The Prodigal Son

The ancient art of story-telling charms
The ear, keeps its first hold on men
The whole world over. From the dawn of time
Much of the tale has gone: only remains
Some story-teller’s words, like those of Homer,
Singing heroic deeds of war at Troy,
Or unknown men who caught in simple phrase
The folk-tales of the Hebrews, David’s saga,
(With giant, princess, brigands all complete,
Harp’s music, love’s intrigue and courage rare,
Age, and rebellious sons, and grief so sore
It flows in deathless verse which still can heal
Our hearts, and turn sad spirits home again.)

The master of this greatest art of all,
A carpenter, told in a short three years
Out of the million million centuries
Of Earth’s unfinished span, eternal tales,
Each one a gem, well cut and finely set,
To sparkle and reflect in varied flash
The many-sided truth,
                                He paints a home,
Father, sons, servants, farm and foreign field.
We, in a short few minutes, live with them
Through many years, plumb depths of misery,
The separation both of heart and distance:

Then home again, and healing, joy and mirth
Which even breaks the hard proud loneliness
Of one who’s always right.
                                Swiftly we turn
The page – to find that they have gone. And since
A tale so powerful must needs go on,
We set to work to reach that starting point
And write ourselves the sequel.

                                Such a story
Cuts through the weary complications
Of burdened minds. Maybe the problem is
Not millions’ misery, but each man’s sin.
And so the world’s intolerable weight
Is broken into something which might lift.
One hurt may heal, one home find unity,
Why not another? So a spark of hope
Is kindled in the embers of the fire
Where mankind crouches, paralysed with fear,
Waiting for death from famine, or from powers
Mighty, destructive, he himself has loosed
But not controlled.
                                Can this poor stricken age
Come to its senses like that boy of old
And stop competing with the swine for husks
Turn home again, where love and sanity
Are waiting, and forgiveness ushers in
Th’age of abundance?
                                All the -words of Christ
Have power to stir the heart. This, most moving,
May hold the key to man’s own destiny.

Man’s destiny: a story that began
When God from very height of heaven watched
This little Earth, His youngest handiwork;
Saw her as we, her children, never can,
Dancing her way through space, young-hearted, gay,
Sunrise and sunset like a rainbow scarf
Flung round her, as she turns to catch the light
And flash it back. Among the silent stars
Is heard her tiny orchestra of sounds,
Laughter of springs, high melody of birds,
The whisper of the winds, the bass of thunder,
Singing the joy of speed, the praise of life,
While mountains shout the glory of the Lord.

God saw His work was good. “I’ve given her
All that she needs,” He said. “Warmth, fire and food,
Water: the rich resources of the hills:
The soil itself, and seed of corn and fruit.
Now I will give her children for her joy,
My children. As a family they’ll grow,
Nursed by her love, with all her wealth endowed.
And so men multiplied. This speck of dust,
So small a gem in the Creator’s hand,
Seemed huge to them. Jungle and roaring seas
Divided them: a wall a few feet high
Could keep an empire out. They grew apart
And were at enmity. Then, as they fought,
They lost their love, not only of each other
But of their mother Earth, forgot to pay
The reverence and service that would save
The fortune they inherited. The soil
Grew poor. Crops failed. Hills stripped of forest trees
No longer caught the moisture from the air.
Millions of fertile acres turned to dust,
And all mankind began to be in want,
Forgetting there is any way to live
But tired and cold and hungry and at war,
In servitude for something less than bread.

Then come the would-be comforters, like Job’s,
Leading astray with lies or half the truth.
Some see man’s hunger, some his bitterness,
One says the need is better food, and one
Inflames the hopelessness and uses hate
For selfish ends. Not one of these goes deep
Or tells the simple truth of how man came
To such a pass.
                                Yet patiently and slow
God works till His creation be complete
And Earth the home for one great family
Of all mankind. “I gave them all they need,
Full measure. They have brought upon themselves
The want and squalor. Now I go Myself
To call these wandering children home again.”

