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.
Here death is a vulture:
devours face and memory,
claws at carrion, feeds on fullness
like life was flesh,
fit for the taking.
But life is a million
intangible moments, all
dazzling and passing
in Eden-sunk grief
and Life won't go silently,
while Death - old materialist -
denies Life ever was.
We have seen it, and held it.
We bear its witness.
We stroke its unresponsive hand
and pray to beg it back.
Normally a Saturday ritual, it seemed
we should mark this day with pancakes too,
a breakfast-table recollection
of how feasting and fasting so often cohere.
Even, I thought as I mixed egg and milk
the night before, even mark the way
that air fills the batter like
pockets of life, as these very
ordinary, meager elements of that life -
egg, milk, flour - are mingled
and Spartan fare turns to luxury.
Yet how to explain to those for whom
life's a constant grazing table that
sometimes, though luxury's just
a whisking bowl away from our grasp,
it might be meet to go without,
to join the cousin in the wilderness
with camel's hair and the desert's lean pantry,
to turn our hearts to the sight of Life.
And how to explain to my own heart,
so accustomed to gorging and hairshirts alike,
that all is gift, when the breakfast ends and
the drive to work begins,
when Adam's curse taints feast, and fast
is sometimes only a puff of air?
How to tell the shriven soul
to take the fast and the feast in turn,
to sit at table and taste this grace
as death is at work, yet life is too,
as life is at work in you.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
You’ll be glad to hear your tree is sprouting leaves
and in the midst of blossom, tiny fruit.
Your little brother’s learning all the names
for almond, flowering gum and bottlebrush;
yet you by now will know far more than this.
The grass is thriving; this week we had it mown
and all about’s the fragrance of fresh lawn.
All this you’ve never seen: the buzzing stuff
of life, but life for us waiting like
an almond tree, a hopeful Jesse-shoot.
The bursting things of spring have nothing on
the harvest feast that sings where you now dwell.
We never knew your smile, yet this we’ve known:
for every tear we’ve shed, a seed is sown.
Climb the rugged beam to see
the scurry of life around the tree:
lion and baby, adder and lamb,
sheltered in this outstretched hand.
Thick with promise, the leaves gather birds
and the birds whisper secrets in long-forgotten words.
Turn your ear from self to sky
to hear the heavens in reply:
There’s hope for cut-down trees, the song
echoes in the on-and-on.
Lift your anxious stumpy fists
and open fingers out to grip
the hope that bursts, the life that beats.
Barren soul, the first fruit’s here.
A little child leads.
What fuels my pride is nothing like
what You gave up – true God, true man –
when you bowed as low as bowing goes,
as low as heaven spans.
What strikes my face is feather-like
beside the spear that pierced Your side;
my burdens roll onto the floor
beside the death You bore.
What mercy waits, my God, my God,
at bleeding, nailed, twisted feet,
is life abundant; this is death
which, dying, we call life.
Too fast you walk down the mountainside;
momentum gathers, yet of a false and fleeting kind.
A fig tree full of leaves, but fruit sorely lacking,
you see the glory but faint at the sight of blood.
Slow down. It is a long road and your companion lingers;
His death puts brakes on our downward slide.
Listen: past, present, future all gathered in Him,
the words of life may echo
if you heed the words of death.
What does the law of God require?
Personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience;
that we love God with all our heart, soul,
mind, and strength; and love our neighbour as
ourselves. What God forbids should never be done
and what God commands should always be done.
(New City Catechism)
And what does He require of you, O man –
hand teetering above the apple trees,
soul teetering between trust and loss,
life moving away from what is life,
mind stretching out to take it all?
What does He require, walking with you,
all the garden your playground,
all the forest your living room,
all the trees yours to climb,
every creature your companion?
That you do justice, of course –
the justice of a king who rules,
who set the rules in place, who knows
the tides, the times, the spheres, the domes,
the ways that all our motions go –
and that you love His mercy too,
though mercy now’s confused with rules
and seems to you to mean permission,
the other option far too strict:
a God where you’re not God.
Walk humbly, too: this option cuts
into your conscience, drives you far
away from where He walks, into
the trees to hide from Him who sees
and knows the ways our motions go.
What, O man, does He ask of you,
when everything He has is yours,
with everything laid at your feet,
your heart prepared to be His throne,
your heart striving to climb?
(Image: edited from "Adam und Eva im
Paradies", Lucas Cranach the Elder)