Consistent with my theme of this semester, I found Danny Nelson’s poem “The Excommunicate” to be a deeply insightful view into the mind of one who has lost faith and feels there is no way to reconcile it. The imagery of the piece is dark and bitter. It opens with a condescending mention of a “white-shirted man” who rests his hand upon the back of the narrator and assure shim that “God is not gone.” However, as the poem will reveal, the narrator feels that this man has misunderstood his need entirely. He knows God is not “gone,” but rather feels that God remains all the same, but as a “plague” in his life. He goes as far as to describe God as a “vengeful task master,” an “unapproachable father,” and an “inconsistent judge.” Ben Abbott’s reading of the poem brings these empassioned declarations to life, and you can feel the pain in each depiction of a distanced deity.
It is clear that the speaker is as hard on himself and his misunderstood band of brothers as he is on his Heavenly Father. He calls them “bastards” and “abortions in the wilderness.” Purposefully using such emotive language, Nelson’s narrator feels victimized and judgmental, but still justifies his actions in his head, stating that there are “some hungers which are better to fill than to die.” The most heart breaking lines, for me, read, “No help from him who SAYS he bore the burden of all. No hope. No hope remains save sliced wrists, harsh medicines, or the long slow slope built by the bored Gods.” There seems to be no escape for the torture soul, except those of self inflicted pain and anguish. The poem ends with a supplication, perhaps made in cruel jest, but perhaps as a sincere, final cry, as the narrator states, “Oh Savior, stay this night with me, behold, tis eventide.”
I cannot imagine feeling so angry towards God, which is why I appreciated this poem so much. Poetry is an excellent lens into the emotive life of someone who you may not understand otherwise, and this certainly was the case for me reading this poem. I felt pained both listening and reading it, sympathy and a sense of hopelessness in spite of my own convictions of the Lord’s infinite forgiveness and goodness. That is the power of the text. I am fascinated by these people and am trying to find a better way to communicate the love of God to them, and this poem certainly gave me insight into their lives that I did not fully comprehend beforehand.