The Trinity of Grace
Long time writer and editor Don Yerza wrote of Trinity of Grace (Legas, 2020) This book of poetry by Sicilian-American historian Joseph A. Amato is a gem. It is rich in wisdom and gratitude for the gift and grace of life. Known especially as an advocate for taking local history and the importance of place more seriously, Amato has also written with insight on a wide variety of topics—the titles of which reveal his considerable curiosity: Dust: A History of the Small and the Invisible (U. Cal. Press, 2000), On Foot: A History of Walking (NYU Press, 2004), Surfaces: A History (U. Cal. Press, 2013), and Everyday Life: How the Ordinary Became Extraordinary (Reaction, 2016). He has also proven to be a gifted poet—a rarity, indeed, for a historian!
The motivating influence for The Trinity of Grace can be found in Amato’s brief Prologue and Epilogue. Here he acknowledges his profound gratitude for “the daily gifts of life, nature, fellow person,” and especially divine grace that infuses all of life. Indeed, the book is a poetic tribute to the centrality in his experience of the giftedness and the grace of the Trinitarian God.
Amato’s poems reflect on the gift of life, the poignancy of aging, the mystery of God’s grace, and the anchoring of the quotidian in our lives. He is keenly aware that, as another author has noted, “the ordinary is often the disguise of the divine.” And Amato wonderfully captures the glimpses of the transcendent in nature that we can see with the eyes of faith.
A few examples will have to suffice. “Set Down My Bow” evokes the remorse felt with the all-too-casual taking of non-human life in the quest for sport. “Now as Forever” is a wonderful reminder of the rhythms of life as evoked by a pine tree at sunset. “Clocks of Aging” and “As My Herd Thins” are moving commentaries on coming to grips with aging.
Amato’s deep Christian faith is evident throughout his poetry. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in these lines from his “Grace of Hope”:
Manifest and hidden,
Beyond affirmation and negation,
Haggling yes’s and no’s,
With a terrifying intimacy
Whispers himself to be
The first and last truth
Of my birth and death.
And so I hope it is so.
Or his haunting “Hope for Reason,” with these lines:
Now old, …
I follow dark night’s rising moon,
To pitch camp in the shadow of the cross,
Where glimmers of morning hope match life’s loss.
These are but a few examples of Amato’s poetic sensibility. As a historian and educator, his task centered on imparting information about the past. But later in life and through the vehicle of poetry, Amato’s focus has shifted to transformation. He eloquently points to the sweeping grace of the Holy Trinity that transforms life from mere existence to radical giftedness.