Karen An-hwei Lee // Martin M. Macasaet
Andrew Lansdown // Phan Ming Yen
Gerard Smyth // Noelle Q. de Jesus
Look at Mother Mary, front and centre, holding the stage. Her demeanour is calm and confident, her presence sublime. This is Pentecost, the 1732 painting by Jean Restout II. A significant feast day within the liturgical year, Pentecost marks the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mother Mary and the twelve apostles. It happened ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, fifty days after the resurrection.
In “Tongues of Fire”, Catholic priest Martin M. Macasaet dips into the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-13) to comment on the “role of the youth”, “the language of youth”: “It’s all meant to renew the face of the earth / And that of the Church therein”.
What has Church looked like to us through the ages, through the generations and centuries? For instance, in our urban trappings, how may we find places to worship, and how do our cherished places of worship situate themselves in contemporary times? Ann Ang explores these notions in “The Convent” and “Keppel Port”. We are quaintly taken into childhood memory with Rose Adams’ “Sunrise in the Basement of the Atlantic Christian Training Centre”.
In his poem, “Zuihō-in Zen Temple, Kyoto”, Andrew Lansdown unveils the “Mary statue / hidden for fear of the Shogun / underneath a stone lantern”. In the same manner, Phan Ming Yen explores the history of Christian persecution in “Silence”, a homage to Shusaku Endo. We see “the cool of the Virgin’s smile”, even at poem’s end when Phan asks: “Is what He is asking for / this body of lost confessions looking for the sun?”
For Marjorie Maddox’s “Genealogy”, Mother Mary is “Mother of All Living”, even as she writes of “the Mother’s devastated heart” in “The Five Sorrowful Mysteries”. Mother Teresa appears in the poem “Cracks”, while in “Full of Grace”, Maddox communicates to Mother Mary that “your Magnificat soothes / our mournings, / cradles a world sad / with its own un-doing”.
With the esteemed Gerard Smyth, we gain a sense of what being God’s poet might look like, through the beloved Spanish mystics John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila. In an ekphrastic poem, Smyth describes Caravaggio’s Christ depiction as something akin to “a rebel Jesus, an agitator”. Counterpointing that is the tenderness of “the seated Madonna” of “Pietà”, found in the Church of St Nicholas of Myra, Dublin. Smyth writes: “She is not weeping because her weeping is done. / Her expression is one of mother-love….” We get another Mary in the poem “Mary and Martha”, a reminder of how we might construe our relationship with Christ—as “one living in the moment with no regrets”, or “the other speaking only in the past tense”?
With candour in her poem “The Age of Resurrection”, Karen An-hwei Lee reflects on her own life station of middle age, “in comparison to this city-island state, or this / archipelago nation, five hundred years of blood / long after the resurrection of Christ, anno Domini”. It is a moment where nature offers such reprieve—“the cicadas / arise with a longing in the early summer”.
How we only know the depth of our anguish and blessedness through deep moments of contemplation. Noelle Q. de Jesus offers up her poems, “In the Dark” and “Reciprocity”, like small prayers. In crystalline language, Angeline Yap provides us that pensive sense through her long poem of nine installments: “to learn to pray // to become like water / and to let him pour you out // to break the alabaster of the heart / and let your love anoint / his head, his hands, his feet…. into awe / into prayer // … // into silence”. In Edwin Thumboo’s “Jonathan before Gilboa”, we hear that similar desire for peace: “I yearn for still / Waters and that perfect Garden walk at Eventide. Sela.”
What images might poets choose to employ in their lyric, to speak of bliss and transcendence? Thumboo offers up these lines: “Keep it true, as we contextualise, // According to our world, our images, / Concerted by the power of Your grace, / My Christ. Faith spread as the Jordan Dove / Soared, and flew, through time and space.” As with biblical stories “much retold, in song, in art”, Thumboo relates the life story of the great missionary St. Francis Xavier, traveling as far as “Ceylon, then Mylapore… Malacca, Maluku, Ambon, Ternate, up to Japan”. The same odic lyric rings its recognition clear in the poem “Brother Joseph McNally”.
In his book, The People Wish to See Jesus, Pope Francis speaks of education as a shared commitment. He goes on to explicate the “gift of the word, a gift that requires many things on our part: responsibility, creativity, consistency”: “The human word takes on such relevance when it becomes a dialogue with God himself, makes us great in our smallness, makes us free in front of any power because it makes habitual our dealings with him who is most able, who develops in us a special sense that at once broadens our horizons, dazzles us, and is in love with us. This cherished possibility to pray is a right that every child, every young person, can exercise. And then, what happens if we pray, if we teach our children and young people to pray?.... Are we asking for miracles? And why not?”