‘Prayer’, by Francisco X. Alarcón

I want a god
as my accomplice
who spends nights
in houses
of ill repute
and gets up late
on Saturdays

a god
who whistles
through the streets
and trembles
before the lips
of his lover

a god
who waits in line
at the entrance
of movie houses
and likes to drink
café au lait

a god
who spits
blood from
tuberculosis and
doesn’t even have
enough for bus fare

a god
knocked
unconscious
by the billy club
of a policeman
at a demonstration

a god
who pisses
out of fear
before the flaring
electrodes
of torture

a god
who hurts
to the last
bone and
bites the air
in pain

a jobless god
a striking god
a hungry god
a fugitive god
an exiled god
an enraged god

a god
who longs
from jail
for a change
in the order
of things

I want a
more godlike
god

– Francisco X. Alarcó, ‘Prayer’ in Body in Flames/Cuerpo En Llamas (trans. Francisco Aragón; San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990), 96–99.

[HT: Rose Marie Berger]

9 comments

  1. ‘A more godlike god?’ Do I want a god who’s an *accomplice* in my poorer behaviour….nah, don’t think so. I want a God who’s much more than any of these things, not one who by being involved in all these things is somehow (?) more than the God I already know.

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  2. Mike, two things:

    1. It’s important to remember that this poem is a prayer, and not a piece of carefully constructed dogmatic theology.

    2. Indeed God is ‘much more than any of these things’, but neither is God ‘above’ these creaturely experiences and longings. Remember, we are talking here about Jesus, behind whose back is no god at all. This poem recalled for me Gregory of Nazianzus’ profound statement that ‘That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved” (to gar aproslepton, atherapeuton ho de henotai to theu, touto kai sozetai). So yes, more could and should be said, certainly, but no less. Alarcó’s words also reminded me of that poem by Vinicio Aguilar that I posted here, of the God who comes down ‘to be with us’. His name is Emmanuel.

    My friend Geoffrey Bingham, put it like this:

    1. Immanuel! Immanuel!
    Our hearts are opened to You;
    We see Your flesh in Mary’s womb,
    And know Your love is usward.
    We cannot tell the glory left
    Or if Your angels wholly wept.

    2. Immanuel! Immanuel!
    God in our flesh forever,
    You walk our streets, and feel our pain
    With love that none can sever.
    Our eyes had never seen our God
    Nor known that He would shed His blood.

    3. Immanuel! Immanuel!
    The prophets sang Your coming,
    They said that God would dwell with Man
    That we might see His loving.
    Oh, how our hearts and minds are dazed,
    Whilst all creation stares, amazed.

    4. Immanuel! Immanuel!
    We see Your eyes of pity,
    We watch You walk in Spirit’s power
    In hamlet, vale and city.
    We see the Father’s glory near
    And know His Presence all so dear.

    5. Immanuel! Immanuel!
    The Spirit dwells within You.
    He shows His power and love to all
    In fruit You bear abundant.
    Ah Triune God, we see You One
    In this eternal holy Son.

    6. Immanuel! Immanuel!
    The mystery of the Godhead
    Is plain for us in all You do
    And say as You lead homeward.
    Great Shepherd of the needy flock
    You lead us to the living Rock.

    7. Immanuel! Immanuel!
    Our great High-Priest in heaven,
    You intercede as man for us
    And lead our worship ever.
    Our hearts are one with You above
    Whilst here we tell the world Your love.

    8. Immanuel! Immanuel!
    The God who loves forever,
    The sinful race made new in You,
    Dear Father, Son and Spirit,
    The whole ecclesia sings Your praise
    As priests unto their God, always.

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  3. Didn’t get back to you on this, Jason…at the time my brain wasn’t in the place to think about what you were saying. Yup, it’s a poem, and not carefully constructed theology, agreed. Interestingly enough I wouldn’t have read it as about Jesus specifically; but then, perhaps I don’t make a distinction between God and Jesus when it comes to talking about ‘God’ (or ‘god’). It still reads to me (and this may not be what the poet intended) as portraying a god who isn’t strong enough to save when the crunch comes. And even Alarcon at the end is saying, I want a more godlike god. So what sort of god is he looking for, after having listed all those other qualities.
    Hmmm…still need to think about this one.

    The other line you quote: ‘That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved” – I’m not sure what the word ‘assumed’ means in this context….does it mean Jesus took on our humanity – that kind of ‘assumed?’ Or is it something else?

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  4. I am not sure what Alarcon’s personal views on Christ are, but in this poem he does indeed touch a nerve common to us all. I recall Job opining for an Arbiter who will negotiate as a “man does with his neighbor.” If interacting with God could only be so easy, Job wishes.
    But we know as does Job now that the god who is God is He who enters in.

    He “doesn’t even have
    enough for bus fare”

    I had no idea how much I needed Him till after He entered in.

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  5. I like your questions Mike. Here are some more of mine. What does it mean to be both strong enough and weak enough to save? If ‘assumed’ means ‘takes on’, I’m not sure that I’m any the wiser. What does ‘take on’ mean? Does one take on humanity like one takes on a job? Or like one takes on a corporation? Or like one takes on a role in the theatre? Is is something you ‘undergo’ (like a disease)? Or something your ‘engage with’ (like an argument), or ‘participate in’ (like a protest march). I suspect that the reason people repeat words like ‘assumed’ is that they are so vague they allow all sorts of assumptions (or is that assumings?) to be read into it. So we are left with two open questions. What is the ontology implicit in ‘humanity’? and What is the process or action described by assumed? In the end I think these terms are not helpful in explaining much. They may begin a conversation but they often create as much confusion as they alleviate.

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  6. Having lived in Hell as a child and having seen that Hell transformed by the transcendent Being who feels for the fallen and yet appears to him as holy and other, transcendent and yet immanent, I both like and dislike the poem. I like its honesty, its penchant for identifying the God-man with fallen humanity’s terrible problems, and I dislike it for its seeming failure to maintain the transcendent aspect/attribute which is so essential to the uplift and transformation of the desperate situation. Reflecting upon the change in that Hell of some 65 years past and upon the change some years later and the similar factors of transcendence in both, I feel the caricature aspect of overdrawn identification fails to maintain that key to the experience of God in Christ. He does not always seem sympathetic lest it be taken as indulgence of ailing sins that produced the probem of alienation in the first place…at least as I have understood it.

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  7. Just re-reading the piece by Frank Rees again and it seemed to me that this paragraph was pertinent to the poem:

    Nonetheless, the idea of God as companion has also to be developed, **lest it be taken to mean that God is reduced to the proportions of our own experience.** When we say that God accompanies us in our suffering, we do not mean that God is equally powerless as we may be, in the face of disease, disaster and destruction. Rather, when God accompanies us in our suffering God continues to be God. This is the astonishing truth of the Gospel: that God is able to appear amongst us, incarnate as one of us, and yet remains God.

    I think, for me, this puts the poem in perspective. It seems to reduce God to the proportions of our own experience, making him as powerless as we are.

    Still not the kind of god I want to know…

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