Leaving the Reason Torn: Re-thinking the Cross and Resurrection through R.S.Thomas by Alison Goodlad (2012)
The poet RS Thomas constantly struggled with the tension between crucifixion and resurrection during his life as a pastor in the harsh conditions of rural Wales. In Leaving the Reason Torn Alison Goodlad introduces us to his theology, expressed in poetry which illustrates a constant battle between mind and heart.
Poetry stimulates the imagination through its memorability, ambiguity, irony, and – perhaps most significant – through metaphor. This was a language known to the writers of both Testaments.
Goodlad quotes Brueggemann’s comment that simple acceptance of belief in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness ‘requires mumbling through many aspects of lived experience’. RS Thomas found his own attempts to find God particularly expressed in the Psalms and Job, both rich in counter-testimony. The Psalms alternately praise God, and round on him, in anger and despair. Job’s challenge is an epic of faith warring with incredulity which ends with its central question – the problem of suffering – still unresolved: God is ultimately unknowable, but humanity matters to Him – a question Thomas struggled with throughout his life.
Theories of the atonement that satisfied the intellect are the product of a past era but they leave questions unanswered in the heart. In this age of post-modernity, theologians such as Karen Armstrong, James Alison and David Catchpole point out that the Gospel accounts of Easter make use of the language of metaphor in their description of the indescribable.
Crucifixion and resurrection are truly apprehended only by God, and we can only dimly perceive the depths of the one or the fullness of the other. Poetry, with that language of metaphor and myth at its disposal, and the poet’s ability to hold opposites together, is a means by which our perception may be a little illuminated. Goodlad shows Thomas struggling throughout his life ‘from disorientation to a new orientation’ in the language of that polarity. It is not failure, on his part or ours, that the cloud of unknowing veils our sight. Goodlad’s sure touch, guiding us through his life’s search for the unknowable, lends us his visions with which to enlarge our own. ‘Reason may be torn, but the way is left open to the torn God, for us to experience at-one-ment’.
Reviewed by Julia Taylor
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