Living next door to the Lord


You, God, who live next door– If at times, through the long night, I trouble you with my urgent knocking– this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom. I know you’re all alone in that room. If you should be thirsty, there’s no one to get you a glass of water. I wait listening, always. Just give me a sign! I’m right here.

From 'You, God, who live next door' from The Book of Hours, by Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke has always been special to me. From all the poets he feels most like a friend. Or perhaps like an eccentric that lives next door. One that's hard to understand, seems to speak in riddles, but one who is often comforting and warm, even if you can't make sense yet of what he has to say. Rilke makes you feel less alone in your loneliness.

It was Rilke who wrote in a letter: "[they] took my heart and held it over nothingness" (a line I totally put in a poem ). He was speaking of anxiety and I've always thought it one of the most spot-on quotes in that regard. But lately I've been relating this quote to life in general as well. What else is life but a brief flame in nothingness?

But nothing is never just nothing, not for Rilke. His heart is big enough for two. His heart holds God as well.

The Book of Hours was one of my first forays into the work of Rilke. I even wanted to write an essay about it during college. My teacher put the kibosh on that, which made me angry at the time but now I feel it was the best thing. I don't I would've understood back then, neither the German nor the meaning. But now that I am, in a way, facing nothingness -for facing another's is facing your own- Rilke's spiritual poetry falls right into place.

What I love about these poems and this one especially is the reciprocity that is assumed. God is not an almighty being, but something close by and depending on us as much as we depend on him/her/it. It makes me feel closer to... something. Something instead of nothing.

I don't know if I am an atheist or a believer. I guess a little bit of both. Maybe I haven't made up my mind yet and probably I never will. It's hard to put a name on it and I'm not sure that I should. But leave it to Rilke to describe all that in a most comforting way. A way that eases the nothingness, makes it feel almost familiar.

#thisweekinpoetry: Every week I look back at the past few days and try to find a poetic quote to match. Or maybe the other way around, I find good poetry and try to match the week with it. Whichever works.

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