Why I still go to church


Why I still go to church
                        This moment
                Which doesn't drift away.
                                John Foulcher
                                'Why I go to church'

never for the flat parish choirs
sometimes for tea-towelled shepherds
and tinselled sleepy angels
possibly for the story of St Martin de Porres
who promised the rats he'd feed them
if they stopped annoying the prior
certainly not for the sermon that never asks
can Neanderthal men be saved?
can a single death two thousand years ago
redeem the hypothetical populations
of 55 Cancri's planets 41 light years away?
partly because even if no one is there
sometimes in the vaster spaces
of St Kit's, I feel a charged stillness
always because of the kneeling, the touch
of fingers on forehead, the taste of the host
the red, green, purple rhythms of seasons
wisdom of parables, music of psalms
now because of you kneeling
beside me, thumbing the scarred leather
of the little mass-book your grandmother
hid at the back of her Protestant linen-press
and perhaps because driving up Canberra Avenue
when the spire of St Stephen's briefly aligns
with the national flagpole soaring
like Lucifer above Parliament House, the Big Syringe
of modern communication on Black Mountain,
the stone steeple has human dimensions.
Sanjusangendo Temple
For Takayoshi Fujiki
east and south antipodes
intersecting near
the Greenwich Meridian
at the beginning of winter's long
wet days, she bumped into him
among the second-hand books
secular Buddhist, lapsed Catholic
entranced by Langland's
medieval certainties
though his Japanese schedule
took him away too soon
fast pace of other duties
time paused for an hour
she chose him books
they might one day
talk about together
irrelevant to schoolgirls in Toyono
and perhaps none of her business
she took him to the train station
without remembering
to show him Shelley's statue
twenty-four years later
arriving in Osaka wearing
his gift of a scarf as a sign
what will we say to each other
have I brought the right presents
why did I bring so much baggage

            Don't mind
he says, heaving my case
don't mind.
what will he give me to eat
am I staying too long
will he let me pay for the hotel?

No, he will not, but when he holds
my hand to say goodnight
our eyes are as certain as siblings.

this place taught me to take off my shoes
leave money at the gate
this word taught me to count
in Japanese — San-ju-san-gendo
thirty-three bays filled
with a thousand gilded Bodhisattvas
three thousand pairs of hands turned up
my heart turned upside-down
the smell of incense, the massive timbers
Buddhist prayers for my sea-dog dead father
my grandmother dying at one hundred and three
the wild rage of new-born infants
carved on the huge faces of armoured spirits
the calm flow of sacred characters
The Buddha is always there, but alas he never comes in sight.
At the soundless dawn, he dimly shows himself in our prayers.*

feet brushing through clouds
of pink-white-crimson-orange cosmos
your voice from the yellow metal seat behind
lifting up the slope, It is a dream!
further on foot, cool steep ascent
through dark pines, stone guardians
a crazy crone crying from her collapsed mouth
blessings or curses or requests — you never told me which
up to the mountain's crown, stone cistern, bamboo cups
water purifying hands and mouth
the thick rope of the gong in your hands, the clang
Shinto or Buddhist, I don't know, does it matter?
is the stranger allowed to place palms
together and bow in a moment's belonging?
when I take the unthinkable step you write
here in Japan your case is unthinkable
but also you are my everlasting friend.
*Ryojin Hisho, Kamakura Period. 

Charlotte ClutterbuckCharlotte Clutterbuck lives in Canberra and writes essays and poetry. Her collection of poems, Soundings, was published by Five Islands Press in 1997. She won the Romanos the Melodist Prize for religious poetry in 2002 and the David Campbell Prize in 2009.


Topic tags: new australian poems, Why I still go to church, foulcher, Charlotte Clutterbuck, Sanjusangendo Temple



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Existing comments

Thank you Charlotte for your truly spiritual poetry.

It is sad that the pedestrian ordinariness of Sunday Mass is never as spiritually invigorating as a visit to a Buddhist or Hindu temple with a guiding friend or a welcoming stranger.

Where did we lose it?

Ian Fraser | 02 March 2010  

We lost it because of the incompetence and carelessness - or worse - of those faceless men put in charge of the post-Vatican 2 liturgical changes who failed to fashion a holistic liturgy steeped in reverence, mystery and the sacred.

In the end, the first reason for going to Mass is to worship God the Father and offer him in the power of the Holy Spirit the greatest prayer of all, Christ's self-sacrifice on Mount Calvary.

Sylvester | 02 March 2010  

I have a question not related to the topic. Please forgive me.

How many of the Irish Bishops have actually relinquished office?

With kind regards.

Desmond O'Connor

Desmond O'Connor | 03 March 2010  

This is a wonderful poem. Thank you, Eureka St, and Charlotte Clutterbuck.

Dr Susan Reibel Moore | 03 March 2010  

As a gay man, I long ago shuffled off the dust of the Catholic Church, and found wisdom, and compassion in Buddhism. Thank you Charlotte...I loved your poems. I remember enough of my Catholic years to feel the "red, green and purple rhythms of seasons".

Douglas Clifford | 03 March 2010  

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