This week, the first full week of Lent, I have been thinking about pilgrimage, journeys, wandering in a wilderness, being unsure of the way and the destination. I have been following Malcolm Guite’s wonderful Word in the Wilderness anthology of poetry, and I turned back to this poem of mine I had written a few years ago, and looked at it through the eyes of the wanderer in the desert.
The poem was written for the Alive Festival, which used to run here in Suffolk. We were looking for something for our Sunday morning gathering, something which spoke of our sense of longing for home. Something that would help with the journey. As I was searching, these words began to circle in my mind They would not leave me alone. I had to walk them out, pacing restlessly until the poem below took its form.
It draws from many of the stories in the Bible which help us make sense of our life’s journey. This one, in particular, takes imagery from Genesis 3 which many churches had read this last Sunday, and are thinking about this week. Of course, it is full of the homesickness of exile, which runs through many of the Hebrew scriptures, and the discomfort of the wilderness, which we are remembering now, at this time of year. The poem cycles round to images drawn from the very end of the book of Revelation All these images flowed together, as part of a larger, arching story.
I read this poem that morning at the Alive festival, set to astonishingly beautiful music – Arvo Paart’s Spiegel im Spiegel , played then by Andrew Lord and Jonathan Evans. The music still moves me to tears.
I hope this poem helps you today, as you walk, whether the way seems hard, or gentle. May you come to a place of home.
We left the garden long ago,
Do you remember, though,
still, the trees heavy with fruit,
and how sweet it was?
To stretch out your hand was to be blessed.
Do you remember the cool waters of that deep river
silver with fish, alive and shining in the splashing sun?
And the flowers, bending and bending with the
weight of bees, the low hum of the land
that flowed with milk and honey?
He walked with us then, in the garden.
We have been wanderers for so long
in strange lands, wanderers looking
for a place of shelter, a place to lay down
the heavy loads we gathered at the gate,
when we left the garden. The pain we bear
so hard to bear for it is borne alone.
Our songs dried on our lips, the echoes of the
garden growing distant, and small:
the rhymes of the children playing in the apple tree,
the laughter and the ease of love,
hope’s courage failing as the long dry road
wound through high and rocky passes
where nothing grows.
The path home is long, but that it what it is,
the path home to the garden,
to return to that place so distant
it has become the place of dreams.
And the gate stands before us,
terrible and splashed with blood,
the gate love made to bring us home.
And the gate is always open,
and beyond, beyond the Tree grows strong,
its green leaves fresh and full of light,
And the river flows deep and wide,
Deep, and wide, and always.
And you know the voice,
you have heard the voice say
Come, all you who have been thirsty for so long,
Come and lay your burdens down,
rest, and drink from these bright waters.
I am your home, your refuge, your song.
You can listen to the poem here