Mysteries and Stations

in the Manner of Ignatius

These Christian poems of meditation help every reader anticipate the joyful goal at the end of the journey.


The Stations of the Cross are way-points along Jesus' path of sacrifice, suffering, and death. We go with Him even to the Tomb. Afterward, there is a garden, and a gardener who is the ascending Christ, our Lord and God.

The Mysteries of the Rosary help us to relive His life, from before its beginning in Nazareth to His destiny in the eternal Kingdom. By prayerful attentiveness we come to share more fully in the life, works, death, and resurrection of the Son of Man. P.C.

“Good religious poetry—poetry that is truly religious and truly poetic—is a rare and precious commodity nowadays. The spirit of the age works against it. Which in itself makes the appearance of Pavel Chichikov's Mysteries and Stations in the Manner of Ignatius a welcome event. But so, more important, does the quality of these poems. As meditations, whose manner resembles the Ignatian technique called composition of place, they mine the Mysteries of the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross in order to bring forth a luminous iconography of redemption. A sensibility in the tradition of Dickinson and Donne, an eye for vivid imagery, and an ear for the telling phrase meet here in verse that is as much to be prayed as read.” —RUSSELL SHAW, eminent Catholic columnist

“Pavel Chichikov sees into the mystery of things. He is gifted with what Gerard Manley Hopkins called instress, those moments when the mysterious veil that covers reality is momentarily lifted to reveal the fingerprints of God in the heart of His Creation. It is, therefore, a luminous joy to see his poetic gifts poured out as an oblation to the wondrous mysteries of the Rosary." —JOSEPH PEARCE, distinguished Catholic critic and biographer

“St. Augustine said, ‘He who sings well, prays twice.’  Pavel Chichikov's poetry sings and takes us into regions of the Spirit we could never have found ourselves.  It is a gift and a grace of the Holy One." —MARK P. SHEA, noted Catholic commentator

“Pavel Chichikov is a master poet who mines the richness of the spiritual and the material, who captures the dynamic movements in the concert of life. His poetry is a skillful tribute to Creation and Creation's God.” —WILLIAM FERGUSON, editor, St. Linus Review

 

Meditation and Faith

Meditation is the gateway to prayer. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross—Edith Stein, that is, Jewish convert, philosopher, and Carmelite nun, who died at Auschwitz in 1942-explained how that is so:


"The occupation in which the spirit interiorly assimilates the content of faith is meditation. Here the imagination presents itself with images of events in salvation history, seeks to plumb their depths with all the senses, weighs with the intellect their general meaning and the demands they place on one. In this way the will is inspired to love and to resolve to form a lifestyle in the spirit of faith."


The aptness of that account was borne home upon me recently as I read Mysteries and Stations, a new book of verse by Pavel Chichikov (Kaufmann Publishing, $10.95). These are poems of high literary merit, to be sure, but they are also meditations that can lead the reader to prayer.


The rules of disclosure require me at this point to note that Pavel Chichikov is a friend of mine. No matter. Friend or not, Chichikov is a talented writer. As an instance, consider the evocative opening lines of "The Annunciation" in which the angel's coming is gracefully suggested:

 

There is the sound of breezes or a voice,
A gust of roses or of perfumed wings,
A web of light and shadow or a choice,
Birdsong or a messenger who sings....

 

The poems in this handsome little book are meditations on the mysteries of the rosary (one for each) and the Stations of the Cross. An explanatory subtitle, In the Manner of Ignatius, suggests the roots of the approach. The reference is to the meditation technique often called "composition of place," which St. Ignatius of Loyola describes in his classic Spiritual Exercises:


"When the contemplation or meditation is on something visible, for example, when we contemplate Christ our Lord, the representation will consist in seeing in imagination the material place where the object is that we wish to contemplate...the temple, or the mountain where Jesus or his Mother is, according to the subject of the contemplation.


"In a case where the subject matter is not visible, as here in a meditation on sin,
the representation will be to see in imagination my soul as a prisoner in this corruptible body, and to consider my whole composite being as an exile here on earth...."


Composition, Ignatius sternly insists, "must always be made before all contemplations and meditations."


Seeking literary antecedents of Chichikov's work, one thinks of George Herbert, the 17th century Anglican poet whose limpid religious verse is deceptively simple and at the same time profound. In a statement which I happily supplied to its publisher, I spoke of Mysteries and Stations as "a luminous iconography of redemption"—and if it's doubtful what that somewhat precious language signifies, the meaning becomes clear in a poem like "Jesus Falls the First Time":

I hope I never see the like again
For as the lashes fell I felt the wounds
As now I do as if they'd never mend
Though they were His. And now I hear the sound
Of strokes descending on my Lord and friend.
But more than that, the Master in me lives—
The wounds are mine, and mine through Him are His.

 

The theological intensity of St. Paul is not often transformed into compelling poetry like this.

