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