First you will learn about smiles,
how much you smile,
what's contained in a smile,
what's implied in the different degrees of smile:
in a curl of the lip at a funny thought,
in the mouth's outstretched corners
to greet the close acquaintance,
in the sardonic phrase,
the empathic moment.
All these things you will learn
when they cannot be seen.
And eyes. You will learn about eyes.
How readily you can recognise eyes
across a courtyard or carpark, how
much you can guess of a heart or a day
from the eyes poking out above the nose.
And breath. You will learn about breath.
You will taste it, smell it, absorb it all day.
You will choose your words and your silence to preserve
moments when you can simply breathe.
You will long to stand
in the garden
beside your office
and do nothing
in that afternoon air
but take off your mask and breathe.
And faces - you will catch, in their absence,
the beauty, the wonder of faces,
the heart-catching, God-splendoured glory of faces.
You will long for the faces
that you loved and despised,
will search the room for these faces,
will wish that these faces
could transfigure their otherness straight into yours.
You will cover your face
and stifle your breath
and halve your smile
in hope of the day,
to work for the day,
when all of our faces are back.
When others horde, share.
When others sneeze, do not be startled.
When the numbers rise, take heart.
For your life is more than your days on earth
and your planet is more than a virus.
When the shops are packed with people and
the shelves are emptied of products, do not
push and shove and hate the man
who found the tissues that you missed.
For your life is more than tissues.
When cupboards are jammed with tins and cans
and only wholemeal pasta’s left,
rejoice that you’re forced to eat healthier stuff,
and go plant some veggies so that when they yield
you can take some to your elderly neighbours.
Buy bulbs to plant in autumn soil
so that, when this is over, you can see spring arise.
Watch the news, but do not fret.
Pray more than you scroll through Twitter feeds.
Share your toilet paper.
…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk…
In truth, I teach this child very little.
So much is sheer instinct, determination,
what HR would call “get up and go”.
But there’s little of HR, more of
the deep-sea diver
or the alchemist at his art,
to how this small enthusiast takes
to his knees, then feet, then –
I did not teach him this.
No, this has a deeper logic,
one taught to joints and sinews,
flowing in marrow, raising from soil
to soul, teaching the human spirit
Best is the Father who says, Let it Be, and all Is.
Best the Father who teaches Baby Father me
to bounce the pensive child and sing
a song in the night for dreams.
For I too, often reduced to a crawl,
must also learn, down in the sinews and the marrows of the self
the truth that says, Rise up and walk.
In hard rubbish week, while the street is lined
with broken couches and abandoned TVs,
someone has shredded a phone book, leaving
white and yellow pages like autumn leaves
all down Grandview Street. Some pages
have drifted into gardens, some
line the pavement or the nature strip.
Some look like a wild animal has gone to town,
some as though an angry child has destroyed
all evidence that the rest of the world exists.
If pieced together, they would make names:
Michael who cleans the pool, and Vince
who’ll re-gas the aircon if you ask.
Wanton destruction, this shredding of leaves.
The names are torn; the refuse remains,
and their lives clamour down the street to be known
while memories too are thrown away,
with all the things that we just outgrew.
Comfort sits, unexpected,
in our waiting with weakness.
No giant leaps needed, only
the baby steps of the heart
slowly learning contrition.
Begin with incapacity,
then the slow-dawning knowledge
that you are nothing but dust.
Dust transfigures at His breath.
Exhale in the sigh of your Lenten frailty.
Then inhale, inspire.
O brother in our humanity,
Elijah in the desert,
weeping Psalmist of the cross,
You comfort with the fast that says,
Take off your face. Take on mine.
Consolation begins where our pretence dies.
Once the marriage was destroyed* did the one
take comfort in the other’s halitosis?
And did the other, foul in breath, seek scum
to prove that folly persists in churches
and in the minds of worshippers? If words
are crude and language imprecise, then actions
like his speak loudest: a moral compass
cast aside with mathematical pride.
In this they agreed, though not on the sanctions:
that mankind was tending towards its own turd.
What then? Desecrate a marriage bed?
Render a language unreadable? Abide
in the peace of logic or of Logos?
Or turn to grace’s silent arms instead?
* Bertrand Russell was one of the most famous atheists of the 20th century and T.S. Eliot one of the century’s most famous converts. Russell contributed to the breakdown of Eliot’s marriage by having an affair with his wife.
…the astonishment of the Angels: for it is not in them (pure spirits), but in the human race, that God unites himself, and the Son of God incarnate “is not ashamed to call us his brothers.”
Flames of fire, yet only servants. They long
to look into what we hold as child:
God-made-flesh. Not all the heavenly throng
are called “brothers”, but we are: reconciled,
dust transformed, while they only herald.
Do they marvel, or rival? One envied,
and fell beneath us. Unparalleled,
the Son chooses depths, yet uplifts, died
yet gives life. Let the angels adore Him;
let them fall before His throne ablaze in
the glory of Him and Father Elohim.
Yet how should something so glorious begin
so small, so timid? No fire, no thunder,
just angels and shepherds gazing in wonder.
Glory to your coming that restored humankind to life.
(Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns of the Nativity)
Because of the shadows, we miss our brother’s face,
our sister’s gaze.
The pace of the crowd moves us forward.
If you reached out
to touch my garment, I would not feel.
This power departs us daily:
to see, to know.
O Brother, true human:
You reach where least expected.
These shadows flee; let us not retreat.
Come where we scarce have courage to go;
to make us whole.