And so Christ came. One day He told this story;
A father and two sons; one claimed his rights,
The other aimed at being in the right.
Both shut the father out. The home grew dull,
A lifeless round of over-righteous toil.
Until one day the Prodigal came back.
Repentance did what duty never can,
Released the springs of laughter, made of mirth
A symbol of the grace of love’s rebirth,
Abundance and renaissance are the twin
Children of such a home-coming as this.
Each generation since the dawn of time
Has in its turn inherited the Earth.
Now almost all is squandered. We must choose;
Linger with pride’s excuses, or turn back
Homeward again, with “Father, I have sinned,”
No longer wastrels, find we can begin
As honest stewards of posterity
To build again our ruined heritage.
Not just rebuild the past: for there was bom
Something quite new, the day that son came home,
Different from all that ever went before
When those two boys were little, romped and teased
And came for stories to their father’s knee.
As they grew up, he lost them: common tale
Of countless homes. He deeply longed to find
The friendship of his sons, grown men, mature,
Yet humble to acknowledge each his need
Of all the others. Such a home can give
A pattern to the family of nations,
Holding in common trust their Father’s house,
At home with one another and with Him.

The story’s told, the characters prepared
For such a golden age of happiness
As Earth has never known: abundant life,
Creative, free, available to all,
Glimpse of this new world kindles hope, and we,
Heartened, take up the fight to change the ways
Of men and nations, turn them back from war
And want, to seek with humble steps their home,
Ask and receive forgiveness, rest at last
In all the promise of the peace of God.

Poems of the Spirit

  • Life and Death

    Look where he lies, a clod of earth at best,
    Yet colder than a clod, for where there shone

  • After

    Out of this questioning, eventual truth;
    Out of this doubt, faith rooted in the rock;

  • The Old Convict Church, Port Arthur

    ..By a blue winking sea,
    The church stands in a green place,
    Green as Calvary.

  • Relativity

    “Boy killed on Bicycle”; smallest print, four lines
    Islanded in a tossing sea of type,

  • Easter Hymn

    Out of the cloud my Lord the Sun,
    Out of the earth my Lady Spring,

  • Milton Blind

    That dreaming day it was, the bell-like air
    Unclosed the naked admirable heaven,

  • Come Death Suddenly

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • If I should die

    If I should die, grieve not for youth
    Blighted, and towers of hope that fell

  • To J.S. Bach

    Now, when the smoking ruins smoulder low
    Of what was Europe once

  • On Cathedral Mountain

    This mountain means discovery, since the day
    I climbed it first in boyhood and alone,

  • The Prodigal Son

    The ancient art of story-telling charms
    The ear, keeps its first hold on men
    The whole world over.

  • The Last Enemy

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • Post-mortem

    When a man dies
    We find that suddenly there’s time to praise him.

  • Space Window

    Waylaid by Handel’s theme, I think of you
    Now half a world away, and hear you say
    ‘His music always seems like coming home.’

  • Christmas Tree

    You hold the timeless in your brief green boughs
    The cardboard angels, home-made crib, the straw,
    The new-born baby older than Abraham

  • Passover

    Between the tumult of crucifixion
    and the diapason of resurrection
    that bar of absolute silence.

  • Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto

    …Listening,
    I am bereft, lost in the mystery
    of music leaping quenchless, undefiled

  • Astronomy

    ‘The love that moves the sun and all the stars’ –
    When Dante wrote there was no telescope:

  • The Honey Man

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • Last Stand

    These trees reached up for light
    when Jesus walked on earth,

  • The Child and the World

    It was a terrible world
    And into it came a child

  • For Australia

    Lord of earth and all creation
    let your love possess our land;

  • Last Post

    Heard how often, still the notes compel
    Unused to awe, we stand listening.

  • Christmas Gift

    ..stamped with a star, but posted beyond the stars,
    marked ‘No Commercial Value’, signed, with a cross,

  • Farewell

    Fare well. We come to send you on the way
    we all must walk, so final, secret, strange.

  • The Word

    The greatest word in the greatest book
    is that conjunction, ‘Nevertheless’,

  • Extraterrestrial Report

    Arrived at the heavenly mansions, the blessed Saint
    (female on earth) was welcomed by St Peter

  • Canberra Autumn

    Land of the singing light
    Light that first I saw
    Eighty years and more