Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Avowal by Denise Levertov

As swimmers dare 

to lie face to the sky

and water bears them,

as hawks rest upon air

and air sustains them,

so would I learn to attain

free fall, and float

into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,

knowing no effort earns

that all-surrounding grace.

 Free fall/free grace.

Poet, Denise Levertov (this is not Levertov in free fall in the photo) was born in England to a Welsh mother and a Russian Hasidic father. Her father, who had emigrated to the UK from Leipzig, converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest. She moved to the United States in 1948, and in 1955 became an American citizen. By the time she died in 1997, Levertov had published nearly fifty volumes of poetry, prose, and translations. She taught at Brandeis, MIT, Tufts, Stanford, and the University of Washington. It was at Stanford, where she taught for 11 years (1982–1993) in the Stegner Fellowship program, and where her papers are now housed, that Levertov converted to Christianity at the age of sixty. After moving to Seattle in 1989, she joined the Catholic Church.

Such a history—spiritual diversity in the flesh.

To avow means to assert or confess and comes from the Latin root, advocare, to advocate or summon in defense. It has a legal ring to it. An avowal is like a vow. There is solemnity to an avowal, though it is far from joyless.

Still, vowing of any kind is hard, and solemn vowing even harder. It carries more weight than a commitment, unless of course someone else is committing you to a hospital because you are unable to manage life on your own.

When you are most sure you can do it on your own is usually when you are least able to do it on your own.  

The spirituality of an avowal to me means that I actively move toward something or someone. I move toward with all my mind, heart, soul and body. Avowal is a big fat wholistic deal, freely given and with no strings attached. Trust, even when there’s no reason to trust. Knowing that there is a future even when I can’t see one.

Most days I avow myself to my faith in Godde; and most days I disavow that pledge in a million foolish and ugly ways. Damn, I start again. My sins are not just forgiven, they are remitted, sent away for now, as in remission from cancer.  We are sinners in remission. 

Actually, I think that Godde is the only sweet Being capable of making a true avowal, an avowal toward all living things with sticktoitive power forever.  Divine avowal is called grace. Human avowal means embracing remission—again and again.