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The sailing of the ark

First published in 1992 as part of  Breaking the Chains, this sequence of 45 "sonnets" is a reflection on the meaning of Christian faith within scientific postmodernity.

What you make of it will depend on your starting point. If like me you have some roots in a modernist evangelical Christian tradition—by birth or choice or both—you may like or dislike it according to your present frame of reference. If you carry no such baggage you may find it obscure.

The poem has four phases. Sonnets 1-13 are somewhat weary and bruised as they recount the emotional cost of balancing dogma against experience. 14-22 deconstruct the main paradoxes of faith and the core problem of biblical authority. 23-36 find God in obscurity, tracing the incarnation through the history of Israel and the nativity to the crucifixion and the paradox of the dying immortal. The final section (37-45) reflects some of the personal consequences of this. 

In the commentary The challenge of the Ark I have added some further reflections on the story of Noah's Ark and its implications. 

The sailing of the ark was written between December 1987 and December 1991. The sequence is in the form of a letter to my friend Andrew Cornes. I have made some minor recent changes to the text to allow individual sonnets to stand more easily on their own. 

The style—a loose form of unrhymed sonnet—is derived from the late New Zealand poet, James K Baxter.  Each poem has fourteen lines set out visually in couplet, and very roughly uses pentameter as a "guide" for metre. Baxter's sonnets are punctuated so that each is a single sentence (although grammatically he cheats a bit). I have not gone to that extreme, but most comprise one or two sentences.

The drawing of a crucifixion, which inspired sonnet 37, is based on sketches of a wood and steel sculpture by Scilla Verney, made shortly before her death from cancer, and reproduced with the kind permission of her husband Stephen. 


Dedication

Sonnet 1   "Andrew, another year has stripped..."  

Sonnet 2   "Well, Andrew, we've reached life's middle ground,"

Sonnet 3   "Balding, overweight, at night I plod..."

Sonnet 4   "It's a numbers game."

Sonnet 5   "At thirty-five thousand feet,"

Sonnet 6   "Some of our friends who came so earnestly..."

Sonnet 7   "The wind roared unannounced..."

Sonnet 8   "The siren voices of false certainty..."

Sonnet 9   "So much that at one time seemed unassailable..."  

Sonnet 10   "You're writing about marriage"

Sonnet 11   "The world is spoiled and cannot be redeemed..."

Sonnet 12   "What little I know of scientific method..."

Sonnet 13   "The ark sailed sometime in the 1980s."

Sonnet 14   "Here is the plain good news"

Sonnet 15   "And still there is the old familiar puzzle:"

Sonnet 16   "One hundred million years ago..."

Sonnet 17   "We must return to sources,"

Sonnet 18   "It would be hard to get the New Testament convicted..."

Sonnet 19   "The Jews I think say there are ..."

Sonnet 20   "God had the choice of technologies."

Sonnet 21   "Who sanctions this search..."

Sonnet 22   "Imagine one more myth."

Sonnet 23   "We do not find God by theology..."

Sonnet 24   "That he should choose obscurity..."

Sonnet 25   "The history of Israel is a black cloak of failure..."

Sonnet 26   "From his first word..."

Sonnet 27   "Finally it seemed God had given them up..."

Sonnet 28   "The word said  'Become like this...'"

Sonnet 29   "The word was squeezedout like a drop..."

Sonnet 30   "'Fear not' the herald said"

Sonnet 31   "The ark sailed backwards through the centuries..."

Sonnet 32   "This was no rehearsal."

Sonnet 33   "The Bible says Jesus loved Lazarus so much..."

Sonnet 34   "These poems should have been about the cross," 

Sonnet 35   "Put down this bag of words,"

Sonnet 36   "This is where faith begins,"

Sonnet 37   "We move with a certain grace,"

Sonnet 38   "For what is it we pray?"

Sonnet 39   "I'm no raving charismatic..."

Sonnet 40   "Our African friend Kenneth says..."

Sonnet 41   "For two thousand years..."

Sonnet 42   "You won't take offence at this,"

Sonnet 43   "A friend gave me this picture..."

Sonnet 44   "Eleven thirty." 
Sonnet 45   "I remember how one night some years ago,"

Commentary: The challenge of the ark