Garden Liturgy

[This poem was first published in the Autumn 2021 issue of The Cultivating Project]

It was our birthright,
Breathed upon a garden’s dappled glade,
Sung forth from soil, soft-cupped in ageless hands,
To be tended, and in our turn to tend,
By day’s great light to till the budding land,
Then walk as friends by evening’s cooling shade;
Vessels set apart for noble use,
Instruments tuned to the Father’s praise.

Despite the reckless ruin of the fall,
Our once and future call remained unchanged:
To speak in Adam’s tongue a fitting name
For each full-spoken, fearfully-formed thing,
To trace within the founding harmony
The wondrous, gleaming line each breathes to sing,
To join their Gloria of guileless praise,
Our incense rising fragrant to the king.

Apprenticed to the workshop of the world,
The master weaver’s hand upon our own,
We learn, by slow degrees, to work our craft,
To throw the shuttle through the warp and weft
Of life’s illumined tapestry, to draw
In unison both seen and unseen threads,
To trace the silver strands through pregnant space,
Deftly stitching reason’s rugged cords
Through mysteries of boundless, shining grace.

As children of a prophet we were blessed
To hide astonished, trembling in the cleft,
As lightning charged once more the quivering air
And fire and glory thundered overhead;
Then, bearing rumours of a coming age,
To stagger down the mountainside again,
Wreathed alike in ecstasy and dread;
To meet the blank and beckoning page below,
And fill its void with fitting things well-said.

In pierced steps, we stagger on the path,
Appointed midwives to the groaning world,
To whisper ragged prayers beside the bed,
To learn the time to weep, the time to laugh,
To sing in solemn and triumphant keys
Of Miserere and Magnificat,
Discerning contours of a timeless face
In every sin-smeared, downcast countenance,
Placing hands within the world’s great wound
In apprehensive love, in trembling faith;
Broken vessels split to pour forth grace.

As branches grafted in we come to learn
The second garden’s tearstained liturgy,
How seeds must fall and die to sprout anew,
Or how the plough must open earth’s dark wound
To let the tender roots sink through, to feel
Our eager shoots wired firm upon the frame,
The calculated heft each hard, bright spring,
As pruning hooks cleave cherished, fruitless limbs
In hope of heaving branches come the fall;
When time draws nigh to bring the harvest in.

It is our birthright,
As cultivated, cultivating things,
To stand upon the setting of the age,
Amid the ordered rows of ripened vines,
Of boughs bent low with full-orbed, fragrant fruit;
To see, far off, the dreadful pall of smoke
Rising out beyond the circling walls,
As chaff and briar and all unfruitful things
Wilt within the unrelenting flames.
Yet safe within a garden’s dewy glade,
To smell the fertile soil,
To hear the gently rustling leaves,
To walk once more by evening’s cooling shade,
As deeper friends fast-bound by fiery trials,
To speak of things well done and things well made.