Poetry of Jennifer Wallace in Almost Entirely. Middle Age, Midlife, Grief, Mourning

Half Way to Entirely

C.S. Lewis described the human condition as a process of always becoming more of what we already are. These are cautionary words for me at this point in middle age, particularly as I consider the possibilities. In Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the Teacher speaks regretfully of a seemingly harmless woman who has come to the end of her life, not as a “grumbler,” but as “only a grumble.”

It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. . . You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine. (74, 75)

Thanks be to God, it seems that this tendency can work in positive ways as well, and the poet Hayden Carruth bears witness to this, declaring in his “Testament”: “Now I am almost entirely love.” Whatever sifting and sandpapering process brought him to that state, his words inspired Jennifer Wallace as she collected an offering of her own poems.

In Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry) the reader is treated to the process of a woman becoming. As one who is “predisposed by nature to question everything,” (17) Wallace reconciles her doubts with the presence of a God who is well able to take in hand her persistent wondering. In the process, God shows up in both surprising and ordinary ways within the pauses:

  • In the foreordained turning of the head to view a crow in flight or a “squirrel passage, or a person with whom I share an ever-present reaching toward.” (20)
  • In a poignant pondering of “life’s second half”:

“Tell me, someone:
with the spade of days remaining,
how to turn the soil
and where.” (34)

Finding Joy in the Cup of Shadow

Far-from-glib reflections excavate grief and plumb the depths of disappointment with God, borrowing  words from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed to lament that faith can sometimes feel like “the rope that holds until we need it.” Wallace riffs on Psalm 23 when her “cup of shadow” (24) overflows, and she asks for grace to unbolt the door and walk into a season we’re so tempted to deny.

For most of us, by the time we reach middle age, the jarring truth has been well-established that “the world won’t behave, not even for me.” (39) We are ruefully accustomed to the phone call that describes the disappointing diagnosis of a parent, a friend, a spouse. These are the days when we awaken to an early dawn and begin to take attendance:

“Whose time will come next?
Storm taken.
War taken.
A tiny fracture in a cell.”

Even now, there is grace to find joy in a dusty yellow warbler who hops “in the autumn dogwood near the gate . . . on its way to Venezuela” (49) and to rejoice in the memory of a beautiful, normal day (77).

In every season of life, we dwell in the conflicted joy of The Two Pockets:

“In one is the message, ‘I am dust and ashes,’ and in the other, ‘for me the universe was made.'” Receiving the second in light of the first is the course of health and wholeness. This is enough. A simultaneous comprehension of these two truths will set us on a path that is almost entirely hope.Many thanks to Paraclete Press (here in beautiful New England!) for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

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Thank you for joining me today on the path of hope,

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44 thoughts on “Half Way to Entirely”

  1. The message from this book speaks to me, Michele. I feel polar opposites so much of the time – looking forward to my life as I age, and worrying about illness and loss. I try to deal with it by sharing my humor, but underneath is the scary reality of aging. I don’t want to become a ‘grumble.’ I will be checking out Jennifer Wallace’s book to find validation and inspiration.


    1. Having watched my mum age into so much more of what she had already been all her life has been hugely educational for me, Molly. I catch myself mid-grumble sometimes and ask myself if this is what I truly want to become. The old saying, You become like what you behold,” is true of both the positive and the negative.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You hit the nail on the head, Michele! We’ve devinitely learned by now that the world won’t behave to suit us! But God. He brings light to the shadows. I appreciate always your thoughtful commentary.


  3. Always keeping our eyes on the good things as God has instructed us just helps us continue one step at a time to being the person we should be. Keeping our eyes on the other things will take us more than one step back each time.


    1. That’s the truth, Sandra. And it’s much easier to make huge sweeping decisions about the way we live our days than it is to make the right choice in the moment. Great to hear from you!


    1. Isn’t that just a sweet way of expressing it? And we have to be so careful right now to guard our responses so the outcome will be close to where we hope to be in a few years.
      Always moving forward!


  4. Aww-middle age!! It has caused me to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going. I love the idea of the two pockets. I’m not one to settle into what was and sit in a place of familiarity for too long. Life is short and I want to make the best of it.


