Poem | Some Octaves on Holy Orders

for Thomas Meagher and Ryan Justin Adams, Presbyters

Non sum qualis eram

 

A vestibule bathed in stained glass light

for naming and claiming, chrism and oil.

The fidgeting novices swaddled in white,

laved and anointed, joyously hoist up

heavenward, buried with the crucified.

The blood-proud elders, all kinship and foibles,

I loved those Saturdays with dads and moms,

the bracing splash in the baptismal font.

 

Binding and loosing was frightening business:

the fear of perdition and comeuppance—

the jot and tittle of guilt and contrition,

the shalt and thou shalt not accountancy

of holding on and letting go, remission

of sins in trade for true repentances.

Bless me father for I have sinned, they’d plead.

I’d give out Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s.

 

That hoc est corpus with the loaf and cup—

the body and blood work of sacrifice—

a transubstantiation, bit and sup,

table and blade replaced by host and chalice;

the fervent with their open palms and mugs,

after Melchizedek’s ancient praxis,

the endless, famished line of them—vapors

of a life’s long work and love’s hard labor.

 

Every year the archbishop visits

to have a look around and count receipts,

to tap the faces of brothers and sisters,

their flaming uraeuses, their Paraclete

hissing above, gifts of tongues and spirits,

this laying on of hands, a bloom, replete:

much like the descent of the holy ghost

on frightened disciples, gobsmacked and aghast.

 

I might have married. I know about love:

the heart’s privations, the body’s urgency.

For years I ached but offered it all up

for suffering souls and prayed for constancy.

The calling I got was the faintest summons,

an intimation only, a sense of things,

a soul ramifying and forever

silent, beyond silence listened for.

 

The blessed sacrament: viaticum—

a toll for the boatmen at the crossing,

a balm for the road home, an extreme unction

against the shaken faith, the getting lost.

Last rites, last words, the lacrimae rerum:

the way their old eyes reddened at the blessing—

my thumb tracing crosses with the unguent—

makes me think there must be something to it.

 

In Romans, chapter one, verse twenty-five,

Paul claims mistaking creatures for creator

is much the same as trading truth for lies,

as if the made thing were itself the maker.

Yeats wrestled with such curiosities

in that poem: great-rooted blossomer?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

 

And after fifty years, they look the same:

the thing itself, the idea of the thing

the ancients and the infants, sinners, saints,

all fellow pilgrims, saved and suffering,

the passion and the passionate, the same

but different. Wherefore my surety:

The way and truth and life? Our holy orders?

The bottom line? God’s love. Love one another.

Published in the May 15, 2015 issue: 

Thomas Lynch’s most recent books are The Sin-Eater—A Breviary and The Good Funeral, co-authored with Thomas G. Long. He has taught in the Department of Mortuary Science at Wayne State University, the Graduate Writing Program at the University of Michigan, and at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

Also by this author
Argyle’s Retreat

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