“When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York
but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.”
– John Updike
John Updike, a prolific American writer and Pulitzer Prize winner, died today of lung cancer at 76. He was an author I had read only in others’ works. The last mention of him in my recollection was of a critic singing praises for Updike’s insight into the pathos and problems surrounding suburbia and the human condition as seen primarily in the books dealing with his well-known character Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. I remember saying to myself how I needed to read Updike not read about him.
A blog I frequent posted a poem today by Updike in honor of his work. It is about Christ addressing those who, likely of a more liberal strain, want to demystify and demythologize Jesus. In my opinion, it is both beautiful and brilliant. Updike takes his poetic stand upon the field of Christ’s Resurrection in the poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter”:
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
HT: Justin Taylor’s Between Two Worlds