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Portrait of the Artist as a Lone Tree

Simplicity - a message for the church

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Part III.

I stared a while, then turned to speak,
but found the man had left me there.
And so, my mind a churning pool,
I wandered under weight of care,
then found I had retraced my steps,
to stand before the door where he
had stood and knocked, outside the place
wherein he said he longed to be.

The service now had ended, so
I put my head around the door
and saw within the tender sight
this church was once created for.
A frail old man was kneeling there,
before the altar’s golden cross,
and all within was saintliness,
shorn of the former dreary dross.

Then timidly I went within,
to kneel beside the ancient man,
and there before the altar prayed
that God might yet reveal a plan
through which this church might yet regain
its former long-forgotten goals;
instead of weekly turpitude,
a glad return to saving souls.

At length the agéd man arose,
and said, “Excuse me; I must leave
to meet a friend within the hour,
and yet I see you deeply grieve.
What help can I administer
before I leave this place I love?
For I could never leave you there
without beseeching those above.”

I sighed, and blurted out, in tears,
“Why is it that this peace I’ve found
is most when we are here alone,
and least when others gather round?
For in the service none of this
was there for me, but rather, grief;
whilst others say they meet with God,
to leave here caused me great relief.”

His face grew sad, but showed no trace
of cold rebuke, or feared surprise.
Instead, a deep and secret grief
expressed itself through ancient eyes.
“Ah, things were different once,” he said,
as if in reminiscence dear,
“but where the Lord has gone from us,
I do not know. He once was here.

For in my youth, the rafters rang
with loud and happy shouts of praise.
Then older heads decided this
was not a sign of reverent ways.
They said, that for a while must we
show greater faith in solemn pomp.
Accepting this, we younger ones
abandoned all our godly romp.

But when we wondered what we’d gained,
we found that only tuneless tones
could take the place of sacred praise;
our joy was all replaced with groans.
I was a lad, and far too young
to understand the leader’s cares;
all that I knew was God had gone;
yet many seemed at unawares.

I’ve sadly wondered many years
whatever could be done to bring
the presence of the Lord again,
whose very essence I would sing
so joyously to welcome here,
the place I gave my life inside,
to Him, who rules o’er everything,
but least in here, where dwells his bride.

At length, it seemed to me that those
who led the church made heaven cease,
and in God’s very presence they
had failed to enter into peace.
Their heads all filled with learned lore,
they knew the tale, but not the face,
of Him whose name we gathered in,
so ceremony took his place.

They fooled the honest child of faith
by filling him with lying lore;
they cherished empty doctrines, yet
knew not the God we came here for.
And we, like sheep, God’s children, fell
behind the shepherds while they led
us in religiosity.
And that is why the church is dead.

My son, I now must leave, but know
it was not always thus. Your cares
have made an old man glad to hope
that God might come at unawares.”
And so he left, but peace remained.
I stayed there, staggered, wondering
if truly I had met the Lord
unwitting, in my blundering.

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