Why does the moon seem so intent to cry, and yet it is your tears that give us dew? Why do the flags grasp silently at wind? Why does the sun refuse to let me stare, and yet it is your hand upon my face that burns? Why does my mother die without remembering my name, while she still sings in church? Why does the IV bag float like my prayer does in this emptiness? Where was it that I lost my way? Why do I see the cross in window panes, in two downed branches broken in the road, in shirts hung out to dry? Why does the mystery of faith sustain us when we keep on asking such questions? Why must we ask such questions?
Where else could she look, but back? Though not in mourning, as some have told it, Counting milestones, naming joys. Or even from a lack Of obedience, as if she had called out, “Hold it. I am Lot’s wife, that must count for something.” Maybe once she would have staked her life on such a claim, But now she’s heard the bargaining And wonders how she missed it all these years. Nameless This grief that overtakes her and slows her swift Legs to a halt. She is Lot’s wife, no more than chattel To do with as the need arises and he sees fit. Humbled, she turns around, away from that.
A pillar of salt! It doesn’t surprise her, This slow dissolving into tears.
The etymology is perilous: pulpit from pulpitum, meaning scaffold, by which we come, at length, to catafalque— those f’s and a’s, like tongue and groove boards, like rope enough to hang, or hoist, or let a corpse down to its permanent repose. One platform’s raised; one frames a coffin’s rest. So, first the elocution, then the wake? Like lamentations or the case of Job— that vexing, god-awful, comfortless book. And yet we rise to the occasion, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. A bit of scripture, a psalm or poem, something that happened in the week just past; we try to weave them all together as if to say a loving God’s in charge. As if we were certain of a loving God. We see by faith. We live in hope. We love. Or play the odds, as Pascal did. We fall. Sometimes it all seems quite impossible. And yet we rise again and walk the plank, and sing into oblivion good news: Unto God the glory, all praise, all thanks! while nodding congregants loll in their pews.
Imagine Tom out on the fire escape, between the world at large and inner life, edging the proscenium, downstage right. whilst curios and characters and shades
unveil themselves as dancing beauties do. I have tricks in my pocket, things up my sleeve! Upstage, sheer curtains rise, transparencies: Truth in the pleasant guise of illusion.
Like John on Patmos, John the Harbinger— voices crying out of the wilderness— Make straight ye the Lord’s way! quoth Isaiah. Eschatology and Apocalypse:
Think Esmeralda in the cathedral, Jim Hawkins in the rigging, chased by Hands or Ishmael, just flotsam at the end, alone, before God and all these people.
Or Montaigne in his tower library: “the whole of Man’s estate in every man.” Or Yeats pacing the boards at Ballylee: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
Thus, exegetes and preachers on their own hold forth, against a never-ceasing din of second-guessing, out there on their limbs: Have faith! Behold, the mystery! Behold!
That fresco of the Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico (dear brother John) shows Jesus semi-circled by his men, gilt-haloed Galileans, but for one, who will betray him later with a kiss. Atop their sandstone tuffets, rapt, engaged, he’s going on about beatitudes, fulfillments of the law, the words to pray. Outside the frame, unseen, a multitude leans in to listen to the hermeneutics, which are not without some challenges, to wit: though we be smitten, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, love our enemies; while we’re forgiven only so much as we forgive those who trespass against us. A certain eye-for-eyeness to that scheme, a tooth-for-toothedness. A quid pro quo? As if, to finally get, we must let go? Sometimes it’s so, sometimes it isn’t? So, what shall we say to these things? Who’s to know? Say who abides in love abides in God. Say God is love. Love God. Love one another. Say grace is undeserved and plentiful. Say if we’re saved, it’s mostly from ourselves.