I am the man who has seen affliction…
His portrait would have him
serenely contemplating a garden,
one hand raised beatifically
like the saints of old.
Often I would have my days like that,
passed in that perfect serene of green,
spirit quiet within like the waters without,
no trouble straining pastoral brow.
But poems and pastors are not made like this;
the cure of souls is the work of the broken,
and contemplation is fuel for deed,
the quiet where turmoil turns to seed,
and the man who knew thoughts that were all cases of knives
was no doe-eyed dreamer but a brother to affliction,
and in earth’s pulley his grief pulled upward
and poems sprung from the love-mended rhyme.
Today is Pentecost Sunday and a chance to revisit the poem I wrote for this day many years ago. I’m sharing a snippet here as a preview of what you can expect from the upcoming book.
A devout gardener, my eldest comes out here
each day, to inspect, to water.
Sometimes he waters the concrete, sometimes
the soil. Most of it
is sapped up by unseasonal sun,
some soaks in. Butas we persist, he and I, we see
this transformation, like
a renewing mind: creeper grass
green tendrils into a former wastelandand I am mindful to watch
the miracle of creeping grace
expanding where it is not seen.
Only when we are going somewhere does he dawdle,
suddenly eager to investigate every fencepost,
every garden paver.
When we’ve all the world’s time, he hurries,
as though life might catch him before he is done,
as one learns to do when small
and only grown-ups can open doors for you,
where moments must be seized
before a “No, Eli!” takes them away.
But when on a journey, each surface and texture needs study,
each streetlight’s a marvel,
and each fence might contain a “Woof Woof” to call friend.
No hurry then, no trajectory,
only the entranced study
of a miniature scientist at his craft.
And so I, clock always in mind, must submit
to this other time. The urge to say,
“Come on, Eli,” must be tempered
by the truth
that his toddler-speed shows me:
that all this is wonder, and world enough
are in our Father’s hands who holds
our fingertips and says, “Come on,”
not for haste
but so we may take it all in.
Slowing down, I take more in.
So the word of God became a human being and lived among us.
(John 1:14 – J.B. Phillips Translation)
By any standard it would be
extraordinary to find
the infinite, immortal constrained in time
but to find Divinity where it knew full well
the hearts of man
and how they turned, mostly away –
to find the all-sufficient taking on
this meagre flesh, this weakness,
this all-too-human messiness –
no word, no response suits besides
a quaint yet apt, “Behold!”,
a marvelled, “Come and see”,
and footsteps following where he treads,
to see where God makes a home.