John Terpstra, of Hamilton, Ont., is a poet and cabinet maker. Fittingly, his writing often hovers over themes of spirit and place. In Wild Hope Terpstra offers a sequel to In the Company of All: Prayers from Sunday Mornings at St. Cuthbert's. In that first collection Terpstra concisely, vividly captured the embodied spiritual needs, desires, praises, and hopes of his small congregation. With personal names removed for privacy’s sake, the prayers in both volumes explore spiritual and physical themes at once particular and universal.
All congregations and communities suffer illnesses and tragedies. Hurricanes devastate annually; COVID-19 spreads; children are locked in cages. The lead poem “The Kind of World We Live In” is also the book’s first verse. Following lines recall such events, past and present. Then, after repeating that verse twice, Terpstra stuffs all the poem’s cosmic and local misery into a metaphorical backpack supplying an elemental 40-day Lenten wilderness trek. As the pilgrim plods on, nourished only by “roots and berries,” the burden grows ever lighter, until only “wild hope” remains. Thus Terpstra’s title sets the tone for the prayers and other poems lining that thin space between worlds.
For example, in “Donkey People Prayer,” while many runners celebrate the agony and ecstasy of Hamilton’s marathon, so this Palm Sunday prayer evokes that day’s joy and Good Friday’s coming anguish—a long-distance journey, if ever there was one.
“A Prayer That Everyone Should Be So Lucky” expresses ambivalent thanks for our Western plenty—or excess—as Terpstra empathetically goes on to intercede for society’s marginalized people and for impoverished nations. With “A Prayer for All the Pumpkins” he offers a paean to autumn harvests, “broccoli and Brussels sprouts.” His moving Easter prayer describes Jesus’ dance from death to resurrection, ending with that day’s celebrative and whimsical splendor, “when the rock learned to roll.” We can joyfully smile with tears in our eyes.
“Brendan Luck” alludes to the quasi-legendary journey of St. Brendan the Navigator in a currach. Terpstra employed that book-long conceit in his wonderful personal spiritual and ecclesiological voyage in Skin Boat. Here he repeats the opening verse “In the church where we go now,” reflecting lovingly on fellow parishioners as “survivors (and) athletes coursing “uncharted waters.”
This short, dense book offers confession, penance and absolution to us living in confused times of suffering, plenty, health and disease, inequality and injustice, but throughout fueled by that “wild hope” in the mystery of God. So, as St. Augustine heard centuries ago, tolle, lege—not just once, but often. (The St. Thomas Poetry Series)