
God issues a challenge to the poet by asking him, “How do you know?” God affirms the value and importance of questioning. God expects us to ask questions, to wrestle with them, to accept that he is not simple, and neither is our existence. In this poetic reflection on questions and ambiguity and acceptance, God himself provokes the questioning. He invites us to ask and search.
As the poet went out into the fields to search, I look around me at the world I live in. It is complex. The beautiful snowfall. The kiss of a child. The scent of a flower. The lark singing. The bleeding body on the city sidewalk. The slap of disdain. The smell of sickness in a hospital room. The hater’s scream.
It can be hard to see God, and yet there is nothing that denies him. He asks me to accept the complexity, the ambiguity, the paradoxes, the silence. To look courageously into the bleakness of the wheels turning rustily, into the boredom of daily toil, into the aging and bent bones. And thus looking, to accept that God is, God is within the world, God is with us.
No easy acceptance is this because the question is hard. God knows this. And as we accept, even acceptance with clenched fist and jaw, God accepts our doubting and stammering acceptance.
No cheerful poem is this, but a reminder that as we stare into life and life stares back, there is ultimately nothing that denies the question God prompts us to ask. How do you know?