    1. Yes, we’ve got a lot of living and serving ahead of us, and it’s great to be doing it in light of those two-pocket truths.
      Blessings to you, Mary (and congratulations on your wonderful new challenge!)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Some years ago while working in a fabric shop, I had a number of older lady customers. Some were very sweet and some were…not. I hoped I would end up as one of the sweet kind, and it dawned on me that I was then in the process of becoming whatever I was going to be in later age. Hopefully it will be more love and less grumble.

    “The world won’t behave, not even for me.” What an apt way of putting it! Yes, I have made that discovery, too. The juxtaposition of the two pockets spurs much food for thought as well.


    1. This misbehaving world always brings out the worst in me, and isn’t it true that it’s the little inconveniences that make us unpleasant as we complain under our breath–but not TOO softly, because we must make it known to anyone within earshot that things are not going well . . .
      Oh, Lord, have mercy!


  6. The two pockets… Like grass that withers and yet possessing everything! Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ! ‘for all things are yours, the world or life or death or the present or the future all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. I Cor.3:22,23 What a paradox! Thank you for sharing this book 😊


  7. Whew, this hit a nerve right now. Being in the middle of life (or at least at the age that is considered to be that…of course, none of us know how long our individual lives will be) really is a very awkward place. Looking back and realizing that if you do live to be the “expected, allotted” age, at least half of your life is over and cannot be altered, and then looking to the future and wondering what your health will be like, etc., so many conflicting emotions! Through it all, our God never changes…He will always be the same, praise His name. Thinking of turning into a deeper version of my current self is a very sobering thought. Thank you for posting this, Michele.


  8. The thought that as we get older we become more of what we already are is definitely a challenging one! I remember hearing a similar thought in a sermon once. It was about aging and I was only in my 20s at the time but the preacher was encouraging us that we should start practising now for the old man/ woman we want to be. It was one that really stuck with me.


  9. Dear Michele,
    It seems my wishlist keeps getting longer every time I visit here! These words:
    “Tell me, someone:
    with the spade of days remaining,
    how to turn the soil
    and where.”
    Oh what beautiful poetry–my heart is smitten. The gardener in me is crying over the thoughts stirred up there. Thank you for this beautiful review. I am so grateful that our Master Gardener knows how to keep turning the soil in our hearts. Blessings to you!


    1. Thank you for reading those words and letting them turn the soil of your heart, because I just had to include them in the review. They got me at the gardening level, and also in the midst of the overwhelm– as in, “I’ve got so much I should be doing at this point in life, and I don’t even know which thing to do first.”
      It’s wonderful to share poetry with friends!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. As a woman who is well into “life’s second half”, I love Wallace’s words. The doubt and questioning that she experiences are a necessary part of faith. There is no faith without doubt. The “cup of shadow” that she writes about reminds me of Annie Dillard’s Shadow Creek, the mirror image of Tinker Creek.


    1. OK, that does it! I really need to re-read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I read it ages ago when my kids were all little (it seems like yesterday . ..), so I think I’ve forgotten a lot of lovely things.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you Michele for that review, hoping no grumbles that lead to a grumpy old lady here, even in chronic health issues!

    I shared this week about my shadow & light experience in my post Eternity


  12. This is beautiful, Michele. After the valleys of our past year, this was consolation for my soul. There’s a little voice that sometimes whispers, “What’s coming next?” But I know it’s not the voice of God. It’s absolutely more accurate to look at life as a journey threaded with both good and bad, darkness and light. I’m reminding myself to stay focused on the light this summer!


  13. Michele, the way C.S. Lewis describes the human condition is pretty sobering, isn’t it? It also could be discouraging, given the stubbornness of the human heart and how difficult it is to change mid-course. But there’s always the possibility that God, in an act of sheer grace, could reach down and turn us on our ear, thus putting us on a different path of becoming. Poetry isn’t normally a go-to genre for me, but this book sounds lovely (the “poignant pondering” about middle age especially so).


    1. I first encountered that description from Lewis in college, and it has stayed with me in a haunting and yet motivating way–which I suppose is another great trait of Lewis’s writing. The reader is bludgeoned with the truth and, at the same time, comforted by it.
      Jennifer shared some images (like the spade) that have really stayed with me as well.


  14. Whew! That was either really deep or I am really tired. Or maybe both. It does sound good and worthwhile though! Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com!


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