Sometimes a man rises from the supper table
and goes outside. And he keeps on going
because somewhere to the east there’s a church.
His children bless his name as if he were dead.
Another man stays at home until he dies,
stays with plates and glasses.
So then it is his children who go out
into the world, seeking the church that he forgot.
(This poem had seriously haunted me for years. I knew which of these men my father was, and was well acquainted with the role I play in this cycle; it made me wonder if I could ever stand to stay home and be a stable domestic presence to my beloved daughter. Not too long ago though, it dawned on me that the church to the east is a metaphor for a place within us –otherwise, it wouldn’t be all that different than a home with plates and glasses. That was a big relief 🙂
I reprinted Rilke’s poem mostly for that reason, because it is one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing, and because it speaks well to an idea I tried to convey in Part 4 of “Metatheology,” just a lot less poetically.