Monday, 4 August 2014

"Philip Speaks" by Caryll Houselander

' Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. When, therefore, Jesus had lifted up his eyes and seen that a very great crowd had come to him, he said to Philip, "Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?" But he said this to try him, for he himself knew what he would do.
           Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not enough for them, that each one may receive a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a young boy here who has five barley loaves and two fishes; but what are these among so many?" Jesus then said, "Make the people recline."
           Now there was much grass in the place. The men therefore reclined, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, distributed them to those reclining; and likewise the fishes, as much as they wished.  But when they were filled, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments that are left over, lest they be wasted."  They therefore gathered them up; and they filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.'    John 6: 1-13.

'Philip Speaks'

When we returned and told Him all we had done,
I for one was emptied out like a husk
that has scattered its seed upon hard ground.

We had not had time even to eat;
always the open hand,
always the blind eyes,
always the deaf ears,
always the wound to be healed.

My thoughts were like wild birds
beating the bars of the cage
for empty skies.

Even now the smell of the people
clung to my hair and clothes,
a rotten sweetness of oil and musk
that smells like death, it hung in my hair.

Their voices went on and on in my head,
monotonous waves wearing my mind away;-
rock is worn by the waves to sand.
I wanted to shut my mind, that my thoughts might close
on my own peace,  I wanted to close
the peace of my love in my heart
like dew in a dark rose.

He told us to rest.  
Jesus commands the Apostles to rest - James Tissot (1836-1902)
We went in a small ship,
the wind and water moving in her,
She lived in their sweetness of life, a bride.
Her sail a white wing, unmoving, moved with the tide.
She lay to the wind, and we gave our hearts with a sigh
to the breath of the spirit of love.

But when we came to the shore
the people were there;
they had found us out.
Always the open hand,
always the blind eyes,
always the deaf ears,
always the wounds to be healed!
They were there,
swarming there, everywhere,
insects there in the sun
when someone has lifted a stone.
I knew they would drain Him
and wring Him out – wring Him out
to the last drop of the fountain water of life.

I was sick of it all
with a dry husk for a heart.
But He saw the flocks wanting shepherd and fold,
Pity in Him rose in a clear spring
For the world’s thirst, and love was a pastureland.
So it went on all day
Always the open hand,
Always the dull mind,
Always the slow heart
Always the nameless fears,
And self-pity, self-pity and tears;

Until the sun went up in the blaze of the day’s heat
And with red wine burning through thin gold
It was lowered slowly onto the altar stone
Of the darkening world, where the sheep were in fold.
                          Sunset on the Sea of Galilee (ack. baumersabroad)
We thought ‘now it is night, He will send them away’
“The hour is late,” we said, “this is a desert place,
 send them away, Lord, to buy food and be fed!”
But He “you give them to eat!”

The grass in that place shone exceedingly green,
I remember, because when the brain is dust,
The cool greenness of grass is absurdly sweet.

“There is a lad here,” said Andrew,
“with two little fish and five loaves of bread,
but what are these if this crowd must be fed?”
“Bid them sit down on the grass and give them to eat,”
the Lord said.
The lad was one of the crowd, he went as he came.
As long as the world lasts, the world will remember him,
But no one will know his name!

They sat down on the grass.
My heart contracted, my mind was withered up,
But Christ poured out His tenderness,
Like wine poured out into a lifted cup.
Always the open hands,
Always the blind eyes,
Always the mouth to be fed,
And I for one was emptied out like a husk
That has scattered its seed upon hard ground.
But He saw the flocks wanting shepherd and fold;
Pity in Him rose in a clear spring
For the world’s thirst, and love was a pastureland.

The Lord blessed the bread.
He put it into our hands
And it multiplied,
Not in His hands but in mine!

Even now, remembering this,
My thoughts shut like a folding wing,
My mind is a blank sheet of light
In the mystery of the thing.

I gave and my hands were full, again and again;
Pity in Him fell on my dry dust,
It was summer rain,
And the husk of my heart expanded and filled again,
And was large with grain.
For me, the miracle was this,
That a clear stream of the Lord’s love
(not mine)
flowed out of my soul,
a shining wave, over my fellow men. 

These things I have told you happened a long while since.
Our cherished Lord is dead, He was crucified.
Now, as then, we go about in the crowd telling His love,
and how He rose from the dead, and risen in us
He lives in the least of men.
But I think nobody understands,
until I touch their wounds and they know
the healing of His hands.

On the night of the Pasch, before He died,
He blessed the bread and put it into my hands,
to increase and be multiplied to the end of time.
                              The Last Supper.  Dieric Bouts 1420-75
Now if I turned my face away from the market place,
I should be haunted,
hearing the rustle of wheat in the darkness,
striving, pushing up to the light.
I should hear His words falling like slow tears
in the Supper room,  -
when He prayed that we all be one,
even as they are one, the Father and Son, -
falling like slow tears
over the sown fields,
and I should see the world
like a young field of wheat
growing up for the grain
watered by Christ’s tears.

Always the open hands,
always the blind eyes,
always the slow mind,
always the deaf ears,
and always Christ, Our Lord,
crowned with the flowering thorn
and ringed with spears.

I know, - now that I never see
the print of His feet in the dust
where the Son of Man trod, -
that in every man for ever
I meet the Son of God.
                                        Caryll Houselander

‘Dedicated in gratitude to Dr J W McKail, O.M. in whose hands all that there is of good in “Philip Speaks” has been

(Ack 'The Flowering Tree' selected poems by Caryll  
Houselander, published by Sheed and Ward, London.)


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