Archaic Torso of Christ

A torso of Apollo

A torso of Apollo

This morning in worship, probably because George Fox’s experience of Christianity was in the back of my mind, I remembered Rilke‘s poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” and thought to let it speak of Christianity. (No, I don’t imagine that was Rilke’s intent; and yes, I am aware that “during meeting for worship thou shouldst not have been thinking.“)

The poem is widely available on line, mostly as copyright violation, but here is a page on Google Books that offers both the original and an English translation.

Christianity. The church. The body of Christ. What is it now, what was it when George Fox knew it, but an archaic torso? An ancient, broken, rigid trunk from which the head has long been separated, from which the limbs that would do the work of love in the world have broken away?

But what if, despite that, we choose to encounter it, to let it engage us? What if we stand in silence before it and, as it were, look upon it “generously“?

Apollo with halo

Apollo with halo

We cannot see the head, Christ, through whose eyes shone light to enlighten every one; Christianity broke itself off from his headship long ago. But he was also, and is, the heart, still living in that broken body, a heart of heavenly flesh in a body of worldly stone. And his light, although dim as a candelabrum on a high altar, still burns in that occult sanctuary, such that this headless body can some­how still dazzle us with its creative life, awe us with its fierce beauty, gleam divine light from its dismembered form.

For from that archaic, broken, truncated stony form still emanates the light of Christ. It illumines us, penetrates us, searches us, enlightens us. With ruthless mercy it shows us ourselves as we are, offering the ultimate kindness, the judgment of love: “You must change your life.”

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