This poem is an old one, which I posted here on my blog three years ago (it’s hard to believe the blog has been going that long). I am re-posting it today because most of you wouldn’t have seen it back then, and also because I’ve been thinking about these ideas a lot recently as I’ve worked on the manuscript for “Dream Small.” When the book comes out, you’ll see that one of the chapter titles uses a phrase from this poem—I’ve called it, “The Upside-Down Ladder.” I have to say, though, that the original inspiration for this poem came from a scene in “Hind’s Feet on High Places,” by Hannah Hunard, a book I highly recommend.
The history of Ireland is written in stone—crumbling stone—in the ancient walls and castles and cottages and churches dotted all across her landscape. I find them constantly fascinating, which I’m sure has something to do with the fact that I came here from a country that wasn’t covered in such tangible monuments to the past. When I look at them, they remind me that life is short, history is long, and the possessions and power that humans collect here on earth are only temporary.
Last week, our family stumbled across the ruined mansion of a man who was powerful and important, in the extreme. It was enormous. Even in ruins, it still impresses. But among the ruins, there was a statue that had toppled from its place in the Big Wind of 1839, and when it fell, the head broke off and was never recovered. Psalm 146 tells us to put our trust in the Lord, not in the power of mortal princes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more vivid picture of this warning than that statue of a man who was the head of all of Ireland, whose head has never been recovered. As I thought about what we had seen, I wrote this poem:
It’s counterintuitive, but it’s true: a generous soul is a rich soul, while those who only look after themselves actually end up impoverishing the very selves they work so hard to look after. We simply were not made for ourselves. The sooner we can get our heads around it, the better. When our focus shifts upward to God and outward to others, a whole new world opens up—a world of happiness beyond circumstance, purpose beyond self-gratification, and real, genuine satisfaction. I’m not saying life becomes easier this way (it’s more likely to become harder), only that it becomes better, by far. I tried to catch a little taste of that in this short poem:
Christianity is full of surprising reversals. Just think of Good Friday, where the King of Heaven abolishes the power of death—by dying in our place! He said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And that’s exactly what he did—first the dying, then the bearing much fruit. Now, he calls us to follow him in the same way: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” As we approach Easter, I’ve been thinking a lot about this–what does it look like for me, right now? How is my own life reshaped and redirected by these reversals? These are the things I was thinking of when I wrote this poem: