Hope through pandemic and resurrection
Review of 'Wild Hope: Prayers and Poems' by John Terpstra.
Hamilton, Ontario poet John Terpstra is also a cabinet maker. Correspondingly, his writing hovers over themes of spirit and place. In Wild Hope Terpstra offers a sequel to In the Company of All: Prayers from Sunday Mornings at St. Cuthbert’s. There Terpstra concisely expressed that small congregation’s embodied spiritual desires, praises and hopes. With personal names removed, both volumes record spiritual and material themes particular and universal.
All congregations suffer illnesses. Beyond local maladies, hurricanes devastate; COVID spreads; children lie in cages. “The Kind of World We Live in” opens this collection, reminding us of such events, past and present. Repeating that verse twice, Terpstra stuffs the poem’s agonies into a metaphorical backpack borne on an elemental Lenten wilderness trek. As the pilgrim plods on, nourished by “roots and berries,” the burden lightens, until only “wild hope” remains as the tone for the prayers and poems limning that thin space between worlds.
Thus, in Palm Sunday’s “Donkey People Prayer,” runners meet agony and ecstasy in the Hamilton Marathon, while worshipers’ prayers celebrate that day’s joy. Thus we anticipate Good Friday’s agony – a long-distance journey, if ever there was.
“A Prayer That Everyone Should Be So Lucky” offers ambivalent thanks for Western plenty – or excess – while Terpstra movingly intercedes for society’s marginalized. A moving Easter prayer describes Jesus’ dance from death to resurrection, ending with celebratory and whimsical splendour, “when the rock learned to roll.” We smile with tears in our eyes.
“Brendan Luck” alludes to St. Brendan’s quasi-legendary journey in a currach. In Skin Boat Terpstra employed that book-long conceit to chronicle his personal spiritual and ecclesiological voyage. Repeating the opening verse “In the church where we go now,” he identifies fellow parishioners as “survivors and athletes coursing uncharted waters.”
This short book offers confession, penance and absolution to our confused times of suffering, plenty, health, disease and injustice. Throughout “wild hope” fuels human life encountering the mystery of God. As St. Augustine heard centuries ago, tolle lege – take up and read. Not just once, but often. Thanks, John Terpstra. We await more reverent words.