Entering the House of Awe (Green Rose Series)
Entering the House of Awe (Green Rose Series)
Susanna Childress
New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2011
85 pp., $15.00

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Mike Cosper

Entering the House of Awe

The news from Susanna Childress.

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"It's Bright as Heaven out Here" recounts another stark juxtaposition; an encounter with a Black Widow spider that came ten minutes after hearing the news that her Grandfather is in a coma, and the encounter becomes a story she wants to tell him. Her friend seizes an apple and smashes the spider with it. "I thought maybe / you'd like to know of it, hovering as you are, between here and there, / how what needs to happen will happen, / even if it surprises the breath right out of you."

Throughout the collection, she returns to themes of faith, particularly the tensions that come from life in a shattered world. In "The Wry World Shakes Its Head", she contrasts Isaiah 40's promises of comfort with "your mother's retarded cousin / Roy Dale," who at three years old "drank Drain-O and scoured clean / his grey-soft brain." He's looked after by his crass sister Shirley Ann, whose new breast implants leave her skin "splotched red as holy text."

She renders these contrasts in an irreducible tension, in a way that resists explanation. For Childress, faith isn't an opiate for suffering, but something that brings the pain of suffering into a sharp focus. The problem is not necessarily with the idea of a transcendent God who holds history together in a harmony. It is, instead, with the temptation to observe jaw-dropping horrors and respond, limply, that "God has a plan" and that "one day, it will all make sense." These responses don't address the suffering at all. They only serve to insulate the one speaking from the tragedy, to provide a sense of psychological distance by insisting on meaning and purpose. As G. K. Chesterton said about the book of Job, "God comes in at the end, not to answer riddles, but to propound them."

Reading Entering the House of Awe is not unlike listening to God's speech to Job. Childress holds out image after image for us to observe, each one humbling and confounding, sometimes for their beauty and sometimes for their horror, each one rendered in an earthy, tactile kind of immanence. We feel their weight, their looming complexity. It's a world that is truly awe-full, paradoxically lovely and cruel, and, as with God's speech to Job, we find ourselves humbled, silenced, and mysteriously comforted by it.

Mike Cosper is the Pastor of Worship and Arts at Sojourn Community Church, where he's served since its founding in 2000. He is the author of Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel, co-author of Faithmapping (with Daniel Montgomery), and author of the forthcoming The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth, coming from Crossway in August.

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