The Christian Updike

Inan earlier thread on the death of John Updike, Joseph S. O'Leary directs our attention to "Seven Stanzas at Easter," a poem written very early in Updike's career. The poem is unambivalently Christian, and one wonders whether Updike could -- orwould -- have written it later in his career. Ambivalence about all things, but perhaps especially aboutreligion, was one of Updike's literary hallmarks. Nobody was better at evoking the texture of a complicated mood;and, like Whitman, he wasnot afraidof self-contradiction. Many of his later stories aboutfaith and the loss of faith could be read as fictive commentaries onMark 9:24 -- "Lord, I believe; helpthou mine unbelief."But this early poem reads more like a poetic commentary on Flannery O'Connor's famous line about the Eucharist: "If it's just a symbol, then to hell with it."SEVEN STANZAS AT EASTERMake no mistake: if He rose at allit was as His body;if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the moleculesreknit, the amino acids rekindle,the Church will fall.It was not as the flowers,each soft Spring recurrent;it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddledeyes of the eleven apostles;it was as His flesh: ours.The same hinged thumbs and toes,the same valved heartthat-pierced-died, withered, paused, and thenregathered out of enduring Mightnew strength to enclose.Let us not mock God with metaphor,analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;making of the event a parable, a sign painted in thefaded credulity of earlier ages:let us walk through the door.The stone is rolled back, not papier-mch,not a stone in a story,but the vast rock of materiality that in the slowgrinding of time will eclipse for each of usthe wide light of day.And if we will have an angel at the tomb,make it a real angel,weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linenspun on a definite loom.Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we areembarrassed by the miracle,and crushed by remonstrance.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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