This poem came by experience, discussions with both wise and inveterate Christians, instruction from my children, evenings with friends, coffee with wayfarers, years of conversations with my wife—and not a few cups of tea with my late mentor-monk, Father James Gray.
This old monk, hermit, says to me,
go ahead and swallow
the camphor with your tea,
but don’t expect the glory of the Lord
to shine round about.
And I thought; what,
the itch to retch sin and shame
by rending will and flaying flesh—
a vestigial tail, a tumid tonsil?
The denial of bread and wine,
to gore my guilt—an appendix?
And I catch the glint of freedom
in those cowled eyes,
and feel a sudden pull
to move in those arms.
My stony world, its caste of blight
now in full relief—
I turn to that lavender light,
and feel within a gathering leap—
when I remember all those years
of mete remorse and mulled regret.
All my work to put ahead what lies behind.
My daily wail, my ashened face.
All that comfort of lasting Lent,
blessed by Sunday mourning chorales of praise.
Oh Ascesis, would thou waste me this late?
My years of pious breast pounding a-wash?
No, sooner drink the brine of self-deceit.
Sooner hail the sour estate.
And serenely model
the righteous rigour of self-hate.
When dogma and doctrine come to define us, and the command to love your neighbour as yourself is always willed as an “ought”, but never consented to as a sweeping irresistible power, the ought finally twists itself into self-hate. That’s what I think.
With much love dear reader, Stephen