I don’t normally share other people’s work here but I read this gem this morning and it was so precious – especially the ending – that I thought I had to post it.
Consolation – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
All are not taken; there are left behind
Living Beloveds, tender looks to bring
And make the daylight still a happy thing,
And tender voices, to make soft the wind:
But if it were not so—if I could find
No love in all this world for comforting,
Nor any path but hollowly did ring
Where ‘dust to dust’ the love from life disjoin’d;
And if, before those sepulchres unmoving
I stood alone (as some forsaken lamb
Goes bleating up the moors in weary dearth)
Crying ‘Where are ye, O my loved and loving?’—
I know a voice would sound, ‘Daughter, I AM.
Can I suffice for Heaven and not for earth?’
For this demon who harms men and corrupts them is particularly anxious that his servants not gaze up to heaven but instead that they be bent over to the earth and make bricks inside themselves from clay.
(Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses)
At the moment of exhaling, he sanctified
the clay he shaped by his outbreathing, yet
sacred clay was only ever for shaping, not
to be shaped by. Instead
my eyes are always turned groundward and I
play in the mud pies of my mind despite
the heavenly witness that clamours for me with its voiceless speech
and, for lack
of willing human witnesses, rocks
clear stony throats to shout.
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.
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 many ways to wash feet:
the posture, not the precise nature of the action, matters – poised
at ground level, familiar with the dust
and grime of the day’s streets,
outer garments shed to throw off all show,
the creak in the knees accompanying the splash
and the mess of the self washing off in the bowl.
So many ways, yet I
am more comfortable to be Peter:
between pride and gung-ho humility,
reserved and haughty in equal measure,
more at home with excuses
than the flagrant shame of love.
If I would be a disciple, I need only start
with the crick in these old, ossified joints
as I teach them to get love’s job done.