 

RUSSELL SHAW, eminent Catholic commentator

 

Kolin on the Mysteries

Together with his first collection of poems, Lion Sun (Grey Owl Press, 1999), Pavel Chichikov’s new book, Mysteries and Stations in the Manner of Ignatius, establishes him as a major Catholic poet in the tradition of St. John of the Cross but with the poetic sensibilities of the Metaphysicals . . . especially George Herbert and Richard Crashaw. His poems are visionary, intensely spiritual, and powerfully Baroque.In fact, if Chichikov’s poems were paintings, they would be a collection of Reubens, Giovanni Bastisa Tiepolos, and Renoirs. Chichikov’s varied poetic patterns are filled with intricate conceits, a range of impassioned speakers, and the imagery of transcendence—birds, flames, wine, angels, and flowers. It would not be unfair to label Mysteries and Stations as an elegiac florilegium for Christ. The size of a pocket calculator or small spiral notebook, Mysteries and Stations is a poetic prayer book for anyone seeking spiritual enlightenment beyond the grave, as one of his poems puts it. Here are spiritual exercises for heart and soul.

 

Thirty-five poems comprise Chichikov’s collection, five each for the four mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and 14 others, one for each of the Stations of the Cross, plus a concluding poem, “Afterword.” Centuries of libraries have been amassed about the sacred mysteries memorialized in the rosary, and an enormous amount, too, has been written about this litany of prayer since it was founded by St. Dominic almost a thousand years ago. Yet Chichikov may be among the very first to write poems about the Luminous Mysteries, one of the most lyrically beautiful sections of his book.  In these Mysteries, as in the three others, Chichikov immerses readers in sacred landscapes, merging reverence with immediacy. The poem for the third decade of this Mystery—“The Proclamation of the Kingdom”—is one of the most complex and prayer-inspiring in the collection.  In so many of his poems, whether on the Annunciation, the Crucifixion, of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, Chichikov portrays the essence of the kenosis—the “Christ who comes to cure us takes our shape.”  Chichikov’s own poetic humanity/piety is evidenced everywhere, but most noticeably in the wealth of small details he includes in sacred texts—St. Peter glows like Moses when the Paraclete descends; St. Joseph worries about a mouse in the stable at Bethlehem; the women who see Christ pass by them on His way to Golgotha “anoint their heads with dust”; the nails used for the Cross “were sharpened in the factories of hell.”

 

Like the Metaphysical poets, Chichikov plumbs the truths of faith in deep paradoxes and glorious epiphanies, sometimes one and the same. In “The Agony in the Garden,” the waking apostles learn that “By miseries of hell their heaven’s won.”At “The Crucifixion,” we discover Calvary is “both paradise and hell” and that, like the thieves, “we crave the love of Christ we have denied.” When the Holy Spirit descends in the Glorious Mysteries, the twelve apostles fall while “Flames that do not burn, yet burn them all.”  At the Second Station, Christ is “Love condemned, His peace a felony.” When Jesus “Falls the Second Time” (Station Seven), the poet confesses, “I would by death the cure of dying know.” Finally, the most spirit-enthralling epiphany occurs in the Third Luminous Mystery (“The Proclamation of the Kingdom”)—“Wine is Christ, infinity is bread,” something to ponder before receiving the Panis Angelorum.

 

These poems also capture a chorus of voices woven into the texture of Chichikov’s lines—Christ’s Mary’s, the angels’, even Barabbas’s. For instance, St. Elizabeth tells Mary in the “Visitation” that “Your destiny and mine are interlaced.” Speaking like a courtier from the Kingdom of God, Gabriel, as the “Envoy of the Blessed One,” addresses the Blessed Mother as ”O darling Mary, Mother-virgin, sweet.” But an anxious Mary from the Joyful Mystery on finding the Child in the Temple instructs:  "My husband Joseph hurry—find our son.” Seeing His mother on the road to Golgotha in the Fourth Station of the Cross, Christ wonders: “An angel at my side—no it is she.” Veronica piously recalls, “I offered my veil.” Surrounded by the “rabble maddened by the priests” who shout with “Stink of breath, of rage, of something worse,” Barabbas concedes, “I’m the center of it—But who’s the prisoner, this man or me?”

 

No voice is more prominent here than Chichikov’s himself.  He makes the Stations of the Cross alongside Christ—“The wounds are mine, and mine through Him are His” (28). Filled with horrific images and dazzling line breaks, the poems in “Stations” are graphic testimonies of pain, torture, and love—the love of Christ for us and the love of the poet for his Savior—“For as the lashes fell I felt the wounds” (Third Station). Almost inevitably, Chichikov’s verse suggests, with cinematic vividness, a poetic analogue to the horrors of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion. Throughout this section, Chichikov enables us to see, smell, and touch the agony of love that Christ endured for us. 

 

Mysteries and Stations is an important contribution to Roman Catholic meditative poetry, the verse of the spirit crying aloud for union with Christ, both in His suffering and in His glory. My only reservation has to do with the artwork, or lack of it, I should say.  Unlike Chichikov’s magnificently illustrated Lion Sun, his second collection really contains no art save for some very simple postage stamp-size drawings separating each of the Mysteries. Yet the striking cover photo of Christ on the cross being offered a sponge filled with gall and wine encourages readers to expect and to desire such glorious visual accompaniment throughout. We must recall that not only is Chichikov a dazzling poet, he is a master photographer. His most recent poems give the glory to God and to us the soul-nourishing reflection to help us to journey both inward and upward.

 

PHILIP C. KOLIN, University of Southern Mississippi