fear of the unknown —
a delicious game God plays
— revealing Himself
more terrible in His good
aspect than in His evil

Pretty rubbish this poem I’m afraid. Written in a couple of minutes. It’s very rare I start with the title. Last night I dreamed of my stepmother’s mother who was the focus for my paranoia when it first kicked in, in 1979. I was maintaining an uneasy friendship with her in the dream. The poem derives clearly from my love of the mediaeval mystical theology of The Cloud of Unknowing:

If I may use a funny example, I would suggest that you do all you
can to cloak your great and ungoverned spiritual urge, as though you
were altogether unwilling that God should know how glad you
would be to see Him, to have Him, to feel Him. Perhaps you think
I am speaking childishly or playfully. Yet I believe that whoever had
the grace to put what I say into practice would have a lovely game
spiritually with Him, just as an earthly father does with his child,
hugging and kissing him.

The word ‘terrible’, used in this sense, as suggesting numinosity — the opposite of twee — was a favourite of my mother’s. It’s used in this sense in the fantasy novels both of Tolkien and C.S.Lewis. The spiritual life for her meant an encounter with that which is ‘terrible’ in us and in the divine. The word summed up (for me) her opposition to any kind of twee Christianity. But this value system was challenged to breaking point by my encounter with my stepmother’s mother, during the time I was living as a member of my stepmother’s family, just out of university. And it got to the point where I believed my stepmother’s mother knew telepathically what I was thinking about her, knew telepathically about the importance for me of this word ‘terrible’ — and by having that telepathic power, was proving that she herself in fact possessed that quality of terribleness. I am glad to be able to identify this kind of ideation as paranoid, now. But I still wonder what it was all about. Incidentally it was my mother who recommended The Cloud of Unknowing to me when I was 20. I loved it.


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