The Third Renunciation by Matthew E. Henry is a collection of sonnets that presents the theological in a way in which the reader is made to ruminate on their own faith and understanding of the divine, the religious and the unknown. Centered on the exploration of evil, pain and the perceptions that we all hold that demarcate what these conceptions are personally. Henry’s sonnets make sustained use of metaphor both individually and between themselves where an overarching extended metaphor can be seen that begs the reader to ask themselves; “What truth do you hold and is it consistent?”
Perhaps one notion that stays with me the most upon reflecting on Henry’s latest collection is the idea that the divine has lasted throughout human existence. However, it may be that our conception of divinity must truly change for salvation to be found. On Earth or otherwise.
‘Say “what if?” is more dangerous than “why?”
that the ability to imagine,
to see all possible worlds collapsing
in two words—a black hole powered by doubt—
will be our undoing. if the knowledge
of good/evil rests in unpicked apples
long before our hands raise to answer “yes”
or “no,” nothing is inevitable….’ (Henry, 19)
Henry makes use of the dichotomy between good and evil which reminds me of the following John Cassian quote; ‘All lust and shift wanderings of heart are a sort of food for the soul, nourishing it on harmful meats but leaving it afterwards without a share of its heavenly bread and really solid food. If then, with all the powers we have, we abstain from these in a most holy fast our observance of the bodily fast will be both useful and profitable (Making Life a Prayer: Selected Writings)’. This quote emphasizes the control and restraint that is necessary to live well for oneself and for others. Not simply through rigidity but by making the right choices that often seem unattainable, unachievable or downright impossible in the face of ardent evil. I greatly appreciated Henry’s linkage to Cassian which only serves to elevate the already extremely unique nature of this poetry collection.
‘it’s not fair to take
the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
he hears their pastor argue the purpose—
the priority—of Jesus’ love.
if His mission were a role-playing game,
the gentiles were a side quest. sidestepping
the racial slur, their pastor focuses
on the woman knowing her place—great faith
allowing her to be in His presence’. (Henry, 46)
Henry takes aim at the hypocrisies present within Christian and other Abrahamic faiths in the most eloquent of manners. I say this as very few critiques that I have read, poetically or otherwise, ever present problems without the use of aggressive, violent and often discriminatory language. For this, Henry must be applauded. Henry places the reader, at the center of this narrative by highlighting the power of othering, the power of man-made control indoctrinated within conceptions of the divine. These must never be assumed to be divine will, but rather man-made distortions that detract from the ‘love’ that should be focused on. Henry challenges the notion that total submission equates to sacred following. Instead, Henry suggests that faith is found in true devotion not the enslavement of the mind to man’s folly; patriarchy and racism. Amongst other forms of discrimination.
‘Say agape is a suicide vest
inside the infidels’ mall. brass knuckles
clutched in a back pocket, ready to do
to him exactly what he did to her.
the smothered grenade blooming an apt chest
into a concave flower. Margaret
Garner slitting her Mary’s throat, stabbing
the other three. an old, secluded farm,
a half-dozen underfed sows, 40
pounds of lye, black plastic wrap, shovels, and
a ready alibi. offering her
bed, her body in place of her brother’s.
pulling whatever trolley-lever asked—
without condition or question—for love’. (Henry, 93)
Henry reflects on the nature of terrorism, murder and devotion and how the evil can become embedded in what some believe to be eternal devotion. This contrast affirms that what has become synonymous with the divine, is often the result of man-made maneuvers and contrived linkage that does more harm than good, more evil than truth.
The Third Renunciation is a collection of poetry that speaks to what it means to have faith and what it means to search for more than faith contorted by human, typically male ideological control that subjugates and maims and perpetuates evil. Perhaps it is in this realization that the reader must come to terms with their own faith and how they wish to ensure goodness triumphs over evil. Henry’s words are a pleasure to read and make you think beyond the mundane, beyond the pale of this transient existence. Buy this book!