Subscribe to Christianity Today
Once I am sure there's nothing going on I step inside . . .
--"Church Going," Philip Larkin
Once I am sure that something's going on
I enter, tired of mere ritual,
of liturgy where no work is done,
of punctual repetitions. One can tell
by the face and gestures of the celebrant--
or, better, by the others celebrating
this continually renewed act
of grace (invisible except where a look can't
hide the intimate and present fact).
I go forward, even though mostly summer
is sitting, damp and musty, in the pews,
to where a few in the mid-week evening glimmer
raise hands standing, while others move
to kneel where the priest lays hands on them,
often saying words better than he knows
to say. There I stay until the end
of the service--once more hear the strong love
commending me to eat that I might live.
And so I do. This church's architecture
is nothing special. There are few monuments
or memorials present here.
Only the window in the sanctuary has yet
embraced stained glass. The walls are bare.
What happens here is rarely to be discovered
in anything but the people--well- or ill-favored,
oppressed by poverty, by wealth, by having spent
themselves to no purpose. None is good,
in our first understanding of that word. All come
with a sense, dim or clear, that what they amount to fails,
the intelligence that tirelessly adds up the sum
of things in a clear system, sparks, falters,
shorts out--leaving us to us,
until our spirit answers Abba and we know
by living contact what we can't deduce.
It is in the faces, and these come and go
like the spirit, which wanders where it will.
Even Canterbury's merely a heap of stones
until the spirit enters there and wells
in living voices, and thirty bishops dance
gravely to a voice beyond the chancel's.
Let no elegy hang here like the ghost of incense.
Rather, let walls tumble, altars grow wild--new
ones will be raised up in three days (or less)
of the sort the living spirit passes through.
Robert Siegel is professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program at the University ...