Mark S. Burrows // Jonathan Chan
Sofia M. Starnes // Elizabeth L. Fong
Theophilus Kwek // Leslie Williams
How much do we give of ourselves to others, to the larger world that surrounds us? In this giving, is there a genuine love for the other, as a reflection of our own deep and profound love for God?
The etymological roots of the word “charity” in Latin, Old English and Old French already depict the ideas of “affection”, “esteem”, “mercy”, “compassion” and “benevolence”. Within the Vulgate, we see charity understood as a translation of the Greek agape or “love”. According to St. Augustine, “charity is a virtue which, when our affections are perfectly ordered, unites us to God, for by it we love him.”
At the centre of Christian thought is the life of Jesus, a complete witness of sacrifice in the name of love. Even as he helms Singapore Kindness Movement, William Wan reminds us that “Jesus sat and ate with sinners”. Melvin Sico helps one contemplate what masters are served, what might “lend itself easily to charity”.
There are poems that speak of living through these difficult times, as seen in Leslie Williams’ “Wayside” and Theophilus Kwek’s “Psalm for a Pandemic”. As “God’s children”, Sofia M. Starnes’ poems ask us poignantly how do we “search for Good” even with “saints abiding, gleaming at the fence”?
One is reminded that scripture provides us real precepts for the love commandment, as stated in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
The universal ethic of love is very much tied to the continuous effort to advance peace in a world that seems terribly pained, fractured and despairing. In his book, Peacework, Henri Nouwen illuminates the beautiful connection between such efforts at unity and reconciliation with the eucharist and divine grace.
He writes: “The community of peacemaking is a Eucharistic community. The word ‘eucharist’ means gratitude. Wherever peacemakers speak and act, their words and actions announce the ‘good grace’ (eu = good, charis = grace) of God. Therefore the eucharist belongs to the center of the communal life of peacemakers. It is the event in which all peacemaking is summarized. A little piece of bread and a small cup of wine are taken and shared and Jesus’ words are spoken: ‘This is my body, this is my blood.’ Thus we take from the earth what sustains us and lift it up to him who makes it his own. Small, insignificant human gifts become God’s greatest gift, the gift of himself to all of us.”
What charity, then, do we afford the natural world, and the animals that inhabit our shared space? This love we find in Elizabeth L. Fong’s “Winter in the Lake District” and “St Francis’s Gates”. Another lawyer poet, Aaron Lee shares with us “Gardener’s Dilemma”. Lee even dips into a Hawaiian legend of the great flood, and transports us to North Shore, Oahu, concluding with the luminous lines: “Tell me again where home is, / where inhabit all the holy hours, / where someday you will find me.”
In Mark S. Burrows’ poem “At Last”, we read these lines: “Attending to each moment defines what / we know of rapture and the ways of art // and love….”
We encounter the same beautiful lyric brilliance in Jonathan Chan’s suite of poems. These works are breathtaking, how the opening “epistle” issues lines of great intent and purpose, themselves expressing how the anthology’s poems might be read as letters scattered across the world—“for,” as Chan writes, “love is in the poems that we give”.