Reflection on R S Thomas - Revd Lorna Allies
Barry Morgan’s book ‘Strangely Orthodox – R. S. Thomas and his Poetry of Faith’
This Lent I suggested a book that we might read and get together to talk about. The day that we were due to meet and talk about this book for Lent was 4 April 2020, but so much has changed and there will be no gathering together. Instead I have written this reflection which I hope will tell you something about why I chose this book. It is no surprise to me that it also relates to the global tragedy which has opened up before us and is swirling about us as we try and come to terms with Covid-19.
The book is written by Barry Morgan who, when he wrote it, was Archbishop of Wales. Revd. Morgan says, at the beginning of his book, that the strength of Thomas’s poetry is his sheer honesty in facing the difficulties that believing in God can entail and that Thomas was never satisfied with glib, easy answers to complicated questions of faith. We learn that Thomas’s life was a perpetual striving to find meaning amongst the uncertainties of the modern world.
There are moments of great joy in Thomas’s poems as his love of creation and our beautiful world is revealed, sometimes in just a flash of words, like light spotted moving and bright on dark water. And other poems seem bleak and uncertain and sad. What is remarkable, and the reason I chose a book about this poet, is that, in striving to find meaning Thomas, through and in his poetry, has been able to give meaning and a renewed and strengthened faith to so many people. His poem, ‘The Absence’ tells the reader much about Thomas and the underlying faith that held him in place.
R. S. Thomas was seen as aloof and unfeeling but he was a kind and vulnerable clergyman. He was also an incredibly gifted poet who won several awards and published over twenty books. It is in his writing and within his verses that, as you read, you begin to join him in his questioning and you begin to get to know more about yourself and about your own faith. It is as if Thomas gently prods and pushes you to think more deeply about what you believe, why you believe and how you believe. As he opens himself to his reader you feel a fellowship with him and, in accepting that, perhaps learn even more about yourself.
In the midst of this pandemic and lock down we are all learning more about ourselves. Suddenly thrown into completely different circumstances, it is difficult not to confront oneself and notice how well you are coping or not coping and, perhaps, reflecting more about where God is in your life and how much you trust Him.
From the book, I have chosen a scrap of Thomas’s poetry which I find most comforting – especially today:
‘…. Walking time’s sea I have faltered like Peter, unable to believe you had arms to sustain me’
Revd Lorna Allies, Assistant Priest, St. Peter Mancroft.