I’ve been thinking about a line from the poem “Death Shall Have No Dominion,” by Dylan Thomas. First of all, my sense of the absurd is tickled by its presence on a site called “Funeral Helper,” where it is listed as a “popular non-religious funeral poem.” Do people at funerals actually want to hear this poem? It’s not entirely comforting. Its language is properly Biblical (which seems problematic enough for the “non-religious” set) but becomes so bleak and at times grotesque that it seems unlikely to make anyone feel better. Unless “Twisting on racks when sinews give way” is an image that warms your cockles, in which case you probably liked Fifty Shades of whatever way more than I did.
On the plus side, it’s at least honest about torture being a sucky way to die.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering what “cockles” means, which I did, Google tells me they are either the ventricles of your heart, from the root word “cochlea,” which said ventricles resemble, or a shellfish that tastes delicious boiled and with a dash of white wine vinegar.
Also, they’re alive, alive o.
A bit of family lore: My husband wanted to name our son Dylan Thomas, but I objected to naming him after a hard-drinking, soul-tortured poet, however beautiful the lines he composed. Wouldn’t that be asking for trouble? So we struck that name off our list. Then, we accidentally gave him the name of a famous comedian. Which is totally fine, because most comedians are well-adjusted teetotalers, right?
But getting back to the poem, the line sticking in my head is this: “Faith in their hands shall snap in two.” It’s stuck because it’s set up echoes in my head with a passage in a book called Interior Freedom, which was written by a member of a Carmelite community with the perfectly perfect French name of Jacques Phillipe.
Desire can only be strong is what is desired is perceived as accessible, possible . . . We cannot effectively want something if we have the sense that “we’ll never make it” . . . [But] Through hope, we know we can confidently expect everything from God . . . But for hope to be a real force in our lives, it needs a solid foundation, a bedrock of truth. That solid foundation is given by faith: we can “hope against hope” because “we know whom we have believed.” Faith makes us cling firmly to the truth handed on by Scripture, which tells us of the goodness of God, his mercy, and his absolute faithfulness to his promises” (105).”
I can’t set my heart on something I don’t believe is possible – whether that something is a fulfilling relationship, a satisfying job, a dream home, a reconciliation with someone I care about. If I don’t believe those things will happen ever, not in a million years, then why waste time hoping? But the converse is this: Faith provides us with the assurance that we need in order to hold out hope, even in difficult circumstances. It’s not faith in any thing, but faith in a person – in God who is good and always keeps his promises. In Jesus who is the living embodiment of love, truth, and unfailing mercy towards us. Faith, as it says in Hebrews 11:1 “shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”
That’s why, when we are standing before the Risen Christ and death has been defeated once and for all, we will have no need for faith. We will have all the evidence we need, right before our eyes, that God has been making all things new, all along. The reality of everything we have hoped for will have come to pass. Faith, which has sustained us through all our years, will be obsolete, as unnecessary as a childhood blankie long loved but outgrown.
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
On that day, death will have no dominion. All of our longings will be met in the person of Christ whose body was broken for us, then made whole so that we, too, can be whole. And faith in his hands shall snap in two.