The Halfway House, Part XI

‘Prayer,’ says the Abbot, ‘is the price of peace.

In time, the khamsins from the desert cease:

The grains of sand drop down together, pure

In imperfection, and like rocks endure.

As for water, we have our own wells here.


This ordered life is not for everyone.

Never, to their surprise, for those who run

Away from love. Does not his coffee taste

Bitter? Ah, but how bitter is the waste

Of effort if why we give does not last.


You see, we are not playroom monks. Our hearts

Are in this, or we go. If not, the starts

And stops tell all the others what we ought

To do, and they persuade us. Had you thought

We stayed because we liked the quiet at night?


No, but you wonder what it is we do.

Simply, we love, and that is always new.

At Mass each morning we behold the Man,

The God, who died for us. Our prayer times can

Not last long enough to thank Him in.


And after dark? We pray then for the world,

That those who sin may not be suddenly hurled

Into the self-sought fires of Hell, but may,

By God’s grace, live to love another day,

As we have done, and so can happily die.


If you will look down from the window there,

Across that courtyard, through the open door,

Into Saint Moses’s chapel, where he has

Been leaning on his staff, waiting since Mass,

See, there, an Ethiopian works for us.


That old black monk does nothing but re-read

Words on gazelle skin, dawn to dark. Indeed,

He knows just how the Gospel should be sung.

With joy. And he is happy here among

Sinners, and is grateful for everything.


But that is all we have to show for some

Sixteen hundred years of being dumb

Before the Accuser, when he screams abuse,

Or, slyly, mocks us for being of no use

To others, and extols some busy place.


I think I have told you enough, perhaps,

For you to see why, when all things collapse,

Either a world, as with our holy saints

Who first lived this way, or, the Devil’s paints

Worn off, a house of toys, men raise these tents.


Here we are safe from luxury and ease:

Few seem to care a lot for our goat cheese.

Now we have nothing which can keep us back

From seeing God. He fills up what we lack

Until our lives are all love for His sake.


The air we breathe is wafted from the sea

That mirrors Heaven, where we long to be.

We are not holy yet. We only show

The way to travellers. Later you will know

Much better from others what you should do.


This is a cap like mine for you to wear,

White as the Pope’s, made from our own goat’s hair.

In other places it may still convey

Some of the happy things we wish to say.

And you will not forget us when you pray.’